REVIEW: JLA: DOOM
When Mark Waid joined the creative team on JLA, he told a pretty terrific story about Batman’s secret protocols for neutralizing the Justice League of America falling into Ra’s al Ghul’s hands. In the “Tower of Babel” story, he used it to take out the League in order to execute a plan for world domination. It made for a fine story arc that allowed Batman to leave the team for time and resonated with fans given the weighty thematic material. It has endured in memory and prompted Warner Premiere to approve JLA: Doom, an adaptation as a part of their ongoing series of direct-to-DVD animated features
The resulting production, on sale tomorrow, is bittersweet because it marks the final script from the talented Dwayne MacDuffie. And it needed series editing which clearly was not done, making it a deeply flawed adaptation of the source material. The dramatic core is here, but given short shrift in two brief scenes while the remainder of the story is a series of chaotic and badly choreographed fights strung together. Any semblance of characterization for the heroes or villains is seemingly accidental as the story allowed the JLA to trade blows with a variety of familiar villains.
I should say familiar to we readers while the general viewing public probably needed some sort of introduction to Metallo, Star Sapphire, Cheetah, Mirror Master and the other villains. Swapping Vandal Savage for Ra’s al Ghul was probably a contractual necessity given the Bat-villain’s role in the Christopher Nolan live action trilogy, but by making the swap, the inciting incident of stealing the coffins of Bruce Wayne’s parents lacked suspense. In the comic, Ra’s used it as leverage against the Dark Knight, threatening to bathe the corpses in a Lazarus Pit and in the feature, it was merely distraction.
There are tremendous lapses in storytelling logic especially the climax where Superman freely speaks in the vacuum of space and no one mentions that the solar flare threatening Earth is a diminished version of Savage’s overall plan with everyone acting like it would be sufficient to incinerate half the world’s population. Character motivation is also sorely lacking because no way would Star Sapphire, even as portrayed here, sign on to destroy half of humanity.
While the traditional vocal cast is intact, there remain some oddities, none more than Michael Rosenbaum now voicing a Barry Allen Flash instead of his traditional Wally West speedster. The alteration was a clear nod toward the DCU’s print status quo as was swapping out Plastic Man for Cyborg, the African-American hero now seen as the company’s flagship hero of color. The vocal cast does what they can but are given precious little opportunity to banter with one another, which is a waste, especially for Nathan Fillion’s Green Lantern.
The character designs are even more minimal than in previous JLA offerings and are pretty terrible, looking way too anime-inspired and less comic book derived with Superman suffering the worst. Overall, all the figures are stupidly top-heavy with bulging necks but lacking hips and leg muscles. Wonder Woman’s tiara just looks painful with the addition of a lower point poised between her eyes.
This was an exceedingly disappointing production that might have been better off postponed until the animators and production team could visit the material with clear eyes. What is intended as a final salute to MacDuffie is a well-intention misfire.
On the other hand, the 36 minute “A League of One: The Dwayne McDuffie Story” is one of the strongest featurettes I’ve seen on a DVD in years. Matt Wayne, Denys Cowan, Andrea Romano, former Marvel editor Sid Jacobson, McDuffie’s widow Charlotte, and other coworkers all discussed his background, impact on comics and animation and the huge hole he has left in our collective lives. I knew Dwayne casually and we always got on well so recognized the figure being lionized here and keenly feel his absence. In an unusual move, his non-Warner work received equal time and Marvel was gracious in granting permission for his work to be seen.
The remaining features are far more typical, starting with “Guarding the Balance: Batman and the JLA” as Dan DiDio and Eddie Berganza explain the loner’s role on the team through the years. They discuss all the thematic stuff the script ignored. Cyborg’s new role in the firmament is explored in “Cyborg: His Time Has Come” where his cocreator Marv Wolfman, Mike Carlin, and Geoff Johns talk about the hero.
Blu-ray editions will also contain the Justice League two-parter “Wild Cards” which featured the Royal Flush Gang, who are also seen in the feature’s opening minutes. Oddly, you only get a few pages of JLA #43 as a digital comic teaser which is a shame. There’s also a lengthy preview of next summer’s Superman vs. the Elite, based on a Joe Kelly-written story from Action Comics #775.