"JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER"
With Lionsgate putting out some great Marvel properties, Warner Bros. Is now following suit with some excellent direct-to-DVD feature animated films. This past fall, we were treated to the first PG-13 rated flick in “Superman: Doomsday,” which got tons of buzz at Comic-Con, with a little thanks to the tote bag giveaway with the giant bloody S on it. But when the film finally came out on DVD, it proved to be more exciting and better told than it actually was in the comics fifteen years ago.
Now we have the second installment in the PG-13 saga: “Justice League: The New Frontier.” Based on the graphic novel, this film tells the story of the Justice League reboot in the Silver Age of comic books. It takes place in the 1950s when the black-and-white world of WWII good-vs-evil has disappeared.
The superheroes are being scrutinized and questioned by the government, and some have even considered retirement. However, it’s a massive threat known as the Centre, formed in a living Dinosaur Island that is attacking the mainland, that brings the heroes together to fight for truth, justice and the American way.
Joining the old school heroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are some new heroes in the form of the Martian Manhunter and Hal Jordan, soon to be Green Lantern. In fact, a good portion of the film follows the origin of these two characters. And it ultimately leads me to ask why there hasn’t been a Green Lantern feature film yet (or a Martian Manhunter one for that matter).
The animated “Justice League: The New Frontier” is everything you’d expect from an honorable comic book adaptation. There is no worrying about an egomaniacal director or some lousy producer demanding out-of-place musical numbers in order to sell a soundtrack. This film is nothing more than the comic book brought to life, and that’s a wonderful thing.
Like other superhero team stories, many characters tend to take a back seat. Surprisingly, though, it’s the A-listers like Batman and Superman who stay back to let the secondary (and sometimes more interesting) characters take the lead.
While I grew up with Superman and Batman comic books, I was a child of the 70s. So, by the time I tapped into the Justice League, it was populated by lesser heroes and had nothing to do with the major players at all. I was a young child during the “SuperFriends” television show, and I liked it as a boy of ten would. But as an adult, I am thrilled to see the stories go back to the original major players with stories about a league rather than a gallery of cheesy secondary roles or a caricature show with overly simplified heroes.
The “Justice League: The New Frontier” DVD comes with two discs. The first includes the 75-minute features alone with two audio commentary tracks – one with the filmmakers and the other with the original comic book writer/artist Darwyn Cooke. There’s also a sneak peek at the sure-to-be awesome “Batman Gotham Knight” release, which includes several Batman stories told in the anime style.
The first disc also contains a comprehensive look at the Justice League over the years, breaking down their evolution from the golden age with the Justice Society, through the silver age, to the humorously named and Aquaman-led “Detroit Age” and into the modern age.
The second disc includes a 30-minute discussion of the Legion of Doom and how the super villains evolved over the years. Additionally, there’s a 10-minute commentary on the book’s adaptation by Darwyn Cooke. Finally, if you didn’t get enough of the Justice League in the film, there are three bonus episodes of the “Justice League” television series.
“The Justice League: The New Frontier” is a joy for an old-school comic book fan, and hopefully a view of some awesome things to come.
"BATMAN: THE MASK OF THE PHANTASM"
But just as Warner Bros. was ready to hand the franchise over to Joel Schumacher, who killed it for almost ten years, they greenlit a feature film based on the popular television series “Batman: The Animated Series.”
This animated series was the first one I remember that made a huge impact with comic book enthusiasts. Gone were the days of cheaply animated Hannah Barbera “SuperFriends.” The cartoons had grown up, and the Batman animated series was quite impressive – and easily truer to the original source material than the movies ever have been.
1993’s “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” was given a theatrical release, which unfortunately wasn’t well received. I suppose the American public was ready for nipples on the Bat Suit, but they couldn’t handle a non-live-action movie.
Still, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” managed to soar above the theatrical Batman adaptation, and would remain the best Bat Movie to hit the big screens until “Batman Begins” shook things up in 2005.
The film is partly an origin story for Batman, but told from a very different angle. Like last year’s “Casino Royale,” this story showed how Bruce Wayne hardened his heart in the past. The film takes place at a critical point in his career, when he’s making the decision to live a regular life or lose some of his humanity to become the Dark Knight.
This decision is personified in the character of Andrea Beaumont, whom Bruce has fallen in love with. However, when she unexpectedly flees his life, the path is set for Bruce to become Batman full time. However, now Andrea has come back in his life, and he must resolve some of his many emotional issues.
In my opinion, the entire animated history of Batman on television (at least since the animated series debuted in 1992) is far richer than the films ever have been. Even now with the latest animated incarnation “The Batman,” the mythology is as rich on the television as it is in the comics.
“Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm” is available as a double feature on a double-sided DVD, along with “SubZero: Batman & Mr. Freeze.” The Phantasm side of the disc comes with just the theatrical trailer, but that shouldn’t deter you from checking out these recently re-released films.
“SubZero: Batman & Mr. Freeze” came out as a tie-in to the Joel Schumacher-directed cinematic disaster “Batman & Robin.” While George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger were putting the final nail in the feature films’ coffin, “SubZero” actually was a stand-out quality superhero film. Too bad this was the one that got the direct-to-video release.
“SubZero” takes place after Victor Fries was exiled to the Arctic. While trying to save his wife from a rare disease, his lab is destroyed by a submarine. This sends Mr. Freeze back on a crime spree. He returns to Gotham to kidnap the only person whose blood and tissue types match his wife’s for a transplant. Too bad for him that potential donor is Barbara Gordon. Batman joins with Robin (who happens to be dating Barbara) to try to take down Freeze again and save his wife.
Like “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” “SubZero” is superior in quality, tone and respect for original source material to the Burton/Schumacher debacles. The characters are lifted faithfully from the comics, and it sets the stage for the even more impressive animated series that were yet to come, not just for the DC universe but for Marvel as well.
Additionally, the filmmakers for “SubZero” got Mr. Freeze right as a Batman villain. By the end of Schumacher’s run as feature film director, the villains became nothing more than wisecracking caricatures of their original selves. The animated Mr. Freeze kicks ass all over the Schwarzenegger mess that was made in “Batman & Robin.”
Both “SubZero” and “Mask of the Phantasm” are now available as a double feature double-sided disc. The “SubZero” side features a common Warner Bros. animated “Get the Picture” segment that shows how to draw Batman, cast and crew information, a musical montage and a “Hunt for Mr. Freeze” set-top game.