Of all the DC cartoons Superfriends lasted the longest. It had a few different names but it was the same show and same incarnation. The DCAU was spread out over numerous stand-alone shows so no, it doesn’t count. However, it will be brought up here. Since I just finished going over all the Superfriends intros and done Batman and Superman’s solo cartoons in the past, doing the other team-up series with the Justice League seems like the right way to go forward. Consider this a bonus installment of Many Intros.
There have been a few direct-to-video movies and parodies but I’m not going to go into those. This is strictly TV shows intros. Filmation and Warner Brothers have both brought the DC heroes out of the comics. Filmation began with The New Adventures Of Superman and would produce more DC based shows. Of course anyone reading this is probably already aware of the DC Animated Universe, made up of (depending on how you count the various Batman shows) eight or nine different shows. They would return for another series that made the mistake of going to Cartoon Network at a time when action shows were unwanted by the people in charge. I rather enjoyed all of them but nothing is perfect.
The Superman/Aquaman Hour Of Adventure was built off of the success of The New Adventures Of Superman. That series would continue it’s usual format, with stories featuring two Superman and one Superboy episode, and then Aquaman had his segment. In place of a Superboy style story on his side other DC heroes had a few stories of their own. This is where the first Teen Titans cartoon came from, while Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom, and the Flash would have their own solo adventures. Aqualad and Kid Flash would be part of the Teen Titans and also adventures with their mentors. For our purposes all we care about are the stories where the heroes (minus Aquaman) joined forces as the Justice League Of America. For those of you who worry about bright flashing colors on screen you may not want to watch this.
Forget what the intro just told you. Aquaman had his own segments like Superman but wasn’t featured in the three stories for Justice League Of America, nor was he in any of the solo adventures of Flash and Kid Flash, Hawkman, the Atom, Green Lantern, or the Teen Titans. He and Aqualad fought underwater villains in his own stories and that was it. Superman and Aquaman made up the bulk of the show. That’s why there’s so little to this intro. As a defender of Filmation their intros needed a lot of work and it would take many years to start improving. Star Trek had the benefit of a previous show to imitate, but most of the action shows in Filmation’s library are just exposition with a good narrator. It’s why Bravestarr’s intro stands out.
Years later Fox Kids would produce Batman: The Animated Series, less of a kids show and more of an all-ages show or at least designed with older kids (teens) in mind. I don’t have a problem with that. The show would get a rename, move to Kids WB to join Superman: The Animated Series, and from there the DC Animated Universe properly began. Static Shock would get a minor tweak in season two, including bringing it into the DCAU, and Batman Beyond would spin off The Zeta Project. The final move was to Cartoon Network, where Bruce Timm envisioned something for an older crowd. He has wanted Justice League to be an hour long show like most live-action shows of this type, which is why the shows were all two-parters, but Cartoon Network shot the idea down…and then usually aired both parts together. Seriously, what was the point if you’re basically going to do it anyway?
Saying the CGI wasn’t quite right is probably the only complaint I’d agree with. I didn’t like the character models in Beware The Batman or Green Lantern: The Animated Series for the same reason and the latter is pretty close to this. However, the theme is just perfect for this incarnation, and the opening with the members walking slo-mo towards the camera just has a good feeling. Then each member gets their own moment to show off. The only problem I see is that’s all we get. Compare it to the better Superfriends intros that had actual threats showing up looking menacing. And no, that’s not what I was talking about yesterday. I’ll get to that in a moment.
After two seasons and a TV movie that would have made a great finale the show but Cartoon Network wanted more. Enter Justice League Unlimited, in many ways a successor of Superfriends with a larger “core” from the previous show. This was definitely made more with adults in mind given the themes and plots of the show. Not that many kids care about politics or complex romantic relationships. They want to see superheroes do awesome stuff. Again, I don’t have a problem with this provided it’s the exception and not the rule…like DC’s comics were starting to do. It would follow the half-hour formula, settling for longer seasonal story arcs, and also get a new logo and a new intro.
There’s a debate as to who had the better intro, Justice League or Justice League Unlimited. I think it comes down to preference because both show are served well by their themes. The first show only had a small number of characters and showcased them well. The new show had as many DC heroes as they could logically fit in. So that theme song had to be bigger and more energetic. The visuals still give favor to the original Justice League of this continuity–Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl (and where she was at that time with the lack of her traditional costume after the events of Starcrossed), Green Lantern John Stewart, the Flash, and Martian Manhunter. However. it also spotlighted some of the more often used new additions. The early episodes actually had teaser scenes of the episode until that was replaced with random clips like you see here. Sadly it is just clips in the 2D animation while the CG is mostly replaced (save for a few spots) by what looks like cutouts of the main heroes. Visually it’s not fantastic but otherwise works for the show.
So what did I mean yesterday when I said Superfriends did something better than the Justice League shows? Well, the reason these shows worked so well was also it’s one failing depending on your perspective. When Firestorm made his debut on Superfriends I wanted to see more of his solo adventures. That’s true for many of the DC heroes. Watching them team up was good but it was rare to see any of them fight solo (though in some years you’d have a two-hero team-up story) and even rarer when we saw their civilian lives. That made me curious to see the comics and learn more about these individual heroes.
The DCAU shows however really didn’t do that. Especially during Justice League Unlimited the stories were so solid on their own that I didn’t really care about what they did when they weren’t with the League and frankly I wasn’t even sure they had lives outside of the League. Even Superman and Batman, who had their own shows in the past, rarely felt like anything happened outside of the League, that they were having their own adventures in their own cities. There were attempts at tie-in comics, but if you’ve seen my review of those you know the writers skidded too close to the main DC Universe on many occasions, especially after the show ended and ignoring prior established situations, and thus are not even really very good at being tie-in comics, even when they had good stories. If the point was to get people interested in the comics, the Superfriends shows did a better job, and even Filmation’s show had the heroes operating separately so you knew they had more stories to tell. With Justice League Unlimited everything you needed was right there, great for the show but bad for drawing in new comic readers or giving anyone their own shows.
So when Justice League Action debuted it was a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, the DCAU shows were good and I like them, but they were very serious and I came into DC during the Bronze Age and Saturday morning shows. I wanted something a bit lighter the next round. There were times Action went to far the other way, probably to please the bigwigs at Cartoon Network who decided Teen Titans Go! should define the direction of their network and action shows were out. That backfired, as the show finished airing in the UK before we got to see a lot of it, and the show was still buried in the 6-7 AM Saturday timeslot with Transformers: Robots In Disguise, so nobody really got to see it if they didn’t know about it elsewhere. CN wasn’t exactly giving these shows any promotion. The shorts on YouTube did more for that than anything the network did.
Tell me, if you didn’t already know these characters, what besides the music and maybe a few features would tell you who the bad guys and good guys are? The villains have a heavier piece and the heroes a more victorious piece of the theme. Otherwise they’re all showing up and running towards the camera in the same direction, and the visuals make it look like they’re all coming from the volcano tower (this show’s version of the Justice League watchtower, as this is one of those shows that delighted in trashing the Hall Of Justice like the comics of the time). They’re not very distinct and the intro is really short. At some point it gained a minor tweak by adding sound effects. It’s not even worth posting it they’re so similar.
The show itself was very fun and might make you more interested in checking out the characters solo. With smaller and larger team-ups you still got to know the characters but it felt like they did things without the League and they only joined forces when they needed to. Too bad none of the comics were following the style of this show. Imagine a sort of “DC Action Universe” apart from the main DC continuity that drew kids in to see more of these characters, then when they outgrew it the main DC continuity would still be there since they only want to target adults now. You’d have an entry point for kids and those tired of how seriously DC takes its dark direction, and something for those who like it. If Cartoon Network hadn’t treated this as poorly as they do other action shows this totally could have worked. But they did, Dan DiDio couldn’t care less about kids, and this never happened. Such a lost opportunity.
Well, that’s all the Justice League series I know of in the animated world. There was a weak pilot, the League showing up in various Batman incarnations, and the Snyder film that suffered from not caring about the DC universe proper while Warner Brothers’ course correction with Joss Whedon lacked proper balance. The Justice League has not gone away, and when done right I prefer them to the Avengers. (“We seek justice.” “Oh yeah, well we’re going to avenge people.” Who has the more light and inspirational tone? To me it’s a league seeking justice who are also friends that are super.) You may disagree with me on anything I’ve posted this week and that’s fine. My point was to talk about something that makes me happy as things get a bit not so happy for me as this hernia gets to see a knife and I don’t know what’s going to happen for the next few weeks as I recover. I may not be able to do some more posts beyond what I managed to squeeze into two days of writing and my best hope is that I still made some good points and none of the videos went down during the scheduling. I love this franchise and I just really wanted to talk about it this week. We all need something to make us happy, and Superfriends rarely fails to do that for me. I like these other shows too but nothing will stop me from loving Superfriends most of all. See you when I can sit in front of a computer again!