cartoon is 40
November 22, 2001
By Franklin Harris
The Justice League of America has been around since 1960. But despite the fact that a giant media conglomerate, AOL Time Warner, owns DC Comics, no one has bothered to bring the world's greatest superteam to the small screen (never mind the big screen).
"Justice League" airs Monday nights at 8:30 on Cartoon Network, and, as others have said before, this isn't your dad's "Superfriends."
(Before you e-mail me: Yes, I know about the unaired, live-action "Justice League of America" pilot. Bootleg copies of it are for sale at almost every comic-book convention. I've seen it, and the less said about it the better.)
Sure, some of the old, familiar faces are still around: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. But they bear little resemblance to the versions that appeared in "Superfriends," which anchored ABC's Saturday morning lineup from 1973 until 1985.
With the exception of its final year, when it was retooled as "Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians," "Superfriends" was strictly a kiddie show, with little appeal to teens and adults.
"Justice League" reaches for a wider demographic.
It doesn't hurt that "Justice League" is produced by Bruce Timm, half of the team responsible for the most recent "Batman" and "Superman" cartoons.
From the first episode, "Secret Origins," we can see that this is a darker brand of superheroics, reflecting the comic-book industry's move away from camp and into grim-and-gritty.
Don't expect to see any teen sidekicks like the Wonder Twins.
Superman is still an overgrown Boy Scout, but everyone else is all-new and all-different.
Batman is a brooding loner. As he tells the rest of the League, "I'm not much of a people person. But when you need me — and you will — call me."
Wonder Woman is a newcomer to "man's world." She is still a bit naive, but she also displays an Amazon ferocity lacking in her earlier cartoon incarnation.
Hawkgirl, who appeared in a handful of "Superfriends" episodes, sports a new attitude and a super-charged mace that gives her some offensive firepower. But she is without her husband, Hawkman.
Also, Timm is sticking with the Silver Age version of Hawkgirl, a policewoman from the planet Thanagar, rather than using the current comic-book version, who, like the original Hawkgirl from the 1940s, is a reincarnated Egyptian princess.
The Flash is back, but he is no longer super-serious police scientist Barry Allen, who sacrificed his life to save the universe during the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" comics series in the mid '80s. As in the comics, Allen's equally fast nephew, Wally West (formerly the teen sidekick Kid Flash) has taken on the Flash mantle.
To add a bit of diversity, the team's Green Lantern is black.
In the comics, John Stewart was a somewhat self-conscious understudy to Earth's Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. But in the "Justice League" cartoon, he is a no-nonsense veteran of 10 years service in the Green Lantern Corps.
And lastly, "Justice League" finally gives one of DC Comic's most enduring heroes a chance to shine.
The Martian Manhunter has been around since the '50s and has been an off-and-on member of the comic-book League since its inception. But this is his first time appearing in a cartoon.
As the last surviving Martian, the Manhunter (real name J'onn J'onzz) has abilities that make him almost as powerful as Superman. In addition to super strength and flight, he is a shape shifter who can impersonate anyone, become intangible and read minds.
During their first season, expect the Justice League to run into familiar villains voiced by name actors, including Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown), the Joker (Mark Hamill), the Mongul (Eric Roberts) and Felix Faust (Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund).
No matter how much nostalgic fondness you may have for the Superfriends, you must admit that Earth is now in safer hands.