- AD Greer
If you are a millennial, you’ve most likely seen a few episodes of Justice League the animated series when you were a kid. Bruce Timm’s DC Animated series are arguably the best and most faithful stories about the DC pantheon of characters.
Bruce Timm’s character work was unparalleled and impressive. He captured Batman’s greatest power - his intellect - and put the “detective” back into DC. He brought Superman back down to earth with a faithful portrayal of the big blue boy scout that offered glimpses of his humanity and humility in between larger than life battles. His Joker was menacing and hilarious (thanks to Mark Hamill's brilliant voice over work). His Lex Luthor was driven by hubris and jealousy rather than a baseless hatred for the Man of Steel.
Timm also brought together the world’s greatest superhero team over a decade worth of development. His traitorous version of Hawkgirl was shocking and heartbreaking. His no nonsense and brutish Wonder Woman transformed her into a heroine girls could admire ending a long run of her being secretary to the Justice League or eye candy for prepubescent boys.
Most importantly, Timm made you care about the villains as much as the heroes (Two-Face, Metalo, and Catwoman come to mind). As much fun as Jack Nicholson’s Joker was in Tim Burton’s Batman, you never feel sympathy for the character. You just enjoy the antics and wait for his two-dimensional-ass to get kicked. But with two-dimensional animation, Timm was able to bring his villains to life like never before. Who can watch the Ace of Clubs death without tearing up? Or pity the Ventriloquist as he falls back under control of his alternate personality, Scarface?
His contributions don’t just stop at the animated for television level - they permeate the entire DC Universe. Timm (and Paul Dini) created Harley Quinn, who quickly rose to the forefront of DC’s most popular characters. Timm’s Batman the Animated Series ushered in more mature and thought provoking entertainment without going so dark as to alienate casual fans.
Bruce Timm is the most influential storyteller of our generation - sorry Kevin Feige. So it’s infuriating to see his legacy continue to take a hit because Warner Bros. executives want to keep cashing. This deterioration of Timm’s body of work continues with their latest animated feature, JUSTICE LEAGUE vs THE FATAL FIVE.
SIDENOTE: Enough with the versus titles already. It’s lazy writing and frankly uninspiring to hook a casual viewer.
Justice League vs The Fatal Five follows about ten (undeveloped) characters from the Justice League who face off against The Fatal Five, a group of time travel villains who want to free the Emerald Empress and Validus from captivity on the planet Oa (home base of the Green Lantern Corps). Oy, that’s a lot of plot.
At the forefront of the story is Jessica Cruz - yet another Green Lantern - who suffers from PTSD after watching her friends get murdered on a camping trip. Jessica has become one of the more popular characters in the comics but this on screen appearance is underwhelming. She’s given one scene in a therapist office that hamfistedly offers all the exposition you need to know about her but fails to make you sympathize with her. Therapy scenes are tricky because the character under the microscope is almost always standing in their own way, but Jessica is downright flat. She’s not interested in getting help and she’s rude to her therapist. So why is she even there?
When Wonder Woman attacks Jessica in the street (okay…?) to prove to her that she is worthy of wielding a Green Lantern ring AND she should join the Justice League, Jessica shrugs it off because wallowing in her own self-pity is easier. It isn’t until Star Boy, a member of the Legion of Superheroes, arrives from the future - but can’t access his memories as to why he is there - that Jessica comes to life. She sees herself in him and decides to act. Instead of helping him or having a realization about herself, we’re treated to even more exposition and world building in a flash-forward memory sequence that doesn’t develop any important characters but certainly adds more characters to the story.
A few random action set pieces later, including the destruction of the Hall of Justice and a bomb threat to EVERY city in America, the Fatal Five demand Jessica be turned over to them. The Fatal Five captures Jessica, uses her to free their captive members, destroy Jessica’s ring, and absorb all the power of the Lanterns to destroy the sun and Earth, thereby defeating the Legion of Superheroes before they can be formed. Even though this plot would kill them too, this is their plan. But wait, It gets even better. Jessica may not have her ring but she recites the magic words:
“In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power...
Green Lantern's Light!”
And lo and behold, she recreates her power ring, returns to Earth to fight the Fatal Five and then save the world. Wait. Nope. She doesn’t save the world. Star Boy does because you know, it’s always best to have the main character watch someone else save the day.
Much like Batman and Harley Quinn, Justice League vs The Fatal Five has shifted to an even more mature tone of storytelling that pushes it further away from the original Saturday morning series. Characters are now shot in the head or stripping and then having sex. This isn’t left to the viewers imagination either, we are seeing these acts. It’s gratuitous and stomach turning.
The biggest problem with Justice League vs The Fatal Five is it has way too many characters. A casual viewer might not need a proper introduction to Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman but Mr. Terrific, Miss Martian, Star Boy, Kilowog, Braniac 5? Yeah, these characters need to be introduced and developed more than, hey it’s Saturn Girl! This type of storytelling alienates viewers who are new to DC and it’s also just bad storytelling. The writers could have cleared out all the noise and honed in on a story focusing on Jessica and Star Boy, utilizing DC’s Trinity to fill out the supporting cast. I’m not even going to delve into Miss Martain’s D-Plot since it could have been cut and you would miss absolutely nothing.
Jessica and Star Boy both have pasts they need to face; Star Boy can’t remember his and Jessica wants to forget hers. This is where the story potentially could have meat. But since the 70 minute movie is so interested in cramming in as many characters as possible, their conflicts are dealt in a cursory way and their growth just happens rather than develops.
This uninspired stories where no valuable lesson is learned is a disturbing trend that I don’t see an end to. Selling toys and driving audiences to other TV shows like Young Justice or Legion of Superheroes seems to be the goal here.
I have one request:
Just stop. Leave Bruce Timm’s universe alone. Seal the capsule and bury it for the next generation to find. There is so much superhero content being created these days that it’ll be hard for future audiences to decide where to begin. Give the platform to new artists so we might discover the next Bruce Timm who reinvigorates the medium.
The legacy of Timm’s work has always been my go-to recommendation for newbies as it’s the most accessible and enjoyable content available. If someone gets hooked, it would be nice for the entirety of Timm’s work to be solid from the start to finish but I fear the money hungry company and their competitive nature will drive the legacy into the gutter. Timm should have pulled a Seinfeld and gone out on top.