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Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics [Blu-ray]
THE JOKER, LEX LUTHOR, CATWOMAN, DOOMSDAY, BANE. What makes them so thrillingly watchable? So terribly wonderful? So extremely vital to our super heroes and their worlds? This new feature-length documentary explores these questions across seven decades of DC Comics' hallowed Rogues' Gallery of infamous evildoers.
Box Art - 4 out of 5: The cover art concisely sums up the story - good JLA versus bad JLA. It would have been nice if the cover art incorporated the spiraling Earths that are at the heart of DCU Crises but they do show up in the film's credits so that's something. It's also something that a member of the Justice Society - the Spectre - is on the cover too.
Unfortunately, Warner Home Video must hate the environment. The packaging is a normal plastic DVD box but it's encased by a glossy cardboard cover before it's shrink-wrapped. The extra box adds width to the set unnecessarily. I threw the cardboard away as the graphics and text are identical to what's on the DVD case itself and I have more shelf-room for DVDs without it.
Disc Presentation - 5 out of 5: Disc one has a stock photo of the JLA while disc two has a stock photo of the Crime Syndicate.
Since Justice League of America (1st vol) #21-22, when the JLA met their Earth-2 counterparts in the Justice Society, a capital "C" crisis means the JLA and the JSA are both part of the story, usually with other heroes along for the ride. When I got a first look at the "Crisis on Two Earths" movie, I was immediately disappointed that the Justice Society wasn't going to be part of this adventure.
"Crisis on Two Earths" borrows heavily from Grant Morrison's "Earth-2" Hardcover, which re-introduced the evil JLA, a.k.a., the Crime Syndicate. However, the Crime Syndicate of America has their roots in one of the earliest JLA/JSA crisis-crossovers from Justice League of America (1st vol) # 29-30. In that arc, the JLA of Earth-1 and the JSA of Earth-2 meet and defeat the evil CSA of Earth-3. The CSA appeared several more times over the next 20 years or so until the 1985 reality-re-defining Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 hit the stands and Earth-3 and the CSA were wiped out by the Anti-Monitor's wall of anti-matter in the book's opening pages.
When Morrison revisited the Crime Syndicate post-Crisis in "Earth-2", the "c" in America grew arms and legs turning it into a "k". The Crime Syndicate of Amerika hailed from an Earth in the anti-matter universe. They functioned much as they do in the movie, like meta-gene versions of "The Sopranos".
In Morrison's book, the CSA function by trading "favors" and it's similar in the film with its split-up turf and literally made men. The gangs who work for the CSA are metas given powers by the CSA and they bear more than a slight resemblance to more familiar good guys in the DCU - there are evil doppelgangers of Green Arrow, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., and Uncle Marvel (really!), Vixen, Vibe, and tons more.
This story appears to unfold in the early days of the Justice League. As the film opens, the League are first setting up their outer space satellite. The JLA consists of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and the Martian Manhunter. There are allusions to the League experiencing growing pains through the movie and, as a result, other superheroes get in on the action too (what, me spoil?).
Once again, the biggest fault in the story is Warner's imposed 70 minute time limit. After the hero orgy and non-stop action of "Public Enemies", I expected "Crisis" to be brimming with alternate Earth characters, but it's truly limited to the heroes and villains of two Earths. There are references made to the doppelgangers on other Earths but it's a disappointment that none of the other infinite versions of the heroes show up.
The voice work this time out is mixed. Chris Noth (Mr. Big on "Sex & the City") is the Earth-3 Lex Luthor and he plays Lex simultaneously heroic and duplicitous. He truly is the Mr. Big of this animated movie. This is the Earth-3 Lex Luthor's story as much as it's the Justice League's. Lex is the only character with a genuine arc.
Unfortunately, the League are mainly muscle. There isn't a lot of room for character growth. There's a horribly conceived love story between one of the Leaguers and a denizen of the CSA's Earth that serves only to slow the story and resolves itself by not resolving itself. Other than that, there are few references made to the League's personal lives. An alternate Earth Jimmy Olsen gives Superman pause but, as the JLA fight evil versions of Black Canary, Vixen, Vibe, Elongated Man, and others, there's no mention at all of these being familiar characters to the Leaguers. I'd have expected at least one JLA'er to have some initial discomfort in beating on villains that are so like many of their friends and allies.
Superman is voiced by Mark Harmon ("NCIS") and he sounds a lot like he did on both "Superman: The Animated Series" where Tim Daly played Superman and "JL"/"JLU" where George Newbern played Superman. Harmon has that authoritative yet still friendly tone. He plays Superman perhaps a bit too colloquially at times - yes he is a farm boy, but this is a farm boy with the vocabulary of a journalist.
Unfortunately, like on early episodes of "JL", Superman takes a lot of the bad guy beatings, presumably because he can handle it, but it makes him come off weaker than he actually is.
The ultimate "Crisis" to fans who purchase this DVD is that this never feels like a capital "C" crisis. It's still a fun story that's mostly fast-paced (especially if you fast-forward through the JLA member in love b-plot) with characters who mostly act like their characters should act. It just should have been more than that given the "Crisis" in the title.
First the good: There are three pieces of original bonus content on the two-disc set. First up is the disc one "first look" at the next DCU animated film, "Batman: Under the Red Hood", based on Jason Todd's death and resurrection. Superman doesn't appear in the trailer, though he did play a part in the "Death in the Family" story, so it's unclear if the Man of Steel will be part of the next film or not.
(The voice cast in "Red Hood" includes Jensen Ackles, Jason Teague on "Smallville" and current star of "Supernatural", as Jason Todd; and Neil Patrick Harris, the Flash in "Justice League: The New Frontier", as Dick Grayson.)
Then there's the new feature, a bonus "DC Showcase" short about the Spectre and his original alter ego Jim Corrigan (the Spectre's human host currently is Crispus Allen). The Spectre is a 1940 creation of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel.
The Spectre's story is simple yet quite violent - he is the Spirit of Vengeance after all - and shows what the Spectre is all about. Liberties are taken with the Spectre's background, most notably the "Hollywoodland" setting, but the changes are all consistent with Corrigan's and the Spectre's characters.
The idea behind this new "DC Showcase" short film is that each subsequent film in the DCU series will be accompanied by a short showcasing another superhero. I like this idea a lot. In fact, it'd be fun to ultimately see DC do an entire disc of new shorts with different heroes, kind of like "Batman: Gotham Knights" but with a different hero in each story.
The last of the original content (only on the two-disc edition and the Blu-Ray) is a documentary about the current DCU, starting with Identity Crisis and running through Final Crisis. The principle participants in the documentary are Paul Levitz, Dan Didio, Geoff Johns, and Brad Meltzer. The documentary is immediately dated by Levitz, Didio, and Johns all branded with their pre-DC Entertainment titles.
Comics are an industry that calls for a brash over-confident leader and Paul Levitz was never a Stan Lee type. Neither is Didio but he's a bit more teddy-bear cuddlier - though it is definitely time for Didio to stop comparing the DCU's heroes to the first responders on 9/11. The Justice League, the Titans, the Outsiders, heck, even the Avengers, the X-Men, and the Defenders don't hold a candle to real world heroism.
Second, let's deal with the bad: Warner has cut back on new and original special feature content of late. The initial DCU animated films - like "Superman: Doomsday" - were loaded with hours of documentaries and features. The main "Crisis" disc is loaded up mainly with unoriginal bonus content taken from "Green Lantern: First Flight", "Wonder Woman", and "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies". A note to WHV -- if you repeat a documentary from an old DVD, it's no longer a "first look" at that old DVD. It's either unintentional sloppiness or intentional cross-marketing for products already on store shelves - either way, I don't like it. It's especially insulting to consumers who purchase every DCU animated film and already have the repeated documentaries.
There are also two anime/video game DVD trailers. More space fillers for the disc.
Finally there's the curious: Producer Bruce Timm hand-selected two episodes of "Justice League" to include on this disc. There's no doubt that "A Better World" is a more entertaining and thrilling ride than the uneven "Crisis on Two Worlds". The two-parter explores similar themes as "Crisis" with its Justice Lords but, because we see the moment where the evil doppelgangers diverged from the JL, there's more meat to the idea of an evil JLA on the old series than in the movie. The heroes actually learn and grow from the story on "JL". Its inclusion in this set detracts from the main film.
Video and Sound - 5 out of 5: Beautiful and crisp as it should be.