Superman on Television
Justice League Action: Episode Reviews
Season 1 - Episodes 26: "All Aboard the Space Train"Reviewed by: Thomas Dreyfuss
Originally Aired: March 11, 2017 (France), July 1, 2017 (U.S.)
Written by Ray Utarnachitt
Directed by Doug Murphy
Kevin Conroy as Batman (voice)
Khary Payton as Cyborg/Kanjar Ro (voice)
Patton Oswalt as Space Cabbie (voice)
Trevor Devall as Jonah Hex (voice)
Rating - 5 (out of 5): Well folks, we're half way through the first (and hopefully not the only) season of Justice League Action. I know a lot of folks were expecting this series to be the second coming of Justice League Unlimited, but the reality is there will never be another Justice League Unlimited. The DCAU didn't just break the mold, it broke the damn machine that the molds were used for. And this new machinery that has become the status quo just can't accommodate for "quality" 22 minute action cartoons on basic cable. And if kids want to watch animated superheroes, their parents can take 'em to the movies where there's plenty of computer generated theatrics to entertain them.
So while I do lament the current state of affairs of this risk averse entertainment industry, I'm glad to have watched Justice League Action. So far, the series has proven itself to be a fun, light hearted take on the DC Universe without ever feeling saccharine or dumbed down for its core audience of children. Its many homages and jokes are callbacks to not only the comics but also to Super Friends; the long running animation franchise that started the ever lasting fire that is DC Animation. From that fire emerged Alan Burnett, a writer and producer who's been involved with practically every WB Animation project for almost 30 years. As of this posting, Burnett's officially retired and its been bittersweet for me. I've grown up on DuckTales, the entire DCAU, and The Batman which all have been supervised by Burnett. They're all great works of entertainment and they should serve as a reminder that working on children's programming means that you should accept a responsibility that's bigger than yourself.
The stuff we watch as kids forms the basis for who we'll become as adults which is why a lot of kids of the 90s (such as myself) claim that B:TAS "made their childhoods". Working on a licensed property isn't an invitation to slack off, it's a challenge to do YOUR best and to do right by an entire generation of young minds. Justice League Action isn't just a series made to order but one that's also made with passion and the episode "All Aboard the Space Train" is proof of that.
The episode starts off with Batman and Cyborg trying to prevent Kanjar Ro's from making off with an intergalactic space train filled with antiquities from the Watchtower vault. But when the space train goes into the DCU equivalent of light speed, Batman and Cyborg enlist the aid of JLA's most reluctant hero Space Cabbie to board the train and stop Kanjar Ro. The structure of the this episode is fascinating as it's almost like one of those Russian nesting dolls with each beat revealing a newer, smaller, different layer. The first act plays out like a typical Justice League story, then the second act turns the episode into a Mission Impossible pastiche and the third act reveals the episode to actually be a full on western when Jonah Hex enters the fray.
It's a great frame work that elevated by great actors delivering well written dialogue. Patton Oswalt is great as Space Cabbie who's written like a fan surrogate character but with more maturity and nuance than one typically expects. Space Cabbie gets to hang out and help his Justice League buddies but he's not obsessed with joining the League. Space Cabbie loves his job and feels content with his place in the cosmos but when push comes to shove, he always does the right thing which always seems to be the hard thing (but at least there's a 20% tip so that's good too). Trevor Devall is great as Jonah Hex and the character's design by Shane Glines really sells the character's pissed off law-bringer vibe. There's a neat explanation as to why Jonah Hex is time displaced delivered by Batman's humorous attempt at cowboy talk (Sidebar: I love how this series finds new ways for Kevin Conroy to take the piss out of Batman) but the episode is much more interested in the shootout between Hex and Kanjar and the action delivers the goods.
So overall, "All Aboard the Space Train" is a fun little adventure that moves at a brisk pace. It's not the best installment in the series, but it's one that best exemplifies JLA's take on the DC universe. It's Mission Impossible, in space, with cowboys, cabbies, and a hot Pastrami sandwich. What other show has all of that in under 11 minutes?
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