Continuing with my plan to post reviews of some of the cartoon related movies that I watched during my COVID-19 isolation, I thought it was time to bring back a segment I hadn’t done in a while: Panels to Popcorn!
This is where I take specifically an adapted comic book related movie and compare and contrast it with the original source material. Although Marvel stopped doing these in recent years as their focus has become more of the big screen MCU adaptions, Warner Brothers has been churning out animated adaptations of their DC comics properties for years, and as such has tons of choices for any comic book fan to enjoy.
Therefore most of these segments I’ve done have been related to DC, whether that be my previous reviews of Teen Titans’ Judas Contract or teaming up with my co host, Chad Smith, to do a Gotham by Gaslight review. This particular entry is no different as one evening not too long ago, I plopped down on my quarantine sofa with a couple bottles of Duck Rabbit Milk Stout and decided to tuck into Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.
As we’ll get to in a moment, I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of alternate “What if” Earths and the notion of a version of the DC universe in which the Justice League were the bad guys, has always been super interesting to me.
Besides, I recently got the “Crisis” expansion for the DC Deck Building Game that we reviewed on the show a few weeks ago, and that contains many of the “evil” versions of the JLA that are highlighted in this movie. So given I’ve been playing that game with my son, Jakob, I figured I should at least know a little more background on those particular characters.
So without further ado, let’s take a deep dive into this 2010 direct-to-video animated tale of how the Justice League helped a good guy version of Lex Luthor defeat the villainous Crime Syndicate of an alternate Earth.
Justice League, Crisis on Two Earths
Crisis on Two Earths was originally conceived by Bruce Timm, the driving creative force of the massively popular and influential series of DC animated adaptations that includes Batman: TAS, Superman: TAS, and Justice League. It was supposed to be a direct to video movie that would serve as a bridge of sorts between the original Justice League cartoon show and it’s sequel series Justice League Unlimited. However, for whatever reason, the idea was scrapped at the time and as result, it took over 10 more additional years to see the project finally realized.
Interesting enough though, you can see definite moments in the completed 2010 movie which hearken back to the story lines in the original Justice League cartoon. For example, although they don’t play up the romantic relationship between Batman and Wonder Woman as much, there is really implied love affair between their alternate Earth counterparts of Superwoman and Owlman. Additionally, the alternate version of Lex Luthor’s dynamic works with the Justice League so well because it plays on the established antagonism that was a hallmark of both the Superman and Justice League programs.
But the most obvious way this movie serves as a bridge between Justice League and Justice League Unlimited is in the way it introduces characters like Aqua Man, Black Canary, Red Tornado, and others as potential members of a JLA expansion beyond the core team which is a hallmark of the Justice League Unlimited program. In fact, Batman mentions that he’s holding a “membership drive” at the end of the movie, and you can see that the decision to add more heroes to the team is somewhat in direct response to not only the need for backup that the battle with the Crime Syndicate created, but also as almost taking a page out of their playbook, as I’m sure the JLA saw how efficient things worked for Ultraman and his flunkies with extra hands on deck.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t have the traditional voice actors from the original Justice League cartoon such as Kevin Conroy as Batman or Tim Daley as Superman. However, it doesn’t lack in having some solid name recognition from those that do perform such as Billy Baldwin as Batman, Mark Harmon as Superman, James Woods as Owl Man, and Chris Noth as Lex Luthor.
This movie was also followed up with a sequel of sorts in Justice League: Doom in 2012. That’s a loose adaption of Grant Morrison’s Justice League story line, Tower of Babel, which is all about how Batman had a contingency plans to take down all of the other members of the JLA in case any of them went rogue.
Speaking of Tower of Babel, if you are looking for the inspiration for this movie that also showcases some terrific comic book art, make sure you pick up the original JLA: Earth 2 series written by Grant Morrison with again marvelous Frank Quitely pencils. This series written in the year 2000 details the first encounter between the post Crisis Justice League as they battle the Crime Syndicate.
At the time, this story somewhat broke the continuity established after Crisis on Infinite Earths by having an “alternate” universe exist at all (given the whole point of Crisis was the creation of a single solitary reality within the DC universe). Originally, the Crime Syndicate hailed from Earth 3 as far back as the Gardener Fox written original issues of Justice League in the 60s, but now Grant had to put them in the “Anti Matter” universe just because he really didn’t have any were else to put them.
As a side note on the Crisis on Infinite Earths, The original Crime Syndicate’s Earth 3 is one of the versions of our planet selected by writer Marv Wolfman to show the destructive power of the Anti Monitor’s plans, as we see the Syndicate’s members struggle in vain to battle against the wave of nothingness before being ultimately wiped from existence all together.
Well, that is until New 52 happened. Nowadays, the Crime Syndicate has been restored to their former “home” in the DC continuity making a mess of things on the iconic Earth 3 again.
Like all animated projects that Bruce Timm has had a hand in developing, of course, the best part is always the character design work, and Crisis on Two Earths is no exception. Although they may not be exactly in the same “Alex Toth”esque retro style that was a hallmark of the original “Timmverse”, you can still see that the level of detail and attention to detail has not missed this project with some stunning yet sleek and simplistic designs.
In particular, I’m a huge fan of the look and thought process around the development of Crime Syndicate version of Martain Manhunter. Giving him the name J’edd J’Arkus with the four armed gladiatorial look is an unmistakable homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs “Princess of Mars” series, as that is one of the signature looks of the green skinned Martian race known as Tharks. To spend that extra effort in developing a look of a character that appears for probably less than a minute of actual screen time, speaks volumes about the dedication to universe building that Bruce Timm invested in ever aspect of this DC Comics storytelling.
From a story perspective, it is somewhat unrealistic in that the major conceit is that somehow the Justice League will just set right possibly decades of wrong doing perpetrated by the Crime Syndicate in just the span of a few days. I mean, although it seems as cold hearted as allowing a school bus full of kids to die to protect a secret identity, Batman’s decision not to help out does seem to make logical sense given the massive task of trying to pretty much police two planets with only a handful of people, even if they are the most powerful folks around.
It’s also somewhat dumb that the Earth 3’s government counter to the Crime Syndicate is to just drop nuclear weapons on them. When was the last time you saw a nuclear weapon even make a dent in Superman?!? The guy runs solar power! What is solar power but a form of nuclear power for God’s sake. Honestly that’s why Luthor’s plan to go get blue Kryptonite from an alternate universe was a much better plan to handle the threat. Well, that and getting recruiting the Justice League in the first place.
That’s why I think the movie actually picks up the moment it shifts to the insane Owlman and his plan to wipe out all reality by destroying Earth Prime. Sure, it’s somewhat nihilistic and almost Thanos-like, but I always thought the Batman character overall was sort of nihilistic to begin with at times. Therefore, its not a large stretch of the imagination that there would be a version of the character in the infinite number of alternate universes that would actually be unhinged by his experiences that he would feel life was utterly meaningless.
It doesn’t hurt that Owlman’s voice actor is the impeccable James Woods who gives the character a cold, calculated tone with just a twinge of pent up rage and frustration, which is perfect for any psychopath.
Furthermore, the ending where Batman battles Owlman on the desolate destroyed Earth Prime is indeed well executed, with the suspense building to the moment in which Batman ultimately triumphs not through brute strength but by being just one step ahead of his opponent and therefore allowing his vicious cunning to shine through.
Speaking of which, boy is Batman more of jerk in this movie than I’ve seen him in a long time!?! I know that in the Justice League series, he’s a pretty stoic, serious fellow, but in this movie, he’s downright draconian. Like he doesn’t blink an eye when he allows the Crime Syndicate version of Flash, Johnny Quick, to basically age himself to death in order to create a portal to allow Batman to follow Owlman to Earth Prime. This again coupled with his decision not to help Earth 3 in the first place (even though it was the right call) and his dispatching of Owlman to explode on some unknown ice world version of Earth, yeah, Batman is a stone cold hard ass in this movie.
It’s a wonder any of those other superheroes even accept his invitation to join the JLA in the first place!?! If I was Firestorm, I would have let his overbearing jerkface get pounded on by Superwoman and the evil version of Shazam’s Uncle Dudley.
Final Grade: B-
This is a better than average attempt made the DC Animated Movie arm to retell one of the more famous stories from their vast library.
This is mainly due to the fact that it is a direct outcropping of the terrific work done by Bruce Timm in his original Justice League TV series, and nothing really awful could ever sprout from those fertile fields. I feel as if this had not had that strong guiding hand somewhat shepherding the tale through some of its more ridiculous moments, the story by itself would have been largely inconsistent enough to sink the narrative.
Still though, the evil opposite doppleganger tale is one that’s been a tried and true premise throughout all of fiction so it’s inevitable that it would see the light of day here as well. Luckily, for us though, there are enough interesting wrinkles to this tale as to make it not feel as if DC was just beating a dead horse.
From the mentioned development of Owl Man into a chilling relatable threat, the super neat character designs especially around the alternate world versions of characters like the Jester, Model Citizen, or Breakdance, to the quietly intense romance between Martian Manhunter and Rose Wilson, to just having an evil version of the Shazam family, these were all neat little Easter Egg like additions to the story which gave it better footing.
Hell, Wonder Woman even gets her invisible plane in this movie which is just plain neat. Although I will say, even better than that is the awesome answer to a question by Flash as to why she needs a plane if she can fly: “You have a car…”.
Yeah, that’s the Timm influence. That again saves this movie from the scrap heap.