Wherein I not only review a movie, I have a brief divergence on morality in comic books…
I greatly enjoyed JLA: Crisis on Two Earths. It seems very loosely based on Grant Morrison’s JLA: Earth 2. Even though the Crime Syndicate was around a long time before Morrison’s graphic novel, the movie clearly takes its cues or at least its jumping off point from that work, possibly also working in hints of Alan Moore’s lost proposal “Twilight.” The animation and colors look spectacular on Blu-Ray although the audio is quite lacking. The voice talent seemed perfectly cast to me, having not watched any DC animation in the past couple of decades I have no preconceived ideas about what the characters should sound like. James Woods in particular was standout as Owlman.
THAR BE SPOILERS AHEAD
Herein I take on some of the criticisms I have seen of the film on the web.
One of those criticisms is some questionable moral decisions that Batman makes at the end. Since I tend to take any kind of movie of characters as unique takes not beholden to comic continuity or exact characterization, how Batman (or any character) may respond in a comic is not how I necessarily (within certain fairly broad frames) expect him to respond in a movie (although Final Crisis did have Batman use a gun on Darkseid, as a last option, and although it received some criticism for this, most people exonerated Batman's decision here (or perhaps, more accurately, credited Grant Morrison's creative decision, given the general good will he's banked as a writer). Still, I don't find his decisions particularly out of step with Batman. Johnny Quick is warned (and Batman's silence is not necessarily an affirmation that he _knew_ what would happen (and, indeed, how would he?) and Owlman was committing a murder/suicide. If you stop a suicide-murderer from the murder portion of their plan, is it a lack of regard for human life on the hero's part? Is it murder on the hero's part then? I have a hard time saying it is.
If anything took me out of the movie, it was how it ended in a nice, tidy package. Unlike the more sophisticated Earth 2 book that ended with the heroes being unable to change the world, this had a more Speilberg-ian happy ending. I get why it does, particulary in this medium and it works fine in the context of this film, but it was such a difference from the work that helped or partially inspire it that it took me out of an otherwise highly satisfying film experience.
I will add that I greatly enjoyed the cameos of various second and third tier DC characters in their Earth-2 incarnations, particularly the Marvel crime family, as this is what specifically reminded me of Moore’s “Twilight” proposal (as did the entire Mafioso style organization set-up).
THE SPOILERS BE ENDED
The Spectre short, which everyone is raving about, certainly gets outstanding marks for mood and its style. It’s pretty flat on plot, however. I thought, “hey this could be a real murder mystery,” but that element is not even really tackled – the audience has no opportunity to guess about who did it, why, or much less care. Still, it is stylistically captivating and definitely a cool addition.
I wish there were some commentary or a making-of of the JLA movie although the documentary on how Didio steered the current DCU into a post-9/11 age is interesting, if not for what is said about how might positively conceptualize many plot and character developments that at least much of the internet fan base has seen asmostly negative than for what the people don’t say about it – how these events drive or are driven by marketing, if thinking about comics like TV episodes is a good or bad thing, how /why/should post-9/11 comics be different from post-WW II comics, among other topics.
Johanna Carlson Draper expresses her thoughts on how the modern direction of DC comics may be attributable to “New York overraction.” Although I am hesitant to call it that, since the trauma of any and all New Yorkers regarding that event must be huge compared to what any of us experienced, I do think that Didio has let his own shock impact how he has steered the comics. Regardless, I personally disagree with how 9/11 makes us think about heroes. If anything, 9/11 showed us that heroes don’t have to be mythic creatures who do things that the rest of us cannot. Heroes are (in reality) and can be everyday people do extraordinary things. 9/11 humanized heroism. It reminded us that being a hero is not somebody else’s job: it’s our job. And, yes, it’s usually about taking some kind of risk, but the risk is not always life threatening. Sometimes, it’s the risk of just doing the right thing that inspires us. I would argue that even or particularly in life-threatening situations, that the harm element only augments what is really inspiring us: doing the right thing.
Therefore, I find Didio’s comment about needing to know that heroes put their lives on the life struck me as not just odd, but completely wrong. In comic books, I know that my heroes aren’t going to die; I’m not interested in seeing them “put their lives on the line.” I’m much more interested in how they solve the situation, the character developments, and the psychology of how do you navigate difficult situations – and navigate it by doing the right thing. And while the right thing may not be something everyone agrees on, it should be founded on a moral philosophy that we can at all least understand and makes sense with the character. Wonder Woman’s decision to kill Maxwell Lord is certainly a decision founded on utilitarian moral thought – and therefore has a legitimate moral basis – but is Wonder Woman a utilitarian? Even if she is, wouldn’t Wonder Woman think in a more morally creative fashion? How does killing a villain reconcile with the woman who can “stop a war with love?”
In summary, and coming back to the review in hand, even without a making-off documentary, there are some nice extras not mentioned above (including other JLA cartoon episodes as well as live-action pilots of the 70's Wonder Woman series, famously starring Linda Carter and the pilot for the much more recent Aquaman would-be series) and the movie is probably the best cartoon super-hero movie I've yet to see. (The best up to this point would either be the first Hellboy animated or the animated New Frontiers adaptation.) Some may consider this to be damning with faint praise, but this is truly an entertaining movie and a happy addition to my collection.