It is almost exactly one-and-a-half years since the passing of media maestro Dwayne McDuffie, known more widely for his writing on the various “Justice League” cartoon series of the past decade, as well as for “Ben 10: Alien Force/Ultimate Alien,” but more prominent as a comic book writer, enthusiast and advocate for better Black representation in that medium which he backed up in 1993 by being the co-founder of Milestone Media, which, along with other Black creators, established a universe within a universe at DC Comics (home to Superman, Batman, etc) populated by mostly Black and ‘minority’ heroes such as Hardware, Icon, the Blood Syndicate, and their most continual popular character, Static.
The cartoon movie McDuffie was working on before he passed, which has been out on DVD and BluRay, is “Justice League: Doom.” Based on the pre-existing “Tower of Babel” story from the Justice League of America comics, the entire league is taken down by super-villains, led by the immortal Vandal Savage, who learns their greatest weaknesses after he steals them from the always-ready Batman, who compiled the files should the heroes ever become compromised.
I saw “Doom” and its…well, it’s okay. I will begin with the positives. It’s voiced by the trinity of Justice League actors: Kevin Conroy, who immortalized the Batman voice in “Batman: The Animated Series” (and any seriously-taken animation appearance by the bat since the early 90’s, save a few exceptions), Tim Daly – who is better known visually from various movies and tv shows but also has the most famous Superman voice since that characters 1990’s animated show, and Susan Eisenberg – the tough yet still sexy voice of Wonder Woman since the previously-stated Justice League cartoons. That’s a huge positive. Fill it with Nathan Fillion (“Castle,” “Firefly”) who already has voiced Green Lantern in the past and does so again, and Michael Rosenbaum (“Smallville”) who voiced The Flash throughout the many previous cartoons, and you’ve got a fantastic lineup.
Of equal prominence to me (and maybe to S&A audiences as well) is the return of Carl Lumbly (“To Sleep With Anger,” “Cagney & Lacey,” “Alias”) as the Martian Manhunter, who actually gets a lot to do in this movie, and the surprise addition of Cyborg, a character best known to the masses from the recent “Teen Titans,” but a prominent character in the DC Comics Universe who recently was admitted to the Justice League in the comic book. Voiced quite well by Bumper Robinson, who, to me, has always been better at voice-over than actual acting in shows like “A Different World” and “The Game,” as well as his own series, like the insipid “Guys Like Us,” Cyborg isn’t just a background character, he’s brought in with something to really add to the story, which in the original version he wasn’t actually involved. Phil Morris (“Seinfeld” and so many other shows) also reprises the voice of ultimate bad guy Vandal Savage, and is quite menacing and believable in the part.
Seeing all these cool characters on screen is the best part of this movie. Them fighting for their survival against the toughest of odds imaginable makes a great story, though it feels like it could have been executed better.
With the exception of Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter, it just feels like another fight for most of them – like you know that they’re going to beat the odds. In other Justice League animated movies, you’re just not sure what the heck is going to happen – some can die, some may not. I wanted to feel like that could actually happen, but I didn’t.
“Doom” is among the weakest of the Lauren Montgomery-directed vehicles, which includes “Wonder Woman” (the best one yet) as well as “Green Lantern: First Flight and Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.”
McDuffie’s previous cartoon movie “All-Star Superman,” released after his death, does a better job of being heart-warming to the audience. Yes, it is based on a stronger story, but having read/seen both versions, McDuffie added something to that which doesn’t exist in “Doom.” I wonder – if it stayed truer to the original story where Ra’s Al Ghul was the villian instead of Vandal Savage, making it more personal to Batman (he’s Bat’s greatest villain, also featured in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins”), whether the movie would have been stronger. Guess we won’t ever really know.
Don’t get me wrong though, this movie is good, but as Dwayne McDuffie’s last hurrah, I just wished it were better.