In the latest DC Animated Series, Superman (well, Superboy) finds himself thrust into the future to battle evil alongside the Legion of Super-Heroes. Premiering last fall on Kids’WB!, this series met with most mixed reactions initially. Some fans saw it as a watered-down attempt to bring the team dynamic last seen in Justice League Unlimited to Kids’WB!, ignoring the complexities of that series to make a kid-friendly version of the popular series. Others claimed, of course, that WB was intentionally trying to bury the “Timm-verse” cartoons (ridiculous, isn’t it?). However, what surprised fans was how the series progressed, slowly improving upon many of the initial shortcomings. Now, onward to the synopsis!
Kids WB! Brings you a new series inspired by the DC Comics legend Superman. In Legion of Super Heroes, a team of superheroes from the 31st century heads back in time to enlist Superman’s help in battling their nemeses, the Fatal Five. But when they arrive in the Man of Steel’s hometown, Smallville, they discover that they’ve miscalculated a bit. Instead of a powerful, confident Superman, they find the introverted, insecure young adult Clark Kent, whose abilities need fine-tuning and who knows nothing of the legend that comic book history says he’ll become .It takes some effort, but Brainiac 5, Bouncing Boy, and Saturn Girl convince Clark that he’s special and may be able to help them. Although he sincerely doubts that he’s the “Superman” they keep talking about, his curiosity is piqued enough that he goes back to the future with them. The legion itself is a group of well-meaning, undisciplined and unpredictable, super powered young adults who just happen to be the Universe’s only hope. The Legionnaires are still light-years away from becoming the seasoned (and cynical) pros of the Justice League.
I can’t call this a great series, but it is a good one. Once the series gets past the initial pilot episode, which I found to be a bit weak, the series slowly moves forward with some rather surprising results. Included in this first volume compilation are the episodes “Man of Tomorrow,” “Timberwolf,” “Legacy,” and “Phantom.”
Like I said before, I found “Man of Tomorrow” to be a bit weak. It moves too fast, never giving us time to really build a connection with the cast. We’re introduced to everyone within ten minutes, and we’re already tossed into our first big fight of the series. And while I suppose this was done to get Superman into the future as fast as possible, the episode feels rushed and, sadly, falls flat. But it does establish the setting for the series, which is all it set out to really do, anyways. In the second episode, Timberwolf,” we’re already introduced to yet another new character quite quickly. It’s actually has some surprising depth but ends up being a shade predictable. It’s not until the third episode of the disc that I believe the series really starts to pick up. The entire cast has been introduced, their roles established, and the interesting stuff can really begin.
The third episode on the set is “Legacy,” which finds Superman becoming friends with a spoiled teenage girl, a girl reminiscent of the spoiled Hollywood actresses of today. Suffice it to say, things go wrong and eventually Superman and the Legion find themselves going toe to toe with her and a group of criminals. In “Phantoms,” my favorite episode in the bunch, Superman unknowingly releases a criminal in the Phantom Zone who ends ups being more than he can handle. On top of that, this episode lays the groundwork for not only Superman trying to discover more about his past, but also what secrets Brainiac 5 may hold.
It’s a mixed bag overall. The series makes a few mistakes within the first couple episodes, but the creative seems to learn from whatever mistakes were made and moves on. And the episode themselves are very simple, with plots that go from Point A to Point B without any major deviation. The character designs are pretty standard, though a little bit of a retro influence is thrown in to make the series visually distinct (though Saturn Girl looks a bit odd). The action is standard kiddie-fare, but can be intense at times. If anything, this series reminds me of The Batman, which also started off weak but then found itself getting stronger and stronger as the seasons and episodes progressed. Much like that series, the creative team is trying to do things a little different here and you can tell that not everything is falling exactly into place. While not as intelligent as previous DC cartoons, it’s a series that is finding itself, and I imagine will only improve with time.
I do want to acknowledge the cool in-jokes and references the creative team include in nearly every episode. There’s a host of references that DC fans will enjoy, including Skeets and Booster Gold (as a janitor!), Lobo, a possible offspring of Lex Luthor, General Zod, and Doomsday (to name a few). These are neat little geeky moments, to be sure. That shows me that the creative team is definitely working to make this a series that not only kids can enjoy, but a series that old-time DC fans can also tune-in to. If anything, those nods will keep fans watching (but, from the looks of season two, they won’t need them. Season Two looks absolutely amazing, coming across as a huge change from the first 13 episodes).
The DVD itself, though, falls a bit short. The single disc is housed in a standard Amaray case with no insert. The episodes, as usual, are presented only in full frame. There are widescreen transfers out there, Warner! Please use them! And, since this is a brand new animated series, the audio and video transfers are predictably solid.
The disc itself includes a short featurette and a handful of trailers. The featurette talks to a handful of creators on the show about their goals for the series and what they set out to do, initially. It’s a typical EPK extra. Nothing new is really learned, though we do get a peek at some unused art. Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen a better look at some of the unused characters designs and the artwork used in the “Museum of Superman” set. There looks to be some great Curt Swan-inspired images in that set design that deserve a better look.
I do want to note the lack of a “DC Comics Kids Collection” banner on this release. This, on top of the four random episodes, tells me that not only was this a quickie release, but a season set of “Legion of Super-Heroes” is on the way, likely early 2008.
Overall, I’d have to strike Legion of Super Heroes – Volume One as a Rental. Die-hard fans will undoubtedly purchase it, since the extra content will likely not be duplicated in any season compilations release. But for the casual fan? Rent it before deciding whether or not to purchase it. However, giving the low price that many vendors will be selling this for, you may be better off plunking a few extras dollars to purchase this DVD. The episodes themselves are a mixed bag, but the series does pick up after the weak series pilot. The extras are, of course, nothing to really write home about. If you’re a Superman fan, this is a nice addition to the collection, I will admit. It’s a different chapter of his life documented, and that in itself should initiate fans to seek out this new release.
Legion of Super Heroes – Volume One hits DVD on August 28th, 2007.