Warner Home Video has been on a DC Comics blitzkrieg as of late (mostly due to the summer release of “Superman Returns”), and along with making old “Superman” series available for the first time on DVD, Warner Bros. has continued to put out box sets for two of their more recent collections: “Batman Beyond” and “Justice League Unlimited.” Created only four years apart, but separated by decades of history, the two series actually have a lot more in common than you might think. Perhaps the most important similarity is Bruce Timm. Serving as a writer, producer, and even voice actor on both series, Timm has long been associated with all of the animated DC properties – from “Batman” and “Superman” to the relatively new “Teen Titans.” And with that kind of track record, it’s hard to expect anything less than quality. Luckily, fans will find little to be disappointed about.
Batman Beyond: Season Two (2000)
The second year of “Batman Beyond” never quite lived up to its debut season, but the 26 included episodes still offer enough diversity to warrant adding the set to your collection. As the new Batman, Terry McGinnis delivers a refreshing take on the popular franchise (sort of like how Marvel re-introduced their iconic web-slinger as a teenage superhero in “Ultimate Spider-Man), and along with cleaning up Gotham’s crime-ridden streets, Terry also finds himself trying to survive high school. Unfortunately, while I respect the writers’ decision to avoid the usual rogue’s gallery of Batman villains in this series, the new group of baddies just aren’t as cool, or as menacing. Blight (who is a more-than-capable future Joker) is probably the only recurring villain that is actually a worthy replacement, while others like Shriek, Spellbinder, Curare and The Jokerz don’t even compare as sub-par copies.
The rest of the heavies are all pretty lame – including a guy obsessed with blowing shit up and a “Goonies”-type grandma with a sweet tooth for jewelry – and they make their respective episodes particularly unexciting. At least Terry finally earns an ally this season (his pink-haired, tech savvy, female friend Max), who’s a lot more like a young, hip Alfred than a pathetic amalgamation of Robin and Batgirl. The four-disc set also includes audio commentaries with producers Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami, voice director Andrea Romano and actor Will Friedle (Terry McGinnis/Batman) on two key episodes (“Splicers” and “The Eggbaby”), as well as another “Inside Batman Beyond” roundtable discussion with the series creators. Not bad for a cartoon that only lasted three seasons.
Dubbed as a direct sequel to the original “Justice League” series, the creators of “Justice League Unlimited” would much rather you refer to it as the unofficial third season. And why not? The show still features founding members Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and J’onn J’onnz as the main characters, while also introducing several new characters into the mix. Of course, all of the new additions act more as guest stars than recurring characters, though several do make repeat appearances. Included in the roughly 50 new superheroes are favorites like Green Arrow, Supergirl, and Aquaman, as well as cult classics like Doctor Fate and even Booster Gold. Yes, you heard me correctly – Booster Gold gets his very own episode. How cool is that?
There are also some pretty amazing episodes in this four-disc collection, including the season one finale (“The Once and Future Thing” Part 1 & 2), a “Batman Beyond” crossover where Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern end up in the future, and the season two finale (“Epilogue”) which shares yet another connection to the “Beyond” world. “Kid’s Stuff” transports our heroes to an alternate dimension, where they must defeat a power-obsessed brat as little tykes, and “Hawk and Dove” reunites “Wonder Years” brothers Jason Hervey and Fred Savage as the crime-fighting duo. In fact, while the front of the box promotes the set as a season one collection, it actually contains the first two seasons of the new series. It doesn’t really matter, though, since it only means that you’re getting more great episodes for the same price. Also included are two audio commentaries and a short production featurette.
All in all, “Justice League Unlimited” is probably the better bargain. Not only do you get more superhero bang for your buck (why watch one when you can watch 50+ for the same price?), but the series also features better animation and richer storylines. Still, don’t be so quick to discard “Batman Beyond.” This is a series that took an iconic superhero and managed to present a unique spin; something truly difficult considering it took twice as long for a proper reboot of the live-action franchise. If you’re a fan of the DC Universe, you’re probably going to buy both, but if you have to choose just one, “JLU” is the way to go.