Home > B-plus, Justice League > “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths”

“Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths”

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Written by: Dwayne McDuffie
Directed by: Lauren Montgomery & Sam Liu
Buy it HERE.

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Summary: The Justice League meets up with a Lex Luthor from an alternate reality, who has journeyed to their world to convince them to help him overthrow their counterparts’ fascistic rule.

Foreword: Okay, just like the “Comfort and Joy” review, this is going to be written in a style that will eventually slot in with the other episodes (and edited accordingly when I “catch up”). So if by any chance you don’t want to be blatantly clubbed over the head with spoilers about the remainder of the second season of Justice League, don’t make the jump.

Oh, and you may want to clear out some time – I’ve written journal articles shorter than this one.

Arc Notes: This one’s a bit weird. TECHNICALLY, this isn’t a part of the DCAU, but about ninety-five percent of this movie is taken from a script originally intended to bridge the gap between Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, and in spite of a couple of notable differences, this movie provides the answers to questions which have been asked since the series wrapped. Specifically:

  • The presence of Wonder Woman’s “invisible jet” is explained
  • The new Watchtower is assembled in orbit, replacing the one sacrificed by Batman at the end of “Starcrossed.”
  • The first expansion to the League’s roster occurs (even though, in this version, heroes such as Black Lightning and Firestorm are the first expanded members, while there’s no evidence of either of them in the series proper).
  • Hawkgirl’s a no-show in the “good” universe (her evil counterpart gets about three scenes), and there’s only six seats at the round table… but it sure looks asymmetrical to me (as most of the storyboards were done, it’s possible this was an artifact, but at the same time the result of the vote on Shayera’s future was one of the bigger hooks for her first Unlimited appearance).

Debuting Characters: Deathstroke’s first DCAU appearance of any sort. Same with Rose Wilson. First DCAU appearances of Firestorm, Black Canary, Red Tornado and Black Lightning. The Crime Syndicate and their lieutenants. Also, the first appearance of the White Martians, who were responsible for Mars’ destruction in this version, and the giant version of Starro, as opposed to the little guys that were the villains in “The Call,” as well as Dr. Erdel (who was implied, but never shown, in Justice League).

Out-of-place Characters: Green Lantern is Hal Jordan here (Phil LeMarr now knows what Billy Dee Williams felt like). As a result, the one major change between the series that goes unexplained is John Stewart’s haircut and goatee (although Hawkgirl does say that she doesn’t like it when she returns). Aquaman is back to the orange-and-green outfit and clean-shaven. And… has both hands.

Background:

I’ve often referred to “A Better World” as the most important episode in the history of the DCAU, but the original idea for that episode was to be something entirely different.

“A Better World” started out as a straight-up Crime Syndicate story, but evolved into something else while we were ‘breaking’ the plot.

– Bruce Timm, interview with toonzone.net, 2005

After the change in direction, the team shelved the Crime Syndicate idea. However, there was no indication whether the series would continue past the Season Two finale, and so the story was never moved forward. Once word came of the renewal, and the new concept for Unlimited was planned, the DCAU production staff hit on the idea of a direct-to-video movie to bridge the two series and explain many of the events which would wind up going unexplained until the release of Crisis on Two Earths. However, while the movie was almost ready to go into production, plans changed. Bruce Timm explains:

What happened was, the Home Video division commissioned us to write a JL DTV, right around the time we were gearing up for Season Three. Dwayne McDuffie and I came up with the story, Dwayne wrote a terrific script, I designed loads of new characters, we started story-boarding, Andrea Romano had assembled a killer cast, and we were just getting ready to record it, and then Home Video slammed on the brakes, and it was put on the shelf for the time being.

This is a good thing, really! The original plan was to do the DTV and Season Three concurrently but, long story short: we would have been stretched way too thin. JLU is a difficult enough show to do by itself, without having to prep a feature-length movie at the same time.

– Bruce Timm, interview with The World’s Finest, 2004

(Note: just about everyone on the team refers to JLU Season One as “Season Three”.)

The script, in its near-finished state, was nearly re-purposed several times:

We loved the story and the script, and it floated around here for years while we tried to figure out what to do with it –- it was considered for a comic, but fortunately that got shot down. Then we took a look at it and, with just a few slight tweaks, we jumped at the chance to make it a DC Universe movie.

– Bruce Timm, interview provided by Warner Brothers Animation, 2009

The issue that’s more relevant to this review, however, is whether this is still part of the DCAU or if it’s something more stand-alone like the previous DC movies.

The biggest challenge, and this is kind of esoteric, was that we had to find the line between the original source material and making it feel like a stand-alone movie so anyone that didn’t watch JLU could follow it. We really didn’t have to tweak the script too much –- I think about 95 percent remains untouched.

– Bruce Timm, ibid.

Aside from the Crime Syndicate, the most important new characters to show up in the film are Slade “Deathstroke” Wilson – who enjoyed a long run as the primary villain on Teen Titans, and his daughter Rose Wilson, who hasn’t appeared before in animation (and is markedly different from her comic counterpart in this film, to say the least). Dwayne McDuffie explains the process of how President Deathstroke made his way into the script:

We actually made up a fake president, who we thought was going to be president in Justice League Unlimited, just because we knew we were going to do some political stuff, and actually somebody at DC said, “It’s weird that everybody else in the universe is somehow related to somebody we know.”

So they sent me a list of guys that they thought would be interesting, and Slade just kind of jumped out. “Oh, that’s kind of cool.” [Laughs] So that worked out really well. Particularly because I had already created a daughter that was sort of an activist for the president, and that would make her Rose, so that was really interesting… That was DC’s idea.

– Dwayne McDuffie, interview with comicbookresources.com, 2009

Thoughts on the Movie:

I’ll come right out and say it – I was very skeptical of this idea when it was first mooted in various DCAU materials and interviews back around the end of Season Two. I’m generally not the type of person who needs every answer filled in, and the idea of a bridge story, seemingly duplicating in large part the plot of one of the best DCAU stories ever – even one based on an excellent Morrison JLA story – seemed unnecessary at best. Although this revised version retains most of the “bridge” elements of the original script, the passage of years, a different production style and a tonal shift winds up helping the movie. This isn’t a pure DCAU exercise, and that’s its greatest strength.

The biggest change is that, in contrast with the occasionally sombre tones of Justice League, this is like a Jerry Bruckheimer take on the concept. It’s been indicated that the movie was originally going to have a significant subplot involving Batman and Superman being at odds regarding invading the Crime Syndicate’s world, but only hints of that remain. Instead, this is obviously more about action and cameos than character development – similar in feel to some Unlimited episodes, in fact. Attempting to duplicate Justice League, and “A Better World” in particular, would have been a mistake. Instead, the focus is on a lot of action, and that’s delivered in a big way.

While the cold opening with Jester and Luthor isn’t great by any measure (Chris Noth is merely okay as Luthor, not quite bringing the requisite pompousness to the role that Clancy Brown does), even the first fight between the League and the combination of the Evil Outsiders and JLA Detroit, which spills into an aerial battle, trumps just about every major battle from Justice League. The individual strike missions are nice, and then the final two-round duel between Owlman and Batman is a spectacular sequence as each pulls out very trick they have. Even beyond some of the new moves (Wonder Woman’s head-dropping northern lights suplex is a standout), the combat reflects the new blood in the director’s chair, as each time it boils down to fisticuffs the action doesn’t step back from fights between heroes with more outrageous powers – always a tough thing to properly balance. By the end of the movie, the viewer is looking forward to the next fight, which is a credit to the production team.

Not that there aren’t some more personal conflicts in the movie, of course. Owlman, played by James Woods as a combination of sociopath and philosopher, steals the movie out from underneath the regular lead characters. As opposed to an “Evil Batman” a la Morrison’s take on the CSA, here Owlman’s very reserved but is all the more dangerous for it. Even compared to the usual understated Batman performances we’ve become used to over the years, Woods plays Owlman in a manner that takes deadpan to a new level.

While it seems like a bit of a weird choice at first, by the end of the movie, with the depths of Owlman’s madness revealed – he’s almost a combination of Darkseid and Batman – the performance makes sense. Owlman is so depraved that even the other members of the Crime Syndicate think he’s around the bend. Without such a strong villain to play off against, a movie that doesn’t bother to develop the lead heroes much wouldn’t work.

The other Syndicate members don’t have it quite as good. Superwoman is a big success, more seductive than Diana but also coming close to matching Owlman’s menace. Of course, in contrast to his cold approach, she’s more of a passionate character. Superwoman is asked to carry a lot of the movie, especially the middle act when she invades the Watchtower with her Made Men and winds up matched against Batman. The scene where she winds up matched up against an injured Batman is very well-executed, with a malice in every one of her actions that was very rare in any of the broadcast shows (the part where she breaks Batman’s rib with a snap of her fingers is simple, but incredibly effective).

Ultraman as a bridge-and-tunnel meathead is a very cute character direction to take, but he never winds up doing much other than chairing the meetings and getting punked out by Luthor. That’s a step above Power Ring and Johnny Quick, who are mainly there to match up against their opposite numbers. Johnny does get a bit of a self-sacrificing moment at the end of the movie – possibly against his own will – which seems to indicate that one of the constants across worlds is that the Flash analogue will be whatever passes for the conscience of his particular team.

With Owlman taking the lead role on the villain side, one would expect Batman to be the prime hero for the good guys, but that’s not quite the case. While he’s the one who stops Owlman, Batman’s choice to not participate in the initial strike against the Crime Syndicate means that the action is actually quite well balanced amongst the League. Superman obviously has a lead role since Luthor is such a strong presence, but Wonder Woman comes across better than most of her Justice League appearances, with a less naive personality and a generally more aggressive stance to match up with Superwoman’s more dominant personality. She even gets the best gag of the movie in as the team approaches the moon Watchtower.

Neither Flash nor Green Lantern have much to do in this movie, which is a shame given the running length. Obviously, after the GL-heavy “Starrcrossed”, it wouldn’t be the right time to give John Stewart another spotlight, and that attitude hampers Hal’s contribution to this movie. Then again, Hal just had a starring role of his own, so it’s not a big problem. The main appeal of GL is the various ring constructs used throughout the movie by both him and Power Ring (the most underwritten member of the Syndicate, as well). Flash doesn’t do much at all beyond the occasional quip, although the final scene of the movie, with him showing his heart yet again, is a good sombre note before the end. The movie seems to be missing a the interplay amongst League members that makes for the most fun episodes, but, again, it wouldn’t really fit with the style.

Out of a desire to have the teams be a balance for one another, J’onn gets spun off into his own plotline as he romances the President’s daughter. While the usage of Deathstroke and Ravager in non-traditional roles is cute, this does seem like a waste of time; the only real benefit to Rose being seduced by J’onn is that she presumably convinces her father to reveal where the Syndicate HQ is, which you’d think the combined powers of Luthor and Batman would have guessed anyway (Luthor certainly seems hip to the room, as he has a way of getting into the tower). This seems more like a story that would have been better served in a regular Justice League episode – and, in fact, the producers would remove J’onn from the team and have him settle down in Unlimited. The goodbye scene is a bit weird, however, as Diana seemingly convinces J’onn to stay, but then he dumps Rose anyway.

While the action is very good, the other main draw of the movie is all the cameos (which I’ve enumerated for the most part in a special section below the Random Thoughts, but let me know if I’ve missed anyone). From the scene showing the structure of the Crime Syndicate, which shows a lot of heroes that don’t appear in the story proper, to the various Made Men who appear throughout the movie, it’s a treat for educated fans. While some of the designs aren’t that creative (Archer appears to be the original Green Arrow concept with a palette swap), credit should be given for simply coming up with such a wide array of new characters, some of whom, such as Model Citizen and Breakdance, are truly inspired.

The evolution of the Crime Syndicate is the mafiaesque structure of the group, which actually could have been the basis of a more sombre film. As it stands, it’s a clever idea that isn’t explored in the detail it could have been, but it gives lots of opportunity for the fandom to speculate who is aligned with whom; in that way, it’s sort of like the duelling teams of stories like Kingdom Come.

This is a very different animation style than usual, somewhat more realistic design but still retaining the “lean and clean” look that the shows had from Superman TAS onwards. As noted above, Superwoman is spectacularly animated throughout and draws the eye of any viewer (don’t worry, that was confirmed by my girlfriend), but the remaining characters don’t really stand out from one another. It’s a solid effort all around, and really shows off the improvements a feature budget and improved technology have in animation, but this is really all about the action scenes, which are all perfectly choreographed and feature each team member busting out a lot of unique offence.

After the rock-inspired score of Unlimited, it was nice to return to a more orchestral Shirley Walker score, which is her usual excellent work. The voice work will obviously be controversial – as with any project that doesn’t boast the usual crew – but for the most part, they aren’t missed. The only real exception is William Baldwin’s Batman, but, then… competing with Conroy’s nearly two decades of experience just isn’t possible.

If someone hadn’t seen a lot of DCAU product, this movie would probably have more of an impact, as the very high production values have created an impressive result. It’s not quite up to the standards of the best of the DCAU due to the unchallenging plot, but the higher end of DCAU stories are pretty much in a class by themselves as far as animation goes, so getting close isn’t bad, although it does continue a trend in the direct-to-video productions of constantly being just short of excellent.

Grade: B+. About as good a pure action animated movie as you’re going to see, but lacking a bit of the human factors that are needed to get into the top tier of episodes (although Owlman does try his best). Very much worth your money – it’s by far the best-looking Blu-Ray of the new movies – and the Spectre short film is worth checking out. I’d much rather have had the Owlman Brave and the Bold episodes instead of the live-action stuff, though.

Random Thoughts:

  • The expanded League that Batman calls in to bail him out – Aquaman, Firestorm, Red Tornado, Black Lightning, and Black Canary – were mostly part of the JLA during Dwayne McDuffie’s tenure on the book (Firestorm is Jason Rusch here). The only exception to this is Aquaman, who, as the unofficial “eighth member”, would logically be amongst Batman’s first recruits.
    • This is Firestorm’s first second animated appearance since Super Friends went off the air (correction: he appeared in a Brave and the Bold episode that I missed). Various reports have indicated that Firestorm was to be the focal character of “The Greatest Story Never Told”, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that attributed to a DCAU production team member.
    • McDuffie has said that DC approved Firestorm’s use in the series, but a good story was never found for him and he never appeared as a background character, making him one of the most significant DC characters to never make a DCAU appearance until this film; that title (akin to “best player to never win a championship” in sports) now falls onto the Blue Beetle, whose media appearances were snarled in rights litigation until after Unlimited went off the air.
  • Wonder Woman’s fighting style in this movie is like something out of Dead or Alive – while there would be a fair number of wrestling moves used throughout Unlimited, in this movie Diana fights like Tina from DOA.
  • It didn’t effect my grade at all, but I want to say that I hate hate hate (sorry, Mr. Ebert) the “martian military” look for J’onn. It’s useful as a visual metaphor – it was designed originally to show that J’onn was drifting away from Earth – but without context, it’s not a good look.
  • A running gag in the DCU is that Earth-3 (home to the Crime Syndicate of America) has a heroic Deathstroke of its own… only his name is Wade Wilson.
  • McDuffie’s said that Superwoman’s an evil Mary Marvel, as her made men are the remaining members of the Marvel family. As you’ll remember from Earth 2, Superwoman is really Lois Lane – no word on whether that’s the case in this version.
  • Superwoman points out a world where humanity has become “creatures of the night” – sounds like Red Rain.
  • In J’onn’s flashback to the first JLA mission, Aquaman is shown as a league member. The flashback has two big breaks with continuity, actually, as it also shows J’onn’s comic book origin.
  • In Morrison’s Earth 2, the JLA used the lunar Watchtower while the CSA used a satellite; that’s been flipped around in this version, as the Crime Syndicate is based on the moon.
  • Again, this isn’t grade-effecting, but it annoys me that out of all the people in the room to send through the rift to stop Owlman, the person they chose: (a) was injured, (b) had just had his butt kicked by Owlman, and and (c) HAS NO SUPERPOWERS!?! Owlman even points this one out, so it’s not like the producers didn’t notice.
  • I want to say that this is Andrea Romano’s first voice acting credit, but I can’t be bothered to go back and check.
  • The next DC Animated Movie will be Batman: The Red Hood, covering A Death In The Family and… well, let’s just say a sequel storyline that I wasn’t a big fan of. But, hey, NPH as Nightwing!

The Six Families:

  • Superwoman’s hierarchy:
    • Captain Super (Captain Marvel)
    • [presumably] Captain Super Jr. (didn’t get a voice credit), Uncle Super (voiced by Bruce Timm, ha!)
    • Three unknowns (the middle one could be Metamorpho, but he’d more logically slot in as part of Owlman’s organisation)
    • Evil versions of Hawkman, Mr. Terrific (“Mr. Horrible”), an unknown, and possibly Jay Garrick
    • Evil Atom(-Smasher?), Cyborg, Wildcat, Sandman, and… Scarecrow?
    • Power Girl, what looks for all the world like a Sinestro Corps Kyle Rayner, unknown (colour scheme’s closest to Amazing Man, who was a JSA member after all), Zatanna, Red – Blue, in this case – Tornado, Dr. Fate
    • In other words, she’s got the JSA and much of the JLA to boot.
  • Owlman’s hierarchy:
    • Black Power (Black Lightning)
    • Model Citizen (Looker), Aurora (Halo)
    • We know he had the other Outsiders, so Sai (Katana) would likely be on the next row down.
  • Ultraman’s hierarchy:
    • Mr. Action (Jimmy Olsen)
    • No good look at anyone below that.
  • Johnny Quick’s hierarchy:
    • Warwolf (Lobo)
    • Archer (Green Arrow), Scream Queen (Black Canary)
  • J’edd J’arkus’ hierarchy:
    • Agnelique (Hawkgirl)
    • Gypsy Woman (Gypsy), Breakdance (Vibe), Vamp (Vixen)
    • Since he had those members of JLA Detroit, it’s safe to assign him Extruded Man as well, since Elongated Man was on the team. If there’s an evil Aquaman, he’d be here.
  • Power Ring’s hierarchy:
    • Olympian (Wonder Woman / Donna Troy – she looks younger than Diana, and her outfit’s almost an exact style match for Donna’s WW outfit that she wore at the start of the current series)

Line of the Movie: “Get off my plane.” Hey, if it works for Harrison Ford….

Runner- Up: “This is how we do it… on Mars.” J’onn shows that the annoying fortune cookie game has spread across the solar system.

Flash Line of the Movie: “Oh craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaap!”

Missed Opportunity Line: GL’s final line totally should have been “You drive a VAN.”

Next Justice League: A very different version of Aquaman than what was seen here  makes his return in “The Terror Beyond.”

Next Time: Supergirl goes hentai in “Unity.”

Fun fact: “A Better World” started out as a straight-up Crime Syndicate story, but evolved into something else while we were ‘breaking’ the plot.
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Categories: B-plus, Justice League
  1. Doug
    March 14, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    great review. I just watched this last night, and I really liked it. it’s been awhile since I’ve watched the JL, so I while I knew certain characters were familiar, it was really helpful to read on your review who they *actually* were. (Silly me, I thought Captain Marvel was Black Adam, realized that wouldn’t make sense, but didn’t even think that the rest of them were Marvel family. The older Made Man looked so familiar, but I couldn’t place it…thanks for clearing that up.)

    The Syndicate had some great performances – James Woods and Gina Torres were both really well voiced – they were interesting characters.

    I had a little trouble with the end too. Batman was obviously injured (broken rib, plus had done a lot of fighting) and didn’t do so well against Owlman last time. But I guess they explained it well by Owlman saying that Batman was just like him and didn’t trust anyone else to get the job done when it mattered. But still, Superman should have gone.

    Other than that, I loved it.

    PS – Wonder Woman’s pro-wrestling inspired fighting style was awesome!

    • March 14, 2010 at 5:48 pm

      Yeah, the Black Adam thing took some thinking through to work out. Of course, he was a JSA member, and most of the JSA were in Superwoman’s organization, so it’s not totally out there. It was the credits that gave that one away.

  2. Scott
    March 14, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Surprised more isn’t being made of Batman essentially killing two characters (SPOILERS)…

    He knowingly beams Owlman to his death… and also knew Johnny Quick would die from the “cosmic treadmill” process. In the context of the story, it worked, but in the context of what we know the Batman character to be, I found it to be jarringly out of character (you’d think at least Superman would say something).

    • March 14, 2010 at 5:58 pm

      I actually had a paragraph in there talking about those two scenes, but they wound up chopped in the editing process because it wasn’t strictly relevant to the review inasmuch as it was an ethical debate point, and this… thing… was already about 1000 words too long. But here’s what it more or less said:

      Johnny I don’t really lay at Batman’s feet – Batman probably knew what would happen, and he probably knew that Johnny would interject himself… but that decision was made of Johnny’s own free will, and he knew some, if not all, of the risks. As we say in the legal business, there may be causation but not that doesn’t mean there’s liability.

      Owlman is more unforgivable. Granted, Owlman more or less committed suicide (he had escaped from the snare and might have been able to get back to the portal generator), but… yeah, that seems over the line for Batman.

      • Doug
        March 15, 2010 at 7:41 am

        I think it is still within what you could expect from Batman. Owlman had made up his mind that he was going to die along with killing the entire universe. I mean, he willingly beamed himself to planet on his own with nothing but a huge bomb that was about to detonate.

        Batman simply made sure that Owlman was the only one to die. That’s not too far out there, is it?

  3. Nicholai
    April 8, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    I’m a pretty big fan of this movie, but the thing that I really had a hard time getting past was Batman basically killing Owlman. Johnny Quick I can forgive as while Batman thought the aging thing was possible it was certain (or at least that is how I took it).

  4. Grumpy
    May 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Andrea Romano has certainly had voice acting credits before. I remember one as an Amazon on JL, and her IMDB page lists more.

    As for the musical score, you might call it Shirley Walker *style*, but Walker herself died in 2006. This score was actually done by James Venable.

    • May 3, 2010 at 12:19 pm

      Whoops. Yeah, that’s another one of my famous last-second edits biting me. Thanks for the correction.

      • Darren
        August 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm

        Did I hear a rumour she did some of the laughing for Robin in Return of the Joker (because the actor had grown up too much in the mean time to have the right pitch while laughing)?

        Maybe I’m crazy.

  1. March 14, 2010 at 1:09 am
  2. May 19, 2010 at 10:36 pm
  3. January 22, 2011 at 8:33 am

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