Imagine if you went back to an episode of the beloved DC animated series Justice League or Justice League Unlimited, but you fast-forwarded through every moment that wasn’t a fight scene — every plot point, every moment of character development, everything that wasn’t someone punching something. What you’d be left with is Justice League Action.
A few episodes of DC’s latest short-sized animation series aired in the UK this past weekend — although, bizarrely, not the four-part premiere that will herald the show’s arrival in the US in a few weeks, just a selection of seemingly random episodes. That randomness doesn’t really matter when it comes to Justice League Action, though, because it has no real story to it. The closest thing I could gather from the three episodes of the show I saw — “Power Outage”, “Follow that Space Cab!” and “Nuclear Family Values” — is this is meant to be a version of the Justice League that is in its earliest stages.
Behold: Heroes who really love punching things.
The group still operates out of Mount Justice, their first home in the comics, rather than the Hall of Justice or the Watchtower. Key heroes in the DC universe have yet to be recruited into the League, like Firestorm. It mainly seems to just be Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman running the show. It’s hard to tell, because JLA does not have time to get into plot specifics other than “Villain X is doing a thing, and the heroes must stop them!”
But that makes it a show that is at the same time both incredibly simple and deceptively hard to discuss. It’s simple in that it is a series of various extended fight sequences featuring DC comics characters. It’s difficult in that really the only things I can tell you about this new take on Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman is that that they really like punching things. Three other heroes appeared in the episodes I saw — Martian Manhunter, Hawkman and Firestorm — and the only real things I can tell you about them is that J’onn and Ronnie like telling bad jokes (J’onn in an attempt to appear more human, Ronnie because he’s still a young kid) in addition to punching things. (Hawkman likes punching things too, but admittedly Hawkman has always liked punching things.)
But if you were expecting the show to start tackling long character arcs or delving into the relationships between these heroes, you won’t get that here. Hell, if you were expecting zaniness in the style of Teen Titans Go, you won’t get that, either.
Space Cabbie, voiced by Patton Oswalt, is just one of many deep DC cuts the show revels in.
This might sound like I’m disparaging Justice League Action, but I’m not: It’s just very simple, clean and fun TV. The art style, a sort of strange mix between Bruce Timm and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, is bright and well animated. The simplistic format and little time for set-up means the show can just throw a litany of DC characters big and small at you (Lobo, Parasite and even the incredibly obscure Space Cabbie and the Nuclear Family all appeared in the episodes shown this weekend) in a cavalcade of DC Easter eggs and references. The only thing Justice League Action loves more than action, seemingly, is the DC universe itself, and it shows. It’s kind of like how you felt reading a comic book as a kid anyway. (Come on, we all flicked through them to check out the fight scenes when we were young, didn’t we?)
Just don’t expect Justice League Action to be the hallowed return of a beloved cartoon series because you’ll only be disappointed when you watch it (plus, you have Young Justice season three to look forward to for all that). It isn’t the show it could have been, but when you see it for what it is, it’s actually a fun, exciting (if inconsequential) look at the DC Comics universe.
Sometimes you just want to watch Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and friends beat the crap out of some bad guys. And there’s nothing wrong with that.