Picture the year 1997 — Mike Tyson bites Evander Holyfield's ear, Microsoft is announced as the world's biggest company, and Batman & Robin assaults our senses with rubber nipples, killing off a franchise for eight years. A dark year for the superhero world, but unfortunately Batman & Robin wasn't the worst thing to happen to DC that year. The short-lived Justice League Of America dropped a clanger on us all, from which we may never recover.
It is hard to imagine there being a poor comic adaptation on our TV screens now. We are flush with well planned outings like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Flash, and Legends Of Tomorrow. Couple this with Netflix staples like Daredevil and we are in the "golden age" of comic TV shows. So, back in 1997 when we were promised a Justice League show, what could possibly go wrong?
For starters, it started not even with the cast, just the characters; the big three — Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman — were all out. Arguably the figureheads of DC's roster, they warranted their own TV or big screen adventures, so they were bizarrely cut out of JLA. We were left with (alternative) versions of The Flash, Green Lantern and The Atom. Guy Garnder is struggling with his girlfriend, Fire is an out of work actor — but the biggest two fingers to a character's legacy: Barry Allen isn't a scientist, in fact he isn't anything, just an unemployed bum!
Ken Liek from The Austin Chronicle compared JLA to Friends — but Ken, please don't tar Friends with the same brush:
Indeed the world's most powerful heroes -- only they also happen to be (get this!) a bunch of shiftless, semi-employed twentysomethings who live together in the same apartment!
As for the villain?! A new invention who holds New Metro City hostage with a weather controlling device — as if DC didn't have enough weather controlling characters already, and hmmmm didn't The Avengers already do that villain with Sean Connery (another dud outing)?
Then there was the script itself, adopting odd gimmicks and implausible twists. Breaking the fourth wall is always a risky one, sure if you are Frank Underwood it can work, but JLA goes one step further. Each character is given an interview segment akin to The Office. Talking in past tense, they recalled what it WAS like to be a superhero as if recounting some tragic events for Making A Murderer.
Bargain bucket cosplay outfits and clunky dialogue leaves JLA coming off as a poor man's Batman (1960s era), but without any of the campy charm. To be fair to veteran actor David Ogden Stiers, his Martian Manhunter costume is a highlight, but even he couldn't breathe life into the lifeless dialogue. Stiers was later criticized for his weight, cited as hinderance to his performance; he does look like a slightly bloated barrage balloon. It doesn't fair much better for the rest, particularly for The Atom, who looks like a knock-off version of Optimus Prime. Hell, even Mighty Morphin Power Rangers must have had a bigger budget than these guys.
A script credited to Lorne Cameron and David Hoselton should have the pair hanging their head in shame. As pilots go, they aren't meant to be perfect, but they are meant to showcase the best of what a show can offer. If the JLA pilot was all they had, then boy were we in for a bumpy ride. Odd, as the series was based on the Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis era of The Justice League, so you have some pretty solid source material to pull from. Whether or not the continuing series would have included the Justice League International volumes is unknown, and I guess we will never know.
Back in 2016, the likes of Henry Cavil, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot polish their suits for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice and the upcoming Justice League films. For them the JLA series is just a bad taste in your mouth and a blip on a pretty solid history. For fans of nostalgia, you too can still find JLA lurking at car boot sales or in the depths of eBay. Perhaps like the fabled E.T. Atari wasteland, there is a pit of old JLA tapes somewhere in the Nevada desert. But you have been warned — it's a mini-movie that serves as 80 minutes of your life you will never get back.