Initiation | Episode 1 (53)

Aired: July 31, 2004
Heroes: Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, J'onn Jonzz, Aquaman, Atom, Atom Smasher, Aztek, Black Canary, Blue Devil, Booster Gold, B'Wana Beast, Captain Atom, Commander Steel, Creeper, Crimson Avenger, Crimson Fox, Dr. Fate, Dr. Light, Dr. Mid-nite, Dove, Elongated Man, Etrigan, Fire, Gypsy, Hawk, Hourman, Huntress, Ice, Johnny Thunder w/ Thunderbolt, Metamorpho, Mr. Terrific, Nemesis, Obsidian, Orion, Question, Ray, Red Tornado, Rocket Red, Sand, Star, Starman, Steel, STRIPE, Shining Knight, Supergirl, Vibe, Vigilante, Vixen, Waverider, Wildcat and Zatanna
Supporting: General Kwan
Objects: Trick Arrows, Power Ring, Justice League Communication Link, Utility Belt, Helmet of Fate, and Javelin
Places: Justice League Unlimited Watchtower and Chong Mai
Beasts: Brimstone
Written By: Stan Berkowitz
Directed By: Joaquim Dos Santos


Review written by Aaron H. Bynum

From the looks of the premiere of Justice League Unlimited, the animated series will certainly be returning to the hearts and minds of animation fans across the globe with tons of potential. Bringing back most of the classic characters of the task force that we know and love, while still managing to toss in a few other fan favorites from comic books; Justice League Unlimited uses everything great about the program's predecessor, Justice League and adds a series of unique spices and seasonings to it to make the animated feast well worth the wait. Landing somewhere in the Toonami programming block, fans can finally rejoice that there is now another program suited for the newly recognized older teenage demographic.

Fans ambitious for the new animated series needn't much of an introduction to the show with the exception being that they must be able to discern the hardened crime fighting veterans from the amateurs. But, such differences will appear naturally as the story evolves and should only serve to strengthen the veterans and the amateurs alike. Justice League Unlimited is filled with just as much action, comedy, and adventure as any other part of Justice League, but what sets it apart from its forerunner include a number of details such as script work, the pacing of the story, and especially character dynamics. I don't think that everyone who loved JL will love Justice League Unlimited, simply for the fact that the heroes we are used to seeing are no longer in the spotlight anymore; but to others, that is all the more reason to watch the program, to seek out and find the many different personalities that exist within the wonderful world of DC Comics.

Justice League Unlimited was produced by the same team at Warner Bros. Animation that managed the previous series, Justice League; a fact that allows the viewer to remain familiar with the story-telling aspects of the show as well as with the approach to thematic concerns too. The way an episode of Justice League Unlimited plays out is in no way confusing or difficult to follow because this is in fact a new season to the program. The way that each superhero maintains his or her dignified persona despite having to work with a team and the concept that at some mysterious level all of these heroes are equal, are two of the many examples that prove this series is not only another "season" in general, but also another stage of maturity for our main cast of characters as well.

The first episode, "Initiation," is in essence the beginning part of what can most certainly be a long and extensive training session for many new Justice Leaguers. With literally dozens and dozens of individuals within the Justice League at this point in time, the original set of heroes are in executive command making sure that everyone works together in the least. Many of the superheroes are young and inexperienced, and have yet to step up from the old routine of saving grandma from a couple of shoplifters... "Initiation" gives the audience some insight into the characters the Green Arrow, Supergirl, and Captain Atom; and also gives some insight into whether or not they will be helpful to the integrity of the Justice League. The newly animated heroes are great additions to the group, and thanks to a very well paced story, the audience doesn't know too much about them too fast. Thankfully, you will not hear the whole "how it happened" story from each character, but instead are only introduced to each character as each character is introduced to one another, in only a matter of moments before battle... Batman may give a pep talk to another individual every once in a while, and the Green Lantern may have lost all of the hair on the top of his head, but that doesn't mean that they are old, decrepit, and out of the picture. Justice League Unlimited brings in a new set of characters and has them interact with the present heroes just as I had hoped, seamlessly. What fans of the show will soon come to understand, is that there will be certain episodes with various characters, so as not to over crowd each thirty-minute block; a move key to the complete and thorough development of Justice League Unlimited.

I'm glad that even though there are surely many more characters to go in the series, we are only introduced to three within the first episode, "Initiation." It would have been a real pain to observe half a dozen of new fighters in addition to those already present, such planning would have watered down the plot significantly, and lessened the impact of new character personalities as accommodating to the old. Writer Stan Berkowitz handled the script with expert observation in this episode; once you see it, you will be able to notice the smoothness of the plot, trust me. Nevertheless, Supergirl (or simply, Kara) is one of the three introduced as one of the newest members of the Justice League. In fact, she's so new; it is in "Initiation" of Justice League Unlimited that she gets her first mission... Kara is an overly headstrong young blonde girl, always looking for a fight. Of course, her intentions are good, but when she gets out of the reach of an experienced leader it can be assumed that her actions will end up causing more trouble than good. There is a reason that the Martian Manhunter says to the Green Lantern, "Take Supergirl... she's got to start sometime." Then we have Captain Atom, a former military officer now no longer flesh and blood but pure nuclear energy. He's very intelligent and always keeps a cool head; almost the exact opposite of what the slightly younger Supergirl just happens to be. Lastly, we have Green Arrow, a guy who is used to stopping burglars at banks, hobby shops and supermarkets suddenly thrown into situations under which he must now fight aliens and other otherworldly foes; a change so abrupt and so sudden, even Green Arrow is reluctant to join the Justice League. With these three additions to the central cast of the show, Justice League Unlimited breaks up the perhaps once mundane animated series where we saw too much of the same thing, and tosses in something very different, yet very good.

The villain for "Initiation" is a gigantic man-made robot that uses nuclear power to fire rays of energy whenever and wherever it can. At first looking like a walking volcano, this situation interestingly enough occurs within Korea. Whoa, wait a minute... a nuclear incident in Korea? And the Koreans are saying that everything is all right, and that outside help isn't needed? The parallel between real world events (probable or inevitable) and what we may end up seeing throughout Justice League Unlimited may just occur with more frequency than expected. Not to say that it will lessen the effectiveness of each superhero, but only to take note that animated series' are perhaps in fact, becoming more real in their interpretations of human actions... But I didn't recognize this one in particular until the second time I watched "Initiation," and although this is just a cartoon with an eighty-foot robot powered by nukes, it still presses some interesting question.

In any case, from the new characters to the socio-political theme underneath a very intriguing beginning plot, Justice League Unlimited still brings even more to the animation fan considering that the show is just what it is; a program dedicated to showing the best superheroes in the universe doing what they do best. "Initiation" isn't an episode that pulls out all of the stops regarding characters, plot, animation-type, music, or even theme; however, "Initiation" is an episode that balances out all of the aforementioned key aspects of an animated series, quite nicely. With Justice League Unlimited, you don't get the feeling that the heroes are running out of time and need to accomplish something before the end credits, you don't get the feeling that any one of the Justice Leaguers is vying for screen time, and on top of that you don't get the feeling that any one of the heroes is better than any of the others either (which is compromised based on the fact that certain heroes are used for certain situations, i.e. Captain Atom -&- Giant Nuclear Robot). Justice League Unlimited almost plays out like... a comic book...

The animation is solid, standard work from Warner Bros. Animation and really has no fault. One could blame the usage of computer animation as being out of place with the Javelin and The Watchtower, but since such effects were used in the past, there is nothing to honestly complain about. I'll admit that it's kind of odd seeing a fully-rendered satellite floating in a two-dimensional image of "space," but I was expecting it having watched Justice League before. The producers for the show include Bruce Timm, James Tucker, Linda Steiner and Dwayne McDuffie; many names of which are very familiar to fans of WB animated superhero shows. If you ask me, there was a lot of effort put into this episode, just this half-hour debut of Justice League Unlimited; because of the acute and sparing usage of classic heroes and because of the cautious, almost mechanical timing as well. (Not to say that the episode decreases in quality as it goes on, but only to clarify that the viewer's understanding with how the program operates, only becomes more evident.) Without becoming too predictable at points, as most superhero stories are prone to becoming, the story of "Initiation" may have the occasional proud "last speech" of a warrior facing death, and the episode may have the "teamwork" theme etched into the plot here and there, and the episode may also have "nothing special" to the casual animation fan... But regardless of what Justice League Unlimited may appear to have and not have, it is still an animated television series aiming for greatness because its producers and writers know how to make a good animated television series, 'nuff said.

Other things to make note of include the smaller aspects of the show, which were absolutely fantastic, but may be overlooked. The music is phenomenal to say the least. Michael McCuistion handled the new theme for Justice League Unlimited in addition to the general music outfitted for the show. The new opening theme is very grandiose and might scare you if you're not ready for it; and although it borders on being ridiculously superfluous and may perhaps even seem a bit pompous, it's still a fantastic score. The ending theme is a shortened rendition of the opening theme, and is just as incredible, despite it being only a few seconds long; the cleverly synchronized electric guitars really gets the blood pumping. Another aspect of Justice League Unlimited that some may overlook is the voice acting, which is top notch. I'm not referring to Conroy as Batman (even though we all know his work is fantastic), but instead I'm referring to the new cast of the Justice League. Kin Shriner as Green Arrow gives off a strong and democratic yet kind aura that is unmistakable in a superhero, George Eads as Captain Atom pulls off the military-type while still coming off as somewhat of a caring and gentle person, and Nicholle Tom as Kara the Supergirl shows the audience that even teenagers can be superheroes, even if they talk too much, are too opinionated, and leap before they look. The voice acting is on the mark, and is an aspect of the animated program that definitely deserves credit.

The only aspect of the premiere episode "Initiation" that befuddled the heck out of me was one small scene in particular, a short scene under which a wounded Green Lantern half-consciously tries to heal and yet still direct the new crew of JL to their goal. Green Lantern says something that, although I couldn't hear it completely sounded familiar... almost like a name... What did he think he saw, heard, or experience that may have had him utter the name of his former lover? It is either that, or I need to have my own hearing checked...

And so, Justice League Unlimited is a great show that happens to be off to a great start. The writing is on cue, and the pacing is fine, and nothing seems rushed but on the contrary one may at times argue that some parts of the show were thought out in too much detail (such as the dialogue in certain points). But, in addition to what animation fans know and love about the Justice League, they now have a more succinct animated television series of a bit higher quality.