DC animation is on fire right now with so many amazing projects release for fans to absorb with many diverse stories being told with the return of the Young Justice to the Disney + streaming service as well as the recent Justice League Dark, Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen releases showing how varied the range of the animation and storytelling can be. Up next is ‘Justice League Vs The Fatal Five’ and it promises to offer a fun nostalgia trip as we return to the universe of the Justice League animated series as past and futures collide to threaten the world and beyond.
Now I was set to fall in to a nostalgia feast with this fil, and fully expecting to experience the same story telling style of the Justice League series but the opening changed all my expectations as it sets a tone I was definitely not expecting. The opening introduces us to a new character in Jessica Cruz and the audience see the tragic back story for her of experiencing the trauma of seeing her friends executed right beside her with only a lucky escape preventing her own death. This event has impacted her life ever since and we meet a character who is damaged and broken by these events leaving Jessica suffering from extreme social anxiety and a reluctance to engage with anyone in the outside world as we here her own commentary trying to explain how she is feeling, which is a young woman who is afraid of how dark the real world can be. What elevates this further is the surprise reveal that Jessica is actually the new Green Lantern, and despite her mental illness, the Lantern ring chose her which adds to the conflict within her as Jessica wrestles with this forced responsibility whilst trying to deal with her own life problems and fears.
Mental illness plays a big part in the story as the narrative then shifts to the 31st Century, where the Legion of Super Heroes are battling members of the Fatal Five who are attempting to steal a Time Sphere. It is here that we are introduced to the hero Star Boy who we learn is taking medication to settle his mind in order for him to function and fight within the Legion, though this is rather clumsily introduced as he is asked mid battle if he has taken his meds and the hint that his last dosage is starting to wear off under the strain of the battle. Star Boy eventually sacrifices himself as the members of the Fatal Five; Persuader, Mano and Tharok manage to reach the Time Sphere but Star Boy is able to complete the programming by Brainiac to trap the Sphere in stasis after it makes its time jump however he is brought back in time along with the Sphere. Star Boy whose real name is Thomas, immediately tries to find medication to help calm his mind by going to a drugs store only discover that the medication he takes does not exist in this time and he becomes more anxious and scared, he is unable to control his power to control gravity and accidentally hurts the Police who are called to investigate the disturbance.
These events lead to the first nostalgia moment as the Justice League take the mysterious Sphere into their care in order to investigate it and where it came from. It has been almost thirteen years since the final episode of Justice League Unlimited so to be back in this universe is a great step back in time for fans of the show and the early DC Animated Series of Superman and Batman who of course started it all. I loved the wonderful little touches of having the theme music of each character play as they make their entry into the story, especially with Superman and Batman who for me, are their best versions thanks to their animated series outside of the comic books. They are familiar and welcoming and the moments are enhanced by having the original voice actors Conroy, Newbern, and Eisenberg returning to the roles for this story.
But if you were hoping to see the whole original line up of the Justice League here sadly you may be disappointed as the story tries to maintain a very fair and balanced 5 Vs 5 dynamic with only Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman returning without The Flash, Martian Manhunter and Jon Stewart Green Lantern all absent for this adventure. Instead we have the tech genius Mr Terrific and Miss Martian making up the Justice League team which is fine, but still feels weird not having at least The Flash there. The surprising bonus of having Miss Martian here is that at this point she is not yet a full member of the League and is instead under the mentorship of Batman with this story serving as her assessment exam in a way. Miss Martian provides some light relief with a wonderful moment where Bat’s is complaining about working with kids which prompts Miss Martian to shape shift into the Tim Drake version of Robin to remind him of his history of working with teenagers. There are more lovely moments between the original Justice League characters, giving the story a nice charm to it for fans of the original show.
But the story does focus on the newly introduced characters of Jessica Cruz and Star Boy, and their connection through their shared mental health problems is wonderful to see on screen. Thomas, we learn, has been committed to Arkham asylum by Batman after he begins to ramble about being from the future and without his medication is unable to gather his thoughts coherently. This does seem a little unlikely that Batman would just dismiss this character, especially with his costume being clearly made from futuristic materials which the world’s greatest detective would clearly have tested, so the story does stick to what is more convenient for the plot then to actually spend time having the main characters act as they would actually act. Also, we have the fact that for a big chunk of the film, The Fatal Five are actually just a trio for most of the story, and just three of them seem fairly adequate to handle the Justice League members in the fighting.
The connection between Jessica and Thomas though is the heart and soul of this story, with Jessica being able to connect to him more than the other characters can and has a genuine want to help him whilst he is being dismissed by the rest of the cast. Jessica is able to find her inner strength and it is refreshing to see a super hero actually dealing with something so present in everyday life for so many people. We see Jessica talking to her therapist, seeking help for her mental health and having the power of a Green Lantern is a burden that the other Justice League members are pressuring Jessica to embrace leading to a moment with Wonder Woman where Jessica explains to her that just leaving her apartment everyday is a fight. Again, we also have Thomas, dumped in a mental asylum who is getting more support from Two Face of all people in Arkham and is just popping pills everyday to keep him calm instead of anyone actually engaging him to find out why or what is wrong.
The use of mental health is powerful but whilst it is used to give characters new depth, it is handled rather clumsily by having it largely ignored or dismissed by the main characters. By showing that superheroes can suffer from mental health issues offers a more human connection to them and the reward of seeing Jessica and Thomas dealing with theirs on a everyday basis serves as an example that more people than you would normally expect or notice in your own lives could also be suffering in silence on their own. By normalising these issues, this story is able to let the audience know that it is indeed a common illness and it certainly does make the effort to show how it can impact on a sufferer and the people around them.
Justice League Vs The Fatal Five is a fun and enjoyable story, and at 77 minutes manages to tell a well crafted story even if limiting the number of recognisable and fan favourite Justice League characters restrains the nostalgia vibe somewhat. But it is fun to return to this universe and seeing a moment in the future the Justice League are seen as the foundation of hope and heroism that inspires the League of Superheroes is a nice touch. Jessica Cruz is a solid new character whom I would be happy to see more stories focused on. This home release has some really good bonus features as well which is something, I fully appreciate in home versions of the film including a fantastic behind the scenes featurette as well as a preview of the next big release “Batman: Hush” which is looking really incredible.
The tone of the story does make this a more adult story so any parents or guardians may want to watch this before judging if their kids can handle the subject matter, but this is a fun story experience for anyone old enough to remember the original animated show and a good one to have in your collection if you do.
Justice League Vs The Fatal Five is out now on Digital Download and available on Blu-ray™ and DVD.