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Justice League Unlimited:
Joining Forces
and
Teen Titans: Fear Itself

Look around this site, and you'll find ample evidence that we love the superheroes. From Cartoon Network's ratings (and their licensing), it's a safe bet that they do, too. Responsible for the best hour on Saturday nights since we watched Saturday mornings, the net gives us the shows that make us forget about Superfriends.

For home video, they haven't quite given us what we want yet. Instead of releasing their current top shows in full season boxed sets, Cartoon Network has been piecing them out in small collections. Heck, that seems to be what they've been doing with new episodes on their broadcast schedule, too. But we'll keep getting sucked in, because this is some quality stuff.

In the case of Justice League Unlimited, the new DVD "Joining Forces" actually makes a great place to start. If you've never watched the show, the three episodes included here mark the transition for this series trying to find its legs. Fans complained about earlier episodes just being random, building episodes around new heroes that felt like arbitrary inclusions.

That might be true for "The Greatest Story Never Told," but that episode also marks the best of the "ooh, look - new hero" installments. Though Booster Gold hasn't played a very large role since, this show lays the groundwork for further character interaction, with plenty of inside jokes for longtime comic book fans.

The first episode on the disc, "For the Man Who Has Everything," was made for the fans. Adapted from an Alan Moore story, for some this would be worth the price of a DVD alone. It stands alone, however, from every other JLU story, as it features just the Trinity of DC - Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. With the final episode included on this disc, Justice League Unlimited went from being a fun collection of superhero stories to possibly being the best superhero television series in history.

Okay, maybe that wasn't such a hard target to reach, but JLU has definitely raised the bar incredibly high for anyone to follow.

In "The Return," the producers of JLU reached back to episodes of the previous Justice League series, featuring an allegedly reformed Lex Luthor being targeted by the sins of his past. As heroes like The Atom race to protect Luthor, the entire Green Lantern Corps stands against Amazo, an android that had gone to space to find himself and come back well nigh omnipotent.

From that episode, JLU began the journey to leaving fans breathless and eagerly awaiting each new installment. Perhaps the hardcore fans will get their boxed season set, because the extras on this seem aimed straight for the kids.

That's not an insult, because Warner Home Video has started doing some really clever and possibly educational things with their extras. In "The Science of Superheroes: Superman," a scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratories expounds on how exactly Superman breaks the laws of physics. He puts them in real world terms, giving examples that kids can understand while also steering the conversation toward the possibility of a career in hard science. It's not condescending, and may actually inspire a few viewers.

Encouraging a career in voice-over might not please parents, but the mini-documentary included here does a nice job. Phil LaMarr explains just why Green Lantern's voice is so deep, while George Newbern and Susan Eisenberg offer anecdotes as to how they approach their characters. It's fun, and if you've got someone in your house wondering what the real people look like, this makes a great introduction. Then play Adventures in Babysitting and point at that preppy college guy that grew up to be Superman.

The disc also includes a trivia game, involving matching power descriptions to the heroes. For an old geek like me, it was a snap, but I do appreciate that Warner included Red Tornado, who makes a quick cameo in "The Return."

In exchange for extras being not quite as impressive on Teen Titans: Fear Itself, you get a lot more episodes. Six appear on this "Season Two, Volume 1" collection, and by critical consensus of our Teen Titans reviewer, these are some of the best.

The strongest for me was "How Long Is Forever?", which catapults Starfire through time and face to face with the man that (in the comics) would be her sancho, Nightwing. Each episode shifts focus to individual members before the one that would shape the season: "Terra."

Borrowed from one of the most acclaimed comics arcs, "The Judas Contract," the Terra storyline allowed Teen Titans to finally claim those fans that balked at its heavy anime influence.

As for those fans that don't know the comics, well, you're buying this one already, aren't you? And the young ones drawn in whose fathers write to Fanboy Planet with a worried "is my son turning into a Fanboy?", well, put it on your Christmas list because you're going to love it.

The disc includes "Inside Titans Tower," which lays out a schematic, mostly illustrated by clips from episodes. It's the kind of thing that kids love to know - how the rooms fit and all that, but it does seem a little thin in the face of the extras on "Joining Forces." Also included is a set top game, the reason for which eludes me, especially since a Teen Titans video game is on the horizon. The "Arachnid Challenge" looks pallid already, with no clear sense of when a goal will be achieved or when the game will actually be considered over. It happens, but it's arbitrary.

Still, if you're a fan or your kids are fans, this DVD is well put-together, and a decent value.

Justice League Unlimited - Joining Forces (DC Comics Kids Collection)

Teen Titans - Season 2, Volume 1 - Fear Itself (DC Comics Kids Collection)

Derek McCaw

 

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