By producer Butch Lukic’s own admission, there’s something straightforward and clean about putting superheroes in World War II. Heroes good, Nazis bad. And we all used to agree on that. But there’s still an art to making it engrossing, and on that, as is usually the case, the DC Animated Universe delivers. Justice Society: World War II doesn’t have the exact versions of the Justice Society as you might know them from comics, but the ones that are here? They’re cherce.
Led by Wonder Woman (Stana Katic), the team borrows a bit from Dan Jolley and Tony Harris’ JSA: The Liberty Files in tone. They’re a step above being “mystery men,” gathered by the US government to keep Hitler from getting precious mystical artifacts. They’re also followed around by a mustached reporter (Darren Criss) who is more than he seems. It’s his job to file stories that rewrite the Justice Society’s battles into standard conflicts so neither the American public nor the Nazis know they have super-powered beings in their midst.
The hero trying to figure it all out is The Flash (Matt Bomer), coming from 2021 and traveling back in time while saving Superman from a kryptonite bullet. They won’t call him Flash, though, because they’ve already got one. There are more surprises in store for comics fans, but all in the service of the story.
Written by Jeremy Adams and Meghan Fitzmartin, the script tears along with the urgency of a movie serial. The characterization hints at backstory that 70 minutes just can’t allow. Hourman (Matthew Mercer) doesn’t just have the body of a brawler; despite being one of the Justice Society’s “science guys,” it’s clear that Miraclo gives him a rage problem. That not so mild-mannered reporter? It’s an alternate history and its consequences that’s rarely been explored. Thankfully, Adams and Fitzmartin present it, and leave the audience to ponder the implications rather than spell it all out.
Did I mention this is a smart movie? They’ve even redesigned a certain King of Atlantis (Liam McIntyre) to look like he’s played by Buster Crabbe. Not only do you get an undersea kingdom in this film, they’re playing with the tropes of Flash Gordon. (Why not? They’ve already got Hawkman.)
Justice Society: World War II is deeply satisfying, possibly continuing a new loose continuity after the “Tuckerverse” finished up last year. It’s matched with one of the best DC Showcase shorts they’ve done: Kamandi. But more on that later…