DC Animation has been able to provide a winning formula for their direct to video productions. While in some entries they can an produce an adaption of a comic, an original story or much like the beloved source material, the continuation of a series where the same cast and crew return again and again to carry on a singular multiple narrative.. The latest film is a continuation of the beloved Bruce Timm produced Justice League Unlimited, built upon the shoulder of Justice League, Superman and Batman: The Animated Series, all containing for the most part it’s original cast.
Watching Justice League Vs The Fatal Five is a welcome flashback to the Saturday morning series, however like its audience, this team and its story telling have matured. Noticeably, they swear and can bleed…a lot. The danger, both internal and external are more sinister and uncomfortably real, making this outing hit close to home. While aliens and falling debris are the norm for most superheroes, “Fatal Five” touches upon something that most can relate to: Anxiety.
Jessica Cruz, while hiking with friends comes across a murderer burying his his victims. Two of her friends are killed while Jessica manages to escape. The shocking events continue to haunt her, even while she has become, reluctantly, a Green Lantern. While super villains would be a normal concern for costumed crime fighting, she’s more concerned about leaving her apartment and consumed with thoughts like, “Am I good enough?”, “Why did the ring even bother to choose me?” and “What does the Justice League even see in me?”. She’s not lazy, she’s not unmotivated, she has a common disorder that a large amount of Americans, and citizens of the world at large face.
On the other side of space and time is Thomas Kallor, a.k.a “Starboy”, a member of the future team “Legion of Super Heroes”. While he may be able to control the mass and density of any person or object, he can’t seem to control his mind and needs medication which is destroyed early on in the film. Unable to get his prescription in 21st Century Earth, Kallor relies on her for help. This bond makes them a unique duo in the super hero medium as they battle different forms of mental illness that while may be an obstacle, does not prevent them from being heroes.
The way in which the illness is written is refreshing. They are not crazy and can function like most ‘normal people.” What is also welcoming is that these symptoms are identical to each other, for Jessica and Thomas their roads to mental stability are very different and inspiring.
There is the tried saying that: a hero is only as good as his/her villain and making it something as real and as powerful as anxiety is a breath of fresh air. Trying to save the world and get over a panic attack, while something seen in Marvel’s Iron Man 3, this doesn’t feel recycled. More stories like these are needed.
Of course Justice League does have it’s physical antagonists personified by the titular Fatal Five. While the threat is real, the motivation for them is a little forced and underdeveloped. Mano, leads his evil group to free his beloved Emerald Empress and other FF (not that FF) member Validus. While it’s a simple motivation and one that many can at the very least understand, it never feels like a pressing errand; they’re bad guys whether or not members of the team are present.
Despite its flaws this entry to the animated DC canon is fun with both beloved Justice League characters and new team mates.