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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

JUSTICE LEAGUE: GODS AND MONSTERS

** SPOILERS **

The DC Comics Multiverse more often than not allows for alternate realities that can be more interesting than the mainstream "core" DC Universe. Justice League: Gods and Monsters, a brand new tale created for DC Animation (with spin off comics based on this universe, naturally), introduces us to one such alternate reality, and it's got a lot of potential. In Gods and Monsters, the Justice League is boiled down to the so-called Trinity: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, in a wholly original, violent, and fascinating take on the three icons unlike any we've seen before. Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Princess Diana, where for art thou? Apparently, in this reality, nowhere, that's where. It's not a bad thing at all.

Superman (voiced by Benjamin Bratt) is the son of Lara and General Zod(!), who imbued his DNA into the Kryptonian birthing matrix instead of Jor-El just before the Last Son of Krypton was rocketed to Earth. The baby Superman was found not by the Kents but by a Mexican migrant couple and was raised with the name Hernan Guerra. Dios mio! The Batman (voiced by Michael C. Hall) is Kirk Langstrom, who is a half-man/half-bat villain named Man-Bat (naturally) in the main DC Universe, but here, he is our Dark Knight -- and he's a vampire, to boot! Wonder Woman (voiced by Tamara Taylor) is a princess of sorts, but she's no Amazon. She is Bekka from New Genesis, a power sword-wielding granddaughter of Highfather of the New Gods (voiced by Richard Chamberlain!). Best of all, this Wonder Woman's history is a cracking good Game of Thrones-style spin on the New Gods: She was engaged to Darkseid's son Orion as a consummation of a peace treaty between Apokolips and New Genesis, but it was all a sinister plot by a surprisingly sinister Highfather to "Red Wedding" Darkseid and his forces -- and it worked! 

Gods and Monsters limits the superheroes to the Trinity and doesn't explain how they came together as the Justice League, but all three get plenty of exploration of their origins. We literally watch Superman born from a zygote into an infant child on his journey to Earth. Batman's origin plays an integral part in the main plot: Langstrom went to college with Will Magnus, the robotics genius who creates the Metal Men in the main DC Universe. In Gods and Monsters, Magnus is a nanotech expert (with deep seeded feelings of jealousy and inadequacy). Magnus' nanotech seemed to hold the key to Langstrom's life's work, but ingesting his own bat serum transformed Langstrom into a vampire. How this vampire became the crimefighting Batman is a tale for another day. 

If you're a DC nerd really into the various brilliant and mad scientists of the DC Universe (guilty), God and Monsters is a veritable Who's Who: Victor Fries, Ray Palmer, John Henry Irons, Thaddeus Sivana, Kimiyo Hoshi, T.O. Morrow, Michael Holt, Silas Stone, and more -- they're all here, but not in their superheroic or villainous guises. Something called "Project Fair Play" is the impetus for the main plot, in which the Justice League is framed for the systematic murders of these scientists by robot assassins, all of whom were proteges of the mysterious Lex Luthor (voiced by Jason Isaacs). There are greater issues at play as well: the ultra violent nature of the Justice League is constantly under public scrutiny in the media, mainly by fearless reporter Lois Lane (voiced by Paget Brewster), who is far from Superman's biggest fan. The League's official status as government operatives turns sour with these murders, and they become public enemies under orders from President Amanda Waller (Penny Johnson Jerald). 

Justice League: Gods and Monsters takes DC Animation's "not necessarily, if at all, for kids" style and pushes it even further. With the League basically remorseless killing machines, the violence level is higher than ever. Wholesale slaughter is the League's M.O., but their mysterious enemies are even worse. Gods and Monsters doesn't shy away from depicting animals and even children gruesomely massacred. And yet, when all is said and done, Gods and Monsters takes on a surprisingly hopeful tone as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, the most powerful and feared beings on Earth, choose to take up a position against killing in the future. It turns out gods and monsters can learn, grow, and change in Gods and Monsters. Maybe that S on Superman's belt buckle does mean "hope" after all.

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