by Ted S. McGregor Jr. & r & & r & Justice League, Season One & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & uperheroes have come a long way since the days of Action Comics, circa 1938, when Superman was introduced. In the '70s, I bought comic books for a quarter: Thor was my favorite, and I also sat through Electric Company to get to the cheesy Spiderman episodes. Nowadays, superheroes are redone strictly for grown-ups (as in Batman Begins), but there's one place kids can go for a 21st-century superhero fix: Justice League on Cartoon Network.
Since the early 1990s, Warner Brothers has brought back Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series, Batman Begins and now Justice League. (The first 26 JL episodes aired in 2001, and they're finally out as a complete four-disc set.) Luckily, I have kids now, so I have an excuse to watch these, too.
Artist Bruce Timm led the team that updated the looks of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl and the Martian Manhunter. They're sleek and stylized, paying proper homage to the old-school original artists. Minor tweaks include making Superman a bit older and giving Green Lantern glowing green eyes. Listening to the creative team (which has been together since the Batman series) talk about the minutiae of the characters' looks in the three episodes that have voice-overs tells you that you're in the hands of truly devoted comic book geeks.
And the stories are mostly strong, too, starting out with the three-part "Secret Origins," a riff on War of the Worlds that details how the League first came together. Aquaman makes a classic (and, for a cartoon, gory) guest appearance. And there's even a World War II-themed three-parter.
Along the way, they sprinkle the characters with just enough personality but not so much to turn it into a soap opera -- this is, after all, a simple battle between good and evil. Batman is the moody one, with a dark side; the Flash is the class clown all grown up; and Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl are sexy and tough -- still capable of bewitching boys all these incarnations later.
If one superhero is cool, seven of them in one cartoon are really, really cool. My old pile of comics never looked this good.