If you’ve seen the #JLReunion hashtag on Twitter you’re already well aware of the brobdingnagian social media campaign to convince Warner Bros. Home Entertainment to produce a Justice League animated movie reuniting the cast/crew from the original series. A critically-acclaimed show featuring the pantheon of DC Comics superheroes, Justice League and its successor Justice League Unlimited ultimately served to close the book on the shared continuity known as the DC Animated Universe that began with Batman: The Animated Series. So you can imagine the excitement when not only a Justice League vs. The Fatal Five animated feature was announced with producer Bruce Timm, one of the key architects of the aforementioned DCAU, and his iconic character designs but that George Newbern, Susan Eisenberg, and Kevin Conroy would be reprising the voices DC’s Trinity—Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman respectively.
JL vs. F5 sees the League joined by some new faces including Jessica Cruz/Green Lantern, Miss Martian, and a mysterious ally named Star Boy as they face the eponymous time-traveling threat the Fatal Five. And when the Fatal Five pops up, you know the Legion of Superheroes can’t be far behind. Premiering at WonderCon, The Beat had the fortune to talk with some of the cast and crew about the film as well as the impact and legacy of Justice League.
Let’s get the immediate question on the minds of many out of the way, namely whether or not JL vs. F5 is truly within the official canon of the DCAU. Longtime viewers will remember the Fatal Five appeared in the Justice League Unlimited episode “Far From Home” with noticeably different character designs than the ones depicted in the film. Moreover, even other established characters from the show such as Kilowog have radically altered looks. As producer/director Sam Liu explained, the project was not originally intended to be drawn with Timm’s distinct angular art style but it lent itself thematically. “The story is about legacy,” said Liu. “The Legion being in the future, the Trinity currently, and the influx of new characters that will be the bridge between the two.” As for whether or not this is actually in DCAU continuity, the filmmakers leave it up to the viewers to decide for themselves, however in the opinion of Bruce Timm, he considers it canon.
In keeping with the legacy theme, it’s fitting that Eric Carrasco, who grew up watching the Justice League cartoon, was recruited to craft the script. Carrasco jumped at the chance to work on a DC animated feature after receiving a call from producer Alan Burnett, a legend in the animation industry, that he didn’t even need to know any further details. As it happened, given his work introducing the Legion of Superheroes on the hit CW Supergirl show, Carrasco was the perfect person to develop the story. It also doesn’t hurt that Carrasco is an unabashed comics fan wearing his love on his sleeve, brandishing an official Legion flight ring prop from Supergirl at the premiere.
Although a cult favorite, even the most devoted of Legion of Superheroes readers are cognizant of the team’s byzantine continuity that makes mainstream accessibility difficult. You can therefore understand the challenge for Carrasco and co-writer/co-producer Jim Krieg in translating decades of history into 70+ minute movie. For them, it was less important to touch on the entire intricate history of the Legion than exploring what makes the concept relatable. “Most superheroes, when you’re a little kid, you can’t relate to having a double identity because you barely have a single identity. You hardly know who you are so you can’t imagine hiding who that person is,” said Krieg. “But almost any kid who grew up with other kids can relate to having a club with rules, a pledge, and a secret code.” When all is said and done, Bruce Timm is hopeful that there’s enough Easter Eggs to satisfy Legion fans while not alienating audiences.
While countless people were responsibile for making Justice League such a cherished show, we are forever indebted to the phenomenal work of the late/great writer Dwayne McDuffie and his enormous part in redefining not just Justice League but the entire superhero animation genre as a whole. In fact, Bruce Timm himself regards Justice League Unlimited as his all-time favorite series to work on and his time with McDuffie, James Tucker, Matt Wayne, and everyone on that show as a personal golden age. It was truly heartwarming then to see Carrasco cite McDuffie as an influence on Twitter and elaborate further in person. “Dwayne told stories a certain way and he made these epic moments feel really personal and he made these small moments feel Earth-shattering to the people that were taking part in them. And so what I think he did better than anybody is have these quiet moments with the heroes.”
I never met him, but there was no bigger influence on Justice League vs. The Fatal Five, and there is no bigger influence on the way I see superheroes, and why I love them. https://t.co/jpSWuU7YAf
— Eric Carrasco (@erictcarrasco) February 21, 2019
Likewise Krieg, McDuffie’s friend and frequent collaborator, echoed Carrasco’s praise. “Dwayne was a genius and so you can say, ‘What would Dwayne do?’ And you’ll never know what he would have done. All we can do is our best.”
A champion of diverse representation in media, one can’t help but feel McDuffie’s presence with the prominence of minority characters in leading roles in this film, particularly Jessica Cruz the first female Green Lantern from Earth who happens to be Hispanic. When Bruce Timm developed the roster for the Justice League cartoon he very consciously made sure it wasn’t just seven white guys saving the world. In his view, showcasing diverse characters is simply better storytelling and not just fulfilling a perceived quota. “I think it absolutely doesn’t hurt to show diversity of different kinds of people with both the good guys and the bad guys.”
Jessica Cruz isn’t the only female superhero who shines. There’s also Miss Martian, a character who’s risen in popularity thanks in large part to the Young Justice animated series, voiced in the movie by Daniela Bobadilla. Fans may recognize Bobadilla as the voice of Mist in the latest season of YJ earlier this year, so this isn’t her first time in the world of superhero animation. Incidentally, since she had worked with YJ producer Greg Weisman on his Rain of the Ghosts AudioPlay and thus kept up with all Weisman’s animation work, Bobadilla was already well acquainted with Miss Martian. Bobadilla described Miss Martian as a “go-getter” and fearless to the point that even the judgement of Batman doesn’t faze her. Ironically, Bobadilla herself was initially intimidated about taking on such a beloved character but those fears subsided once she found her inner Miss Martian.
Conversely, actress Sumalee Montano went in knowing next to nothing about her character Emerald Empress, the nefarious leader of the Fatal Five. She’s not the only since even director Sam Liu conceded that he wasn’t intimately familiar with the Fatal Five before the film either. Nevertheless, having voiced various heroes in past DC animated projects such as Katana in Beware the Batman and Mera in Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, Montano relished the opportunity to play against type and found it almost therapeutic to portray a villain. “She’s literally the most formidable character that I’ve ever come across,” said Montano. “I can never be close to a character that mean, but she takes the cake. I’m a nice person in real life!”
Despite reprising DC’s Trinity in various different projects over the years, this is the first time since the conclusion of JLU that George Newbern, Susan Eisenberg, and Kevin Conroy have reunited and it most definitely feels so good for them. “It’s a gift to play these parts for so long and to have a continuity in Hollywood with people you enjoy working with,” said Newbern. For Conroy who’s been voicing the Dark Knight for close to three decades, Batman has always been the outlier in the Justice League, a sentiment shared by many. Yet to his surprise, he found it remarkable how easy it was to pick up on this magical relationship with his fellow Leaguers all these years later. Without a doubt, this JL reunion probably meant the most to Eisenberg. “I didn’t know until I went to record that she was going to look like she had in the old Justice League series and it made me so emotional.”
Those who follow Eisenberg on Twitter know she is completely behind the #JLReunion campaign. Certainly, we’ve seen many properties in recent years given new life thanks to continuous fan support. Even Timm admitted that the likelihood of any more JL related projects is based on the success of Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. If that’s not incentive to purchase a copy, I don’t know what else you need.
The fate of the planet rests on the shoulders of a reluctant Green Lantern and an unstable hero from the future in “Justice League vs. The Fatal Five,” the next entry in the popular series of DC Universe Movies. Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and DC, the feature-length animated film arrives from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on Digital starting March 30, 2019, and on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack and Blu-ray Combo Pack on April 16, 2019.
“Justice League vs. The Fatal Five” finds the Earth’s future hanging in the balance when the Justice League faces a powerful new threat – the Fatal Five. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman seek answers as the time-traveling trio of Mano, Persuader and Tharok terrorize Metropolis in search of budding Green Lantern, Jessica Cruz – whom they need to free remaining Fatal Five members Emerald Empress and Validus in order to carry out their sinister plan. But the Justice League discover an ally from another time in the peculiar Star Boy – brimming with volatile power, could he be the key to thwarting the Fatal Five? An epic battle against ultimate evil awaits!
The “Justice League vs. The Fatal Five” all-star cast is led by Elyes Gabel (Scorpion, Game of Thrones) as Thomas Kallor/Star Boy and Diane Guerrero (Orange is the New Black, Jane the Virgin, DC Universe’s upcoming Doom Patrol) as Jessica Cruz/Green Lantern. Reprising their Justice League/Justice League Unlimited roles as Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman, respectively, are Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: The Killing Joke), Susan Eisenberg (Injustice 2, LEGO DC Super Heroes – Aquaman: Rage of Atlantis) and George Newbern (Superman vs. The Elite, Scandal). Providing the voices of the villainous Fatal Five are Peter Jessop (Mass Effect, Fallout 4, Resident Evil) as Tharok, Matthew Yang King (Batman Ninja, Supah Ninjas) as The Persuader, Sumalee Montano (S.W.A.T., This Is Us) as Emerald Empress, and Philip Anthony Rodriguez (Grimm, The Secret Life of the American Teenager) as Mano. (Note: Validus does not speak)
Other members of the voice cast include Daniela Bobadilla (Anger Management, The Middle) as Miss Martian, Kevin Michael Richardson (Family Guy, The Simpsons) as Mr. Terrific, Noel Fisher (Shameless, Castle Rock) as Brainiac 5, Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke, Teen Titans, Teen Titans Go!) as Saturn Girl, and Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants) as Bloodsport.
Producer Sam Liu (Reign of the Supermen, Gotham by Gaslight) also directs “Justice League vs. The Fatal Five” from a script by Eric Carrasco (Supergirl, Justice League Action) and Jim Krieg (Batman: Gotham by Gaslight) & Alan Burnett (Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay). The film is based on a story by Carrasco. Burnett and Krieg are also co-producers. Amy McKenna (The Death of Superman) is producer. Co-Executive Producers are Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan. Executive Producers are Sam Register and Bruce Timm (Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, Batman: The Animated Series).