Commentary
The End of Justice League
Emru Townsend · April 28, 2006 | TV licensing deals are funny things. Justice League Unlimited, an American show, started airing in the US last September, and didn't start appearing on YTV here in Canada until this February. However, the series finale aired up here just this week, while there are still three episodes yet to air south of the border.

So, yeah. That's it: Justice League is over and done with. And frankly, it's not a moment too soon. In fact, it's just a little too late.

Until Justice League came along, the DC superhero cartoons were firing on all cylinders. Batman: The Animated Series came out swinging in the '90s, and with each successive season it just kept getting better. Even working within the constraints of network television business standards & practices (Batman originally aired on the Fox network), the series had fantastic design, voice work and writing, tied together with an excellent score. These were enough to carry the series despite occasionally shoddy animation work (Batman was farmed out to several animation studios, some of whom weren't as good as the others) and concessions to network rules—if someone got pushed out of a helicopter, you knew he was going to land in a tree or in a pool (safely, despite the odds), even an improbably placed one in the Gotham skyline.

Batman: The Animated Series
Warner Bros. Television, 1992-1995

Superman: The Animated Series
Warner Bros. Television, 1996-2000

Batman: Gotham Knights
Warner Bros. Television, 1997-1999

Batman Beyond
Warner Bros. Television, 1999-2001

Justice League
Warner Bros. Television, 2001-2006

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The creative team continued that theme of working around constraints, a counterargument to those that claim that network interference necessarily spells doom for good shows. For instance, it was Fox that wanted to play up Robin in the show (it was later retitled The Adventures of Batman and Robin) in an effort to appeal more to younger viewers, but that certainly didn't infantilize the show. In fact, without Robin there would never have been the dramatic "Robin's Reckoning" two-parter, where Batman tries to keep Robin out of a case involving the man who killed Robin's parents, or "Second Chance," in which Batman tries to save his friend Harvey Dent from completely giving in to his Two-Face persona while balancing Robin's need for support from his father figure. The climax of "Second Chance" is masterful not only for the staging and animation, but because it's wordless. Two-Face leaps out of a building after his two-headed coin, which has fallen into space. Batman, with no support or ropes of any kind, dives after him, never once looking behind him as Robin, who does have a rope, leaps into the air after them both. Batman's faith in both Two-Face and Robin is bracketed by Two-Face's obsession and weakness ahead of him, and Robin's devotion, dependability and strength on the other. We never see either rescue because it's unnecessary—economical and powerful storytelling at its best.

Similarly, Batman Beyond was a network obligation that was handled well. By this time the DC cartoons had moved to the WB network (DC's corporate cousin) and Superman: The Animated Series and Batman: Gotham Knights had built considerably on Batman's creative success; there were no bad episodes, just degrees of excellence. But the WB wanted to attract more teens, the audience they had been cultivating. "Teenage Batman" sounds like disaster waiting to happen, but Batman Beyond more than held its ground by placing the series decades in the future, as an elderly Bruce Wayne passed on the torch to Terry McGinnis, though not without some initial reluctance. By looking at Batman's career in hindsight, along with how it affected heroes and villains like Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), Tim Drake (Robin), Joker and Mr. Freeze, the series actually broadened the classic Batman while charting his future.
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