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Friday, June 10, 2016

Justice League Action Character Roster Revealed

Edited by Robert Beach 

By now, you might’ve heard there’s a new Justice League animated series in the works called Justice League Action. Even though there hasn’t been an official Justice League show since the end of Justice League Unlimited, the team has been represented in subsequent media like The Batman, Batman: Brave and the Bold, and Young Justice.  

This new show will, apparently, be taking the team in a new direction, looking to bridge the gap between Justice League Unlimited and Batman: Brave and the Bold’s emphasis on obscure characters and the more cartoony and wacky animation styles of current superhero hit Teen Titans Go. Not much is known about the show, but we seem to have a tentative character line-up in the form of a character sheet leaked from the folks working on the series.

It might be a little hard to tell at this distance, but there are 20 characters portrayed on screen here. About 5 of them are well enough known that I’m not going to cover (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Joker, and Harley Quinn). As for the others, most of them seem to be heroes with a light smattering of villains to keep things interesting.  

I recognize pretty much everyone up there except for a couple obscured by photo quality and projection equipment. My gut is telling me he’s Lex Luthor, the most logical character missing from the rest of the line-up. With that said, let’s dive in, going top to bottom, left to right, here’s who’s on the board.

Here’s someone most animation fans are probably going to recognize. It’s Jaimie Reyes, the third Blue Beetle. Beetle appeared prominently on the Young Justice program along with a live-action role on Smallville that was originally intended to spin-off into a series that never materialized. Reyes has been a big hit for DC since his inception in the mid-2000s and has become a standard bearer for Latino superheroes, so I’m not surprised to see him show up on the new JLA show. 

He's a normal teen from El Paso, Texas. Things changed once he bonded with a piece of sentient alien technology called the Scarab that emerges as the war suit you see on him now.  The Scarab suit was originally designed to fight the Green Lanterns, which makes it every bit as functional as one of their rings. As the Blue Beetle, Jaimie can fly, create force fields, shoot lasers, turn invisible, teleport, and pretty much do anything else he imagines. The only risk is the AI of the suit overpowering his mind and taking his body back to the evil aliens who originally invented the suit. 

From “kind of well known” to “completely obscure,” this is Space Cabbie, and I guarantee you’ve never heard of him. Space Cabbie was a mid-'50s sci-fi character from the time when DC specialized in weird science, adventure, and horror comics. This was way back before superheroes re-emerged as the dominant genre of the medium in the early ‘60s. Bizarre concepts like a taxi driver in space could be tried out and become successful. 

Since his brief run in the mid-'50s, Space Cabbie hasn’t really enjoyed much prominence or re-examination, especially compared to fellow ‘50s spacemen like Captain Comet, Adam Strange, or Ultra (the 4-part alien). I’m not really sure why Space Cabbie is an addition to the Justice League of Action, but I am psyched to see him finally show up in a DC adaptation as he ended up too obscure even for Batman: The Brave and the Bold. 

Doctor Fate is a much more common character than most of the others on this list, owing to the fact he’s one of the oldest characters at hand. Originating in the ‘40s, Doctor Fate was an archeologist who discovered a mystic helm in Egypt that, when worn, transformed him into a Lord of Order and defender of our realm from mystic incursion. Since then, Dr. Fate’s been a fairly prominent fixture of the DC universe. 

Fate is usually seen as a member of the Justice Society of America such as during his appearance on Smallville. He also appeared in the DC animated universe, Batman: Brave and the Bold, and had a brief cameo in the failed Constantine show. Fate is essentially DC’s Dr. Strange, a mystic heavyweight complete with his own spooky windowless tower headquarters. I’m not sure what his presence adds other than cementing the idea this team will be drawn from across all of DC’s history. 

Shazam, like Dr. Fate, is another hero that’s been around forever. As such, he is a bit better known. Shazam emerged as a Superman imitator in the early ‘40s before eventually being purchased by DC in the ‘50s and added to their universe in the mid-'70s when Shazam got his own TV show alongside Wonder Woman.  Since then, he’s become something akin to the Superman of magic, a guy possessed with all of Superman’s strength and power, but he deals exclusively with the crazy magic stuff than killer robots and alien invaders. 

In reality, Shazam is a little kid named Billy Batson who transforms into the world’s mightiest mortal when he says the word SHAZAM, a name culled together from 6 ancients who give Shazam his powers. There’s the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. 

All this power flows from the Lord of Order the Wizard Shazam, who lives in the mystic nexus known as the Rock of Eternity. From there, the Wizard keeps an ever-watchful eye over existence and imprisons the living embodiments of the 7 deadly sins. 

Not to be confused with the villain of the same name and similar costume, Dr. Light is a Japanese superhero that emerged in the ‘80s as part of the Justice League International. Dr. Light is a cool character concept, but she’s never had much personality. and she was never one of the prime movers and shakers in the JLI like Green Fire and Ice Maiden were. 

I think her similarities to the villainous Dr. Light have always held her back, especially now that the evil Dr. Light is an incredibly gross rapist character. Still, this Dr. Light is probably the most prominent Japanese superhero in the DC mythos, and I’m glad she’s given a chance to shine and develop a real identity for herself. Her power of creating hard light and manipulating the EM spectrum with her mind is really cool. It'd be neat to see what they do with that in the show. 

Another non-Justice League member added to the roster, Mr. Terrific is a long-time member of the Justice Society and the third smartest man in the world. Michael Holt was a multi-degree holding businessman before his wife died, and he took up the cause of crime fighting, slowly rising through the ranks to be chairmen of the JSA and later head of DC’s version of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Checkmate. He doesn’t have any powers with the exception of his invisibility to all recording devices and his T-spheres, the little mechanical orbs that hover around him, can do all kinds of nifty tricks. 

So far, Mr. Terrific has only ever been adapted as part of Justice League Unlimited, most notably as the new head of logistics replacing the Martian Manhunter.  That’s left him under most folks' radar, even though he’s one of the coolest characters with an incredible look that I’m glad is finally getting another shot. There were plans to add him to the Beware the Batman CGI show, but that fell apart well before that could happen. 

Yet another character who’s more media prevalent than you’d probably think, Swamp Thing was a mid-'70s character that emerged out of DC’s flirtation with reviving the horror comics genre. DC did produce a ton of great horror books in the ‘70s, but Swamp Thing really wasn’t one of them. Even though Swamp Thing wasn’t a big hit, he was popular enough with the right crowds to inspire Wes Craven, creator of Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street, to make a damn successful live-action movie. The movie spawned a sequel, a three-season-long animated series, a brief animated series, an action figure line, and a comic revival penned by Alan Moore that spawned DC’s major imprint: Vertigo Comics. 

As for Swamp Thing himself, he was a scientist named Alec Holland who was doing weird research when he caught fire and fell into a swamp. The blend of research chemicals, explosions, and the swamp’s mystic properties transformed Holland into an avatar of The Green, the collective life force of all plants on Earth. Now he must co-exist with the avatars of other collective life forces like the Red (animals) or the Grey (fungi) while battling the force of death (the Rot).  

Firestorm, the nuclear man, is one of DC’s stranger characters. He was originally invented by Gerry Conway, the guy who pretty much created Spider-Man as we know him today. Conway gave the idea of Firestorm being a slacker student and a brainy professor fusing together into one nuclear-powered being. He’s been through a lot of iterations since, yet that’s the one central thing that tends to persist as far as Firestorm goes. 

His bizarre nature means he rarely appears in adaptations, but his recent roles in Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Legends of Tomorrow have afforded him more clout to get a role in the new JLA. It is a shame they seem to be going with the traditional white guy version of Firestorm as opposed to the more recent black guy. At the same time, Firestorm’s identity has always been incredibly fluid, so it might not last.  

My bigger question is if Firestorm will be a Fire elemental and tie him to Swamp Thing’s whole elemental set-up. See, in addition to the collective live force avatars, there are also avatars of the classical elements like fire, air, water, stone, and wood. Traditionally, Swamp Thing pulls double duty as  both an elemental and life avatar, but Firestorm has also been known to embody the element of fire. 

Another C-list hero who’s managed to jump up to an actual name character thanks to a recent live-action adaptation, Martian Manhunter was originally created as a Superman stand-in. Popping up in the ‘50s as an attempt to pivot the weird science stories of the day to a more superhero-esque approach, Martian Manhunter had all of Superman’s powers and more. He could telepath, turn invisible, intangible, and shape shift. He’s basically like Superman and the Vision combined, which is a reference I can only make thanks to Age of Ultron and Civil War. 

Anyway, Martian Manhunter was a constant JLA member till the late 2000s when he dropped off the map. No one’s really known what to do with him after that. With his recent success on CBS’s (Editor's Note: Now CW) Supergirl is probably why he’s getting another shot on Justice League Action. What’s more, Manhunter already appeared a number of times on TV: first on the original Justice League show, then on The Batman, Batman: Brave and the Bold, and Smallville. He’s been around the block before as a character, so he’s got enough good will to make it for another round. 

If there’s one thing the universe is in desperate need of, it’s more Big Barda. Barda is a part of the incredibly weird and wonderful New Gods mythos created by Jack Kirby during his time at DC in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It’s basically a vast and expansive mythology in the style of classical myth only starring cosmic space beings that exist as platonic ideals. "Weird and awesome" is really the only way to describe it as a whole. Barda is basically Wonder Woman and She-Hulk in the same character from space. 

She was raised to be one of the elite troops of Darkseid, God of Evil, but fell in love with Mr. Miracle, the god of freedom. Together, they escaped as husband and wife. Mr. Miracle has yet to be confirmed for Justice League Action, but I can’t imagine he’s far behind if Barda’s involved. Her role as an immortal, godly ass-kicker from space is made all the better by how much she loves her husband while still wearing the pants in that household. 

This is the first of the two characters I’m not totally sure about.  The most obvious problem with working with leaked photograph shots rather than character pics. We work with what we’re given. The visual design of the character second from the left on the bottom row could work for two major possibilities. The first possibility is he’s Jason Blood, another mystic character to complement Swamp Thing, Dr. Fate, and Shazam. Blood is the human form of an immortal demon summoned eons ago to defend Camelot in its final days. So if it is Blood, it’d be strange that he’s not currently in his demonic form as Etrigan. Etrigan has had a lot more exposure than Jason Blood and makes more sense for a reveal. 

That’s why I think it could also be Batman/Green Arrow villain Ras Al Ghul. Ras's schemes usually tend to threaten the world, so he’s a good antagonist to bring against the Justice League. It’s not like Batman villains are unpopular. What’s more, Ras’ predominant color design is green. That golden olive coloring on the leaked character looks like it could fit, and his cape looks a lot like Ras’s from the Batman animated series. My money’s more on Ras’ than Jason Blood. At this point, either is possible.

Another split possibility, the character is clearly some derivation of the Hawkman idea, but his weird costume design means there’s more than one option on that front. Obviously, Hawkman is the most likely scenario. Hawkman appeared in the first ever live-action Justice League on Legend of the Superheroes, again on Smallville during the JSA story, and then most recently on Legends of Tomorrow. He’s a common character who’s managed to work his way through a bunch of adaptation and is clear enough in concept that he fits. What’s throwing me off here is the visual design of his costume, emphasizing a uniform look with a lot of red and green.  That’s never been Hawkman’s costume previously but is has been the visual design of Golden Eagle, a bizarre Hawkman supporting character created by editorial screw-up. 

In the ‘90s, Hawkman was running around in his own comic and on the JLA, even though he was supposed to be dead. Later, when Hawkman was resurrected, editors had to address the previous Hawkman that had been seen tooling around with the JLA and in his own series, so they said there was a spy from Hawkman’s home planet Thanagar impersonating Hawkman during that time. Now that Hawkman was back, the spy took the name Golden Eagle and became an anti-hero in the Hawkman book. While I doubt it IS Golden Eagle, I at least wouldn’t be totally surprised if they drew some inspiration from him visually. 

If you’ve ever wondered who DC’s Deadpool is, well, you’re looking at half the equation right here. Lobo may not be aware of his own fictional nature, but he is a self-aware creation, a walking, swearing, smoking parody of excessive machismo and ultra-violent comic characters that is every bit as unkillable as Deadpool. Born with regenerative powers that put Wolverine to shame, he immediately wiped out his entire species at age 13 and become a space bounty hunter and mercenary, more of a cosmic bad ass/nuisance than a full villain.  

Affectionately dubbed "the main man," Lobo is ideal for cartoon adaptation as, for the most part, he already IS a cartoon character.  Everything about him is exaggerated to a point almost beyond parody. He’s a guy so bad ass, he can smoke cigars in the vastness of space, so I think he can fit right in on any given animated series. I just hope his cult of space dolphins come with him (I am completely serious on that one.) 

And finally, a very bizarre villain choice to finish out the list with Blaze. Blaze and her absent sibling Satanus were a pair of early ‘90s Superman villains that ended up folded into the Shazam mythos by creator Jerry Ordway. Ordway is a really good creator who helped shape a lot of quintessential Superman stories of the time.  When DC called on Ordway to write a new Shazam comic to try and cement Shazam’s mythos of the new universe, Ordway decided to fold some of his Superman ideas into the mix. Therefore, Blaze and Satanus became more general mystic menaces rather than explicit Superman foes. 

The two are essentially demonic beings with infernal powers, much the same as Teen Titans foe Trigon. The only real claim to fame the two have comes from a late 2000s mini-series called Reign in Hell where they made war against Satan himself. It was a screwy event that got washed away by the New 52 real quickly, though there was a brief time when Blaze ended up as the lord of Hell in the DC universe. If that’s the plan for her character here, it’d be a really weird thing for a kid’s show. And yet, it fit the mystic tone of a lot of characters on tap for Justice League Action.  

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