Aimed more to a kid-friendly all-ages audience than the much more publicized Justice League: War release, and available only at Target (as a tie-in to the store’s JLA toy line), JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time proves to be a hell of a lot of fun. Rather than adapting an existing mini-series or comic arc (which seems all that DC has been interested in lately), Trapped in Time offers an original adventure from screenwriter Michael Ryan and director Giancarlo Volpe that’s a bit of a throwback to the old Super Friends days.
The straight-to-DVD adventure begins with the Legion of Doom‘s latest plan of world conquest by expanding the polar ice caps which leaves Lex Luthor (Fred Tatasciore) stuck in ice for hundreds of years before his frozen remains are eventually discovered. Accidentally released by two junior members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Lex uses the knowledge and technology of the future to return to the past with a plan to stop the Justice League from ever forming by attacking Superman while he was still an infant.
With control of the Time Trapper (Corey Burton) – a creepy creature with the ability to move Luthor and his minions through time, Luther enlists the help of Toyman (Tom Gibis), Cheetah (Erica Luttrell), Solomon Grundy (Kevin Michael Richardson), and Bizarro (Michael Donovan) to head further back in time to Smallville to deal with a baby Kal-El recently arrived on Earth. Unaware a future version of Luther has returned, Captain Cold (Burton), Grodd (Travis Willingham), and Black Manta (Richardson) keep searching for their leader in the frozen ice caps.
With Superman‘s (Peter Jessop) life, and the very existence of the League at stake, the two young travelers Karate Kid (Dante Basco) and Dawnstar (Laura Bailey) help Batman (Diedrich Bader), Robin (Jack De Sena), Aquaman (Liam O’Brien), Cyborg (Avery Waddell), and Wonder Woman (Grey DeLisle) try to save the present and their future. Although older audiences might be disappointed that the paradox lacks any nuance (Superman’s removal from the timeline might have stopped the League from forming but wouldn’t have stopped Batman and other heroes from still fighting the good fight), the script stays relatively simple with the time-travel logic it presents rather than get bogged down in various levels of cause and effect.
An odd mix of classic and New 52 designs, the 52-minute adventure may throw-in unnecessary chinstraps on various members of the Justice League (and give Batman that segmented-armor look) but it also removes that awful yellow piping from the New 52 Flash and returns the classic blue cape and cowl and yellow oval Bat-symbol to Batman. I would have liked Superman’s classic look with red underwear (which Bizarro keeps?), but despite taking a little getting used to my complaints the look of the heroes are all minor. Of the villains, the only design that really bugged me was Grundy who I would have preferred to have seen in a more classic look.
For what’s basically an extended two-part episode JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time is full of action, including a ridiculous sequence involving baby Superman being thrown around like a football. Given the nature of the storyline we don’t get as much Wonder Woman as I’d like (and a little too much Aquaman), but I enjoyed the Flash quite a bit and how the script made sure to get Batman and Robin involved in an episode where they could have been easily over-shadowed by their more powerful teammates. The choice to clad Karate Kid and Dawnstar in costumes that not-so-subtly hearken back to Samurai and Black Vulcan is a nice touch as well.
Released only at Target without any marketing or build-up as part of a stealth campaign, it will be interesting to see if word of mouth alone can make the release successful. Although the story concludes, the storyline is left open-ended suggesting that if the DVD sells well (as it deserves to) we may be getting further JLA adventures in the future. For those like me looking for an alternative to what will likely be a large number of New 52 projects DC Animated is likely to put out over the next few years this series, JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time and any potentials sequels are a breath of fresh air.
[Warner Bros. Animation, $14.99]