Rumor had it that a pilot for a Justice League of America live-action
TV series was in the works for a couple of years at CBS. But when it was finished,
nobody ever released it. So, of course, it ended up on a convention tape table.
The story is very pilot-like. The heroes face a threat to their city, and a
new hero is introduced to the group, so that she can be the audience's focus,
as she, and we, learn about the group and about superpowers and stuff like that.
Hey, it worked in the X-Men movie.
The group consists of Green Lantern, Flash, The Atom, Fire, the Martian Manhunter,
and (the focus, as mentioned above) Ice.
Ah, the Martian Manhunter. Green skin, shorts, a red X bandolier across his
chest, a high-collared cape, and the only member of the comics' Justice League
to never, ever appear outside of comics, despite being a member since the 1950s.
The Wonder Twins were good enough for the Super Friends, but not poor
Vindication arrived for him in the Justice League cartoon that debuted
in 2001--but this was 1997. And this Manhunter was played by David Ogden Stiers,
a.k.a. Major Charles Emerson Winchester the Third from M*A*S*H. What
would Father Mulcahy think?
In 1977, when Legends of the Superheroes aired, Stiers was a big star
on a hit show. But in 1997, I guess he said "Sure, I'll be happy to slather
myself in green body paint."
Neither Comics Nor Comic
This show really takes itself too seriously. The heroes do appear in costume
a fair amount of time, and they do use their powers, unlike a lot of special-effect-centric
shows. But they really push the comedy--and it's not funny. The heroes all live
in the same house, and have allegedly-wacky problems outside the fighting bad
guys. Green Lantern has trouble with his girlfriend, Flash gets kicked out of
his apartment, and Fire is a struggling actress.
Fire's "situation" in the attempted situation comedy is the most ludicrous
and time-consuming. The other heroes resolve their subplots fairly quickly,
but Fire's goes on . . . and on . . . and on. A guy at one of her auditions
thinks she's hot, and tries repeatedly to get her to go out with him, and even
stumbles onto her secret identity. He's played by some guy you've seen in 700
sitcoms, usually playing the weaselly kid brother.
The idea of funny superheroes in serious situations is adapted straight from
the Justice League comics themselves, written by Keith Giffen and J.M.
DeMatteis, from the late 80s to early-90s. However, the comics' comedy was slapsticky
and madcap, not the dry sitcommery that's exhibited here.
The heroes are a mish-mash of comics references. The Green Lantern looks like
Hal Jordan, acts like Kyle Rayner, but is named Guy Gardner. Flash acts and
looks like Wally West, kind of, but they call him "Barry," maybe to go along
with the "Barry" Flash of his early-90s TV series, although this character is
nothing like that one. Ice's origin is completely changed, so they can tell
her story in the movie, but it was complicated anyway. The Atom is the best
of the bunch, as he gives Ray Palmer an appropriately nerdy personality that
he never had in the comics.
The only character lifted intact from the comics is Martian Manhunter, and
his character looks and acts exactly like the comics. Maj. Winchester never
wore anything less than fatigues back on the 4077th--and Manhunter wears shorts
and no shirt. The worst costume in the history of comics is recreated in
intricate detail here. David Ogden Stiers' Manhunter has a big green
belly, and the cape almost covers it up, but when he moves, there it is. You
can't take your eyes off it.
The villain is Miguel Ferrer, who I just saw last night in the Oscar-nominated
Traffic, playing a slithery, arrogant drug runner the same way he played
a slithery, arrogant mad scientist here. Unlike everyone else, though, Ferrer
didn't get to wear a costume, only a ski mask and black sweater to broadcast
his message of doom as The Weatherman.
Colorful and Huge
Ferrer got off easy. The costumes are all so colorful and huge. Obviously,
the costumers were trying to recreate the Batman / Robin masks from the Schumacher
Bat-movies whose names I shall not speak, but managed to make them worse. Every
single hero's mask is exactly the same, whether set into a hood or perched on
the face. They've got beetle-browed edges that make every hero look like they're
staring at you from inside a cavern.
The Atom's suit is the funniest. The scientist who can shrink gets a costume
that makes him look like a Pee-Wee football player.
But fret not for the actors. John Kassir, who played the Atom, is a voice man
for lots of cartoons. The guy who played Green Lantern is now a regular on ER.
For several years, Fire was on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Ice
is Kimberlee on Son of the Beach, where lame attempts at comedy are intentional.
On the plus side, it's still pretty neat to see a walking, talking Flash, Green
Lantern, Atom, and etc. The acting and special effects aren't Schumacher-level
bad at all, but they're only satisfactory.
But the only really must-see aspect of this is so you can witness for yourself
the trivia footnote that is Major Winchester as the live-action Martian Manhunter.
The Martian belly commands it.