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Justice League of America: The Unaired Pilot
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2002

Format: Collectibles
Genre:   Superhero Action / Drama
Released:   Produced in 1997
Review Date:   July 26, 2002
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

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 J'Onn J'Onzz.

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.

Joe Crowe is news and humor editor for RevolutionSF.

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