JLA Adventures: Trapped In Time
Reviewed by Will Morgan 21-Feb-16
“Are you members of the Legion of Doom?”
“We’re not members of any Legion – but we would be if Lightning Lad wasn’t such a hater!”
She wears clothes!
She’s not an idiot!
She’s got powers that are actually some bloody use!
BEST. DAWNSTAR. EVER.
Through the generosity of an American friend, I obtained a copy of this DVD animated movie which was originally exclusive to the US store chain, Target. I was keen to see it because I’d heard that it featured members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, one of my favourite teams (though sadly ill-treated by DC for the last decade) teaming up with the Justice League against the Time Trapper.
(Admittedly, I was considerably less keen when I heard the Legionnaires in question were Karate Kid and Dawnstar, but still…)
We open in the “present day”, with the JLA foiling the latest scheme by Lex Luthor and his allies. This version of the JLA (the line-up changes depending on who’s optioned out for another media development) comprises Superman, Wonder Woman, Aqualad, Flash, Cyborg, and Batman and Robin. Opposing them are Luthor, Bizarro, Gorilla Grodd, Cheetah, Black Manta, Captain Cold, Solomon Grundy and the Toyman – the Legion of Doom!.
Yup, it’s called JLA Adventures, but it’s actually a back-door pilot for Super-Friends – the Next Generation, with Dawnstar and Karate Kid filling the Wendy and Marvin (or Zan and Jayna, depending on your vintage) roles.
When Captain Cold’s devices go horribly awry, Lex Luthor is lost, undiscovered until the “Second Great Thaw” of 2856, when he’s exhumed in his icy tomb, and placed on display in the Superman Museum… Where, hundreds of years later, he comes to the attention of two Legionnaires in training, frustrated at the reluctance of Lightning Lad (the only other Legionnaire named in the story – apart from Dawny and KK, none are actually seen) to move them up to the “Big Leagues”.
And it turns out Lightning Lad’s right. Having just watched the holo-vid of Luthor’s defeat, entombment and frozen retrieval, Karate Kid boasts of how easily he would have defeated Luthor, and pretends to try to break the ice block to freak out Dawnstar – except that his control of his skills isn’t as absolute as he thought, and he opens a tiny flaw in the ice – releasing Lex moments after the pair leave the hall.
Using other museum exhibits such as Captain Cold’s gun, Lex overcomes Dawnstar and Karate Kid, and, learning the secret of Superman’s origin from the museum displays, determines to change history so that Superman, and the Justice League, will never come to pass. Using the Time Trapper’s hourglass (which summons the Trapper himself as Lex’s genie-like thrall), he goes back to the present, to gather his allies and plan his attack.
Dawnstar’s radiant heat frees her and the KK from their icy cocoons, but her lack of confidence stops her from attacking Luthor. Instead, she and KK “hitch a ride” in his temporal wake, and wind up in the present day, struggling to avert a world without Superman!
Dawnstar’s tracking powers (which actually work in this iteration, and are indicated by a rather cute floating sphere of light leading her in the right direction) take them to the Justice League, but the obligatory “heroic misunderstanding leads to fight” scene delays matters so that Luthor’s plans are set in motion.
After a trip to Smallville in the past – and a very amusingly-choreographed game of “keepaway” with Superbaby as both JLA and L of D contingents fight for possession – the goal is achieved, and in the present day Superman, and the remaining Leaguers, fade from existence as Luthor and the Legion of Doom conquer the world, leaving Dawnstar and Karate Kid in hiding as time-displaced refugees.
It must be observed, in passing, that the League doesn’t acquit itself especially well in this story. Robin is portrayed as a particularly annoying whineyhole, Wonder Woman is dull and thuggish, and the rest of the Leaguers seem kind of… well, dumbed down. They’re like bad tracings of the characters scripted and performed by people who don’t really get what the heroes in question are about.
It’s also a bit unbelievable that the villains’ temporal machinations – which are directed solely against Superman – result in an altered present day in which no form of the Justice League exists, nor any of the other individual heroes who make up the roster. Is Superman really so pivotal that his removal results in no super-heroes arising, ever? Oh, and if Superman and the Justice League never happened, how come Luthor and the Legion of Doom are still around to rejoice in, and profit by, their absence? Shouldn’t they, too, have been excised from the altered history?
Still, that’s perhaps over-thinking; certainly any geek worth his Oracle Spice can come up with an explanation given a moment’s thought. (As the instigators of the anomaly and controllers of the Time Trapper, Lex and his cronies were probably shielded from the effects of the Trapper’s powers. There you go.)
How our young wannabe heroes sort matters out, I’ll not disclose, save to mention that it involves them generating a rather ingenious paradox of their own. But the resolution is entirely consistent and satisfactory, and a final twist ensures the aspiring Legionnaires’ return to the past for a projected sequel.
The true revelation, however, is how the script has taken two of my least favourite Legionnaires (I like them more than, say, Earth-Man and Harmonia – but not that much more) and made them sympathetic. You can see why these two aren’t Legionnaires yet, but the potential is there, each possessing a formidable skill set, but held back by intrinsic character flaws which this adventure helps them overcome.
Karate Kid is an impulsive hothead, in the best tradition of Speedy or the Human Torch, but although he’s a bit of a show-off, he’s presented as having a heart a mile wide, and being motivated to excel by his compassion and his desire for justice. The action scenes featuring him are excellent – well-paced and presented – and while he has developed a minor super-power (a Karnak-like ability to see the essential flaw in structures or people), it’s not overplayed, and most of his battles rely purely on his martial arts ability.
Dawnstar, however, is a revelation. For one thing, her character is led by her spirituality, rather than by her boobs; her powers are clearly integral with her beliefs, and are intelligently presented. Inspired by the “star” part of her name, the writers have given her a range of light-based abilities to back-up her tracking skills, and the result is a pleasing, self-effacing character who we see blossom in the course of the short film, while never losing her essential naiveté.
Given that I’ve railed for, oh, decades against Dawnstar, a sexist, racist pile of fanboy wankfodder created with the sole cynical purpose of keeping artist Mike Grell on the Legion title (a purpose which, typically, she failed to achieve), my sentiments here are somewhat of a turnaround, I admit. But if this pilot film had been taken up, and we had seen more of these two young heroes, I would have been delighted to follow their adventures with the JLA.
As to how you can see it, if you should be so inclined… well, there’s no Region 2 DVD as yet, so unless you have a multi-region player and are willing to come to an arrangement with an American friend, your best legitimate bet is to buy or rent the Amazon Video download on Prime. It’s an innocuous and pleasing use of your time, with some amusing character touches on the young protagonists.Tags: animation, Dawnstar, DC, JLA, JLA Adventures, Justice League, Karate Kid, Legion of Super-Heroes, Super-Friends