Animator Bruce Timm, having successfully adapted both Batman and Superman into animated television programs in the 1990s, took on the challenge of faithfully adapting the Justice League comic book and turning it into an animated sequel to his two former animated series. This new animated TV series brought all sorts of new characters. Ignoring the sidekicks, pets and other extraneous elements of the earlier Super Friends show, the line-up of this new JLA adaptation was created with two things in mind: to pay tribute to the original line-up of the Justice League of America while also reflecting racial and cultural diversity. Significantly, the well-known (but much-depreciated) superhero Aquaman was left out of the lineup (although he would be used on the show) in favor of a second female on the team - Hawkgirl - and the African-American Green Lantern John Stewart, who has worked with the League in the comics before, was used rather than one of the better-known modern-era Green Lanterns Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner or Kyle Rayner, even though Rayner had appeared as Green Lantern in the Superman animated series. In addition to his race, the producer felt Stewart's original abrasive personality would have more dramatic potential. (In the second season, Rayner is described as a Lantern in training under Stewart's old mentor, explaining his absence. Both Rayner and Jordan make brief appearances in Justice League Unlimited.) Gardner was never seen in either series.
The show met with significant success, partially due to loyal fans already familiar with these incarnations of the characters, and partially from a new generation of viewers. The two-part nature of most episodes led Cartoon Network to choose to air the episodes back-to-back.
According to audio commentary on the DVD release of Season 2, the second season finale "Starcrossed" was expected to be the final episode of the series. However, in February 2004, Cartoon Network announced a follow-up series, Justice League Unlimited, which premiered on July 31, 2004. Justice League Unlimited features a greatly expanded roster of heroes, usually with only a few appearing in any given episode, although there are a few featuring just about the entire roster fighting against one giant enemy.
Casting and character changes Edit
Kevin Conroy reprised his voice role as Batman from Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), The New Batman Adventures (1997-1999), and Batman Beyond (1999-2001). Conroy pitched his voice to a range in between the voices he'd used in the previous shows; it was deeper than the voice he used in the first two series, but still higher-pitched than the voice he used in Batman Beyond. In addition, Batman's uniform was also redesigned, given a mixture of his previous animated costumes. It was basically the same Batsuit from The New Batman Adventures, but had the more colorful look from the original series' costume. The mask's "ears" were also extended as a reference to the futuristic Batsuit from Batman Beyond.
Tim Daly, who voiced Superman in Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000), did some early recordings, but was ultimately unable to reprise his role due to his involvement with the short-lived remake series of The Fugitive, and was replaced by George Newbern. Superman was initially redesigned to have a bit of a squint to his eyes and slight wrinkles that was also meant to make him look older, in addition to having a noticeable shining streak to his hair; he was redesigned to appear larger in physical girth than in the previous series. Fans did not like the older appearance and in the second season the streak was toned down to the point of almost disappearing and the squint was removed, in essence Superman reverted to his earlier animated look. As an in-joke, Superman's Season One facial designs are used for an older Jor-El in the Justice League Unlimited episode For the Man Who Has Everything.
Most of the characters retained their general comic book origins and continuity, with Wonder Woman being the notable exception. In the Justice League series continuity, the premiere story arc "Secret Origins" revises the plot of Diana's competition against her fellow Amazons to be the ambassador of peace to man's world, and she is referred to as a "rookie" superhero during her first encounter with the League. (Subsequent episodes touched on her attempts to adjust to her new world). Additionally, the character of The Flash was portrayed as somewhat younger and significantly more brash than his comic book counterpart, taking on a number of personality traits of Plastic Man, who provides a similar comic relief function in the JLA comics. Major changes were also made to the Hawkgirl character.
Maria Canals Barrera was cast as Hawkgirl based on her Hispanic accent, which the producers felt would make Hawkgirl appear more foreign and alien against her team mates. The character of Hawkgirl became romantically involved with the John Stewart Green Lantern as the series progressed, while a relationship between Batman and Wonder Woman was also hinted by the show's creators, who disliked the fans' insistence on pairing Wonder Woman with Superman.
In the comic books, the Martian Manhunter / J'onn J'onzz has a power called "Martian Vision" which has been shown both as a beam of pure force (an extension of the telekinesis that allows him to fly), and essentially the same as Superman's heat vision. Neither power was ever shown in the series, except in the ending of the episode Savage Time, dropped presumably in favor of his phasing power, shapeshifting and telepathy. The Martian Manhunter was only referred to by that name in one episode and otherwise called simply J'onn.
Although the series itself is animated in traditional 2-dimensional style, the opening credits are rendered in 3D with toon shading.
The show has been well received by fans and critics, many comparing it to Batman: The Animated Series because of its darker tones, complex writing and storyboarding, and in-depth characterization. The show holds an 8.8/10 on the Internet Movie Database.
In January 2009, IGN named Justice League Unlimited as the 20th best animated television series of all time.