So Justice League Action (JLA) finally premiered in the U.S. and it’s pretty great. Now look, as a rule of thumb I don’t review newly/currently aired shows for Periodical Media. Yes, I’ve previously discussed Sonic Boom but not with the intention of analyzing the series with a fine tooth comb. So having said that, I really loved the premiere of Justice League Action. The casting’s great, the writing’s sharp, the art style looks iconic as the characters they represent, and the animation’s solid. But what I want to talk about in this article is a popular subject that has surrounded JLA from its announcement: LENGTH.
From the length of each episode, to the size of the toys, and even to how long JLA will last in that early Saturday morning time slot Cartoon Network loves to shove action cartoons onto, this seems to be a popular subject DC Animation fans love to discuss about at great…lengths. Now personally, I’ve never really liked the idea of boiling a cartoon’s worth based solely on a single factor like length. Discussing length is great for clickbait sites and online forums but for me, I’d rather know if a cartoon is actually good instead of fulfilled some arbitrary length requirement. The way I see it, I’d rather have a short form cartoon series that makes the most of its time rather than an animated series that’s 30 minutes long, but lacks quality.
The following is a checklist of things I ask myself when choosing a series to watch: “What is it?” “Who made it?” “What’s the genre?” “How’s the story?”
That last one is important as many series have natural and forced stopping points. I’d much rather enjoy a shorter series like Treme whose showrunners knew how to end the show instead of LOST which kept dragging on and culminated with a lackluster series finale that had nothing to say about the show itself (so this is me admitting you were right, Dad). A series that outstays its welcome isn’t going to impress anybody nor will it hold up to scrutiny over the passage of time. So when judging a series, it’s not about the time, but what they do with that time that truly counts. JLA’s premiere episode “Shazam Slam” impressed me not because each 11 minute installment was edited into one 43 minute long episode, but for having each episode fit within a three act story structure. Like Adventure Time and Steven Universe before it, each episode of JLA feels like a self contained story with great characterization and action set pieces to hit all the story beats at a fast, but steady pace. I didn’t feel like anything was lacking in each episode as thrusting audiences into the middle of action cuts out any unnecessary exposition. These first four episodes were made to be watched sequentially but I imagine once half of this seasons episodes have aired, you could watch them in any order without continuity weighing you down. By design, JLA keeps audiences wanting more but the episodes themselves aren’t comprised with cliffhangers to screw with audiences.
Really though, this length debate is far more common in other entertainment mediums than television. With a couple of exceptions, Television series air by increments of hours, half hours, and quarter hours (commercials included). They can be viewed by a multitude of options like cable/satellite or digital downloads like iTunes or Amazon. The real heart of the “how long should this entertainment I’m consuming” comes from consumer exceptions when buying media with variable lengths that are set at fixed prices. Take video games for instance. When the average consumer of video games drops $60 on a brand new game like say…Overwatch (which I reviewed for the site), they’ve come to expect a robust single campaign with a nearly limitless multiplayer mode suite in order to justify the price. But Overwatch doesn’t have a campaign mode and it didn’t have a massive suite of online game modes at launch. Hell, if it Blizzard didn’t pack in $20 worth of digital goodies for their other games in the “Origins Edition”, Overwatch would’ve been $40 across the board. But most players (myself included) didn’t mind forking over that cash because Overwatch is amazing product that sets the dollar to hour ratio for multiplayer only games priced at $60. So for people who only have enough cash to buy one game or one movie ticket, time is money so length is an important factor to many people. No matter how great an new piece of entertainment is or how much buzz it has surrounding it, a value judgment will be made by the consumers based on their own expectations.
Leading up to the premiere, I saw folks comparing JLA with Teen Titans Go! (TTG) because fans assumed 11 minutes isn’t enough time to produce a quality story at the same level as Justice League Unlimited (JLU), or any other DC animated show that isn’t TTG.
But if you look back at Season One of Justice League, most of the episodes don’t hold up so well compared to Season Two and JLU. Each 42 minute episode was spilt into two 21 minute parts. The cool plots and character interactions were there, but what really held the show back were stale action scenes and cliché dialogue. It genuinely felt like the producers didn’t figure out how to adapt Justice League to this format properly and Bruce Timm has gone on record with The World’s Finest stating the flaws of the initial 13 episodes of Justice League way back when Season Two was still in production. The producers pretty much nailed multiple part episodes in Season Two and later ditched the format entirely with JLU in favor of traditional 21 minute episodes (and the occasional two parter).
I guess what I’m getting at is that JLA isn’t JLU because it’s not trying to be JLU. That series was not only the finest interpretation of the DC Superheroes outside of the very comics it’s based on, JLU was also lightning in a bottle. It can’t be replicated and quite frankly, it doesn’t need to be. Look at every Batman animated series that followed Batman: The Animated Series or how different Young Justice is from it’s predecessors. Every series that followed the DCAU has found new angles, plot lines, and characters to showcase. Each show is great in their own right but fans need to keep expectations in check. I think comparisons to the DCAU are fair but as I’ve mentioned in my Beware the Batman review, knocking down these shows for not being B:TAS or JLU is a shitty thing to do. That kind of reductive thinking says more about you than the quality of the show you’re watching and grounds ideas to a halt. So yeah, there will never be another JLU and you gotta deal with that. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch JLA as the show is great at handling the vast DC Universe in the way JLU did. You can watch & like both things!
But does that mean JLA perfect? Well not right out of the gate for much like Justice League, this show still has some growing to do (in particular, this interpretation of Wonder Woman comes off way too energetic with expository dialogue). But if history has taught me anything, they’ll learn from these mistakes as they go along. Especially since JLA has DCAU veterans like Alan Burnett, Butch Lukic, and Shane Glines helming this series along with a bunch of talented writers, artists, and actors. And look, I get that folks don’t like TTG as much as me which is totally fine but writing off JLA because it shares the same run is silly. Short form cartoon serials have been around since the days of Fleischer Studios and Walt Disney, but these modern ones are far more nuanced in terms of storytelling.
So that’s where I’m at right now. To focus solely on a series running time to the exclusion of everything else (Removing context, ignoring quality, art direction, narrative, reasoning, pacing, and overall justification) does a disservice to animation as an art form. It insultingly renders them down to nothing more than soulless vessels to ship children’s toys into. And if you’re pirating the show from torrent sites, you pretty much wave the right to discuss about the value of the entertainment you illegally consume. However, dismissing length entirely is no less noble a practice as consumers do have legitimate concerns regarding their valuable time and money. As I mentioned with Overwatch, not everyone’s going to drop $60 on a new game if certain features aren’t in it and in an ever crowded marketplace, game publishers should diversify how much games are sold.
But Justice League Action doesn’t require $60 to purchase or an overpriced movie ticket. Just a cable subscription to watch on Cartoon Network or $2-3 to purchase an episode on iTunes. Those are very flexible pricing options for people who either want to watch specific episodes or the whole series. To reiterate, I can’t really judge Justice League Action as a series but I did enjoy the premiere. Given time, I hope that it defies fan exceptions of what can be done in 11 minute runtimes and also defines it for future generations. A good show is a good show regardless of the size of the budget or its runtime. It’s like what your parents used to say, it’s not about length, it’s what you do with it that counts.
Huh. I better make this article longer so that people reading this FOR FREE don’t yell at me about how short it is. This year has been a rather terrifying hasn’t it? Between the shootings, the divisive politics, and the staggering death toll of famous people, 2016 has pretty much been the worst. But for me, it’s been terrifying running this blog all by myself. Ever since Jordan Hass gave me the ownership to Periodical Media, I’ve done my best to keep creating content for the site on a monthly basis. I’ve taken a part time job in retail which as you can imagine, is super stressful around the December holidays. But I want to thank everyone who’s read my articles and given me writing advice this past year. It means so much to me that so many of you have been supportive of the work I do here at Periodical Media. I promise to continue writing for the site as long as I’m able to. I do have plans to write series reviews for Transformers: Rescue Bots, Kaijudo, The Wire, and every Ben 10 Series ever. If you want to support the site, be sure to donate to Periodical Media on our official Patreon page. It’s not mandatory, but I’m happy to write for you. So many words is that? 1,799? Yeah that’ll do…