Tuesday, July 28, 2015

An Alternate Reality #10: Justice League Gods and Monsters

The latest DC animated movie, "Justice League: Gods and Monsters", is "Elseworld" relegated: meaning it's a parallel-universe installment, its characters being uncanny impressions of superheroes we know and love, but its context, surreal and based on its own terms. 

The true novelty of "Gods and Monsters", however, lies in its behavioral twists: that is, our Justice League icons in this instance might be considered villainous-steered in a more standardized form. Here, however, these dark, rougher versions are indisputably the good guys, even though the set-up always begs the question: are the gods really monsters?

There's a Superman variant, in this case named Hernan Guerra, the son of General Zod (conceived through artificial means and then grown on his way to Earth); a vampire Batman named Kirk Langstrom (yes, folks, Man-Bat in new form); and a fiery-haired, sword-swiping Wonder Woman named Bekka, whose spouse was the god Orion, son of Darkseid, taken from her in an act of betrayal. Each is given an flashback origin, and together they comprise an edgy trio: earnest and diligent in their kill-the-enemy pursuits, and like the good guys we see in current, traditional tales, falsely accused, with no sympathy from the media, even when they slaughter those who would sooner slaughter us. To aggravate matters, the League is blamed for the deaths of famous scientists (consisting of Ray "the Atom" Palmer, Silas Stone and Victor Fries, with Captain Marvel's Dr. Sivanna waiting in the wings), but who actually murdered them and why? (Certainly, Batman isn't behind the Cyclopian Man-Bat who slayed them, or is he?)

Not all are quick to condemn our noble variants. President Amanda Waller (of "Assault on Arkham"/"Suicide Squad") offers support to the suspects: a gracious way (or so it would seem) to employ their expertise, but of course, it's all a pretense. To complicate matters, in his search for the truth, Batman discovers an email that references his college pal, William Magnus, of Metal Men fame, who we learn in this alternate scheme, was involved in Langstrom's parasitic morphing. 

Steve Trevor and Lois Lane are also woven into the plot, but an unseen force overshadows their presence, dead-set on thwarting the trio's quest to clear their names. Is Lex Luthor pulling the strings, or perhaps he's no more than a cynical activist who acts against violent acts (and therefore, the no-holds-bar actions of the world's protectors). Depending on the moment, he stands as either friend and foe: a strange swing for one generally perceived as forever bad-to-the-bone. 

Before long, evidence confirms the plot against the scientists is really one against the superheroes, but the precise gist won't be spoiled here. You must experience "Gods and Monsters" for yourself to know the explosive truth. (Hint: the revelation  involves a friendship betrayed and a technological surge in all things mechanical.)

Thanks to Sam Liu's direction and a solid script by Alan Burnett and Bruce Timm, "Gods and Monsters" moves along at a fine clip, drawing one's interest throughout, though purists are unlikely to take kindly to the otherworldly alterations. On the other hand, "Gods and Monsters" never grows too radical, particularly in comparison to "Flashpoint Paradox", yet nor does it unravel with the deft finesse of "Public Enemies". Though the alternate-reality format is intriguing, this one really could have played in regular-universe mode: a "Watchmen" knockoff with all the unfettered DC characters on board. 

As a basic mystery yarn, it probably succeeds best, and for those seeking a Holmesian trek, regardless of what variant consumes the moment, the story should fulfill. In its own right, it also paves a path for additional chapters if so desired: indeed, yet another DC world just ripe for experimental plucking.

(Incidentally, DC is following "Gods and Monsters" with an adaptation of the classic graphic novel, "Killing Joke". One might assume it'll be faithful to the core, but then considering the daring way the company's ventures have been churning, one never knows.)

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