It would be so easy to make fun of this.
There are many variations of the modern nerd, but all of them involve obsession. Nerds have an object of passion to which they devote a plurality of their time, energy, and emotion. You’d expect most of the vibes surrounding such a monastic style of worship to be positive -- a daily hymn of praise about the virtues of Star Wars, or Doctor Who, or in the case of the movie you’re about to watch, the Justice League.
Sometimes, your standard nerdery will manifest itself as such (in keeping with the theme, might I recommend “The Motherfucking Flash," perhaps the finest example of the profane joy that can come from truly loving something), but that’s a rarity. More commonly, a nerd will stake out the edges of his claim, combating incursions from other cultural fiefdoms whenever they intrude. Mostly, this is harmless -- high volume battles over whether Storm is hotter than Catwoman, or if the USS Enterprise could take a Star Destroyer in a fight. None of this is particularly consequential. All light, no heat.
A nerd can exist in this equilibrium nearly forever -- brief moments of joy punctuating endless battles over technical details and relative power levels. There’s really only one guaranteed way to mess with the system and cause a nerd to go nuclear: you take whatever that nerd loves and you announce that you’re about to try something new with it.
That brings us to Justice League of America.
Imagine that you’re a comic book fan in the late 90’s. Outside of increasingly-nippled costumes on the Batsuit in each successive Batman movie, there’s not a lot of new things coming down the TV or film pipeline for you. The first Spider-man movie (which is largely responsible for redefining what a superhero flick should look like) won’t come out until 2002, and the Batman reboot won’t happen for three years after that, which means that DC fans will have an even longer wait to see their favorite characters treated with something resembling respect and justice.
Then, whether it’s through a trade magazine, the nascent Internet, or an active rumor mill, you hear about a Justice League movie/TV pilot.
For a comics nerd, a Justice League film would be the alpha and the omega. The Avengers film coming up is exciting, no doubt, but there’s something primal about the four-color Justice League lineup. Seeing Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman on the same screen at the same time would be something like an assemblage of the gods. It’s such a huge undertaking that it still isn’t quite in the cards.
But you don’t know that yet; not if it's the late 90's and you’re on AOL or NetZero or something equally protean, excitedly chatting about what you imagine said series to be. Maybe it’d tell all the origin stories of the big players, uniting their stories in one final battle that would convince them to become a super-team. Maybe it’d join the story in-progress, following the induction of a new member. There are a million different ways you could go with a Justice League story.
Now, this show was never aired in the United States, so any American nerd* worth his salt would have had to try awful hard to find a copy. Maybe a resourceful one could have traded for a copy at a convention somewhere, or pieced it together from a week-long download off some early warez site. It’d be a project.
*What would someone with nerd-like tendencies have done before the advent of the printing press? Someone told me once that they would have run headlong for the clergy, and I’m inclined to agree. After all, what is a nerd but someone who lives a life of contemplation?
So, what would be waiting for you once you finally popped that VHS tape into the VCR?
It’s easy to underestimate just how difficult it is to make a convincing live-action comic book movie. We’ve kind of figured it out these days -- movies like Green Lantern are the exception, and at least look like professionally-made productions. Justice League of America, unfortunately, came out way before the technique was perfected. The result isn’t awful, but it’s definitely a comedown from what you might hope a Justice League movie would be. The characters are very low-fi versions of their comic counterparts (saving cats and the like, as opposed to confronting cosmic terrors), the costumes make the actors look less like heroes and more like bad cosplayers, and perhaps most unforgivably, the roster only includes two of the Justice League’s big hitters (The Flash and Green Lantern), completely omitting the aforementioned Big Three. Martian Manhunter is there as well, but he’s a nonentity, played by an aging and out-of-shape David Ogden Stiers. Like I said, it would be so easy to make fun of this film.
The Internet has engendered the modern nerd with a skewed sense of perspective when it comes to ratings. If we’re going by the standard 0-100 system of judging the quality of a piece of media, you’ll often see fans riot of they see something they’re anticipating receive a rating below 80 from reputable reviewers. I saw page after page of incoherence on a forum I frequent after one of the recent Final Fantasy games garnered an 89 from a big gaming magazine. The game wasn’t perfect, you see, so according to the Internet’s bizarre conception of quality, it must have been total shit.
Justice League of America isn’t close to a 90. If I were being generous, I’d say it’s a 60. A 60 still has some redeeming qualities; we’re not airing it just so you can laugh at it, after all. It’s worthy of criticism, but not the howling, sniggering criticism it’s bound to get. Someone loved this movie once. You don’t need to give it your compassion, but you do need to engage your perspective.
Joe DeMartino is a Connecticut-based writer who grew up wanting to be Ted Williams, but you would not BELIEVE how hard it is to hit a baseball, so he gave that up because he writes words OK. He talks about exploding suns, video games, karaoke, and other cool shit at his blog. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweeted at @thetoycannon. He writes about sports elsewhere. The sports sells better.