Review by Paul Outram:
When La-La Land Records announced the long-awaited second volume of "Batman: The Animated Series" in 2012, no-one could have guessed that it was just a taste of what was to come. That second volume had been out of reach for so long that the idea of having any other DCAU releases to look forward to would have seemed like a pipe dream. Only a day or so after the grand unveiling of that title, however, La-La Land made their intentions clear: not only were we going to see further releases for "Batman: The Animated Series" and its animated films, but Justice League and Justice League Unlimited were also going to get their due. Now, four years on (and 15 years on from JL’s debut on TV!), it’s Justice League’s turn to get a mouth-watering 4-disc soundtrack, bolstered with superb liner notes from John Takis and awesome art design from Dan Goldwasser. In a departure from the style of "Batman: The Animated Series", JL’s scoring was all-synth, but the Dynamic Music Partners (Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter) utilised the synth masterfully, often creating the impression that they had a live orchestra at their disposal.
The set is a spectacular compilation of many of my favourite musical moments from the series. I jumped ahead to the third disc straight away, knowing that it contained a few treasured scores, and was immediately in awe of the space opera themes of Twilight – especially the grandiose Brainiac theme in 'Darkseid's Doublecross' (a cue written by Kristopher Carter that feels as though it carries more than a touch of Shirley Walker's influence)! You've got to love the sense of scale that the choir brings to that cue, just as it does for 'Steppenwolf Steps Out' and the final moments of 'Darkseid Gets Hotfoot.' I'm a huge fan of the music in Only a Dream as well, so I could scarcely wait to hear the cues for J'onn's interventions in Superman and GL's dreams ('Superman Returns to Smallville' and 'Green Lantern's Decision'). The former contains a sublime reference to the Smallville music from Superman: The Animated Series’ The Last Son of Krypton part 2, while the latter features a wondrous statement of the GL theme from STAS’ In Brightest Day… Needless to say, I love those cues and it's a dream (not sorry at all) come true to finally own them!
The serene closing cue from Lolita Ritmanis's Hearts and Minds ('Aftermath') is another highlight of disc 3, as is the stupendous theme for the Royal Flush Gang in Wild Cards ('Royal Flush Gang Revealed'), which I am ecstatic to have at last! It's one cue that has always had me in the mood to 'rock out' whenever I've watched part 1, and you're really missing out if you haven't heard it yet. A small amount of recycled material from within that same cue has been cut - as a consequence of the discs being packed to the brim with music, no doubt - but I guess there's no room for repetition when you're cherry-picking from an embarrassment of riches! Under the circumstances, I can't really blame La-La Land for the cut they've made here, and it's more than made up for with the inclusion of 'A Man and a Woman' - the unforgettable cue which brings GL and Hawkgirl's romantic tension to a head. This piece was performed live in Krakow just a few months ago, and it's undoubtedly one of JL's most sensational - even breathtaking - cues. To top it all off, the heroic Superman theme from Hereafter frequently recurs at the end of this disc, preceding the profoundly moving 'Savage Redemption' - all of which serves to bring both the aforementioned arc and the disc to a memorable close.
But the other discs are pretty damn good too…
Disc 1 takes us through the Secret Origins arc, spotlighting Michael McCuistion's creepy theme for the Imperium’s ‘White Martian’ race and bombastic music for Superman and Batman's desperate battle with the aliens in Metropolis (‘Metropolis Under Attack’ and ‘Military Intervention’). It also has the glorious 5 minute cue from part 3 when the tide turns and the heroes defeat the invaders ('Batman to the Rescue'). This theme is a joy to hear coming out of those CD speakers - it's uplifting and exciting, plain and simple. Additionally, it dovetails into the theme for the League's formation very nicely, making for a wonderful listening experience.
Secret Origins’ jubilant finale is a tough act to follow, and its successor in the track sequence has the daunting task of sustaining the celebratory mood of those cues. So does the next track manage it…? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes; 'Flash Catches Truck Thieves', from The Brave and the Bold, is more than up to the task! This cue marks the exhilarating debut of McCuistion's Flash theme (which would later play a prominent role in episodes of Justice League Unlimited like Flash and Substance), and there is so much to love about it. It's been about 10 years since I last watched this two-parter, and I had forgotten just how much fun the music was! ‘Justice League Attempts Escape’ and the brief statements of Grodd's theme are quite nice as well. Ritmanis's Legends is noteworthy, too, for the feeling of nostalgia that pervades the score when it's focusing on the members of the Justice Guild ('The Decoder Rings'). I also appreciate disc 1 for its inclusion of a large chunk of the second part of Eclipsed - particularly Flash's race towards the sun ('Flash Goes for Gold') and the eerie Eclipso motif. And there's great drama interspersed with wonder in the cues from The Enemy Below - the euphoria of 'Arctic Battle' (one of several buoyant cues) really underscores the League's might, as they take on the Atlanteans!
The stellar scoring continues on disc 2. Lolita Ritmanis's Injustice For All includes a dash of mystique as the Injustice Gang assembles (‘A Cast of Characters’), not to mention a cheeky theme for the Joker ('A Party Without Me?'), which becomes quite menacing as he subdues Batman for the villains. There's also a very pure statement of Shirley Walker's Batman theme at the end ('Luthor's Grand Entrance'). Kristopher Carter's mythical Paradise Lost score is a welcome addition to this disc too, mainly for the supreme (yet foreboding) air that the Felix Faust theme carries ('Returning Home') and the heartfelt rendition of his brilliant Wonder Woman theme ('Diana Banished').
A Knight of Shadows seems to foreshadow McCuistion's Time's Up! score with its lovely interlude to the imagined setting of a restored Mars, as Morgaine Le Fay tricks J'onn into believing that his wife and children are alive ('Morgaine's Psychic Spell' and 'The Demon Intervenes'). This track revels in the happiness of J'onn having what he wants most - at least until the part where Etrigan arrives and shatters the illusion! There are some other emotionally affecting touches towards the end of this disc too, one of which is J'onn coming to his senses in Tabula Rasa ('A Real Hero') after spending much of the score in turmoil from questioning his faith in humanity. Ritmanis handles his epiphany very well indeed, and the set seizes the chance to build on her triumphant scoring with its showcasing of the Blackhawks’ theme from The Savage Time (‘Blackhawks Arrive’). The Wonder Woman/Steve Trevor love theme is hot on its heels, in 'Enjoy the Moment' and 'Reunited', and the latter deserves a special mention for being one of a handful of cues that made me cry.
For all of that though, I think disc 4 is my favourite of the four discs. Michael McCuistion's A Better World brings home the grandeur of the Justice Lords' power in its opening track ('Smallville University Demonstration'), as well as the lingering feelings of doubt concerning whether their abilities are being used for good. Lord Batman's debate with the other members about whether to cross over to the League's universe (‘Justice Lords Cross Over’) is included here too, and it's a cue that has a very cosmic feel. It's just epic. And speaking of epic, the entire 'League vs. Lords' cue is just so exciting to hear with dialogue and SFX removed. From that moment when the penny drops that 'Luthor' is really J'onn, to Superman raising the American flag and Luthor being interviewed by the press, it just delivers all the thrills and chills. But McCuistion isn't the only composer who really gets to show off on disc 4. What about Lolita Ritmanis's tearjerker theme for Grundy's death in The Terror Beyond ('Soul')? It's understated, gentle and bittersweet, capturing the complexity of Hawkgirl’s dawning respect for faith in a time of tragedy.
Next we have Maid of Honour, which for me at least is Kristopher Carter's most impressive contribution to this set. The opening cues are charismatic and elegant as they set the scene for Wonder Woman's encounters with Bruce Wayne and Princess Audrey in Paris. Diana's defence of the latter ('Thugs Crash Party') offers the chance for an amazing showcase of the Wonder Woman theme. The excitement continues to build with the recap theme before we're treated to the last few minutes of music from part 2 ('Flash Payback' and 'Audrey Ends on Top'), which include a snazzy, pulse-pounding James Bond-esque theme for Savage's meteorite - a huge action track for sure! Then it's on to Comfort and Joy for the divinely beautiful 'Christmas Eve' and 'Merry Christmas' cues (J'onn observing the Christmas celebrations in Smallville and Flash treating Ultra-Humanite to a Christmas present). These cues ought to make listeners very happy - I know they manage it for me, and I think the soft chiming is what achieves this effect, ensuring that they're able to tug at the heartstrings. And finally, Starcrossed... I have wanted the last 10 minutes or so of music from part 3 ('Watchtower Reclaimed', 'Talak vs. Green Lantern', 'In My Eyes' and 'Farewell Hawkgirl') for so long, and it really feels like a big deal to me that's it's finally available. The music is the perfect complement to both the high-octane drama of those scenes and the sadness of a beloved character leaving the team. It's a dynamic finish to the set and the series - but would you really expect any less of the Dynamic Music Partners?
I hope that fans all over the world buy this set and enjoy it immensely. It's hard to believe that these 4 discs cover a range of scores from more than 40 of the series' 52 episodes, and yet it all flows so well! It’s evident that a great deal of care was taken in arranging these series highlights in a sequence that honours the shape and flow of the series whilst distributing the big character theme moments fairly evenly across the set. Not only does La-La Land’s release accomplish all of this, but its almost comprehensive coverage of the entire series also manages to chart a journey: the journey of three composers who were once under the tutelage of the late Shirley Walker and who here can be seen (or rather heard) spreading their wings. It’s a pleasure to follow the progress of that journey with this collection! I would love to get my hands on a second, 2-disc volume of further highlights from the show someday. Secret Society needs to be covered sooner or later! This compilation is great though - it does justice to the League and its 'Trinity' of super-composers (who are indeed worthy of the Bats/Supes/WW comparison) at long last.
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