Let’s get ready to… uh… super rumble? This weekend sees the release of Warner Bros’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the first of this summer’s two superhero movies in which superheroes would rather fight each other than deal with the bigger problems in the world. (The second, in case you’re wondering, is Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, out in May.)
But perhaps you’re not ready for a grim, grimacing Superman to scowl in the rain while a mumbling Batman asks quasi-threatening questions about his ability to bleed. Maybe you’re someone who’d rather remember your childhood heroes as… well, heroes. In that case, Netflix is very much the venue for you. Ignore the sturm-und-drang of the cinema screen and, instead, cue up some episodes of the many DC Comics-inspired TV shows and made-for-DVD movies from the last couple of decades, and Jor-El’s your uncle. If you’re not sure where to start, here are ten suggestions.
JUSTICE LEAGUE: LEGENDS (2001)
JUSTICE LEAGUE: HEREAFTER (2003)
The Justice League cartoon followed the massively successful 1990s Batman animated series (and the lesser-known, but still pretty great, Superman series) by adding a number of additional heroes — Green Lantern, the Flash, the Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl — and expanding the scope of the fictional universe in a number of directions.
In these two stories, the group goes to an alternate world to meet another team of superheroes who were fictional on their own Earth, and Superman sacrifices himself for the greater good, but all is not as it seems.
JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED: DOUBLE DATE (2004)
JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED: ALIVE!/DESTROYER (2005)
Just as Justice League expanded the roster from Batman, so the subsequent Justice League Unlimited did so to its predecessor, opening the floodgates to allow any and all DC superheroes into the playground, with the result being something that was part-anthology series, part-introduction to a world of pure imagination, as the saying goes.
The two stories — actually three episodes — underscore the scope of the series’ ambition. The first is a surprisingly funny tale of revenge for familial injustice that just so happens to feature two pairs of superheroes who might be romantically interested in each other, while the second closes out the entire series with a cornucopia of threats that includes Lex Luthor, the entire Legion of Doom and Darkseid, the despotic ruler of a planet called Apokolips.
YOUNG JUSTICE: THE RUNAWAYS (2012)
Post-Justice League, the animated properties started skewing younger, whether in terms of tone — you’ve almost certainly seen Teen Titans Go if you’re interested in the Internet and/or superheroes — and subject matter, such as this serious, serialized series about the next generation of superheroes.
This episode, from the show’s second and final season, is a relatively standalone affair that nonetheless sums up the premise of the show as Blue Beetle goes looking for a group of runaways, not knowing that Lex Luthor is also after them for his own (of course, nefarious) reasons.
SON OF BATMAN (2014)
A made-for-DVD standalone movie adapting a recent comic book storyline, this movie — which features Life on Mars’ Jason O'Mara as the Dark Knight and Gotham’s Morena Baccarin as Batman’s ex and mother of the eponymous son — introduces Damian Wayne, the child Batman didn’t know he had, and never knew he wanted. Don’t expect this to be a touching reunion, however; Damian is a trained assassin who’s been brought up to kill his father on sight. Oops.
ARROW: GUILTY (2014)
THE FLASH: GOING ROGUE (2014)
Against all odds, the CW’s superhero shows are… kind of great? The Flash, in particular, is an old-school thrill, all optimism and unapologetic about how silly and outrageous its source material is. Arrow, on the other hand, is far more serious and self-consciously grim, but even that show starts heading for the light with its third season, which is where “Guilty,” which features an appearance from an old-school hero called Wildcat, comes from.
“Going Rogue,” meanwhile, introduces Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold, who may be the most memorable on-screen villain in some time, thanks to some acting choices that go against all logic, and somehow work nonetheless.
LEGO DC COMICS: BATMAN BE-LEAGUERED (2014)
From the sublime to the ridiculous: The Lego DC Comics movies might not have the budget of The Lego Movie, but they share a sense of humor, which can only be a good thing, especially when it comes to this tale of Batman and the newly-formed Justice League dealing with Bat-Mite, who's… a short sprite with magical powers who just wants to make fun mischief…?
JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR (2014)
And, finally, here’s the animated (direct-to-DVD) movie that allows you to skip the next couple of big-screen releases, by telling the origin of the Justice League in just 79 minutes. Alien invaders are involved, and Superman and Batman get to fighting… it’s just that everything goes by much faster, and with far less Ben Affleck, that what you’ll see at the multiplex. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing…!