13 QUICK THOUGHTS on the Quirky Screen Debut of the JUSTICE LEAGUE

THE FILMATION FILES: A birthday salute to Filmation maven LOU SCHEIMER…

UPDATED 10/19/23: The late Filmation impresario Lou Scheimer was born 95 years ago! Perfect time to “reprint” this groovy piece from February 2020! Dig it. — Dan

Welcome to THE FILMATION FILES, a recurring series that takes a deep dive into some of the most entertaining cartoons ever – the DC Comics segments first broadcast in the ’60s but which were also a staple of ’70s syndication. Click here for the complete index of features, as well as links to our podcast with John S. Drew.

I considered starting this new feature any number of ways but I figured it was best to begin with Filmation’s Justice League of America shorts that debuted in 1967’s Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure. This way, you get a glimpse of most of the DC heroes in the studio’s stable.

See, the guest-star “Super Superhero” shorts, as Filmation called them, featured the Atom (voiced by Pat Harrington), the Flash (Cliff Owens), Green Lantern (Gerald Mohr), Hawkman (Vic Perrin) and the Teen Titans. The studio took the four adult heroes, joined them with top headliner Superman (Bud Collyer) and – voila! – screendom’s first Justice League was born.

I’ve written about Filmation’s JLA before (click here) but it deserved a fresh look as part of THE FILMATION FILES — especially since these and the studio’s Aquaman adventures have been beautifully remastered on the DC Universe app.


1. I know this is a strange way to start but of all six “Super Superhero” features, Justice League of America is the weakest. One of the episodes is solid but the other two are variations on the same theme and lack a certain oomph.

2. But I do hasten to add that I still enjoy these because they are, after all, Filmation – and I have a deep appreciation for the wonderfully schlocky animation, simplistic storytelling and frequently off-model costuming.

3. If you’re wondering why Batman wasn’t in the segments, it’s because these Saturday morning cartoons were on CBS and the Caped Crusader’s rights were tied up by the Adam West show on ABC. (Filmation didn’t produce Batman cartoons until Batman ’66 was cancelled in 1968.) But it is weird that Wonder Woman is nowhere to be seen – especially when you realize that Wonder Girl is so prominent in the Teen Titans episodes.

4. The best of the three segments is Bad Day on Black Mountain by Dennis Marks, in which a being known as Mastermind learns our heroes’ secret identities and then puts them through their paces. Filmation’s aliens can be hit or miss but Mastermind has an appropriately silly but badass look. You actually feel kinda let down when Superman executes him in the end. Wait, what? Yeah, Superman kills Mastermind. And somewhere, a young Zack Snyder was watching…

5. Between Two Armies, by George Kashdan, is the most outlandish of the three, with absurd-looking Rock Men and Crystal Men from Mercury warring with each other and Earth caught in the middle. The JLA intervenes and saves the day but it’s all a bit of a yawn. The opposing sides shake hands in the end for no apparent reason and our heroes wave and go home. (Click here to check out our FILMATION FILES PODCAST on this episode.)

6. Target Earth is almost the same plot as Between Two Armies – they even share some footage and scenery – but this time it’s the JLA vs. only one set of alien invaders. (The writer is uncredited but I’m guessing it’s Kashdan again.) Our heroes have no problem killing in this one either, though I assume it’s because they’re essentially at war against an alien incursion. But still! On the plus side, the aliens’ ships look suspiciously like the U.S.S. Enterprise.

7. Superman is quite obviously the leader, humorlessly barking orders at the others while taking the biggest jobs for himself. The Man of Steel is at his most Silver Age godlike here – at one point even pushing the planet Earth back into its proper orbit using his brute strength.

8. Nevertheless, the episodes still manage to give the other heroes plenty to do – though they’re most effective in Bad Day on Black Mountain, when Superman is captured by Mastermind. Green Lantern in particular gets to show off quite a bit, acting almost like Superman’s wingman.

9. I love that Hawkman was considered popular enough at the time that he’s included in these shorts. Poor Carter Hall has had such a checkered career that it’s a gas to see him in his prime. Since he can fly and has his own spaceship, he’s nearly as valuable to the team as Superman and Green Lantern. He also has something called “radar vision,” which is basically X-ray vision. I don’t think this came from the comics, but Hawkman should have vision powers, shouldn’t he?

10. The Atom is basically the team’s designated saboteur. Any time the Leaguers need to throw a proverbial wrench into the villains’ weaponry, they send the Atom in to destroy their machinery from within: He slips inside, jumps around and pretty much tears things up. It’s one trick but it’s a fun trick.

11. In a way, the Flash has the least to do. He can’t venture into space and he more or less acts like the Atom’s ride (or alien babysitter). But I still love having him around – especially since he and the Tiny Titan are classic examples of Filmation Off-Model Syndrome.

12. Hey, where’s Aquaman? He’s in that whiz-bang opening but he’s not in any of the episodes. I suppose they had to include him in the title sequence because these shorts were part of the Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure. Or maybe studio major domo Lou Scheimer and co. planned to include him but there was no room in the scripts. But I’m sort of relieved they didn’t shoehorn him into these little segments, which are jammed enough. In any event, his solo adventures are great, so it’s not like he really gets short shrift.

13. Overall, each JLA hero fares better in his solo adventures. That makes sense given the roughly 5-minute run time of each short. And I do miss seeing villains like Despero, the Key and Kanjar Ro, who generally speaking could have been used instead of the generic villains/aliens we got instead. But these are still a lot of fun: simultaneously earnest and silly, with lots of colorful action — not to mention plenty of Ted Knight voice work. It’s a fine sampler of Filmation’s version of the DC Universe.


— THE FILMATION FILES INDEX of Features and Podcast Episodes. Click here.

— 13 QUICK THOUGHTS: The Kitschy Kick of FILMATION BATMAN. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. This is a cool assessment of Filmation’s “Justice League of America” cartoon series.

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  2. Grew up on Filmation. Suprised that Six Flags, which has a lot of comic themed rides don’t show them in addition to Bugs Bunny shorts.

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  3. I assume Wonder Woman’s TV rights were tied up by that horrible pilot Dozier was shopping around.

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  4. Unless I’m mistaken moving Earth out of orbit was a feat Superman hadn’t accomplished in comics. Only in this cartoon. I remember Peter David mocking this achievement in his Supergirl run.

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