Release Date(s)2023 (February 7, 2023)
Studio(s)DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. Animation (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
Legion of Super-Heroes is the latest entry in the DC Animated Universe, moving the franchise ten centuries forward while simultaneously looking seven decades back into the past. While the Legion might seem to be little more than a multiverse iteration of the Justice League, the group actually made its first appearance in Adventure Comics back in 1958—two years before the Justice League was even formed. (Of course, the original Justice Society of America actually dated back to 1940, but if there’s one idea that never dies in the world of comics, it’s superhero team-ups.) The teenage Legionnaires originally appeared to Superboy in Adventure Comics #247, revealing themselves as a 30th century club that had been inspired by his heroics. They bring Superboy with them into the future, and eventually induct him into the Legion before returning him back to his own time. Over the years since then, the Legion has gone through its own multiverse iterations and a variety of different continuities, but for the most part, the core idea of a 30th and 31st century group of teenage superheroes has stood firm.
Legion of Super-Heroes keeps to the idea of the Legion having been inspired by Superboy, but focuses instead on Supergirl and her own entry into the club. Writer Josie Campbell’s story starts by flashing back to explain how Kara (Meg Donnelly) first came to Earth as teenager, before showing the challenges that she still faces in integrating with human society. Superman (Darren Criss) decides that she needs a change of scenery, so he opens a portal into the future and introduces her to the Legion of Super-Heroes. She joins their Academy alongside other students like Dawnstar, Bouncing Boy, Triplicate Girl, Mon-El, and Arms Fall Off Boy. (For those who think that The Detachable Kid was purely James Gunn’s invention in The Suicide Squad, yes, there really was a comic book antecedent for that character.) Shockingly, one of the other students is Brainiac 5, a cloned descendant of the original Brainiac. Kara’s mistrust of him is put to the test when the Academy ends up being infiltrated by the Dark Circle, and she’s forced to team up with him in order to uncover who’s really behind the Circle. Legion of Super-Heroes also features the voice talents of Jensen Ackles (channeling Kevin Conroy as Batman), Harry Shum Jr., Yuri Lowenthal, Robbie Daymond, Cynthia Hamidi, Daisy Lightfoot, and Ely Henry.
Legion of Super-Heroes makes a few bold changes to existing DC lore, like turning a decades-old hero in to one of the villains in the story. That may be a bridge too far for some fans, but it’s a way of providing a few surprises for those who are already familiar with the characters. It certainly doesn’t do anything to change the existing continuity in other media, so even the most ardent of fans don’t really have anything to fear from the role reversals here. As staged by director Jeff Wamester, there’s a strong emphasis on action, but not at the expense of quieter character moments. Some of the character designs are a bit problematic, like Timberwolf looking way too much like Wolverine, and the gruesome nature of the main villain pushes the boundaries of the PG-13 rating. There are also a few meta moments in the film, like when Kara and The Flash say the quiet part out loud about Solomon Grundy’s rhyming skills. Still, it’s all ultimately Kara’s story, and an open metaphor for the challenges that teenagers from all planets face when trying to fit in with the world around them. Along the way, Kara’s shifting relationship with Brainiac 5 teachers her that in order to be accepted by others, sometimes you have to be willing to accept others first. However simplistic that message may seem, it’s still one that bears repeating to the residents of 21st century Earth.
Legion of Super-Heroes was rendered digitally at 2K resolution at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. For this Ultra HD release, the 2K Digital Intermediate was upscaled to 4K and graded for High Dynamic Range (only HDR10 is included on the disc). Warner Animation continues to experiment with different styles for DCAU titles, and after the full 3D animation in Batman and Superman: Battle of the Super Sons, this one returns to the world of 2D animation, and it really leans into a deliberately flattened art style. The few 3D elements in the backgrounds are kept from providing any sense of depth. The hook is that everything in Legion of Super-Heroes has been rendered Archer-style, with heavier black lines to mark the outlines of the characters. There was never going to be a real increase in apparent fine detail from upscaling an animated 2K DI, but in this case, the heavy line art means that there’s really no advantage to be seen in 4K. Of course, the greater breathing room and higher bitrate on the 4K disc means that there aren’t any of the usual compression artifacts that tend to plague DCAU Blu-rays. Still, the biggest advantage is from the HDR grade, though the differences are fairly understated. Legion of Super-Heroes generally sticks to a muted color scheme, but the subtle variations in the colors are rendered a bit better here, and when things do turn more vivid for key moments in the film, they’re noticeably more brilliant in HDR than on Blu-ray. In comparison, the Blu-ray is brighter overall, but at the expense of that kind of contrast.
Note that there are a few artifacts in some scenes that may seem like an issue with the upscale, but they’re actually baked into the source. For example, watch the bottom steps behind Kara starting at 8:22 when the camera tracks backwards—the horizontal lines suffer from shimmering and aliasing. Yet the Blu-ray has the same issue, so it’s just a flaw in how the animation was originally rendered.
Primary audio is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles. While it’s not always fully immersive, it’s still arguably one of the most potent mixes on any DCAU titles so far, with plenty of deep bass and dynamic impact during the action scenes—and there are plenty of action scenes to be had in Legion of Super-Heroes. The surrounds spring to life during those moments as well, with directionalized effects from debris flying in all directions. The quieter moments are just that, with a focus on the dialogue and less of a sense of immersion. Still, this mix delivers when it’s appropriate.
The Warner Bros. 4K Ultra HD release of Legion of Super-Heroes is a 2-Disc set that includes a Blu-ray copy of the film in 1080p, a slipcover, and a Digital Code on a paper insert. The extras are available on the Blu-ray only, all of them in HD:
- The Legion Behind the Legion (4:40)
- Down to Earth: The Story of Supergirl (8:21)
- Meet the Legionnaires (9:24)
- Brainiac Attack: The Intellect Behind the Super-Villain (8:14)
- From the DC Vault: Superman: The Animated Series – " Little Girl Lost, Part 1" (21:17)
- From the DC Vault: Superman: The Animated Series – " Little Girl Lost, Part 2" (21:30)
- Preview of Justice League vs. The Fatal Five (9:26)
- Preview of Superman: Man of Tomorrow (8:34)
The first four featurettes all offer interviews with the creators of Legion of Super-Heroes, including producer James Krieg and writer Josie Campbell, plus actors Meg Donnelly and Yuri Lowenthal. The Legion Behind the Legion covers the development of the story, building the world, and how the disparate characters were brought together. It’s clear that everyone really loves the Legion, and wanted to do justice to that particular universe. Down to Earth: The Story of Supergirl is exactly what it sounds like, an examination of the character of Kara as conceived for this story. Meet the Legionnaires looks at the Legion Academy and the various prospective candidates who want to join the Legion, as well as their teachers. It would have been nice if it provided a little more depth regarding their backstories, but it still gives a smattering of information that’s otherwise left unsaid during the film. Be forewarned, however, that it does offer a major spoiler. Brainiac Attack: The Intellect Behind the Super-Villain provides the background for Brainiac 5, and his path from the supervillain nature of his predecessors to superhero instead. It also takes a brief look at the Dark Circle. There are a few minor points here that could also be considered spoilers, but not if you’ve read any kind of story summary for the film.
Two episodes from Superman: The Animated Series are also included: Little Girl Lost Part 1 & 2. These were the final two episodes of the second season, and they were Supergirl’s introduction into the series. Kara’s origin story here is quite different than how it’s presented in Legion of Super-Heroes, but there are some similarities to how her character was developed in the film. In both cases, she’s impatient and impulsive, and has to learn the hard way that sometimes brains are stronger than brawn. Finally, the previews for Justice League vs. The Fatal Five and Man of Tomorrow offer a glimpse into the direction that the DCAU will take after Legion of Super-Heroes. They feature interviews with producer Bruce Timm, screenwriters Eric Carrasco & Tim Sheridan, directors Sam Liu & Chris Palmer, and many more.
Despite the not-unexpected lack of depth, that’s actually not a bad collection of extras. The inclusion of the two episodes from Superman: The Animated Series is definitely the jewel in the crown, but they’ll be of limited utility to anyone who already owns Warner Archive’s nifty Blu-ray collection of the entire series. If you don’t, they provide a good taste of why that was one of the best iterations of Superman to date. (Plus, a memorable turn by the late Ed Asner as Granny Goodness, one of voice director Andrea Romano’s most inspired bits of casting.) Legion of Super-Heroes isn’t going to please everyone, but if you’re willing to look past a few minor debatable points, the core story of Kara learning how to work and play well with others has universal appeal, and her burgeoning relationship with Brainiac 5 is oddly affecting. It’s not exactly a 4K showcase, and yet this UHD does offer enough improvements over Blu-ray to make it the best way to experience the film.
- Stephen Bjork