Summary:  An early version of the Justice League makes their debut for adventurous DVD viewers.

JL Roll Call:  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, J’onn J’onzz, Hawkgirl

Villains:  Lex Luthor, Mongul, Sinestro, Chemo


Paul Dini on Justice League (circa 2000):  “Everybody wants to see it and we would like to do it, but the suits at the network keep pounding it in that is the Kids' WB!  If we were to do Justice League, all they see is a bunch of adults in suits (courtesy of [website name removed]).”

Bruce Timm on Justice League pre-development #1:  “Development was done on a Batman Anime show that kind of reflects on what Teen Titans is now, and we developed a more youth-oriented version of Justice League.  Thank God [the project] never happened, although there’s a tape out there of a very kiddified Justice League that included Robin and a teenage female version of Cyborg.  It was our attempt to try and do something that wasn’t as edgy or as dark as we would normally want to go.  At the time, Kids’ WB totally passed on the Batman Anime idea and we actually did test animation for the Justice League idea (courtesy of Retro-Vision CD Rom Magazine).”

Bruce Timm on Justice League pre-development #2:  “God, I’d forgotten all about this; when we first started talking about Justice League, the powers-that-be felt that it should be pitched to Kids’ WB first.  Knowing their preference for younger heroes, I was hesitant to go there, but we prepared test animation of the ‘female Cyborg’ character (Glen [Murakami’s] idea, if I remember right), and Impulse too, I believe, just in case.  The Robin footage was just clips from TNBA, I think.

“The ‘Justice League / Teen Titans hybrid’ thing was a gimmick that we thought might make a Justice League concept more palatable to Kids’ WB.  The idea being that it would be a pretty straight Justice League show, but with a group of younger heroes also on the team, learning the ropes.  Sounds very Superfriends, don’t it?  And yes, Batman would have been on the show.

“Anyhow, Kids’ WB—thankfully, in retrospect!—passed on the Batman Anime pitch; it was a very kiddified Batman concept, but still not ‘Pokémonized’ enough for them.  After the pitch meeting, the powers-that-be realized Kids’ WB wasn’t likely to go for Justice League, even with a couple of young ringers in the line-up, and we were given the go-ahead to pitch it to Cartoon Network.  We cut the ‘Jr. JL’ clips from the presentation reel, and subsequently forgot all about ‘em.  I have no idea where that footage is now, and it’s probably no great loss.

“As it turned out, Cartoon Network never even saw the Justice League presentation reel, but bought the series just based on a single phone call (courtesy of Toon Zone).”

DarkLantern on the Justice League “pilot”:  “Test animations are used to help pitch a series to a studio or a network.  It’s an easier way to get the idea across of how a show would looks and feel than with character designs and storyboards.

“Depending on the pitch, test animations can vary from a ‘quick and dirty’ animated rough to a polished animated short.  Since the Justice League series follows the ‘Bruce Timm’ style, it’s no surprise that it borrowed some backgrounds, sequences, footage, adversaries, and props from past DC animated shows to save time (courtesy of Toon Zone).”



Screen Grabs from the Pilot


Relevant Guides

Parallels Between the Justice League and the Justice League Unlimited



This test animation footage—which can be found on the Justice League:  Paradise Lost DVD by going to the Special Features section, then the Justice League Watchtower page, and then by highlighting the Javelin-7 image embedded in the menu screen (as seen here)—was the only pre-Justice League material created (excluding the Batman Beyond episode "The Call"); making it, by default, the television series’ pilot.  Created on a shoestring budget—using background designs from Batman Beyond and, in some cases, complete sequences from certain Superman and Beyond episodes—this animation was produced for the purposes of selling Justice League to Cartoon Network; whetting the appetites of the television execs and giving them a general idea as to what the series might be like.  While not intended for general release (these materials seldom get out beyond bootlegs or screenings at comic book conventions), its insertion as an Easter Egg into the DVD was a welcome treat for diehard animation fans.

As recounted above by Bruce Timm, this test animation is technically the second draft of the Justice League demo, as it originally featured a Justice League / Teen Titans "hybrid" team that was an attempt to make the series more acceptable for Kids' WB.  Featuring what apparently would have been roster of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, J'onn J'onzz, Hawkgirl, Robin, Impulse, and a female version of Cyborg; this series would have probably been a mix of Justice League adventure along with elements of Batman Beyond, as in older, experienced heroes training the next generation in the trade.  As stated above, they didn't even bother trying to pitch it to Kids' WB, and cut the younger characters to offer up the more familiar Justice League to Cartoon Network, which they agreed to.

Although crudely animated and possessing poor definition—which is okay, as this was only meant to sell the series to a network—this sixty-second trailer provides a unique look into the visual development of the characters.  Unlike with BTAS, where volumes of material have been released detailing the characters’ evolution in terms of design, animation enthusiasts only have a handful of images (which can be found on this page) that give a remote idea of what the early Justice League storyboards and model sheets might have looked like.  Based on the test animation provided, however, we can begin to piece together their visual evolutions from the abandoned Superman drafts and from their finalized Justice League designs:

·        The Superman design used here is identical to the models used on Superman; which either means that it was used to save money (rather than design new animation for the Season One Justice League design), or it was animated before James Tucker’s infamous, “We need a new Superman design,” statement.  Largely relegated to the League’s opening scene, his presence was minimized to allow the newer members time to “introduce” themselves.

·        Due to the use of existing footage (from "World’s Finest," where he fought one of Luthor’s robots), the Batman design is identical to his look from The New Batman Adventures, wearing the jetpack.  As Batman was previously established from his two previous series’, the footage was used only to remind the television execs that DC’s cash cow would be present on the show.

·        As was the case with Batman, a lone sequence with the Flash was inserted, using footage from his appearance on the Superman episode "Speed Demons."  It is worth noting that, in addition to saving money by recycling the older footage (only minimal changes were made to his model design from Superman), they had to reuse this material because the original Kids' WB pitch called for Impulse, not the Flash, to be used as the series' resident speedster.

·        With Hawkgirl’s design, it appears that the creative team had already decided to move away from their old Superman draft and more towards the character’s Silver Age design.  In fact, this Hawkgirl model is closer to the Silver Age design than the final version was—note the straps on her top and the yellow stripes on her shorts.  As for her wings, they reverted to the classic gray for the animated series, as opposed to the brown of the test footage.

·        As for Green Lantern, it’s interesting to note that, at this stage of the character’s visual evolution, he has the current version’s hairstyle and costume, but still possesses the black mask from the Superman draft model.  In addition, it is interesting to note that he uses a fist to capture Sinestro during one of his scenes, which may mean that his ring-wielding modus operandi was not defined yet.

·        In Wonder Woman’s case, her design is virtually identical to her current look, save for the elimination of the gray highlights in her hair (a fortunate move, as they made the immortal and eternally-youthful character appear middle-aged).

·        Of the Justice League members, the one with the most significant changes to his design was J’onn J’onzz.  Here he appears blockier, with a squarer jaw, a Kirbyesque line detailing his right cheek, and black eyes with red pupils (similar to the Joker’s redesign for The New Batman Adventures).  In addition, J’onn’s color palate utilizes paler greens, blues and reds; and possesses none of the shiny highlights that have become a trademark of the series.  Featured prominently in the test animation, it’s also apparent that the creative team had not yet figured out J’onn’s place on the show, as—save for a morphing sequence at the end—he was handled in battle situations as another Superman.

·        Featured briefly commanding a robot that resembles the Golem (from the Batman Beyond episode of the same name), Lex Luthor’s design is an early take on the updated purple-and-green Superfriends uniform, indicating that the creative team was already planning on utilizing the “Silver Age, mad scientist” Luthor, rather than the “corrupt industrialist" Luthor, from Superman.  As was the case with J’onn, note the craggily, Kirby-like detailing on Luthor’s face.

·        It would appear that, in this stage of production, Bruce Timm and the others were still having trouble with Mongul’s design, as his costume’s design still possesses the generic supervillain aspects that Timm hated, and none of his later, stylized elements.  Thankfully, the short pants were long gone at this point.

·        Compared to the others, very little was done to Sinestro’s design but, then again, very little was done to his design from "Secret Society," so they must have been satisfied with his design from the Superman episode "In Brightest Day."

·        Coming completely from out of left field, however, was Chemo, the classic DC villain that is, essentially, a walking vat of toxic chemicals (in an anthropomorphic shell, of course) with primitive intelligence and a taste for destruction.  Probably deemed too corny to use on the actual series (c’mon, he looks like a giant lava lamp!), the creative team, nonetheless, decided to sneak him into this pilot and, later, figured out a way to utilize the noxious creature by making the results of Simon Stagg’s laboratory accident (from "Metamorphosis") resemble Chemo in terms it being a giant, goopy, green monster.

After two seasons (and a third on the way), it’s incredible to consider that this all stemmed from one minute of rough, test animation footage (ignoring, of course, their proven track record from Batman:  The Animated Series, Superman, The New Batman Adventures, and Batman Beyond).  In addition, its composition also creates an interesting parallel:  this pilot, which draws upon materials from its predecessors, was used to create interest in an animated series that, in its own way, is a culmination of each DCAU series that has come before.


Images courtesy of Bird Boy, The World’s Finest, the New Batman / Superman Adventures Homepage, and Toon Zone.

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