Although there will considerable attention devoted to this summer's live-action tentpole "The Avengers," DC and Warner Bros. beat Marvel's super-team to the punch with a movie devoted to its own gang of heroes, "Justice League: Doom."

DoomcaseExcept "Avengers" is live-action, while this "Justice League" epic — which hits stores today — is merely the latest animated, PG-13-rated, direct-to-DVD release aimed at the significantly smaller market of hard-core comic-book fans.

Admittedly, these animated films serve an additional purpose, helping stoke excitement, hopefully, for movies as well as lighter TV series aimed more squarely at kids.

Mostly, though, the medium allows animators and storytellers to feature superhero characters with a level of shorthand that certainly isn't possible in live-action movies meant to appeal to a wider audience.

In this case, the plot hinges on an assortment of supervillains — some extremely obscure — being assembled to take down the Justice League, using an elaborate plot where each individual attack is as much psychological as physical. Moreover, the heroes later discover the bad guys are working from templates actually devised by Batman (voiced, as usual, by Kevin Conroy), who has planned these contingencies to neutralize his fellow JL members — Superman, Wonder JLD_2Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter — should any or all of them go rogue.

The story thus advances the popular modern image of Batman as not only misanthropic and sullen but near-psychotic, so driven by his vigilante streak as to stand apart even from other costumed heroes.

Beyond that, the movie — directed by Lauren Montgomery, from a script by Dwayne McDuffie — paints on a vast canvas and incorporates a tremendous amount of action, while weaving in some welcome humor. (As my colleague David Cohen noted, McDuffie died a year ago, at the age of 49, and was posthumously honored by the Writers Guild of America a few months ago.)

JLD_14Both Marvel and DC have gone this route as an ancillary business to exploit their characters, but if the former has enjoyed more success on the live-action front of late (witness "Thor" and "Captain America" versus the disappointing "Green Lantern" movie), DC pretty well owns the direct-to-DVD animation market from a qualitative perspective, including first-rate vocal casts and extremely ambitious stories. (The last title, "Batman: Year One," was among its best in that regard.)

Financially speaking, these projects are mere singles and doubles, to be sure, but they still scratch an itch for a discriminating audience. So for those who can identify more than one of the characters in the picture at left above, it's more than likely you'll enjoy watching the combatants in "Doom" lower the boom.

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