Early on in Guardians of Justice, Knight Hawk, a superhero fighting battling an impending World World IV as well as insubordination from within his crime fighting faction, says: “In a world of superheroes, technology and magic you should never trust appearances.”
This could be as true for the show itself, which launched with very little publicity on Netflix this week, as for the dour superhero who uttered the line – played by WWE Hall of Famer Dallas Page.
Writer and producer Adi Shankar’s Bootleg Universe superhero series shouldn’t work in a world where Marvel and DC are throwing big budgets, big technology and big names at the genre.
The Guardians of Justice budget is obviously wafer thin, to the extent that I’d bet money that Netflix spent more on the catering budget of its blockbuster Bridgerton.
In some places, most notably the costumes, the lack of investment shows but elsewhere the lack of budget seems to have inspired some creative thought and jaw-dropping visuals.
Frankly, and I genuinely didn’t expect to say this, it’s a blast.
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If, like me, you loved The Watchmen (the Moore/Gibbons comic not the surprisingly soulless HBO show), Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs The World movie and Sin City then there is much here to enjoy in this mixture of live-action, CGI , animation, claymation, stop-motion and glorious 8-bit gaming with a decidedly Mortal Kombat-ish tinge.
Shankar clearly loves his source material and viewers who are of the same mindset are going to get a real kick out of the in-jokes and nods peppered throughout the seven episode series.
But this isn’t just satire, there’s a cracking story in here with some unusual ideas and some surprising subversions of tropes.
Guardians Of Justice Might, just mightlook a bit like DC’s Justice League if you squint a bit.
It is a Bootleg Universe after all.
Taking place in an alternate history where earth descended into World War III courtesy of a Hitler mechbot, eventual planetary ruin was averted by Marvelous Man (Will Yun Lee).
In the aftermath he forms a group, a league if you will, of other heroes to help defend the planet from other threats.
But after 40 years Marvelous Man, seemingly utterly sick of permanently being humanity’s best hope, shocks the world with his public suicide.
As the world mourns (and children who watched the event live on TV presumably go for extensive therapy) his widow announces that she believes he was murdered.
So his trusty lieutenant Knight Hawk begins investigating exactly what happened, while trying to stop impending nuclear war and save the world. Again.
Narin Flanders is one of The Review Club’s expert reviewers.
The Reviews Club brings together the UK’s biggest experts to review products and services in an honest and in-depth manner.
She specializes in toys, books and all things geeky – from tech and gaming (both board games and consoles) to comics, TV and film.
You can find her over on @nkflanders where she’s likely to be up for a chat about any of her reviews – in between discussing whatever she’s streaming this week.
Page does the heavy lifting in the live-action element of the show backed by an ensemble of people who you’ll look at and go ‘where do I know them from?’
From 90s acting icon Denise Richards to Stargate SG-1’s Chris Judge, DC’s Swamp Thing Derek Mears to Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman herself Jane Seymour, Shankar has surrounded himself with an eclectic but talented group of actors who clearly love the ethos and style of his vision as much as viewers who buy in to the fun.
Fans of WWE will get a kick out of seeing Page not just land such a meaty role but do something so nuanced with it, not least because some of the most dryly funny moments of the entire show involve him exchanging barbs with his former sidekick Red Talon played by John Hennigan, aka former WWE superstar John Morrison.
Sniping at Knight Hawk, “I always thought you looked more like an owl than a hawk,” while cutting through swathes of enemies with gusto, Hennigan is a hoot and clearly has a blast with the fight scenes and – of course – some of his trademark parkour.
The WWE connection paired with an unapologetically sweary and gory superhero mythology undoubtedly will draw parallels for some with John Cena’s Peacemaker which, frustratingly, still hasn’t found a home in the UK yet.
Guardians of Justice is inevitably a grittier and less polished cousin, but I’m not sure Shankar would have it any other way.
So if you’re craving a superhero fix while waiting for James Gunn’s DC magnum opus to land this side of the Atlantic then this fun, schlocky 80s homage is definitely worth your time.
* Guardians of Justice is streaming now on Netflix.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.