Hi ho, Gentle Readers. As you well know, I’m a huge fan of superhero comics – DC Comics to be precise. I’ve read a number of their titles for years, I’ve played their roleplaying games, and I love their movies and TV shows.
There have been a recent spate of releases of animated movies based on DC Comics’ stable of heroes, but I’ve only recently had a chance to sit down a watch a few of them. I thought I’d share my opinion on these recent works, some of which are quite excellent.
The Real Batman Begins
Back in the 80s, Frank Miller resurrected Batman’s awesomeness in the eyes of the world with his incredible The Dark Knight Returns. As a follow-up, he came up with Batman: Year One, an exploration of how Bruce Wayne came to adopt his more famous persona, how he began his friendship with Commissioner Gordon, and how one of his most iconic frenemies, Catwoman, found her inspiration from him. The new movie of the same name follows the same story very closely, so there are no surprises plot-wise.
This movie is a fantastic cavalcade of voice talent and performances…with one glaring exception. Eliza Dushku does a great turn as Catwoman, Bryan Cranston is an amazing Commissioner Gordon, and everyone else plays their roles well…so why is Benjamin McKenzie so bad as Batman?
Seriously, his performance is so wooden and uninspired that I found myself wondering what the producers were thinking about casting him. The Dark Knight Returns movies have the awesome Peter Weller, we have the brilliant Kevin Conroy frequently playing the role that he seems destined to be forever attached to, and even William Baldwin and Dietrich Bader were great in the character in very different ways. So it’s very difficult to understand why they picked someone so poorly suited for the role.
The DVD redeems itself by having a fantastic Catwoman short, also starring Eliza Dushku, which bridges the gap between the old Catwoman of Year One and the sleek, modern Catwoman in her super-cool black leather and goggles look. It will give fans of the original material a smile, for sure.
Contingency Plans Gone Awry
If you read Mark Waid’s “Tower of Babel” story arc in JLA, then you know the basic premise of Justice League: Doom. A supervillain finds the perfect plans for taking out each member of the Justice League. He uses these plans to negate or defeat the League so that they’ll be out of his way when he enacts his new plan, but the League rallies (of course) and defeats him. The trouble is, the plans to destroy the League come from an intimate betrayal by one of the League’s own. Even as the League wins, they lose.
This storyline blew my mind when I read it, and this one amps things up a bit by turning the plan from one enacted just by R’as al-Gul and his League of Assassins to one masterminded by Vandal Savage (a great super-villain, really…much more interesting to me that ol’ R’as) and enacted by a newly formed Legion of Doom. Let’s face it…there’s something enormously satisfying about seeing the League take on a big batch of super-villains that solely came together to destroy them. It’s what made the “Injustice” episodes of the animated Justice League some of the best of the first season.
The extra treat in watching this movie is that it brings back a lot of classic DC Animated voice talent. Tim Daly from Superman: The Animated Series returns, as does the ever-present Kevin Conroy and Justice League’s Susan Eisenberg, Carl Lumbly, and Michael Rosenbaum. Joining this luminary crowd is Nathan Filion, reprising his role as Hal Jordan from the Green Lantern: Emerald Knights DVD. The result is a rollicking, enjoyable Justice League tale that’s as much fun as the original source material.
Are People Basically Good?
Back in Action Comics in 2001, Joe Kelly wrote an issue called “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?” In it, Superman meets and faces off against a group of anti-heroes called The Elite who prove themselves willing to kill to eliminate criminals, thus earning world-wide acclaim. Superman ultimately shows that, despite the fact that his ways seem a bit outdated, lethal violence is not to be condoned, and superheroes are not meant to play judge, jury, and executioner.
The new movie Superman vs. the Elite takes this single story and expands on it. The question of the story becomes “Has Superman been left behind by the needs of the world in the 21st century?” George Newbern, who played Superman in the Justice League, comes back to play the role again. He’s joined in some fantastic performances by Pauley Perrette as Lois Lane (in this version married to Clark) and Robin Atkin Downes as the British telepathic hero, Manchester Black (the villain of another of my favorite Superman stories, Ending Battle).
I actually think this movie, which was written by Kelly himself, does a great job of expanding on the original story. The original story is pretty much all action for the most part. This new, longer story shows a relationship between Superman and The Elite, starting with friendship, but then growing through disillusionment to anger and battle. Manchester Black and his team seem edgy at first, but firmly on the side of right. But things slowly slip and give way, leading to a confrontation in which Superman shows exactly how far he’s willing to go to prove his point.
What’s To Come
With the second volume of The Dark Knight Returns, I look forward to watching it all in one go and letting folks know about it in the near future. Also upcoming are Superman: Unbound which covers the Brainiac storyline that returned Kandor to modern comics and Justice League: Flashpoint, the storyline that launched The New 52 (which will include Kevin Conroy as Batman once again!).
One thing’s for sure. There are plenty of new adventures for the DC Heroes ahead.
Have you seen these movies? Am I off-base on any of them? Is there a favorite DC Animated Movie I didn’t cover here? Let us all know.