Film Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012-2013)

Release Date: September 25th, 2012 (Part I) and January 29th, 2013 (Part II)
Directed by: Jay Oliva
Written by: Bob Goodman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Michael Emerson, Mark Valley, Paget Brewster, Grey DeLisle, Michael McKean, Bruce Timm, Frank Welker, Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Tara Strong

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 76 Minutes (Part I), 76 Minutes (Part II), 148 Minutes (Deluxe Edition)

Review:

“You don’t get it, son. This isn’t a mud hole. It’s an operating table. And I’m the surgeon.” – Batman

When I see that there is a new DC Comics animated adaptation of a famous comic book story coming out, I usually don’t get too excited. The reason being, most of them take tremendous liberties and just sort of do their own thing, ignoring the story they’re “based” on and making the whole thing nothing more than a bullshit marketing scheme to sell more Blu-rays.

I guess that’s why I was pleasantly surprised by this film, a true adaptation that really captured the spirit of Frank Miller’s most famous Batman story.

I put off watching this for a very long time and I only gave it a shot because a friend of mine that actually reads comics told me it was definitely worth my time. He wasn’t wrong.

This film does a fine job of capturing the magic of Miller’s story and it also has some solid homages to the imagery of the famous comic.

I guess my biggest gripe is that even though the animation is really good, it sort of just looks like the other DC Comics animated features. DC has a specific style to its animated films and this falls in line with it. For what this project is and what it represents, I fell as if the art should have been closer to the style and tone of the actual comic. This took a big step forward from a narrative standpoint but the visual style really should have been unique, grittier and more in line with Frank Miller’s art.

I also wasn’t crazy about the length of this but that’s really my own problem, as I start to tune out when watching animation for too long. I don’t really know how this could have been edited down and because it adapts a very rich story in a really great way, I’d leave it alone. It fills the time well and there really isn’t a dull moment.

The voice actors were all superb. Peter Weller was perfect as an old Batman and Ariel Winter, who had to have been really young when this was made, was very convincing as the Carrie Kelley version of Robin.

I’ve watched a lot of DC Comics animated stuff since the ’90s and this is certainly in the upper echelon of the things they’ve put out.

If you love The Dark Knight Returns in comic book form, this shouldn’t disappoint.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other recent DC animated Batman and Justice League films.

 

Film Review: Batman Ninja (2018)

Release Date: March 24th, 2018 (Anaheim premiere)
Directed by: Junpei Mizusaki
Written by: Kazuki Nakashima
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Yugo Kanno
Cast: Tony Hale (English dub), Tara Strong (English dub), Kōichi Yamadera, Wataru Takagi, Ai Kakuma, Rie Kugimiya, Hōchū Ōtsuka

DC Entertainment, Kamikaze Douga, Yamatoworks, Barnum Studio, Warner Bros., 85 Minutes

Review:

“This is madness.” – Batman

Yes… yes it is, Batman.

The only reason I checked this out is that it’s on the DC Universe app, which I now have and am trying out. Other than that, I didn’t have much interest in this.

However, some of the character designs looked cool and I thought that this might just be bonkers enough to be enjoyable. The problem is that I only made it about twenty minutes into the film before I regretted hitting the play button.

Cool and interesting character designs don’t mean much outside of a sketchbook of conceptual art. You have to apply these cool looking characters in an engaging and dynamic way and this anime fails to do just that.

This movie is a clusterfuck of biblical proportions and I’m pretty sure that the creators behind this had no idea what the hell they wanted to do apart from throwing a bunch of cool looking shit on screen just for the sake of throwing a bunch of cool looking shit on screen.

The story is all over the place, makes little sense, I can’t tell what the hell is happening through most of the film and there’s a big mecha battle because this is Japanese and it can’t exist without a big mecha battle.

This is a bunch of cool, unrelated shit thrown into a blender without little care as to whether or not it would blend well and be enjoyable, let alone remotely palatable. I had an uncle that had throat cancer and for awhile, he had to blend up every meal. His face while drinking his meals was similar to mine while trying to drink in this movie.

Batman Ninja is abhorrent and it should not have been made. It’s existence reminds me of the most famous of all of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s quotes: “Your scientists creators were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: terrible to subpar anime.

Comic Review: Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vol. 1: Dark Trinity

Published: May 2nd, 2017
Written by: Scott Lobdell
Art by: Dexter Soy

DC Comics, 150 Pages

Review:

Man, I really dig this series. Unfortunately, I came into it a bit late. But now that I’ve read this first story arc, it’s added a lot more context to the three main characters and how they are actually very similar to DC’s “Trinity” of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

Here, you have Red Hood: a former Robin under Batman, Artemis: an Amazonian warrior like Wonder Woman and Bizarro: a clone of Superman. While they aren’t together at the beginning of the story, this arc shows you how they came to be a unit.

The story also focuses on Red Hood trying to take down Black Mask. He infiltrates his gang, wins over his trust and must wait for the perfect moment to bring the crime boss down. He also has to do all of this without breaking Batman’s rules or else he will have to answer for it.

Scott Lobdell really penned a good script and the art of Dexter Soy is fantastic and gives this fine story a lot of life. It’s vibrant and colorful yet it is still as gritty as a story about Gotham’s criminal underworld needs to be.

Red Hood and the Outlaws has been a favorite series of mine over the last few years. I came into it just after this arc but I am now going to revisit all of it.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Red Hood and the Outlaws collections post-Rebirth. Also, the recent Bat-family titles: NightwingBatgirl and also the current runs on Suicide Squad and Deathstroke.

Comic Review: Aquaman/Justice League: Drowned Earth

Published: Octoberber 17th, 2018 – November 28th, 2018
Written by: Scott Snyder, Dan Abnett, James Tynion IV
Art by: various

DC Comics, 224 Pages

Review:

This was a big crossover event that was used to give us a cool and epic Aquaman story just as his first movie was set to hit theaters. It’ts spread over multiple titles in a similar style to the recent Wonder Woman/Justice League Dark: The Witching Hour event.

The plot deals with some Atlantean deities coming to Earth and drowning the planet with magic water that turns everyone into fish zombies. No, seriously, that’s the premise.

That being said, it still plays out really cool and as bonkers as it sounds, the writers commit to the bit and the story is just as fun as it is nuts. It’s also pretty damn intense, as the surviving heroes try their damnedest to not get wet while working to save the planet.

However, there isn’t much here that seems to hold any real weight over the DC universe, apart from how it effects just Aquaman and where his comic will go, as it moves forward with a new creative team.

This will probably be remembered for its insanity but other than that, it isn’t an event that will be remembered as anything more than a cash grab and promotional tool for the upcoming Aquaman movie.

It had a solid creative staff and is certainly better than DC’s current mega event Heroes In Crisis but this massive extinction level event went down and now everyone, except Aquaman, is fine and has moved on. In fact, most of the other DC titles didn’t even seem effected by this other than a few casual mentions of people being turned into fish zombies.

I did like tracking down all these issues, nonetheless. I’ll always think of it fairly fondly, simply because it was a wild ride and mostly exciting.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Aquaman stories leading up to this, as well as the recent crossover The Witching Hour. This also ties back to Dark Nights: Metal.

Comic Review: Batman: White Knight

Published: October 9th, 2018
Written by: Sean Murphy
Art by: Sean Murphy

DC Comics, 224 Pages

Review:

Spoiler alert: this gets a perfect score.

The reason why this gets a perfect score is that you just don’t read comic book stories this great anymore. It almost feels as if we don’t deserve something this good in this day and age. And, I guess, one could say that maybe its greatness is magnified by an industry that is struggling to put out exceptional work but I don’t think that it is. I think that White Knight, regardless of what era it came out in, is a true masterpiece of the comic book medium.

Sure, time will tell how this holds up over the years but I don’t need time to tell me that this most certainly will be held in the same regard as Batman classics The Long HalloweenThe Dark Knight Returns and Year One. In fact, I would say that this beats two out of those three.

Sean Murphy weaved a tale that exists in its own continuity but at the same time, he wrote a Batman story that was respectful to the franchise and all the characters within it. I love when someone can find a way to utilize all the major villains and Murphy did just that, without having this become a convoluted mess. His idea in how to include them all here was actually kind of genius.

This also does a fine job in breaking down the dichotomy that is Batman and the Joker and asks the question, “Is there even a dichotomy?” Delving deeper than just that, this examines the Joker, Batman and Harley Quinn’s psyche in new ways that really make this book smarter than the average bear while making these old characters feel fresh. Basically, Murphy found a way to explore these well-known characters and brought something new and intriguing to the table.

Finishing the story, it’s hard to pinpoint who the big bad is here. Is it the reformed Joker? Is it Harley pulling strings? Is it the new villain: Neo Joker? Is it Batman? Is it the GCPD? Is it Gotham City itself? There is a lot to interpret here and there isn’t a clean answer any which way you could go.

Murphy also gives back a lot of fan service in including certain characters from other mediums and beloved Batmobiles of yesteryear, among other things. But it’s never fan service just to get brownie points, he created the right sort of situation where all of it just works really well.

I loved the idea of the GTO (Gotham Terrorist Oppression Unit) and how Nightwing and Batgirl were used. I loved how the story worked for the entire Bat-family, especially the stuff regarding Alfred. All the Mr. Freeze material was also wonderful. There is just so much to digest and dissect here but all of it is good.

Sean Murphy also did the art and I loved his work. All in all, this really is his creation and it’s a damn fine creation at that.

This limited comic series is pretty close to perfect. There’s nothing I would change or alter about it and frankly, I want to read it again.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the best of the best classic Batman stories: The Long HalloweenDark VictoryYear OneThe Dark Knight Returns, etc.

Comic Review: Dark Nights: Metal

Published: June 12th, 2018
Written by: Scott Snyder
Art by: Greg Capullo

DC Comics, 204 Pages

Review:

I didn’t read this as it came out. I also was much more frugal about how much I spent on comics at the time. I’m less frugal now, as I’m spending more time reviewing them. And to be honest, while this is $30 for the collected edition at my local comic shop, I found this on a brief Comixology sale for $5.99. So at that price, I figured I’d give it a go. If I ended up really liking it, I would’ve gone back to buy the single issues. But I didn’t really like it all that much. I’ll explain.

To start, I typically like Scott Snyder’s writing, especially in regards to anything with Batman in it. As far as Greg Capullo goes, he is one of my favorite artists of the last few decades. So seeing them reunite for this was definitely a selling point, even if what I knew about the project’s story didn’t peak my interest.

The biggest problem with Metal is the same problem with most mega events in comics, it is chock full of so many characters that the plot loses fluidity and the story seems to placate more to wedging in as many cameos as possible, as opposed to keeping the train on the rails.

This wasn’t a bad idea for a story but it should have been kept fairly simple. People just kept showing up on nearly every page, though, and it becomes distracting. New twists and turns are thrown in as often as characters and this just loses its focus. It also introduces a whole horde of villains, most of whom will just be one-offs in this story anyway. But this reads more like a sketchbook than a coherent story. What I mean by that, is that this feels like Capullo trying to fit in every cool design that he wasn’t able to wedge into Spawn throughout his run on the book in the ’90s.

Another thing I didn’t like was how wordy this was. While there are good action scenes, sometimes these characters felt like they weren’t surrounded by villains but instead, were surrounded by word balloons, trying to wedge their way into the panels and asphyxiate the characters. The word balloons were the real villains of the story. At least, that should be a twist whenever this gets a sequel.

I did like how the ending looked into the future as a way to tell you what stories would be coming out from DC Comics over the following year. But, at the same time, this was disappointing to some degree, as a main reason why I picked this up was to see the introduction of DC’s “New Age of Heroes”. I always see mentions that this is where they debuted but their appearance here is limited to one panel where we see into the future.

Anyway, this at least kept my attention over the six issues, even if they felt like twelve due to the dialogue and having so much detail to drink in. I wouldn’t say that this is a waste of time and I can see where this will be a lot of people’s cup of tea. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, really. But I also don’t regret reading it simply because I liked seeing Capullo have fun and get really creative with the art and character design.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Any other DC Comics mega event of the last decade or so.

Film Review: Batman Vs. Two-Face (2017)

Also known as: Batman and the Face of Crime (working title)
Release Date: October 8th, 2017 (New York Comic Con)
Directed by: Rick Morales
Written by: Michael Jelenic, James Tucker
Based on: Batman (the ’60s TV show) by William Dozier, Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis
Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, William Shatner, Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Steven Weber, Thomas Lennon, Jeff Bergman, William Salyers, Wally Wingert

Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 72 Minutes

Review:

“I always knew you’d make an asp of yourself, Batboob.” – King Tut

I was really happy with the first film in this duology of animated features that have resurrected the Batman ’66 universe. So when I saw that there was a second film, that it introduced Two-Face and that William Shatner would be providing the voice, I was pretty stoked.

If you are a fan of the first film, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, then this one shouldn’t disappoint. Plus, you don’t just get the addition of Two-Face, you also get Bat-villains Harley Quinn and Dr. Hugo Strange.

I love that the voice cast is comprised of the original actors. Sadly, Adam West passed away before this was released and that probably put the kibosh on a third film getting made, but this was a great final outing for him.

They also brought in Lee Meriwether, who was the original film version of Catwoman. She shares a few scenes here with the original TV Catowman, Julie Newmar. While Meriwhether doesn’t play her best known Batman character, there is a nice in-joke in the film where her character gets put into the cat suit and likes it.

One thing that is always fun about these modern versions of the Batman ’66 universe, whether in these films or the comics, is that they are able to dip really deep into the villain well and have a myriad of them in scenes together.

I was really excited to see Bookworm get his own sequence in the film, as he was my favorite villain created just for the classic television show. You also get King Tut, Egghead, the Clock King and a bunch of others.

William Shatner did a fine job as Harvey Dent a.k.a. Two-Face and I liked how they handled the character in this universe and I thought his big evil scheme was pretty good and entertaining, even though it wasn’t something wholly original.

These are just fun movies and much more family friendly than the other animated DC Comics features.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The film before this one: Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, as well as the 1960s Batman TV show and movie, the Batman ’66 comic and other DC Comics animated films of the last decade.