Welcome again to the long awaited (or not) third part of my glorious retrospective on DC’s the Direct to DVD animated films. When we last left our hero he had been gushing over Batman: Under the Red Hood and praising All-Star Superman. What movie will he do next?
By the time I got to the next film, I was completely immersed in DC comics. I loved everything about them: the characters, the stories and artwork. I started learning writers and artists names and became incredibly attached to all of the characters, not just Batman. It was also around this time that Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern film was getting ready to come out in theaters. I was excited as all get out, finally a live action DC character from the Justice League that isn’t just Batman or Superman. Unfortunately the film was a total failure on pretty much every level. However, the animated film that came out to coincide with the release of the live action one was fantastic. Green Lantern: Emerald Knights was just pure fun. It is essentially an anthology film, kind of like Gotham Knight (blech) except all of the short films are done by the same artist and do not pretend to be connected to the live action film. The story is about a new Green Lantern Corps recruit who is on her first mission. Along the way she is told several stories about different Corps members and their famous exploits. These include Sinestro (before he goes all evil and stuff), Abin Sur, Kilowog and my favorite, Mogo the Living Planet. Each story shows a different aspect of the Corps and it is a great character piece for each character introduced. My favorite though, has to be Mogo, for the sole reason that if you know nothing about the character the story is almost like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Over all a very well done film, and once again the the animated Green Lantern movie outshined the live action one.
Moving on to our next film, we have Batman: Year One. I could not wait for this movie to come out because Frank Miller is in my top ten list of favorite comic book writers of all time. His writing is dark and visceral and he made Batman the Dark Knight we all know and love today. It is sad, though, that since Sin City and 300 all of his work has been…well, subpar at best. At worst…well, just look at the Goddamn Batman. Nonetheless, Year One was one of the best retelling of Batman’s origins I have ever seen. It was also the partial inspiration of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. The film was beautifully made, the art work was top notch and for the most part so was the voice acting. I think they chose the perfect person to play Jim Gordon, Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston. I think the only voice that did not really work for me was Batman. Benjamin Mackenzie of OC fame voiced a Young Bruce Wayne, and while I think his Bruce Wayne was a little off, I think he did a very good Batvoice. Some actors don’t bother putting on a voice for the character, and some do a terrible terrible job at it. I’m looking at you, Christian Bale. However, Mackenzie’s voice was spot on. He sounded different without having to resort to gargling marbles. Also, is it just me or could Eliza Dushku been a better fit for Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises? Because she was spot on as Selina Kyle in this movie and she even looks the part, for crying out loud. This was one of the few times in these animated films that they adapted the comic book almost word for word and panel for panel. Even the voiceover was kept it. Many people complain about the constant voiceover, but I think it works for the story that was being told. Frank Miller made Batman and Gordon noir heroes living in a noir-like town. It works for both the characters and the plot. However, if I had one complaint, it is the fact that I didn’t think the director took enough creative liberties with the work. Yes, it was a fantastic adaptation and a decent film, but it would have been nice to see the director’s fingerprint on the work as well. While sometimes directors can take adaptations too far away from the source material, I think going too far in the other direction can damage a film as well.
Alrighty, enough of me rambling on about Batman. Let’s talk about Justice League: Doom or, as I like to call it, I am Batman therefore better than all y’all bitches: The Movie. Justice League:Doom
was loosely based on the comic book JLA: Tower of Babel. It tells the story of the Legion of Doom trying wipe out the Justice League with the use of all of their weaknesses, which they gained by breaking into the Batcave. Batman had a contingency plan for every Leaguer just in case one or all of them went rogue. While I think it was an interesting story idea, it could have been crafted better. It seemed very rushed and I hope that has nothing to do with the writer. The problem with speaking ill of this film is that shortly after writing it, comic legend Dwayne McDuffie died. His name may not be too terribly familiar to most people, but he was the one who created Static Shock. If you grew up around the early 2000’s or were just really into DC animation at the time, you knew about Static. He created the character in an effort to diversify comic book heroes. Which, while there are still black superheroes, they had been heavily stereotyped and did not really speak to the younger generation. McDuffie has also been the writer for several episodes of the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited shows. He also wrote both Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and All-Star Superman. He was a great talented man and he will be missed.
Okay, let’s try to move on to something a little less sad. Another Superman movie. You may notice a pattern here. As much as I love the DC animated features, they really do love playing it safe. It’s either a Superman, Batman or Justice League movie. Only three have not had any of those in the title thus far and two of them were Green Lantern. This is, however, understandable considering those are DC/WB most recognizable names that ring in the cash. This one is called Superman vs The Elite. Based on the story What’s So Funny About Truth Justice and the American Way? This film… Ok, let’s start with the premise. Superman runs into a group of meta humans who fight crime, but they also kill the bad guys sometimes. Superman is against it and teaches them a lesson by pretending to kill them all. It is hard for me to decide where I stand on this film. I liked story it was cute and showed the true nature of all of Superman’s powers, but the problem is the morality code for me. I understand superheroes don’t kill. It’s a moral thing and the whole “then I am no better than the bad guy” This might just be my upbringing, but I kind of agreed with The Elite up until they went overboard and just starting killing “cause it’s cool.” Which is really the message here, not morality. The way I see it The Elite don’t care about justice, they just like killing, and if it’s the bad guys they can get away with it and people will love them. They also think it makes them cool. However, it is obvious that they are trying to make the message “superheores shouldn’t kill”. But if anything, the scene where *spoilers y’all* Atomic Skull kills this child’s father in front of him really pissed me off and I sympathized with the child. With all this power, why didn’t Superman just kill him? I know it’s not really a morality tale in the business of comics because they have to keep villains alive that are popular, but why not kill him? He is evil. He kills thousands of people when he breaks out of prison. And it seems in comics universe no one believes in the death penalty and have revolving prisons and asylums. The real question here is “Is one scumbag villain’s life worth the life of thousands of innocents?” I retort with “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”-Spock. The problem isn’t actually the moral its the fact that they get so high and mighty with it and make heroes who save people from evil by just destroying it look like terrible people. Cops kill, soldiers kill. Are they inherently evil? I love moral tales. I really do, and this was a fine one, but damn, sometimes the moral high ground isn’t worth lost lives.
The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 and 2. I won’t go too much into this one considering I reviewed both of those movies on this site, but let’s just say I thought they were fantastic films. As I said before, a director can mess with the structure of a story for a movie adaptation and make it even better than the source material, allowing for a bigger emotional impact on the audience, and dammit if Jay Oliva didn’t do that. It was wonderful. He integrated the news clips incredibly well into the story without it being distracting like in the graphic novel, and it almost felt more natural that way. He kept the integrity of the story while still allowing it to be his own story. I cried watching both of these films and I have no doubt in my mind that it was more Jay Oliva than Frank Miller. I also respect him standing up for his art. In an interview, he says he needed Joker to go on this rampage, not just for the sake of violence, but because we need to see Batman pushed to his limit, and Joker needs to be off the wall to do that. After many tragedies that occurred before each film was released it is understandable that people would be cautious about the levels of violence in this film, but the story is what matters, it would be wrong to censor art because of this. And combined it was by far the best Batman film I have ever seen.
Alrighty, it is time to finish this bad boy up with one more film. Back in May the film Superman: Unbound came out. It was essentially retelling the story of Brainiac coming to earth. While the animation was good and the fights were spectacular, I didn’t really feel much in this film. Superman felt like a terrible overprotective boyfriend, and Lois Lane seemed like a thrill junkie who got into dangerous situations just so Superman could save her. The voice acting, however, was spot on. I just wish they had put a little more effort into it.
I am extremely excited for the next the DC Animated feature, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. I think everyone knows the reason why. Until then, just remember, cartoons aren’t just for kids!