We all loved Batman Begins, right? There were a few things that didn’t entirely work, such as the sub-romance between Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and his ‘childhood sweetheart™’ Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes being outacted by her nipples in a cold room) which got stapled onto the end. However, the majority of Begins is an enjoyable romp into the Dark Knight’s world, seeing him learn and grow, and ending with the tantalising promise of greater things to come. Namely, the imminent arrival of the Joker in the Christopher Nolan series of Batman movies. This was due in July’s Dark Knight.
This leads to the DVD that fits neatly between Begins and Dark Knight. Coming out one week before the new movie, we’re given six short stories that form one overall arc (more or less). Each story is created by a different animation team. Some pull off their jigsaw piece better than others, it has to be said.
Have I Got A Story For You (Studio 4°C, writer Josh Olsen), is based on a Batman story from the 1970s. A group of skater kids tell, in reverse chronological order, what happened when each of them encountered Batman during his battle against a villain known as ‘The Man in Black’ – presumably on the orders of Johnny Cash’s estate. As they fight across Gotham, each kid interprets their view of Batman differently – as a creature of shadow, a bat creature (Manbat!) and as robo-Batman (surely a must-have kids toy for Xmas’08?)! All these interpretations get rubbished when the ACTUAL Batman turns up and, rather embarrassingly, has to be rescued by a fourth kid wielding a deadly skateboard weapon.
Freaky Batman, in one kid’s rather warped interpretation of the Dark Knight
While I can see what they were trying to do with this story, the animation didn’t make an awesome first impression. It’s a very flat style which wasn’t the best way to open this promising DVD. It was fun in places, but perhaps better suited to the recent The Batman animated series.
Crossfire (Production IG, writer Greg Rucka), is a little more like it. It centres around two cops in Sergent Gordon’s new unit, Detectives Allen and Ramirez. They’re assigned to take The Man In Black to Arkham after Batman dumps him with the cops. Unfortunately, the Asylum is in the Narrows which has been left in the grubby hands of the insane following the events of Begins. A gang of Russian mobsters guarantee that this is going to be a bumpy trip for all involved, and the detectives learn to trust the Dark Knight a little more.
Detectives Allen (left) and Ramirez (right)
This hapless duo get more backstory here than in the whole of the Dark Knight movie.
Ramirez gets an important role in Dark Knight all the same, so pay attetion, loyal Bat-viewers!
As this was produced by the Ghost in the Shell guys, I’m not surprised it looked vastly better than the previous section. There are some beautiful images, and it’s very slick. I liked the continuity with the last film and seeing what became of the Narrows. I wonder how Gotham’s mental state will stand up to the Isle of Lunatics on its doorstep? Overall this was a solid yet fairly predictable episode. But Batman is still a badass.
Now, part of the fun of the animated Batman was always the increased adaptability it could give the caped-crusader. He never has too many gadgets or enough backup plans – sort of the payoff for being the world’s most paranoid superhero. In the Field Test (Bee Train, writer Jordan Goldberg) section of this experimental series, Bruce goes Birdstyle in a very cute cape that hides a far TOO cute Bruce Wayne. He doesn’t appear so much the arrogant playboy as this week’s bishonen pinup.
Sorry Bruce, you just tooo dang pretty…Mr Lovely Hair
This aside, he has some nice scenes with a baddie who likes to golf – in a scene that strongly homages Goldfinger – and a neat new gadget that can deflect bullets away from the Batman. It’s a pity that, presumably to avoid messing with continuity in the movies, Bruce decides this is too risky after a mob punk gets clipped. He decides never to use this device again – which just seems a little easy. It’s like Angel deciding he won’t use the magic ring that gives him the power survive in direct sunlight, it’s making life difficult for the sake of it.
It still looks great – personally I just didn’t like the costume or character design (and what was with all the winking between Lucius and Bruce?) but I suppose this is unavoidable when made by the Noir studio.
The Birdstyle-Bat, presumably to cover his pretty face. Awww.
By this point I was deciding that none of these stories were quite strong enough. They weren’t entirely giving me what I wanted, which was lots of Batman fighting the bad guys and working out puzzles like he does in the TV cartoons. Or, more Christian Bale. Worst of all, I was starting to think that each section was just too short nad it would never be quite dark enough.
I was pleasantly surprised by Darkness Dwells (Madhouse, writer is Batman Begin’s David S Goyer!). Apart from having the best writer, it opens with some gorgeous shots of an uber-cool Gotham City. It also has a familiar and one of the oddest villains, the unbeatable Killer Croc AND the Scarecrow, too.
Heavily-stylised Killer Croc, working with the Scarecrow, freakin’ out The Bat
It’s just a pity that Batman comes across as something of a smartarse (which, ok, he is, but still…), smugly telling Gordon ‘don’t even think about tracking my signal’ and reeling off a list of information that makes me think he has a Google-input direct to his Bat-brain. And why the hell is Batman chatting away to Gordon on his radio, anyway? So that he doesn’t do the ‘thinking aloud’ thing beloved of almost all comic book heroes? If the notoriously paranoid Bruce is happy to give an ‘untraceable’ radio to Gordon, why bother with the Bat Signal? Little things like this seemed unnecessary.
It’s also annoying that he refuses help offered to him right at the end. Despite having a very open injury he seems to prefer jumping into shoulder-deep sewer-water, to a helicopter lift out of hell. That can’t be hygienic, can it?
Well, apparently it doesn’t do him much good, because he’s staggering through the sewers with a nasty stomach wound this time, rather than the nick in the shoulder from the end of Darkness Dwells. Cue Working Through Pain (Studio 4°C, writer Brian Azarello) where Batman flashes back to a time he spent working in a military field hospital.
Apart from wondering when he squeezed THAT into his journey to find himself, this one also doesn’t match with the rest of the films or even the other parts of this DVD. Bruce gets taught how to ignore pain entirely – and they have some baddies break bricks and iron bars over his head. Apparently Wayne can now also withstand concussion and cracked skulls.
Anyway, I found the grungy facial-haired Bruce a little gross. He smartens up, though, and loses the awful shirt, too!
Inside the mind of a maniac: Bruce Wayne is held and questioned WHERE he got that awful shirt and what the hell he was thinking with the goatee/round glasses combo. YUECH.
His eagerness to beat seven shades of crap out of some jerks hassling his teacher results in an abrupt dismissal, and she warns him that she can’t help with the real pain he’s in.
Bruce Wayne demonstrates new immunity to being twatted with a piece of wood.
The flashback comes to an end. Bruce winds up at the bottom of a drain, where he stumbles on an arsenal of discarded weaponry. It’s at this point that Alfred, voiced by the awesomest Man From Uncle, David McCullum, turns up and asks Bruce to hold out his hand so that he can be lifted out of sewer-hell. Bruce, mesmerised by the guns he’s collected, embraces them and says “I can’t”.
Bruce Wayne’s fascinated horror with guns continues in the most seamless transition yet. In Deadshot (Madhouse, writer Alan Burnett) Bruce Wayne and his massively distracting massive chin wonders what to do with the massive box of guns he retrieved from his adventure in the sewers. He confesses to an incredibly-more-sarcastic-than-usual-Alfred that he can see the gun’s attraction to criminals.
A moment, please, to admire the man’s chin. I mean…look at it. MASSIVE.
(Above) Bruce Wayne toys with the temptation of a gun. No subsitute for a Batarang, though.
Whilst Bruce is extolling the virtue of a well-honed weapon’s efficiency, it’s being demonstrated all-too well by the lethal villain, Deadshot.
Loopy Bat-hunter Deadshot and his hi-tech lasersight
Deadshot’s the kind of marksman who can hit a city official across a good mile or two whilst moving around in a ferris wheel. He has this eye-attachment, you see…makes him super-accurate.
Naturally you’d have to be a bloody good marksman to beat the Bat, (try aiming for the chin?) but there’s a very good fight scene on a train that tests both of them. Mind you, Bruce was probably kicking himself for ditching the bullet-repellor gadget three or four stories ago…
Batman fights the perfect marksman by, er, running directly into his line of fire. Down a moving train. In a big green tunnel. But that’s why he’s The Batman. Right?
The last episode had the best animation and lighting of the lot, and if I had to mark them in order, it would run, in order of preference:
In Darkness Dwells 7/10
Field Test (for the Goldfinger scenes) 7/10
Working Through Pain 7/10
Have I Got a Story For You 6/10
Overall, this was an interesting set of takes on Gotham. Almost no shots of Gotham looked exactly like Chicago, which is one advantage it has over the recent movies. Batman is all things to all people, and the only one really missing from this disc of delights is the crown prince himself – but we’ll have to go out of our living rooms to meet the Joker.
Ever-loyal Alfred patches up Bruce Wayne after another Hard Day’s Dark-Knighting…
Gotham Knight may be a little too conceptual for some tastes. Frankly I’d prefer to watch all the cartoon series again – both Batman: The Animated Series in the 1990s, and The Batman which only ended very recently did sterling work in bringing Bruce Wayne to life. Gotham Knight is trying to do a very tricky thing; perched between two live action films, it can’t use the big Bat villains or make any particularly drastic changes that would knacker Chris Nolan’s continuity. This was an interesting experiment, but its main value is giving us a little more about two supporting Gotham detectives who get little to do in the Dark Knight, but get a story all to themselves here.
That makes this perfect for geeky completists, like me, or even those who appreciate good artwork. An experiment with mixed results, I wanted to like it more than I did, but am I going to knock more Batman on DVD? Not really. Also, this is perfect for people who ‘wouldn’t normally watch cartoons’.
Grrrr. Grrrr. I’m Batman! Grrrr. Awesome.
However, I will probably be buying up all the Animated Series at some point! And it whetted my appetite for the Dark Knight even more!
Get it while it’s cheap!
Dark Knight review to follow, delayed due to hot weather and family visits…
Thanks for reading!
Jus’ hangin’ out with da Bat.