In celebration of the caped crusader turning 75, and still giving criminals broken bones, HCF’s video games editor Juan Vasquez, has been having a look at the way the Dark Knight has been represented in games throughout the years as well as some of the animated feature films. In this first part, we take a look at some of the animated movies featuring the world’s greatest detective and how they compare next to each other.
Year One (2010)
One of several animated features based on a popular run of comics, this is another origin story, something which most Bat-fans will have seen told in several different ways. Year One tells two coinciding stories, James Gordon (Bryan Cranston) being transferred to Gotham PD, with the intention of helping clean up the crime problems plaguing the notorious city. At the same time, Gotham’s most famous son returns after falling off the radar for years, with similar intentions to the new GCPD recruit, seeking to rid his city of crime. Anyone with a passing interest in the bat will now how and why he took on the mantle of Gotham’s savior, and this story shows the first 12 months of Bruce Wayne (Ben McKenzie – who is also Jim Gordon in the new Gotham TV series) donning the cape and cowl, and the impact it has on the corrupt police department Jim Gordon is trying to straighten out.
A great version, which if you’re a big fan of the bat, has tread the ground that many others have already walked. You can see the influence this version has had on Batman Begins.
Under The Red Hood (2010)
Under the Red Hood is a fantastic look at this particular story arc from the Batman comics. Although losing its impact on subsequent viewings, UTRH is a violent, thrilling caper involving several key heroes and villains. The film starts with Batman (Bruce Greenwood) coming to terms with the loss of Jason Todd (the next Robin following Dick Grayson as he became Nightwing – voiced by Neil Patrick Harris), as he was killed by none other than the clown prince himself, the Joker (John DiMaggio). A new threat arrives in Gotham and he’s taking down Black Mask’s heavies. Un-nerved by this, he recruits the Joker to bring down this threat to his organisation, with fatal consequences.
Under The Red Hood sees the dark knight team up with former Robin, Nightwing, to get to the bottom of these gang wars, with twists, turns and a surprising amount of violence.
Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Mask of the Phantasm is a feature length story based on the extremely popular animated series from the early-mid 90’s. Aesthetically, it’s glorious. The grand art-deco city design and prohibition-era style vehicles and wardrobe all fit in wonderfully in this excellent chapter in the the caped crusaders story. When Gotham’s mob bosses start getting picked off, the blame is quicky placed on Batman (Kevin Conroy). There are those who don’t believe that, including Commissioner Gordon, but this doesn’t stop the police from trying to catch the bat red handed. At the same time, an old flame of Bruce Wayne’s, Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany) returns to Gotham, leading to a series of flashbacks from when Bruce was first setting up shop as the Dark Knight, and how he nearly gave it all up for love.
After the mob decides enough is enough, feeling no other alternative is available, they turn to the one man they know that will be able to kill the bat, the Joker (voiced with menacing glee by Mark Hamill, arguably the best Joker there’s been). However, Batman manages to find a connection between the mob and his former lover, which leads to a startling revelation.
Mask of the Phantasm has got to be one of the finest Batman movies ever made, with a surprisingly adult story line and the Joker on fine psychotic form. The animation is superb despite its age and it will keep you gripped from beginning to end.
Gotham Knight (2008)
Gotham Knight is a series of intertwining shorts bridging the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. It was released shortly before Chris Nolan’s colossal superhero epic, but unfortunately falls way short of the mark. It starts off promising with “Have I Got A Story For You”, featuring four youths, each having seen the Batman, recounting their experiences, all obviously told with some exaggeration, but also intrigue that keeps you invested. The animation style throughout is very anime, although each episode is differs very slightly, with the first standing out from the crowd. From there however, the rest of the shorts are painstakingly dull. Save for the final episode, Deadshot, there is little going for what otherwise feels like a showcase for the animators.
Unless you’ve nothing better bat-related to watch, avoid this turkey. Despite Kevin Conroy on voice duties again, this is not worth your time.
The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 & 2 (2012/13)
The Dark Knight Returns is what a lot of fans consider one of the best run of Batman comics ever made. This adaptation is so faithful to Frank Miller’s comic, that it’s almost a frame for frame replication. It’s several years since the Batman (Peter Weller) was last seen, but street crime is on the rise again, with a gang called the Mutants terrorising civilians and growing in number each day. Having had enough of seeing the city he’d helped clean up fall back into organised crime, an ageing Bruce Wayne dusts off the cape and cowl to make one last stand as the Batman. Unfortunately for the older Bruce Wayne, it’s not that easy. As with us all at some point, age has become a hindrance, with him being slower and weaker, he has to rely more than ever on his surroundings and gadgets and he even recruits a new Robin. The films are full of twists and turns, featuring old enemies as well as new, including the return of Harvey Dent (Wade Williams), who has undergone massive facial reconstruction to rebuild the side of his face to how it was.
The return of Batman also sees the return of the Joker (Michael Emerson). Having stayed in Arkham for years in a near catatonic state, upon finding out that the caped crusader is back in action, Joker once again seems to have something to live for, yet again, with fatal consequences. The Dark Knight Returns sees Batman tested to his absolute limits, forcing him to go further than ever before, and even pushing him so far as to break his one rule. It also sees some former allies show up, but not is all as it seems. Again this is one story’s influence that can be seen in the Nolan Batman films.
Batman faces his biggest ever test in The Dark Knight Returns, making for an unnerving, exciting and emotional adventure, spanning two feature length films and the quality of the comic shines through.
In the next part, I’ll be looking at some of the games that have involved Batman, from the 2D sidescrollers to the epic Arkham Trilogy. Coming soon…