Batman: Bad Blood (Movie) Review

Batman: Bad Blood (Movie) Review

I’ve been pretty conflicted about Warner Brothers Animation’s recent string of Batman adventures. On the one hand, they’ve loosely adapted one of my all time favourite Batman runs: Grant Morrison’s epic 7-year Bat-journey that attempted to deconstruct and revive every era in the character’s history. As expected from Morrison, the sprawling narrative was complex and serpentine, not exactly the type of story that fit the direct-to-DVD action romps that Warner Brothers Animation favors for their DC properties. So, the powers that be essentially dropped all of the complex and deep cut strands of Morrison’s story to focus entirely on the Damian Wayne/Bat family arc. Fair enough, there’s some good stuff there. The trouble is that so far, these adaptations have been paper thin, essentially taking the simplest elements of Damian’s tale and little else. Batman: Bad Blood takes my favourite arc of Morrison’s grand Bat-Odyssey and transforms it into a 72-minute fight n’ cameo fest designed for electric guitar stings. It’s fun, but disposable. God-willing it’ll be the end of this era of DC animated Bat-features, because it hasn’t been the best.

Batman: Bad Blood (Movie) Review 4Things kick off with a big ‘ol battle between Batman and a gang of D-level villains not even worth mentioning. Batwoman makes her debut in the fight, so cue some one-liners between the two bats. Then it all ends in an explosion that Batman doesn’t appear to escape from (oh no!). With Bruce Wayne out of the picture, Dick Grayson picks up the Batmantle and fights alongside a wise-crackin’ Damian Wayne who can’t believe Dick thinks he can replace Bruce. Faux Bats also starts chasing down Batwoman, so that we can learn her tragic origin story and why she enjoys using guns. From there, Damian is kidnapped and we learn that Talia Al Ghul was actually beyond all this wacky action, having kidnapped Bruce as part of her long term goal of making an army of Bat-clones (that’s what Damian was kiddies!). Plus she’s also involved in a mind-control plot with the Madhatter. Eventually that means that Bruce is briefly transformed into an Batman, requiring Nightwing, Robin, and Batwoman to form a Bat-family to stop it.Not sure what this means Luke Fox (Lucius Fox’s son) becomes Batwing to add an additional Batfamily member. Why? I don’t know. Cross-promotion, I guess.

So, as you may have gathered by now that’s a hell of a lot of plot to cover in a 72-minute movie. Well, it’s made worse by the fact that there’s an action scene at least every 5-10 minutes. There’s even less time for exposition as a trim 70 minute feature would normally allow, making all of the storytelling clunky and uncomfortably rushed. Batwoman fares best, with the intriguingly dark Kate Kane origin story covered well in its brief appearance. Batwing could not feel more tacked on and is little more than a distraction whenever he pops up. Sadly the Dick-Batman/Damian Wayne relationship is nowhere near as entertaining as it was in Grant Morrison’s comics, which played like Adam West’s Batman on acid. There’s too little screen time to develop their unique dynamic and the DC Animation house style doesn’t allow for Morrison’s surreal digressions to play a role. I was pleased to see Tali Al Ghul’s twisted plot from Morrison’s arc make an appearance, but sadly it isn’t developed properly either and the filmmakers cop out and dodge the tragic ending that it should have been building towards.

Batman: Bad Blood is a muddled movie to say the least. The folks in charge of the DC Animated Universe clearly couldn’t decide on which story to tell, and trying to tell four or five didn’t provide satisfactory versions of any of them. Beyond a few token efforts at depth—like Dick Grayson painfully recalling what it was like to grow up in Bruce’s shadow—the movie avoids all psychological complexity in favour of cramming in as much Bat action as possible. Thankfully, the film is at least directed by Jay Oliva, who is a master of animated Bat action, so each and every one of the endless action scenes has style to spare. They are fun to watch, no doubt about it. Unfortunately, without much in the way of narrative or characterization to match all of the punch-punch, boom-boom these sequences don’t have the same impact as the incredible work Oliva delivered in The Dark Knight Returns that made him the go-to house director for these direct-to-DVD features. It’s all empty spectacle, but on the plus side it is a fun and amazingly animated empty spectacle. So that’s something.

Despite ending on a sequel-baiting character introduction, I hope this is the end to the current run of DC Animation Batman flicks. Ever since Son Of Batman there has been a visible struggle to define the tone and purpose of these animated features. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t cram in needless fan pandering like the Court Of Owls plot in the last movie (which was there only in an attempt to win back disappointed viewers after Son Of Batman, only to disappoint them further by not doing it properly). Nor is the movie as irritatingly adolescent in its Bat-brah writing as the last two features (although there are some awkward moments like Dick calling Alfred a “total badass”). Bad Blood is probably the best of the last few connected Batflicks, but only because the filmmakers recognized that the action sequences were the best part so they focused almost entirely on those. There’s no denying the fights are beautifully staged and the movie is worth watching just for them. It’s just a shame that it’s all the DC Animation team delivered this time, given the depth and potential of Batman’s Universe.

Batman: Bad Blood (Movie) Review 5Batman: Bad Blood does at least look and sound fantastic on Blu-ray. The team cranking out these DC animated features are supremely talented and the production values are impressive. It’s nice to have 2D superhero animation done this well, even when the scripts disappoint. Amusingly, even the special features seem to grudgingly admit the movie is a one-trick pony. Usually these discs are filled with featurettes full of DC Comics luminaries discussing the history of Batman and how the film adds to the legacy. This time the biggest feature is a 30-minute documentary dedicated entirely to Jay Oliva’s action sequences. It’s interesting, but it’s amusing that it’s the only thing that the filmmakers have to say about this lackluster effort. Next up is a 13-minute doc about all the members of the Bat-family that covers the basics of their origins and appeal with little depth. Finally, we get a couple episodes of Batman: The Brave And The Bold that are fun, but so tonally different from the main feature that they feel somewhat out of place.

Click here for your chance to win a copy of Batman: Bad Blood.

Son Of Batman (Movie) Review

Son Of Batman (Movie) Review

DC Animation has returned with another anime-infused entry into their New 52 inspired universe, Son of Batman. Given that the movie is based on the first chapter in Grant Morrison’s Bat-epic Batman & Son, the announcement of the project had me giggling at the thought of it being the first in a series of adaptations based on Morrison’s surreal deconstruction of the Batman mythos. That’s not what the folks at DC’s animation department had in mind, however. Instead, they’ve created a very loose adaptation of the most basic elements of Morrison’s story (specifically Damian Wayne, Talia Al Ghul, and ninja Manbats) re-appropriated into a very different Batman adventure. Taken entirely on its own terms, this is a perfectly entertaining entry into DC’s string of animated movies. As an adaptation of stellar source material, it’s definitely a disappointment. But, beggars can’t be choosers, so once I got past what I wanted the movie to be and accepted what the project actually is, I can’t pretend that I didn’t have a good time.

The film kicks off at the Ra’s Al Ghul’s temple for the League of Assassins when Deathstroke suddenly attacks the base. A bloody brawl breaks out with Talia  (Morena Gibson) wielding machine guns, Damien (Stuart Allan) slashing through a ninja army, and Ra’s (Giancarlo Esposito) dying at the hands of his former mentor Deathstroke (Thomas Gibson). So, it’s instantly clear the movie is its own beast and a pretty wild one at that. Avatar: The Last Airbender director Ethan Spaulding stages his story in the same anime-inspired style, filled with over-the-top action sequences. From there, we jump to Gotham City, where Talia introduces Batman (Jason’ O’Mara) to his secret son. She leaves Damian with Batman so that she can pursue her father’s killer and Bats deals with that whole fatherhood thing. His vicious, assassin-trained son feuds with Alfred (David McCallum) and Nightwing (Sean Maher) while Daddy Bats discovers that Deathstroke is in Gotham putting together an army of Ninja Manbats. Damian, of course, wants to kill to avenge his grandfather’s death, while Batman wants to teach him how to achieve a more responsible brand of justice.

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Son of Batman flies by at a tight 74 minutes, filled with absolutely stunning action scenes designed by Spaulding in a surprisingly bloody and visceral style. It’s an effective if simple story that runs roughshod with DC continuity. While Damian and his story are adapted pretty closely from Morrison’s comic, everything else has been reinvented by screenwriter Joe R. Lansdale. Thankfully Lansdale is no slouch, having served on the 90s Batman Animated Series as well as scripting Bubba Ho-Tep. He’s got a very lurid, punchy, and humorous writing style that defines this feature. Deathstroke is completely reinvented as a spurned student of Ra’s Al Ghul in a way that will irritate fans of the character, but actually serves the story quite well. Essentially, what Lansdale and Spaulding have created is a globe-hopping Ra’s Al Ghul/ninja/Batman adventure tinged with anime touches. Their movie is as entertaining as that description suggests, just obviously not the deepest, psychologically complex, or most meaningful Batman adventure imaginable.

The visuals are solid, the action relentless, and voice cast is strong throughout with one notable exception. While returning players like O’Mara (who previously growled his way through Batman in Justice League: War) fit their roles comfortably, youngster Stuart Allan is a bit of a distraction as Damian. It’s not that the child actor gives a bad performance, as much as his voice doesn’t suit the character. As Morrison conceived character (and Landsdale wrote him for the film), Damian is a pint-sized ninja warrior who is wise beyond his years, cold, and calculated. Allan, on the other hand, is very much an LA child actor who sounds like the only hardship he’s faced is that one time his Xbox died. He nails the snotty, spoiled brat aspect of Damian, but sounds too much like an average kid to communicate the rest of the role.

That slight bit of miscasting sums up the flaws with the movie as a whole. The project’s primary goal is to introduce Damian to the DC animated universe, and while the filmmakers understand Damien’s appeal, they don’t understand the heart of Morrison’s original story. Not only was Batman & Son a throwback Dennis O’Neil-style Bat adventure, it was also a study of how parental responsibility would screw up Batman, using the pint sized assassin as a circus mirror reflecting back all of the Bat’s worst qualities and impulses (not to mention the opening chapter of a multifaceted Bat epic). Son of Batman only picks up on the old school adventure aspect, and pushes that as far as possible, folding in the light anime style that’s been part of these DC movies since Gotham Night and pushing it farther than ever. Granted, the flick is one hell of a ride, it’s just a shame that it simplifies the source material and the central character so much.

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The Blu-ray disc is as solid of a package as we’ve come to expect from the folks in DC’s animation department. The video transfer is vibrant and stunning, the sound mix and score are as rich and pounding as any Hollywood feature. It’s certainly a pretty disc that in no way feels like an assembly line direct-to-DVD cash grab. DC treats these fan service features with class and that’s why the fans are still buying them in big numbers. The special feature section offers plenty to enjoy, just sadly not quite as robust of a collection of features as previous discs. First up comes a fifteen-minute doc about Damian Wayne with Grant Morrison as the star of the show, discussing his impulses in creating the character and the entire arc he wrote for Damian over several years. Next up comes a 10-minute examination of Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Assassins that serves as a fun introduction for any unfamiliar fans. There’s also a quick 10-minute look into the film’s art style, and a 10 minute promo/discussion of DC’s next animated feature Assault On Arkham Asylum, which promises to be both a prequel to the video game series and a Suicide Squad feature (in other words, I can’t f-ing wait).

Finally, there are also four vintage episodes from the DC animation vaults. First up are two Robin-focused episodes of Batman: Brave and The Bold that are darker than average for the surreal Silver Age series (especially one episode involving Damian Wayne and the Joker’s son). But the real gems are a Jonah Hex vs. Ra’s Al Ghul episode of The Batman Animated Series and an absolutely excellent episode of Batman Beyond written by Paul Dini (in which Talia returns and Bruce attends a campy Batman musical that has to be seen to be believed). Overall, it’s a strong package for perfectly entertaining Bat-flick. This isn’t the greatest animated movie that DC has produced, but it’s also far from the worst. The biggest problem is simply that these guys raised the bar for the series so high after The Dark Knight Returns that even something as genuinely enjoyable Son of Batman can’t help but feel like a mild disappointment in comparison. Still, all things considered this is definitely real treat for Batman fans that’s not to be missed. Even if though it’s not a perfect representation of the character, it’s still nice to see Damian Wayne sliding into the animated DCU. Now with any luck we’ll get a movie where Dick Grayson takes over as Batman with the little guy in an adaptation of Morrison’s finest hour with the character. It’s probably not going to happen. But as always, I dare to dream.

 

Batman Incorporated Vol 2: Gotham’s Most Wanted (Comic) Review

Batman Incorporated Vol 2: Gotham’s Most Wanted (Comic) Review

After seven years of brilliantly mind-bending work on the caped crusader, this fall marked the end of Grant Morrison’s Batman run. It was a stunning, trippy journey that I’ve written about in detail on this site before. However, the final piece of the DC’s Batman/Grant Morrison legacy was just released in this last Batman Incorporated trade paperback, collecting the final seven issues of Morrison’s run along with a two non-Morrison issues wrapping up the series (well, it’ll be the end until DC releases the inevitable back breaking Grant Morrison Batman Omnibus anyways). It’s a curious trade to read in isolation as it thrusts viewers into the middle of a climax 7 years in the making and would be damn near impossible for any first time reader to pick up and read with any reaction beyond intense confusion. But let’s face it, this release is for fans, and it was one hell of a satisfying finale to one of the strangest and most epic Batman stories ever told.

Summarizing the plot of everything that came before this finale would be pointless. So, I’m not even going to try, and a full-on SPOILER WARNING (all caps) is in effect. Our story kicks off at the inevitable low point before Batman’s final triumphant victory. Talia Al Ghul has finally revealed herself to be the head of Leviathan and has effectively defeated Batman and his international team of Batmen in one swift attack. All that’s left is the final push. First with the harsh, yet inevitable death of the loathed and loved Damien Wayne, then with Batman’s triumphant manbat juice enhanced final assault and Morrison’s final statement on the character. It’s an emotionally intense and action packed ride weaved together as only Morrison can. All the threads dangling in his epic narrative come to a conclusion, and in the end Morrison happily hands the legendary superhero off to Scott Snyder and others to use as they wish.

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Some folks were let down by this ending to Morrison’s Bat-epic, and it’s easy to see why. Morrison has never been an author fond of spoon-feeding his audience, nor does he tend to conform to current comic book trends. Though the tale is as dark and shadowy as any Gotham City adventure should be, it’s also an acid trip fantasy that reclaims the strangest forgotten aspects of Batman’s career. The goal of Morrison’s run was to incorporate everything from Batman’s long comic book history into a single story. Over the course of seven years, Morrison created a tale that presented a Batman who could have started in Frank Miller’s Year One, but also engaged in all the weirdo science fiction stories of the 50s and the giant prop pop art adventures of the Adam West era. The guy even found a psychologically compelling use of Bat-Mite for Gods sakes! By the time Batman Incorporated came along, the title had a double meaning. Not only did it refer to the name of Batman’s international crime-fighting campaign, but also the nature of the character who was at this point in the story a compilation of every Batman ever created.

So, this narrative is dark and twisted, but also surreal and goofy. Humor, adventure, dread, and despair mix to form a unique Bat-cocktail of Morrison’s making. Aided immeasurably by the exaggerated yet gritty art style of Chris Burnham, it’s a Bat-book that looks like no other. Had Morrison delivered this style of story at the start of his Bat-tenure, it would have felt bizarre and out of place. Coming at the end, it feels somewhat perfect and a fond farewell. The death of Damien is of course a stunning and disturbing moment that echoes the death of Jason Todd’s death in the same way that Morrison echoed countless events in Batman’s past throughout his run. It’s the emotional peak of this collection, followed by an action-centric assault on Talia that wraps up all the narrative loose ends and a glorious final issue that offers Morrison’s final statement on everyone’s favorite rodent-loving vigilante. In the end, comics scholar Grant Morrison didn’t deliver a grandiose statement on the nature of Batman like no one had seen before, but instead dedicated his final issue to the ephemeral and legendary nature of the character. His final statement was essentially that there is no final statement to be made. Batman is bigger than any single writer. He is a cultural icon that will continue as long as comic books exist and is all the more powerful for it. Some readers found this ending disappointing and I can see why. However, it’s ultimately the only possible ending for Morrison’s ultimate Batman tale. His point from the start was to incorporate all of Batman’s history into a single story, and so it’s only fitting that he end it all with a passing of the torch (including a couple direct references to Scott Snyder’s current Zero Year run) so that his tale can include all future iterations of Batman as well. It’s simple, yet complex and all Morrison.

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The trade also includes two additional Batman Incorporated issues. One about the Japanese Batman written by artist Chris Burnham to give him more time to draw the final issues, and the Batman Incorporated annual featuring short stories dedicated to all the Batman-style side characters Morrison created (yes, including Bat-Cow… and it’s the best story of the bunch). Ultimately, these stories are afterthoughts that prove there’s no need for the characters’ adventures to continue without the guiding hand of Morrison. The author created all the international Batmen as thought experiments to explore aspects of Batman as part of his overall examination of the superhero. The characters were never meant to stand on their own, and while there is certainly fun to be had in these side stories, they ultimately prove that DC made the right decision to cancel the series after Morrison’s departure. It’s nice that these issues were included for the sake comic book completists (of which there are many). However, you’ll buy this book to wrap up Morrison’s overall Batman narrative, not out of Batman Inc fandom. It’s certainly a must-own for any true Bat- aficionado, but only those who have read and/or collected Morrison’s complete run up to this point. If you haven’t sampled Morrison’s Batman run yet, I can’t recommend it enough, and I’m deeply jealous that you get to experience it for the first time. For me, the journey is officially over. Sniff, Sniff… it’s tough. Morrison, we’ll miss you in the Batcave, but look forward to whatever mind-bending comic book adventures you plan to take us on next.