It’s been a long time since Bruce Timm graced us with some DC animation. After creating the iconic Batman: The Animated Series in the 90s, Timm essentially curated his own pocket version of the DC universe through a variety of animated series, then founded the brilliant DTV DC Animated movies that adapted classic comic storylines. Without a doubt, Timm was responsible for guiding an entire generation into DC lore and he left with a bang by delivering his dream adaptation of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns into one hell of an animated feature. After a well-deserved break, Timm has made a long-awaited return to the DC animated films he created and has delivered what is easily the best DC animated film since he left. It’s a bizarre little Elseworld tale that is clearly the result of Timm having total freedom to do whatever the hell he wanted in the DC sandbox. Welcome back buddy.
So, this is essentially a Justice League movie, but not like anything you’ve seen before. In Timm’s new version, Superman is actually the son of Zod (he killed Jor-El and created his own child with Superman’s mamma right before Krypton went kablooey), Batman is actually Kirk Langstrom/Man-Bat/a vampire, and Wonder Woman is actually Princess Bekka from New Gods mythology. So, those are some pretty different personalities for the big three of the DC Universe and on top of that, they are also far from beloved saviours. Superman and Wonder Woman are very much as interested in controlling the world as much as they are in protecting it, while Batman has that unfortunate bloodsucking habit—though to be fair, he tries to keep it to his villains. Across the board, they are a pretty clever inversion of familiar icons, and Timm—along with his co-writer from the ol’ BtAS days, Alan Burnett—uses that open world to deliver their finest work in the DCU in many a moon.
The clever script gradually doles out these new origin stories throughout the first act, opening with the Krypton switcheroo and then sliding in Batman and Wonder Woman’s origins as the main narrative develops. In this universe, Lex Luthor is a Stephen Hawking-esque genius scientist whose fear of the Justice League’s power makes him a figure of good. The media—led by Lois Lane—worries about the superhero team-up turning into a terrorist group, and justifiably so. Meanwhile, Batman’s vampiric origin plays out as an attempt to cure a terminal illness with his old buddies proving to be perhaps more than they seem. If Gods And Monsters has a weakness, then it’s in the ultimate villain reveal, which is an inverse/reference to ancient DC characters that’ll feel confusing to all but the geekiest of comic book nerds. Still, it works, and the ways in which Timm and Burnett gradually make their protagonists accept their natural role as heroes feels earned and intriguing. By the time the story ends, you’ll wish that this universe could be spun off into its own series, and there’s a certainly a chance that might happen.
The voice cast is universally well-chosen, with Benjamin Bratt proving to be an unexpectedly brilliant choice to play a morally ambivalent Superman, Michael C. Hall bringing some well-earned Dexter ambiguity to his vampire Batman, Tamara Taylor serving up Wonder Woman’s typical strength with a little stank, and Jason Isaacs bringing just the right sliver of malice to his mysterious Luthor. The animation is top notch, featuring Timm’s patented old angular designs and proving that that aesthetic just doesn’t age. Directing duties fell to Sam Liu, who previously helmed the animated adaptations of Batman: Year One and All-Star Superman. His action scenes are frantic and visceral, laced with the splashes of blood that have become standard in these DTV DC features, yet the heightened violence, thankfully, never feels adolescently excessive like in some of the weaker DC animated titles. In fact, it suits this dark and twisted vision of the DCU quite well. Even upon first viewing, Gods And Monsters feels like it has the potential to become a cult favourite amongst the impressive legacy of DC animation.
Unsurprisingly, the flick looks and sounds amazing on Blu-ray. The folks in Warner Brothers’ DC animation wing long ago established themselves as capable of delivering animated epics that can live up to the live-action theatrical DC releases, and this is no exception. The animation is beautiful in its deliberately simple style, while the soundmix and score pound out of speakers like a genuine blockbuster, delivering some major thrills in the process. The special feature section is also quite satisfying, kicking off with a fantastic 25-minute documentary about the film, in which even the typically tight-lipped Bruce Timm seems enthusiastic to discuss his unique vision for the project. The movie was a genuine labour of love for everyone involved (including DC big boy Geoff Johns who helped hammer out the script without credit), and hopefully they’ll be able to continue this strange universe in some form or another. Next up comes a pair of 20-minute documentaries about Elseworld stories and New Gods, filled with contributions from legendary DC writers and editors alike. As usual, the docs are both a great primer for newcomers unfamiliar with those slices of comic book history, and a satisfying geek-out for the fanboys ‘n’ girls. Finally, there’s a trailer for the next Batman/Damien animated movie (god-willing, the last one), and a pair of episodes of Legion Of Superheroes and Superman: The Animated Series that are loosely connected to the main feature.
Overall, it’s another great package from the DC Animated team and also one of their best features, provided that you don’t mind radical re-interpretations of classic characters. Hopefully this won’t be Bruce Timm’s final DC animated feature, because Gods And Monsters is one of the best things he’s done in years. With a little luck, he just might be the one in charge of the upcoming Killing Joke movie, making it a grand farewell to Batman: The Animated Series, complete with the original voice actors and art style. Sure, that’s likely little more that a nerdy wet dream, but in an age in which there is little difference between Comic Con culture and mainstream entertainment, anything is possible.