Book Review – Titans vol. 4: Titans Apart

  • Title: Titans vol. 4: Titans Apart
  • Author: Dan Abnett
  • Artists: Paul Pelletier, Tom Grummett, Tom Derenick, Andrew Hennessy, Cam Smith, Mick Gray, Trevor Scott, Adriano Lucas, Josh Reed, Carlos M. Mangual, Travis Lanham
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: Titans, Wally West, Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Wonder Girl (Donna Troy), Arsenal (Roy Harper), the Justice League
  • Publication Date: 2018
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/31/2019

**Spoiler Alert** Titans vol. 4 Titans Apart picks up where the previous volume left off. After the near disasters of the previous volume, the Justice League arrives at Titans Tower and grounds the team, telling them they are no longer operational. Everyone goes their separate ways. Donna is taken to the Watchtower satellite and placed under house arrest. Wally moves into a new apartment and gets some help from Dick Grayson with his move. Only Roy Harper, Arsenal, ignores the order to stand down, launching a one-man war on drugs, especially a new designer street drug called Bliss.

Roy goes after the drug dealers, suppliers, and labs – and runs into his old girlfriend, Cheshire. She saves his rear during a firefight and explains she’s working for a consortium of families who lost love ones to drugs. Together Cheshire and Roy take down an Intergang distribution site and lab that is producing a knockoff of Bliss and even find a sample of the original drug. Heading to Roy’s apartment, they celebrate with some pizza and then sleep together.

Roy had also been in contact with Donna by phone since she’s under guard in the Watchtower. But when Cheshire shows up, Roy gently tells Donna he thinks it isn’t good for her to continue to be in contact with him. This has more to do with Roy hanging out with his ex-girlfriend, Cheshire, than his sudden disinterest in Donna. Donna, unfortunately, thinks that Roy might have slipped back into his drug addict ways while trying to take down dealers.

Roy wakes up, to find Cheshire and the sample gone – and realizes he’s been dosed with Bliss. Roy also realizes there is something far more dangerous going on than a new street drug. Unfortunately, when he calls Donna, she is more convinced than ever that he’s, well, taking drugs. Donna, to her credit, tells Batman and Wonder Woman what Roy told her, but of course, they don’t believe her and Batman even insists he’s done a sweep with Watchtower equipment and found nothing.

Meanwhile, we find out Mallus, the intelligent gorilla and Brain – the hyperintelligent brain in a jar, are behind Bliss. The drug forms a gestalt or cloud mind that Brain taps into to raise his intelligence even more. Brain wants to ascend, so he won’t be dependent on his life support unit. Mallus (the French hyper-intelligent gorilla) cares for Brain and tries to help him through the pain.

As Brain grows ever more intelligent, he also figures out how to control the weather and sends storms and disasters all over the world. The Justice League responds, but the storms are traps keyed to each member of the League and meant to destroy them. Donna t first tries to convince Batman that the storms prove Roy was right. When Batman insists the storms are random, Donna leaves the Watchtower. Brain then organizes an electronic break-in of the Watchtower systems and an attack on Batman.

Dick and Wally are initially sent by Batman to bring Roy in to get him help. However, especially once Donna arrives, the other three Titans realize Roy was right in the first place. They storm the hideout belonging to Mallus and Brain. All the time, Brain is getting more and more intelligent and seems to be attaching himself from Mallus, his caregiver and friend.

The four Titans fight Brain’s robot defenders, successfully. But when they are attacked again, they have more trouble getting through the fight. They run into Mallus and convince him to help them to save Brain. Mallus, with help from the Teen Titans, is able to defeat Brain, who goes back to his normal hyper-intelligent self. When the Justice League arrive, again, the Titans point out that, first of all, Roy was right, there was a major threat brewing, and secondly the Titans handled it just fine without their mentors and they deserve to be back on active duty.

I liked this issue of Titans. It’s really about young adults coming out from underneath their “parents” (mentors) shadows. And it’s Roy, who doesn’t have a mentor any more, who ends up pushing the others to independence and to insisting that their famous parents treat them as adults. Also, despite the “Titans Apart” title, this book is really about the Titans coming together as friends first, and as a team second, and I liked that very much. Titans vol. 4 Titans Apart is a very enjoyable read and I highly recommend it.

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Batman and Harley Quinn

  • Title: Batman and Harley Quinn
  • Director: Sam Liu
  • Date:  2017
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Comedy, Fantasy
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, Loren Lester, Melissa Rauch, Paget Brewster, Kevin Michael Richardson, John DiMaggio, Robin Atkin Downes, Rob Paulsen
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“Nuh-uh, I’m done with capes and tights and masks.” – Harley Quinn

“I’m not saying I don’t want to, ’cause that could be nice. All sorts of wrong, but nice.” – Nightwing

“Like you’ve never made out with a super-villain.” – Nightwing, under his breath to Batman

I really enjoyed this animated movie, in part because it is very humorous. It’s funny and makes for a nice break from the more serious animated and live action Batman films. This also seems to be set in the Batman: The Animated Series universe bringing back Kevin Conroy as Batman, Loren Lester as Nightwing, and with Melissa Rauch doing a good version of Arleen Sorkin’s Harley (additionally she’s in her B: TAS costume).

The story opens with a break-in at Star Labs, Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man are attempting to steal some information. Ivy downloads a file about Dr. Alec Holland. Batman investigates later and discovers the theft of information. He sends Nightwing to find Harley Quinn, hoping she will lead them to Poison Ivy. Batman notes that Harley went off the grid after being released on parole and that it’s rumored she “went straight”. Meanwhile, Batman heads to ARGUS where he finds out that a scientist who’s an expert in bio-weapons has disappeared.

Nightwing finds Harley at “Super Babes” a Hooters-style restaurant with the waitresses in skimpy superheroine and female supervillain inspired uniforms. They serve superhero or villain inspired food as well. When a customer grabs Harley’s butt, she smacks him down, hard. When he complains that “the broad broke my frickin’ arm”, the manager points to a sign that says: “Look all you want but don’t touch”. Nightwing then follows Harley home. He tries to convince her to help, but Harley fights him and fights well. She finally knocks him out with “low-grade Joker venom”.

Nightwing wakes tied to Harley’s bed. When Nightwing wonders why she’s working at Superbabes, Harley points out she can’t get a job as a therapist or anything else because of her nefarious history. Harley puts the moves on Nightwing. Later the two are caught by Batman.

Batman explains in the Batmobile to Harley and Nightwing that Ivy and the Floronic Man are working together to turn all people to hybrid plant/animal people. He tells them about the kidnapped scientist. After a chase scene where Harley goes after Bobby Liebowitz who made her mother cry, where Batman stops Harley from beating him too badly, Harley returns to the Batmobile to help out. She has them take the expressway towards Blüdhaven. They arrive at the henchmen’s club. Harley talks to Shruby then tells Batman she has to do something. She then goes to the stage and belts out Blondie’s “Hanging on the Telephone” to thunderous applause. During her number a Cat Man does the Batusi behind Batman’s back, Batman knocks him out with one distracted punch. Nightwing dances with one of the many women in the club. Harley drops the mic after her number. The room erupts in applause. Harley gets the information from Shruby and tells Batman and Nightwing. It looks like the henchmen won’t let them leave but in a shot from outside we see words briefly describing the fight, then Batman, Nightwing, and Harley in the Batmobile again.

The Batphone rings in the car, it’s Booster Gold who explains the heavy hitters are busy and most of the rest of the heroes are “at that Christening at Aquaman’s place” but Booster could send some truly C-list heroes. Batman and Nightwing tell him they’ll handle it and then fake the call dropping, which Booster notices.

Batman, Nightwing, and Harley make it to the place where Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man are holding the scientist hostage. Ivy is using her pheromones to control the scientist. There’s a fight, and then a fire breaks out. Nightwing and Batman barely survive the fire and find Harley with the scientist. He’s dying, and Harley is comforting him. He tells them that Ivy and the Floronic Man were heading to Louisiana because they need the exact water that created Swamp Thing for their plans.

The Floronic Man has Ivy eat a tuber that came from Swamp Thing – this connects them to The Green and they are able to travel to Louisiana via the Green. Meanwhile, Batman wants to leave Harley and only take Nightwing with him to Louisiana. Harley flips out but convinces them they need her. The three take the Batwing to Louisiana. There, they are joined by troops of some kind.

Harley does “betray” Batman, knocking him off a short tree bridge into the water. But she goes to Poison Ivy and tries to talk her out of her plan. Harley then releases Nightwing and Batman who have been tied up. Batman and Nightwing fight the Floronic Man while Harley fights Poison Ivy. This doesn’t go well. Finally, Harley goes to Ivy and tells her she’s going to use the “nuclear option”, she takes off her mask and makeup – and cries. Ivy is convinced. But the Floronic Man grabs the formula that Ivy has perfected. The Floronic Man and Poison Ivy fight each other. Floronic Man knocks out Ivy, but just as he’s about to release the formula – Swamp Thing arrives with quite a flourish. He simply threatens the Floronic Man telling him he’s endangering the balance of The Green, then he disappears. As Harley says, “That was a whole lot of nothing”.

Batman, Nightwing, Ivy, and several troops are still wondering what to do – when Harley asks for a match. The end credits include a scene of the Floronic Man with his bottom on fire.

I really enjoyed this movie. It’s lots of fun. There is a lot of visual humor – such as the scene at Super Babes and all the henchmen hanging out at the nightclub where Harley takes Batman and Nightwing. I also really liked how Harley is treated in this story. She is attempting to “go straight”. Because of her record, she can’t get a real job despite her psychiatrist training. Yet throughout the film, Harley is actually helping. We even see her treating the scientist with compassion when he’s dying. And when she does “betray” Batman it’s more because she wants to give her friend Ivy a chance to change her mind about her horrible plan, which could destroy all life on Earth if it went wrong. Harley’s performance at the club is also great. Yes, it’s “sexy” but she’s in complete control of her sexiness and clearly enjoying it. The movie also shows and has her talk about to Nightwing, how much she doesn’t enjoy being ogled, pinched, slapped, and goosed at Super Babes. Overall, it’s a fun film and I enjoyed it. Recommended.

Recommendation: See it, especially if you are a fan of lighter Batman.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Book Review – Titans vol. 3: A Judas Among Us

  • Title: Titans vol. 3: A Judas Among Us
  • Author: Dan Abnett
  • Artists: Brett Booth, Kenneth Rocafort, V Ken Marion, Minkyu Jung, Norm Rapmund, Mick Gray, Andrew Dalhouse, Dan Brown, Blond, Josh Reed, Travis Lanham
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: Titans, Wally West, Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Wonder Girl (Donna Troy), Tempest (Garth), Omen (Lilith), Arsenal (Roy Harper), Bumblebee (Karen Duncan)
  • Publication Date: 2018
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/04/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Titans vol. 3: A Judas Among Us picks up where volume 2 left off. Omen is at a prison, interviewing Psimon. Psimon “reads” Omen and insists the Titans are falling apart thanks to jealousies and other “teen” problems. Psimon also tells Omen that something dark is coming and she’s the one responsible for it, she’ll bring total destruction. But Omen turns the tables and pulls out the information she needs – the location of Bumblebee’s stolen engram (memories). Psimon is shocked that Omen is a stronger psychic than himself and that she was able to project what she wanted to him.

The Titans organize an attack on an H.I.V.E. stronghold in Delaware, but the engrams have been moved and they are attacked by Endgame – an H.I.V.E. scientist and soldier who has the power to add superpowers at will, the powers stolen by Meta Solutions. After a big fight, the Titans defeat Endgame, but they are unable to find Bumblebee’s engram.

After their failure to help Bumblebee get her memories back, the Titans realize there is a traitor in their midst. Nightwing, however, has some tech that will scan each of them for subconscious or conscious spying that he got from Spyral. The catch is it will take two days to scan everyone and get the results. There’s a certain amount of mistrust – but everyone agrees. Mal Duncan, Bumblebee’s husband, meanwhile looks up an old friend to try and find his wife’s engram. And while everyone is waiting, Omen sees Psimon a second time. Yet again he insists she’s an omen of destruction.

When the results come back – they are shocking, the traitor is … Dick Grayson. But it turns out that Gizmo put some spyware on Nightwing’s uniform suit, which he tracked back to Titan’s Tower, which is how H.I.V.E. knew they were coming. Dick is able to ping back the signal to track it. But this doesn’t stop the Titans from revealing a lot of secrets about just who is falling in love with who.

The Titans set off again. Nightwing is “killed” but Wally rewinds time to save his friend. Wally, who has been having heart trouble since the Lazarus Contract affair, then is killed in the fight, or so everyone thinks. Mal and his friend, Gnarrk have been taken over by Psimon, the Key, and Twister – the stress, and the Flash’s death result in an alternate dimensional doorway being opened. The deadly being that steps through isn’t Omen, though – it’s “Troia” a future, evil version of Donna Troy. The Titans try to fight her off. Donna goes through a crisis of faith, so to speak. She keeps arguing with herself (literally) but doesn’t want to accept that this evil Amazon-killer is herself. Fortunately, the other Wally West, Kid Flash, shows up. Wally had felt a disturbance in the force, Speed Force, that is, when Wally (Flash) died. But Kid Flash can tell Wally isn’t completely dead, just stuck in the Speed Force. Kid Flash zaps him and Wally recovers. This boosts the team spirit of the Titans. When Psimon tries to overcome Bumblebee by returning her memories, it has the opposite effect. Bumblebee remembers who she is, she remembers Mal, and she remembers her child – so she’s able to break the psychic hold over Mal and he tries to fight on the Titans side, despite having no powers. Donna Troy fights Troia and sends her back through the dimensional gateway, and the Titans are all OK. The Titans also re-capture Psimon, the Key, and Twister.

Although I liked that this volume of Titans focuses on team dynamics, the “one of us is a traitor” trope is one of my least favorite because of course, it’s going to turn out the “traitor” isn’t really a traitor. This volume also includes the “teammate is dead, nope he’s alive, nevermind” trope which drives me nuts. If you’re going to have someone die in comics – have it mean something. Everyone does react to Wally’s “death” – it’s what causes Donna to actually listen to Troia, but it’s also painfully obvious it isn’t a real “death”. There have been real deaths in comics or at least deaths that lasted a long time before a new generation of writers brought the character back (Jason Todd and Hal Jordan come to mind) so it can be done, but when someone is dead for five minutes and then quickly “gets better” it’s meaningless.

Most of this book is fight scenes. They are well-choreographed, and Donna’s verbal arguments with herself are well done. But I prefer a bit more characterization and character interaction.

Still, with all that, Titans offers up a solid story, interesting characters, and good character interaction. I recommend this series and this volume in particular.

Book Review – Titans vol. 2: Made in Manhattan

  • Title: Titans vol. 2: Made in Manhattan
  • Author: Dan Abnett and James Asmus
  • Artists: Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, Minkyu Jung, Lee Weeks, Reilly Brown, Scott Hanna, Andrew Dalhouse, Adriano Lucas, John Kalisz, Tony Aviña, Carlos M. Mangual, Corey Breen, Josh Reed
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: Titans, Wally West, Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Wonder Girl (Donna Troy), Tempest (Garth), Omen (Lilith), Arsenal (Roy Harper), Bumblebee (Karen Duncan)
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 09/23/2018

Volume 2 of Titans in DC Comics’ Rebirth continuity starts off in the middle of a fight scene. The Titans (Nightwing, The Flash (Wally West), Donna Troy, Omen (Lilith), Arsenal) are fighting a big guy determined to tear-up New York and disagreeing with each other about how to do it. However, Arsenal manages to trip him up, without destroying any buildings, though a couple of parked cars are flattened (to Wally’s chagrin). Superman arrives but the Titans have taken care of everything. Superman lets slip that it’s “good to see Wally again” then runs off.

Wally runs after him. Superman and Wally talk, and it turns out that Superman also remembers the pre-Crisis / pre-Flashpoint universe that Wally comes from. He encourages Wally to fight for his old girlfriend, Linda Park, who currently doesn’t even remember him.

Meanwhile, Bumblebee (Karen Duncan) and Mal Duncan head to Meta solutions to find out more about Bumblebee’s new powers. Meta Solutions promises to remove unwanted meta powers and to help metas train to learn how to control their powers if they want to keep them. While Karen talks to Psimon (who claims he is now reformed) Mal waits in the waiting room. When Mal sees Mammoth arrive he has a panic attack. Omen (Lilith) recognizes his panic and the Teen Titans arrive. Psimon had Karen try on a suit (costume) to measure her powers and control them. Karen loves her new Bumblebee suit and powers. When the Titans arrive they run into the Fearsome Five – who claim they are “good guys now”, having given up their powers and in the case of Psimon dedicating himself to helping others, especially other new metahumans.

Later, Wally tells Nightwing that the man they fought earlier who had Mammoth’s powers, previously had no priors and no metahuman powers. They discover a black market in superpowers – superpowers that Meta Solutions is siphoning from other metahumans.

Returning to Meta Solutions, the Titans confront the “former” Fearsome Five – only to discover they were lying about giving up their powers. There’s a big fight, but Bumblebee arrives in her costume and in control of her powers and rescues everyone. Karen is disappointed to learn though that her husband gave up his powers.

In a special holiday issue, Arsenal invites the Titans to Times Square for the New Year’s Eve ball drop – but they end up fighting a pair of metas instead. They manage to get the two thieves to drive their car into the harbor where they are rounded-up by Tempest. Arsenal explains that New Year’s is special to him because having struggled with addiction (he was a heroin addict) he now sees each new year as a new beginning and a chance to further improve his life. The Titans then realize how important it was to Roy to spend time with them on a day that he considers special in a personal way.

In Titans Legacy – four Titans and their four mentors find themselves stuck in a box together. Nightwing, Batman, Donna, Wonder Woman, Wally, The Flash (Barry Allen), Tempest, and Aquaman are actually at first suspicious – wondering if someone is a ringer. They then realize they need to work together to discover how they ended up in the box, who locked them up, and how to get out. Wonder Woman is especially cold towards Donna. A couple of challenges are thrown into the box to fight our heroes and keep them busy, first Metallo (who is a copy and not the original) and then a group of Parademons (also projections). But throughout these fights, and Batman trying to figure a way out, Wonder Woman and Donna are having issues. When Batman scans everyone, Donna doesn’t register as human. Wonder Woman explains Donna was made from clay, brought to life, and given false memories and history. Donna is completely broken by this revelation. She’s so hurt, despite Diana’s apologies, her mental anguish reaches Omen who is able to call in rescue troops, including the Justice League. They discover the Key was behind the abductions but he escapes into a metaphysical door.

This was a very fast read, with enjoyable characters and a good team. I like Nightwing, Flash (Wally) and Arsenal together – they are good friends and work together. Omen and Donna are new to me but their characterizations were clear and it easy to see how they fit. I also liked Tempest. I recommend this series.

Also, read my review of Titans vol. 1: The Return of Wally West.

DC Rebirth – A Review

I started reading DC Comics in the late 1980s-early 1990s. I had just seen Tim Burton’s Batman and loved it, and when I was away at college I would walk every week to 25th Century Five and Dime in downtown Bloomington Indiana to buy my weekly stash. But after college, I moved to a town without a good comics store. The Internet meant e-mail and posting boards (not to mention dial-up) and there was no Amazon or other on-line shopping. For a while I bought comics from catalogs, but it got expensive, and I fell away from the habit.

Warner Brothers Animation’s excellent DC Comics series (Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Batman the Animated Series, Batman Beyond which is the order I saw them in, and various movies), the fantastic Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, and Amazon brought me back to reading comics – or at least graphic novels. When New 52 started I was so excited. I tried several graphic novels from Amazon, but I just couldn’t get it New 52. The characters seemed all the same. There was a negativity to the stories. I just did not like New 52. And I was disappointed. My graphic novel “itch” was satisfied by the occasional classic (or reprint – Nightwing and Birds of Prey, both by Chuck Dixon were and are favorites of mine).

This Summer has been the Summer of Rebirth and I love it. I also love that I have a small, independent comics store I go to – with a knowledgeable, chatty, and largely female staff. And I love Rebirth. This is my DC. Rebirth sweeps away the dark, stark, yet everyone is the same quality that New 52 had. Rebirth gives us diversity in how the characters behave, and hopefully will bring back more diverse characters (the mid-to-late 1980s were a very diverse time at DC with many African American characters and a lot of women) – Rebirth has already given us a Muslim Green Lantern and his partner a female Green Lantern. One can hope that the few diverse characters introduced during New 52 (Cyborg (already a keeper in the New Justice League), Kate Kane the Batwoman, Bat-Wing, the new Dr. Fate etc.) will stick around. But the story and writing in the new books is simply a joy to read – these are the characters, and even situations, I love.

Two weeks ago I read Nightwing Rebirth – grown-up Dick Grayson has always been one of my favorite characters in Batman’s world (I also love Alfred and Oracle). I’m a fan of the Chuck Dixon Nightwing series (if someone can still be a fan of a comics series from the 1990s). I picked up my comics that week, then went to meet some people at the movie theater to see Ghostbusters (which was AWESOME but that’s another post), I was too late to go home, but too early to want to stand around in the multiplex lobby. I headed over to the local Starbucks that ended-up having a huge line. Deciding to skip the green iced tea I normally get there, I headed to a table, carefully opened Nightwing Rebirth and started to read. And two tables away from me another woman was also carefully opening her new comics, and starting to read. By the end of the book I was grinning like an idiot. This was my Nightwing, my DC. Back in his black and blue costume, Dick looked fantastic – and, well, like Dick Grayson – not in the red and black costume that made him look like Terry McGinnis from Batman Beyond. I love Batman Beyond, which is why giving Terry’s costume to Dick both made no sense and was disrespectful of both characters. And as to Dick’s years as a secret agent – really? He’s an acrobat with no family (bar Bruce, Alfred & company of course), not James Bond. But after reading Nightwing Rebirth I was just grinning – I loved it. Detective Comics is continuing the “Batman Family” idea – with several female heroes. Justice League and Green Lantern are starting arcs that will probably be long and weave through the other titles – which is as it should be, but means it will be a while before the storyline can be judged fairly. I’m reading Wonder Woman – which is running two plots that publish every other week (Week A is “The Lies” and Week B is “Wonder Woman Year One”). First issue of Birds of Prey I also loved, but it would take some effort to mess-up that series – I’ve liked every version of it I’ve found including the television series and New 52 (though I prefer the Chuck Dixon version the best).

If you’ve been thinking of trying out DC Comics Rebirth but have been hesitant, I can honestly say that I highly recommend it.

Batman Under the Red Hood

  • Title: Batman Under the Red Hood
  • Director: Brandon Vietti
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2010
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Mystery, Animation
  • Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, Gary Cole, Jason Isaacs
  • Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Could you just once say – ‘Let’s get in the car’, Is that so hard?” — Nightwing, as he finds himself talking to thin air

You really think I would stir up so much trouble and not make sure you knew it was me?” — Joker

Under the Red Hood is a major departure from previous WB Animation Batman films. Where those films (Mystery of the Batwoman, Subzero, and Mask of the Phantasm) felt like longer episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, this film is cinematic, full of action, and also tragic. In short, it feels like a film. It’s also very grounded in Batman graphic novels published by DC Comics, especially A Death in the Family and Under the Hood (Also collected as Under the Red Hood). And this film is violent. People die. Granted, most are criminals, but still – not for the under 15 set. This is a film for adults, which, again, is more in the same tone as the more adult Batman graphic novels.

The film opens with a scene from the end of my favorite Batman graphic novel, A Death in the Family, Joker beating Jason Todd/Robin nearly to death with a crowbar and then blowing him sky-high. Batman arrives, but too late to save Robin. The shot of Batman, standing in the rain, holding Jason’s dead body is nearly as effective as the still in the novel – where Batman is kneeling clutching Jason and has his head bowed. Jason’s death would haunt Bruce nearly as much as his parents’ death.

DeathofRobin1

The film then moves forward five years. Batman is out on patrol and ends up fighting Amazo (a killer android), Nightwing arrives and the two work together flawlessly. Nightwing (aka Dick Greyson), voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, I really liked. And I actually thought the re-casting worked. I preferred him to Loren Lester who had voiced Dick/Robin/Nightwing in Batman: The Animated Series. But what Batman discovers is that two new players are at work in Gotham:  Black Mask and the Red Hood. Black Mask is a gangster, similar to what we’ve seen before in Gotham City, but grotesquely disfigured with a skeletal black head. Red Hood is both attacking, and killing, criminals in Gotham, and taking a percentage of their take. Batman, at first with Nightwing’s help, goes after Red Hood. Since Red Hood was once upon a time an alias of the Joker, they pursue a lead to Arkham Asylum, checking in on the straight-jacket restrained Joker. But, Joker has been held tight, and even more convincingly, says he wouldn’t keep it a secret if he was causing chaos in Gotham.

After their first confrontation with Red Hood, Batman and Nightwing, now suffering a broken ankle, are in the Cave with Alfred (who’s bandaging said ankle) going through Batman’s video and audio recordings of the fight. Nightwing notes that Red Hood isn’t just some hood or gangster – he’s trained. Batman points out that even the ability to have knives that can cut his lines is unheard of. However, Batman also sends Nightwing away, asking Alfred to bring Dick home. In part, because Bruce still sees a need to protect Dick.

Once Dick is gone, Bruce reviews the audio, and thinks he hears the Red Hood call him “Bruce”. Only a handful of people know that Batman is Bruce Wayne. After another confrontation with the Red Hood, Bruce is able to get a blood sample for analysis. He’s running the sample through the computers in the cave, running a comparison. The results come back just as Alfred walks in. The result: a match between Red Hood and Jason Todd, startles the normally unflappable butler so much he drops the coffee service he’s carrying. But he also, immediately, tries to console Bruce, while trying to figure out what’s happened. Together, they dig up Jason’s grave. Bruce realizes he’s buried a latex dummy. Alfred tries to comfort Bruce, reminds him how distraught he was, but Bruce is angry with himself and insists he should have realized.

Bruce flies off to the middle of nowhere and confronts Ra’s al Ghul. Ghul explains exactly what happened. During a confrontation between himself and Batman five years before, in desperation, he had hired the Joker to provide a distraction. But, he hadn’t counted on the Joker’s madness or savagery. Ra’s, in short, actually felt bad about Jason’s death.  He arranges the switcharoo with the bodies and takes Jason’s body to a Lazarus pit. But, the resurrected Jason is quite literally, quite mad.

After he’s discovered the truth, Batman heads back to Gotham in his jet. Alfred talks to him over the video link.

“Sir, please take this to heart. Who Jason was before, how we lost him, and this dark miracle or curse that has brought about his return, it is not your fault.” — Alfred

“Then I got him killed. My partner. My soldier. My fault. I own that. I’ll carry that like everything else.” —Batman

The conversation is filled with everything I love about Bruce and Alfred’s relationship and nearly brought me to tears. Alfred cares so much for Bruce, the man he sees as a son. Bruce, however, can’t really accept that caring in any way. (He has the same problem accepting how Dick feels about him). And Bruce is, oh, so ready to take the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Brilliant writing.

The conversation is cut short, however, by Alfred’s discovery on the news that Joker is causing trouble. Batman needs to rush to the scene. Red Hood shows up where Joker is (who’s taken all of Gotham’s criminals who work for Red Hood hostage) and reveals everything was a plan to get an audience between himself and Joker. Joker scoffs but is then impressed. Then he’s on the run for his life. (Imagine — someone scarier than Joker chasing the Joker. And in this film, it works.) Red Hood catches the Joker, takes him to a room, and starts to beat the crap out of him with a crowbar — using the exact same taunting words Joker had used five years ago. Formerly confused as who Red Hood was, now Joker gets it, and still manages to insult Jason.

Batman does arrive and tries to stop Jason. In the fight, Jason tears off the cowl then removes his own red helmet. (He does return the cowl to Bruce) He leads Batman to Joker. Their conversation, again, is heartbreaking. Bruce tries to apologize and tries to make things right, but it doesn’t work. Finally, Jason tells a startled Bruce that he forgave him for dying (that is for Jason’s death). But he doesn’t forgive him for not killing the Joker. Batman tries to explain that he has thought about it, but that’s a dark pit he’d never crawl out of. Jason continues with — “I’m not talking about Penguin, or Scarecrow, or Dent — just him!” But Batman is adamant – he will not kill. So, Jason gives him a choice — kill the Joker or kill Jason (as he puts a gun to Joker’s head). Batman turns slowly walks away, then after Jason’s fired at him, he ducks the bullet as he turns back and throws a Batarang into Jason’s gun, which explodes and so does the room, with charges that Jason has set. Batman isn’t able to get everyone out safely.

This is a dark, violent story. But vintage Batman. Well, new Batman, to be precise. It’s an excellent, excellent movie, dealing with dark themes. The voice actors are good, especially Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing and Jensen Ackles as Jason Todd/Red Hood. I was very disappointed that Kevin Conroy, who was so excellent as Batman, and in many ways is my favorite Batman actor, (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and old Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond, plus various DCAU movies) is re-cast with Bruce Greenwood. However, Greenwood does do a good job. And oddly enough, Batman, Alfred, and Joker, all sound very much like their counterparts in the Warner Brothers live-action movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

But, I also cannot stress enough just how good this film was. It’s cinematic, it’s shot or filmed like a film — with some really great shots (the close-up of Robin’s eye as he realizes the Joker’s rigged the place in Sarajevo to explode; Batman holding Jason’s broken body, etc). I also loved how flashbacks were introduced with ghost images that then became solid. The storyline is great and based in the books (always a plus for any filmed version of Batman). And, Warner’s has gotten away from the “no one can really die” code that makes it’s animated television shows occasionally resemble The A-Team (the original TV series, not the movie).

Recommendation: See it! Buy it! Appropriate for children over 15 and adults.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars