Justice League Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: Justice League
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes: 26 (13 stories)
  • Discs: 2
  • Network: Cartoon Network
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, George Newbern, Susan Eisenberg, Carl Lumbly, Phil LaMarr, Michael Rosenbaum, Maria Canals-Barrera (Credited as Maria Canals)
  • DVD: Widescreen, Blu-Ray (R1, NTSC)

The second season of the animated Justice League series is bigger and the stakes are higher. Again, most stories are two parts, except the Holiday episode, “Comfort and Joy” and the three-part season finale “Starcrossed”. The season opens with Orion attacking and defeating one of Darkseid’s attacks, but as Darkseid recovers, he’s attacked by Brainiac – Darkseid convinces the Justice League to help him. They work with Highfather to stop Brainiac’s attack, but it puts New Genesis in danger.

In “Only a Dream”, Doctor Destiny traps most of the Justice League in nightmares, but insomniac Batman is able to defeat Doctor Destiny.

In “Maid of Honor” Wonder Woman befriends the party girl princess of Kasnia. Despite at first complaining about the princess’s lack of responsibility, the two bond and have fun. The princess confesses she doesn’t even want to marry her fiancé but she must as part of her duty. When her father has a sudden “stroke” the marriage is moved up. Diana is shocked that the Kasnian princess’s new husband is Vandal Savage. The Justice League ends up interfering when Savage threatens the world with an orbiting rail gun satellite.

This season features an episode with the Justice Lords – an alternate Earth Justice League that became world dictators after the death of their Flash. The fight scenes in the second part are particularly good because our Justice League doesn’t face off against their own opposite numbers but fights other members. This allows them to succeed.

“The Terror Beyond” has Aquaman, Doctor Fate, and Solomon Grundy fighting off Cthulhu-like monsters. Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl and Superman stop Dr. Fate’s spell to close the gate that’s been opened to the horrific monsters. Eventually, Fate, Aquaman, and Grundy are able to convince Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, and Superman that they must stop the creatures. While Fate and his group try to close the gate again, Superman and company go through it to stop the invasion from the other side. This two-parter is visually stunning, and the “mad” monsters from the Cthulhu-like beings are drawn well.

“Secret Society” features another group of B-rate super-villains banding together to drive apart the Justice League. However, by spying on the league their plan almost works and the league splits and each go their own way. It takes Batman, who discovers the surveillance to get the League back together so they can defeat the”Secret Society of Evil”.

In “Hereafter” it appears Superman is killed in a battle with Toyman. While the world deals with its grief, and tries to process a world without a Superman – Superman is actually thrust forward into the far future. He meets Vandal Savage who has finally figured out that ruling an empty, destroyed planet is no fun at all. Superman and Savage finish a time machine Savage was working on and send Superman back to his own time.

In “Wild Cards” the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) and the Wild Card gang take over Las Vegas. The Joker airs the chaos on TV, like some type of reality show. Joker has also placed a large number of bombs, some real, some fake all over Vegas – the League has to find and dismantle the bombs.

Finally in “Starcrossed”, an alien spaceship attacks Washington DC, but the ship is destroyed by Thangarian ships. Thangar gets world leaders to accept their “protection”. However, they later impose martial law. Later it turns out the Thangarians aren’t building a shield for the Earth to protect it from a Gordanian invasion – rather they are building a hyperspace bypass engine so the Thangarians can invade to Gordanian homeworld. Unfortunately, activating the hyperspace bypass will destroy the Earth. It also turns out Hawkgirl was an advance scout and spy for the Thangarians. She is also promised or engaged to one of the other Thangarians – which surprises Green Lantern. The League is upset that Hawkgirl betrayed them. But when Hawkgirl finds out Thanagar intends to destroy the Earth she jumps sides, frees the League from their prison on one of the Thangarian ships, and helps the League defeat the Thanagarians and destroy the hyperspace bypass engine. The League decides to take a vote as to if Hawkgirl will still be accepted in the League, but Hawkgirl leaves first.

Justice League Season 2 is bigger than the first season, and the Justice League faces bigger threats. This is still top-notch animation. There are again several notable guest performances. I highly recommend this season.

Read my review of Justice League Season 1.

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Justice League Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: Justice League
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes:  26 (12 stories)
  • Discs:  3
  • Network: Cartoon Network
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, George Newbern, Susan Eisenberg, Carl Lumbly, Phil LaMarr, Michael Rosenbaum, Maria Canals-Barrera (Credited as Maria Canals)
  • DVD: Standard, Blu-Ray (R1, NTSC)

Justice League was the first of the DCAU series that I ever saw and even nearly ten years later the series still stands up. The members of the Justice League are: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern (John Stewart), Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz), Flash, and Hawkgirl. The individual episodes of Justice League are 30 minutes (well, 22-25) but in this season every story consists of two or three parts. This means that it’s more like watching a series of short movies than a normal animated television series. The stories have plenty of time for characterization and in-depth storytelling. Justice League also doesn’t waste time on traditional “origin stories”. The first episode, “Origins” has Batman and Superman confronting an actual alien invasion, including a first shot of the tripod-like invading machine that’s reminiscent of George Pal’s War of the Worlds. Superman is telepathically attacked but finds Martian Manhunter being held in a military prison. He and Batman free Martian Manhunter and learn his name is J’onn J’onzz and that he’s the last survivor of Mars. J’onn tells him the beings that threaten the entire Earth had attacked Mars and destroyed their entire civilization. Other leaguers-to-be, including Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, Flash, and Wonder Woman join the fight against the alien invaders, eventually defeating the alien menace. Batman proposes building a satellite Watchtower to warn of future invasions. Superman proposes a permanent league of superheroes. Flash asks, “What a type of superfriends?” to which Batman replies, “More like a Justice League”. This sets the stage for the series.

Green Lantern is given an in-depth story, “In Blackest Night” in which he is put on trial for destroying an entire inhabited alien planet while in pursuit of a space pirate. Once the league discovers what’s happened, they rush to his defense. Martian Manhunter and the others are able to prove the planet’s destruction was an illusion orchestrated by the Manhunters (different Manhunters than on Mars, these are androids from Oa the home of the Green Lantern Corps, and the Guardians first attempt at a benevolent galaxy-wide police force). The league frees Jon Stewart Green Lantern and the Flash, who acted as his advocate, clears John’s name, then defends Oa from the Manhunters with the aid of the Green Lantern Corps.

“The Enemy Below” is a modern Aquaman story, and although Aquaman doesn’t formally join the League, he is recognized as the King of under the seas.

“Injustice for All” has Lex Luthor bringing together a group of supervillains to fight the Justice League, especially Superman. It doesn’t go well for Lex.

“Paradise Lost” sees Felix Faust attack Thermyscira, turn all the Amazons to stone, and bribe Wonder Woman to find a McGuffin in three parts – the Key to the Underworld. Wonder Woman and the League find the key but are very worried about what Faust will do to it. Faust releases Hades, who then drains him of life (not the reward he was expecting). The Justice League is able to defeat Hades and return the Amazons to life. But Hippolyta decides to follow Amazon law to the letter and banishes her daughter for bringing men to the island.

“War World” is a slugfest with Superman forced to fight in the War World arena for Mondo.

“The Brave and the Bold” has Gorilla Grood taking over Central City after a scientist accidentally reveals the location of Gorilla City.

“Fury” has a refugee who was raised as an Amazon on Thermyscira reviving Luthor’s Injustice League and launching a biological attack on the world’s men. But Hippolyta reveals that Aresia was actually rescued by a man who got her to Thermyscira before dying.

“Legends” has the League transported to a parallel Earth where the heroes resemble Golden Age comics heroes and John Stewart (GL) recognizes the heroes as heroes from the comics he read as a kid. The “Justice Guild of America” is locked in battle with the “Injustice League” but something doesn’t seem right. J’onn J’onzz keeps having telepathic flashes of a disaster. One of the League members finds the graves of the entire JGA. Eventually, they discover the entire dimension was destroyed in a Nuclear War and a telepathic mutant had re-created the “perfect” world of years ago. The story works both as a story and as a comment on the good and the really bad aspects of older Golden Age comics. After the illusion is broken the League members are able to find a way back to their own Earth.

“A Knight with Shadows,” tells the story of Jason Blood, Etrigan the Demon, Morgaine, Merlin, and Modred. It’s as close to a traditional origin story as season 1 of Justice League gets. But it’s also a great story full of Arthurian lore, magic, demons, etc. For the most part, only Batman is in this story, though the rest of the League lend a hand at the end. I enjoyed the story very much.

“Metamorphosis,” tells the story of Rex Mason who is turned into the Element Man – rather than an archeologist, he works for Stagg Industries and is rich and accomplished, but when he and Sapphire Stagg decide to marry, her overprotective and cruel father decides to use Mason as an unwilling human subject in his plan to create artificial workers who can withstand any environment. Mason and John Stewart are also old friends, having both been in military service together. Although Mason’s origin is substantially different, it’s a great story, and very enjoyable.

The final story in season one is the three-part “The Savage Time”. All of the Justice League but Batman are returning from a mission in space when there’s a flash on Earth below them and the Watchtower disappears. Green Lantern lands the Javelin spacecraft (which was apparently out of power because he’s towing it with his Ring). The Justice League discovers the US is now a dictatorship under the power of a mysterious Leader. They walk into a resistance attack on the military police of the leader and run into a different version of Batman who is the leader of the Resistance. Working with Batman, they discover a time tunnel anomaly. The League, minus Batman, enters the anomaly and finds themselves in World War II. There they join the allies, the Blackhawks, Easy Company, Steve Trevor and other forces to help the allies and defeat Savage before he can become a world dictator. “The Savage Time” is a brilliant story, and also a lot of fun to watch. (Savage in the future sent a laptop and plans for weapons and communications equipment to Savage in the past.) This is a much more menacing Vandal Savage than the one in Season 1 of Legends of Tomorrow.

Overall, I really enjoyed Justice League (the animated series). The regular and guest casts are wonderful, and the series features many well-known and excellent guest actors. The animation is hand-drawn and beautiful and has that traditional DCAU square-jawed look. I highly recommend this series. Even if animation usually isn’t your thing, or you’ve tried the live action DC film Universe and been unimpressed, this series overcomes many of the faults of other versions of DC Comics in both older animation and in live action.

Note: For some reason, the Blu-Ray discs auto-play the first episode whenever a disc is put in the player. You can get a list of episodes by pressing the “Top Menu” button and then choosing the episode you want to watch, but it’s still annoying and results in a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the disc.

Superman The Complete Animated Series Review

  • Series Title: Superman: The Animated Series
  • Season: Complete Series
  • Episodes: 54
  • Discs: 7
  • Network: WB Animation
  • Cast: Tim Daly, Dana Delany, David Kaufman, Clancy Brown
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1, Animation

Superman: The Animated Series along with Batman: The Animated Series started off what became known as the Timm-verse, a series of related series by WB Animation based on DC Comics. Although I am quite a fan of Batman: TAS and later series Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Batman Beyond, and Young Justice – I had never watched Superman: TAS before, also the first series I saw chronologically was Justice League even though it was a later series in terms of when it was made. (I basically caught some of Justice League on Boomerang a sister channel to Cartoon Network and loved it so much I bought everything on DVD a set at a time. I did not see the Timm-verse in the chronological order of when it originally aired.) Superman has never been one of my favorite DC characters, though, I’m much more of a Batman fan, so I delayed ordering and watching this.

Superman: The Animated Series does well what other series in this set of shows do well – the stories emphasize the character from the comics as he was in the early modern age of comics. This isn’t an angsty Superman or a conflicted Superman who is unsure about his role. Also, other than showing the destruction of Krypton (a sequence repeated in the title sequence) and an almost montage of Clark being found and raised by the Kents and first using his powers as a teenager in Smallville, this series doesn’t dwell on Superman’s origin story. After the 3-part pilot, “The Last Son of Krypton”, the series settles down into its usual format: Clark Kent, a reporter for the Daily Planet, is secretly Superman and must battle bad guys and rescue people.

I’ve always found the character of Superman to be too perfect. He has the perfect parents, perfect job, perfect girlfriend, and he’s basically invulnerable to everything except for Kryptonite. That Superman is only vulnerable to Kryptonite is something so well known in modern culture, “What’s your Kryptonite? or, “he’s my Kryptonite” – has become slang for “What’s your vulnerability?” or “He/she’s my vulnerability?” In Superman: The Animated Series – Kryptonite is something that seems extremely easy for any villain to get. Also, because Superman is so over-powered, his villains are extremely over-powered. Many of the Superman: TAS episodes have an extremely strong villain (like Darkseid) show up and try to physically beat up Superman, which tends to not work. We also see a lot of Brainiac, who in this series comes from Krypton and was responsible for no one else being saved from the planet.

Superman: TAS also doesn’t build up a relationship between Lois and Clark. They are shown to be more colleagues than romantic partners. Clark’s relationship with Jimmy Olsen doesn’t get really explored until nearly the end of the series – when Jimmy gets a signal watch (something that Lois doesn’t have as far as I can tell). Even Clark’s relationship with his parents, Jonathon and Martha Kent, is not really explored. We see them a few times, but they are definitely background characters.

However, there are some episodes I really liked. One episode I enjoyed very much was “The Late Mr. Kent”. First, it had a monologue for Clark – this made him more relatable. If the entire series had used a monologue I probably would have liked it better. The episode tells the story of Clark investigating the case of a man found guilty of murder during a robbery and sentenced to be executed. Clark talks to the man and examines the evidence and believes that the man was, in fact, innocent – and framed. As Clark investigates further, he discovers proof. But then his car is blown up by a car bomb and crashes into the ocean. Because there’s a witness to the “accident” Clark fears he can’t just show up again, unhurt. Clark as Superman continues his investigation, while Lois, Jimmy and other characters mourn the death of Clark Kent. Eventually, Superman is able to prove that a dirty cop was behind everything – the frame up, planting evidence, the actual murder, etc. Superman also finds out the witness was unreliable, so with some help from Lana Lang, he returns as Clark, claiming he swam ashore and was under Lana’s care. The convicted man is released and the cop is executed instead.

There are also episodes of Superman: The Animated Series that introduce other characters from the DC universe, including Lobo, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, The Legion of Superheroes, and Batman. I, for the most part, enjoyed these team-ups. The Lobo two-parter felt a little flat to me, but the others range from good to excellent. There are three Batman-Superman team-up stories in this collection and I liked all three. Batman is voiced by Kevin Conroy of Batman: The Animated Series and the guest characters are voiced by their Batman: TAS counterparts. I enjoyed seeing Batman and Superman work together, and their mutual relationship was well done. We also get to see Lois fall for Bruce Wayne, whom she discovers is Batman. I thought that was a bold choice, and something different.

Superman: The Animated Series also featured several impressive guest stars including: Mike Farrell (as Jonathon Kent), Michael Ironside (as Darkseid), Malcolm McDowell (as Metallo), Edward Asner (as Granny Goodness), Charles Napier (as General Hardcastle), Robert Hays, Robert Ito, Carl Lumley, Roddy McDowell, William H. Macy, Robert Morse, Michael York, John Rubinstein, Charlie Schlatter, Jason Priestley, Sarah Douglas, Richard Moll, Paul Williams, David Warner, Ernie Hudson, Carolyn Seymour, Ron Glass, and Marion Ross, and as mentioned from the Batman crossover episodes: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin, and Bob Hastings. As with other Timm-verse shows – the casting is extremely impressive on Superman: The Animated Series.

Overall, though I have some issues with the perfect nature of the character of Superman, I find that this series brings the comics to life so to speak. Because it’s animation, the budget is less limited than in a live-action series, and we see Superman in space, huge fight scenes, and impressive story-telling. Superman: The Animated Series is recommended. This particular set consists of discs that have not been labeled consecutively. Also, every other disc is a two-sided disc. And the final disc has one special feature on it and that’s it – no episodes. I would have preferred it if they had remastered everything, putting eight episodes per disc and not doing any two-sided discs, even if that had increased the number of discs and making the set more expensive. I did like the single case with flip pages to hold the discs and slipcase packaging though. Even with the mastering issue, the episodes themselves look good and I recommend this series, especially to Superman fans.

Teen Titans Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: Teen Titans
  • Season: 1
  • Date:  2003
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 2
  • Cast: Scott Menville, Hynden Walch, Greg Cipes, Khary Payton, Tara Strong, Ron Perlman
  • Original Network:  Cartoon Network
  • Production Network:  Warner Brothers Animation

Teen Titans is based on the DC Comics book of the same name. This animated version features the characters of Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Raven, and Beast Boy, with the season-long villain of Slade (aka Deathstroke, although that name is not used in the season). The five teen-aged superheroes are based in Titans Tower, where they do what superheroes do – they solve crimes and stop super villains. The first few episodes of season 1 are focused on team-building, as well as introducing Slade as the villain for the season. Then there are a series of episodes that focus on individual characters. Starfire’s episode introduces her older, cooler sister, Blackfire – though Blackfire also turns out to be a thief. Cyborg’s episode focuses on his custom-built car which is immediately stolen and destroyed. Raven’s episode, “Nevermore”, is perhaps the most interesting, as Starfire ends-up in Raven’s subconscious during her meditation. In Raven’s subconscious we meet Raven’s emotional spectrum selves and her demonic father, Trigon. The season concludes with the two-parter, “Apprentice”, in which the team goes after Slade, only for the entire thing to be an elaborate trick by Slade to get his hands on Robin. Slade then exposes the other Titans to destructive nano-bots – and threatens to kill them if Robin doesn’t do everything he says, including being his apprentice and stealing for Slade. Slade also forbids Robin from even talking to the Titans. However, at the conclusion of their fight on the top of the Wayne Enterprises building, the other Titans realize that Robin is being controlled. They go after Slade to rescue Robin. Robin exposes himself to the same dangerous substance as the other Titans, knowing it will stop Slade from hurting or killing his friends. The Titans win out, but no doubt Slade is still obsessed with Robin.

Teen Titans has a Japanese Anime styled theme tune (which is performed in either English or Japanese depending on the episode). The animation style is also closer to anime than other DC Animated Universe series (which have a traditional American animation look). The series also, at times, uses animation to express the characters emotions – when one character gets extremely angry at the rest of the Titans and yells at them – the rest of the Titans are drawn to be very small and frightened-looking. If a character is surprised or shocked his or her eyes pop-out of their heads. However, this isn’t distracting but rather emphasizes the characters’ emotions.

Watching Teen Titans, I couldn’t help but compare it to Young Justice, a show that I dearly love from the same team. The characters in Young Justice seem slightly older than the ones in Teen Titans – although both shows revolve around teen-aged superheroes. Young Justice is much more serious, and that show is a master at the “last few minutes reveal”. Titans, by contrast, tends to be lighter, though episodes like, “Nevermore” and “Apprentice” are a bit more serious. Also, in Teen Titans the characters always appear in their costumes, and thus are always called by their superhero monikers, rather than their real names. I missed having any sort of connection to these characters other identities. Certainly, as they are living in Titans Tower, the characters would kick back and relax occasionally. We see them playing video games, watching movies, and eating pizza, but always as Robin, Raven, Starfire, Cyborg, and Beast Boy – never as their alter egos. I wasn’t even sure which Robin this is. I’m going to assume it’s Dick Grayson until proven otherwise, though the behind-the-scenes interviews also mentioned Tim Drake but didn’t specifically state this was Tim Drake’s Robin (Tim would eventually take the name, “Red Robin”, and was more of a computer/electronics expert and hacker than a fighter, though like all the Robins he could certainly take care of himself.) I thought it was a missed opportunity to not include more about the characters’ civilian backgrounds.

Still Season 1 of Teen Titans is Recommended and I have ordered Season 2.

 

Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 (Spoilers)

  • Title: Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2
  • Director: Jay Olivia
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2013
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Animation, Action, Drama
  • Cast: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, Michael Emerson, David Seltz, Mark Valley, Robin Atkin Downes, Maurice LaMarche, Michael McKean, Conan O’Brien, Rob Paulsen, Frank Welker, Tara Strong
  • Format: Windscreen, Color Animation
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Look, either shut it down or one of these days someone with authority is going to tell me to come to stop you. And when that happens…” — Clark
“When that happens may the best man win.” — Bruce

“Come on, finish me…. Doesn’t matter, I win, I made you lose control … and they’ll kill you for it.” — Joker

“Tonight, I am going to maintain order in Gotham City, you’re going to help me! But not with these [guns]! These are loud and clumsy! These are the weapons of cowards! Our weapons are precise and quiet! In time, I will teach them to you. But for tonight, you will rely on your brains and your fists. Tonight we are the law! Tonight I am the law!” — Batman

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is a classic graphic novel that’s been in print since it’s original publication in 1986. It’s excellent, and truly raised the bar for graphic story-telling and changed comics forever. It’s the first graphic novel I ever read and one I occasionally re-read. I’m very glad Warner’s allowed two movies to be made from this big and complicated graphic novel. I was worried though that Warners would “wimp out” with the more controversial aspects of the story. I’m happy to report they did not. The political aspects of the storyline are here in full. Hooray!

Whereas the first part (film) focuses on Bruce putting the Batsuit on again and Two-Face and the Mutant gang Leader as villains, the second part focuses almost exclusively on The Joker as the primary villain, though there is still a lot going on. Even more than Part 1, television newscasts are used as a narrative device in Part 2.

In Part 2, the remainder of the Mutant Gang has split into various groups. The Sons of Batman, with their blue face paint, declare Batman as their leader and attempt to save Gotham City from other criminals – violently. The Nixons, with their tall blonde female leader, “Bruno”, rob and steal without remorse. Bruno has red swastikas painted on her breasts. Batman sets up a sting to catch her and succeeds. Superman arrives in Gotham and saves a blind man who’s fallen into a subway track in the path of an on-coming train. But the reason he’s there is to encourage Bruce to hang-up the cape again. However, the majority of the film concerns Joker.

Jim Gordon retires. The new police commissioner, Ellen Yindel, as her first act as Commissioner, issues a warrant for Batman’s arrest. When Clark and Bruce talk, Clark has a bald eagle on his arm, and Bruce pets Clark’s white dog — which is a great image!

Joker is in an asylum, being treated by Dr. Wolper. He manipulates Wolper to get him a pass and an interview on the Dave Endocrine Show. Wolper does this, and soon Joker is free. He kills Wolper with a coffee cup during the show’s taping, as well as Endocrine and his audience with his deadly Joker gas. Batman and Robin (Carrie) had gone to the show’s taping to try to stop Joker, but Yindel’s police attack Batman. The police spend so much time trying to catch Batman that they fail to stop Joker.

After escaping the chaos at the television studio, Joker finds Selina Kyle and uses hallucinogenic lipstick to control her mind, as well as one of her girls. The girl gets a Congressman to declare the country should declare open war on the Soviets before falling to his death (while wrapped in an American flag).

The president announces on TV that American troops are battling Soviet troops in the South American Island country of “Corto Maltese”. As in the graphic novel, the president looks like Reagan, and he’s voiced in the animated film to sound like Ronald Reagan, including his “folksy wisdom”. He announces a war by saying, “Now those Soviets would like to see us turn tail and run, but we’ve got to protect our interests, I mean, stand up for freedom and the good people of Corto Maltese. So don’t fret… we’ve got God on our side.” This political conflict forms the backdrop of the entire film. News is blacked out “due to severe weather”.

Batman finds out about the connection to Kyle Escorts. He finds Selina, dressed like Wonder Woman, and tied-up. She tells him about Joker and the mind-control lipstick. Batman is too late to save the Congressman.

Batman also finds out Joker’s next target is the local amusement park, which is just opening. Batman and Joker fight in the house of mirrors, where Joker shoots Batman in the shoulder. Joker escapes into the tunnel of love, and he and Batman fight again. Joker knifes Batman across the stomach and stabs him several times. Batman beats Joker, who finally collapses against a wall. Joker taunts Batman, then breaks his own neck. Batman passes out. Later, Batman awakes. He places incendiaries on Joker’s body and disappears, as Yindel’s police troops close in. Joker’s body burns and the entire tunnel blows up.

Carrie rescues Batman and takes him to the Cave where Alfred does surgery.

Reagan announces from an “undisclosed location” via television special report, American troops won in Corto Maltese, but the Soviets are “poor sports” as a missile’s been sent towards the Island nation. Superman deflects the missile and it blows up over Gotham City. Superman is irradiated, crash lands, and kills everything he touches — flowers, trees, grass, etc.

Gotham is blacked out and everyone panics. Bruce realizes it was an EMP blast. Batman and Robin ride on horseback into Gotham. Batman rallies the Sons of Batman, and later citizens and even former members of the Mutant Gang into keeping order in the city. Meanwhile, Jim Gordon organizes people in his own neighborhood to put out fires.

The country is buried under a cloud of smoke and ash. In Gotham, there is no sun, but electricity is slowly coming back on. Gotham is the only city not torn apart by crime, rioting, and looting.

The president (still Reagan) enforces martial law and sends a recovering Superman after Batman. Batman works with Carrie, Oliver Queen (formerly the Green Arrow), and Alfred on a plan. He fights Superman in Crime Alley, distracting him until Queen can fire a Kryptonite arrow at Superman. The arrow doesn’t kill Superman outright but weakens him. Batman somewhat defeats Superman, but then he falls victim to a heart attack. Superman, Diana (once, but no longer, Wonder Woman), Selina, and Jim Gordon attend the funeral. In the end, Carrie, heavily veiled, is the last to stand by Bruce Wayne’s grave.

Wayne Manor has burned to the ground, after Alfred, following Bruce’s instructions, hit the self-destruct. Alfred escapes the house but dies of a massive stroke.

There’s a cut to the sound of a heart monitor. Then, Oliver Queen begins to instruct the Sons of Batman in cleaning up the Bat Cave. Bruce arrives and states he will instruct the Sons of Batman (as well as former Mutants and other citizens who joined him the first night after the missile fell). They are now Bruce’s army.

I liked Part 1 slightly better; Part 2 seems like more of a slug-fest. However, kudos to Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Warner Brothers Animation, and DC Premiere for not shying away from the darker and more political aspects of Frank Miller’s classic book. The second half of Part 2 works really well. In the first half,  Batman’s final confrontation with Joker seems almost anti-climatic. However, though the film is dark and violent, it is also really good — with an adult story and incredible animation that evokes the art of Miller’s classic. Recommended.

Recommendation: See it!  (Though not for young children)
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Third Man

Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1

  • Title: Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1
  • Director: Jay Olivia
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2012
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Animation
  • Cast: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Maurice LaMarche, Michael McKean, Rob Paulsen, Tara Strong, Frank Welker
  • Format: Widescreen Color Animation
  • DVD Format: R 1, NTSC

“We must believe we can all defeat our own private demons.” — Bruce Wayne, during press conference

“Two abducted children were found alive in a riverside warehouse along with six critically injured members of the mutant gang. The children describe the gang’s attacker as, ‘a man dressed as Dracula.’ ” — Female Newscaster

“If it’s suicide you’re after, I have an old family recipe. It’s slow and painful — you’d like it.” — Alfred, to Bruce

“I played along as long as I could, while you and the docs had your joke. You got everyone to smile and keep their lunches down when they looked at me, pretending I looked normal. … Just look at me and have your laugh. Get it over with. At least both sides match now, right? Look at me, and have your laugh.” — Harvey Dent

Batman The Dark Knight Returns is based on Frank Miller’s incomparable graphic novel of the same name. Miller’s work changed comics for a decade, and it’s effects are still being felt. The animated film starts quickly, with no credits (they will appear at the end). Commissioner Gordon is weeks from retirement, and the Batman hasn’t been seen in Gotham City for ten years. The city is in a grip of a crime wave, mostly caused by the Mutants, a gang dedicated to horrific violence even more than crime. Bruce Wayne and James Gordon are having dinner. Gordon lightly inquires about Batman and then brings up Dick and Jason. Bruce insists he’s given up his old life, fighting crime, but isn’t happy that Gordon’s brought up the Robins.

Bruce leaves his meeting with Gordon and walks through Crime Alley, there he is reminded of his parents’ deaths and his one-time vow to stop crime. Some Mutants approach to attack Bruce, but he frightens them off. That night, he dreams about his experiences. He remembers falling down a well and being scared by bats. Unable to sleep, Bruce goes to the Batcave and stares at Robin’s shrine.  Alfred arrives, concerned. To Bruce’s own surprise, he has shaved off his mustache.

Meanwhile, at the Arkham Home, a Dr. Wolper (Michael McKean) works with Harvey Dent, to rehabilitate the criminal once known as Two-Face. Joker is also in Arkham, but completely comatose. Harvey, his face restored, and supposedly cured of his criminal bent, is released, but then disappears.

Meanwhile, back at his manor, Bruce Wayne is flipping TV channels in the middle of the night. He keeps finding news reports of Gotham’s escalating violence. But he also comes across a late night showing of The Mark of Zorro, the film he saw with his parents That Fateful Night. The film brings back bad memories of his trauma. But even as he tries to escape his memories by flipping channels, he only hears more bad news of crime and violence. Even the weather report of the on-coming storm seems dire. Bruce’s memories mix with the Voice of the Bat, calling him to return. A bat breaks through his window.

Meanwhile, Carrie and her friend Michelle have taken a short cut through The Arcade to escape the rain. Michelle is nervous because she has heard it’s a Mutant Gang hideout. Carrie pooh-poohs her fears. Then the lights go out and Mutants attack. Batman confronts the Mutants and rescues the girls. He also catches an armed robber the cops are chasing. TV news clips and reports are soon covering the story of the return of Batman from a number of perspectives. Even Carrie and Michelle are interviewed.

Alfred helps Bruce with his physical injuries and chides him that he really is getting too old for this kind of thing.

The next day, one of the thugs Batman had captured and beaten up is in Gordon’s office with his lawyer, claiming “police brutality”. Gordon simply releases the guy. This turns out to be Batman’s plan, who follows him and tortures him to get information on Two-Face.

Meanwhile, Carrie listens to her parents whining and gets sick of it, she sees the Batman symbol on a building and is heartened.

Gordon meanwhile has contacted Batman. He tells Batman two helicopters were stolen the previous night. Batman responses he didn’t get much out of Two-Face’s lackey,  just that the crime was going down the next day. Gordon responds that it makes sense since it’s Tuesday and the second of the month. Then Two-Face breaks into the television signal of a news report. He claims to have two bombs and he will destroy the Gotham Life Building (which has two towers) unless he’s paid off with Twenty-two million dollars, and he gives the citizens of Gotham twenty-two minutes to comply.

Batman defuses one bomb, but he’s attacked when he tries to cross on a line to the other tower. Harvey Dent (Two Face) and Batman crash through a window into the other building. There Batman pulls off Harvey’s bandages, but he looks normal. Harvey, however, is delusional and thinks that both sides of his face are horribly disfigured and scarred.

On TV, a point-to-point debate pits pro-Batman Daily Planet managing editor, Lana Lang, against anti-Batman author Dr. Wolper. More news clips follow the rising debate.

Carrie dresses as Robin.

A newscaster reports that James Gordon has been killed, then admits she “read it wrong”, James Gordon killed a Mutant gang member.

Carrie tries out being Robin and discovers her fear of heights, but slowly she starts to get it.

The Mutants kidnap a wealthy family’s two-year-old heir; Batman rescues the child and defeats the Mutants.

The screen goes completely dark as Batman questions a suspect, eventually, he takes his hand away from the man’s eyes, and reveals he’s holding him over the Gotham city streets far below.

Carrie stops a purse snatching.

Batman confronts the general who sold military-grade arms to the Mutants.

Batman and separately, Carrie, go to the Gotham dump to confront the Mutants. Bruce is badly beaten by the Mutant Leader. Carrie manages to get him inside the Batmobile, which looks like a tank. Bruce orders the car back to the cave, despite Alfred’s pleas to go to the hospital. He takes Carrie with him and tells Alfred she will be trained as a Robin. Alfred isn’t hot on the idea. Bruce also goes deep into the cave, alone, to confront his demons. He decides to continue as Batman. He flashes back to the loss of his parents.

On TV, again Lana Lang and Dr. Wolper debate about Batman. Carrie stares at the Robin memorial in the cave.  The mayor appoints a female, anti-Batman police commissioner, Ellen Yindel. The mayor also offers to meet with the Mutant leader to arrange appeasement.

Alfred tries to talk to Bruce about his plans. When he doesn’t appear to be getting through, he brings up Jason. Bruce refers to Jason as a “good soldier” but that the war must go on. He has Carrie undercover as a Mutant pass along a message for all the Mutant gang members to meet at “the Pipe”.

Gordon talks to Yindel, trying to explain to her why he approves of the Batman. When the mayor is killed by the Mutant leader during their “peace treaty”, Gordon agrees with Batman’s plan and sees to it the Leader is able to escape.

Batman again confronts the Mutant leader. They fight in the mud by the Pipe, in front of all the Mutant gang members. Batman uses his smarts as well as his fighting abilities to defeat the Leader. As a result, the Mutant gang is broken up. Gordon’s officers arrest several, others break off into other splinter gangs. One gang, the Sons of Batman, insist on “actions not words” and attack other criminals.

Gordon turns in his badge and gun, retiring. Ordinary citizens start to stand up to violence, a man stops a mugging in front of his store. The TV news clips airs other clips, both pro and con Batman and the new reality.

The Joker awakes as he hears the news.

The story will be continued in part 2.

Batman The Dark Knight Returns is awesome! The story is straight from Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel, and the animated film does not hold back. This is a dark, and violent story with lots of blood. But the animation is also awesome. Many of the images are truly memorable, and often it is the images that tell the story, especially Bruce Wayne’s flashbacks to his parents’ murder and becoming Batman.

Meanwhile, Gotham City is a mess — without Batman, violence, especially gang violence, has taken over the streets and ordinary people have no hope. The constant TV news cashes in on the violence and “bad news”, offering no reprieve from the sense of gloom and hopelessness.

The film realistically portrays an older Bruce Wayne, with a lined face, who groans and creaks when he returns to the life of  Batman. Commissioner James Gordon is also considerably older, and ready to retire.

Television news dominates the lives of everyone in Gotham, and even Carrie gets on TV to tell the story of how she was rescued in the Arcade (by a man — seven feet tall!). Like the graphic novel, much of the structure of the actual story is told in the comments of the newscasters, and people they interview. Much of this is also full of irony and dark humor, such as the man who advises that criminals need to be rehabilitated back into society — then acknowledges that he “doesn’t live in the city”.

The animation in the film is incredible! Not only is it very real-looking, but it’s dark and has the slightly “washed” look of the original graphic novel. Great images abound, as well as novel things such as a scene that’s completely black, with only audio to tell you what Batman’s doing. Uses of flashes of lightning or gunshots or other bright, sudden sources of light are also used in other scenes. The overall effect is of watching a moving graphic novel.

The plot of the film is an excellent adaptation of the graphic novel. Not only is Batman brought back after a gap of ten years, but he confronts two main villains beyond his own age: The Mutant gang, notably their leader, and Two-Face (Harvey Dent). Both these villains are psychologically interesting and complex. The Mutants look like punks, and act like them too — committing horrible acts of violence not for money or to survive, but because they can. In other words, they are bullies – pure and simple. And like any bully, when Batman defeats their leader in front of the entire gang, the gang itself falls apart.  Some members of the gang decide to follow Batman instead. The other villain is Harvey Dent. This film doesn’t go into too much detail about Harvey’s backstory, however, Bruce Wayne has personally paid for Harvey’s rehabilitation. Harvey’s face is rebuilt, and a “psychologist” is employed to help re-build Harvey’s broken psyche. Yet when he’s released from Arkham, Harvey goes straight back to his life of crime. When Batman catches up to him, Harvey is completely delusional – convinced his face is now horribly scarred on both sides, and that’s how it was made to “match”. Bruce is crushed – in a way he’s sympathetic because he also can only see himself as Batman.

The film is very violent, and there’s just a lot of blood. If you’ve read the graphic novel, this isn’t surprising, but if you’re only familiar with the DC animated universe and original films — this one is considerably more adult in tone and imagery. The rating is PG-13, and it should be at least that, if not limited to 15-year-olds and up. But overall I highly, highly recommend it. If you loved the graphic novel, you will really love this film.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2

Green Lantern Emerald Knights

  • Title: Green Lantern Emerald Knights
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2011
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, SF
  • Cast: Nathan Fillion, Jason Isaacs, Elisabeth Moss, Henry Rollins, Arnold Vosloo
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, Animation
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“He held the first construct, no longer a scribe, now a warrior, the First Lantern.”— Hal Jordan, Narrating

“When you shape the light of your ring, you walk in the footsteps of the First Lantern.”— Hal Jordan, Narrating

Emerald Knights is really six short stories interwoven into an arc-plot. Each of the separate stories are written and directed by different people, though this is part of the DC Animated Universe, so Bruce Timm produces and Andrea Romano is the voice director for the entire thing. The stories are pulled directly from the DC’s Green Lantern Corps comic books. I loved the movie. In many ways, I liked it better than the live-action Green Lantern movie, which was only so-so. This film really showcased the rich history of the Green Lanterns, bringing in several characters and plot lines. And because Hal is telling these tales to Arisia, a new Green Lantern recruit, it’s like he’s explaining the history to the audience. Nathan Fillion does an excellent job of playing an older, more experienced, Hal — who still remembers his younger days and wishes to help a fellow recruit get her feet under her.

The six stories are:

  • The First Lantern
  • Kilowog (based on “New Blood”)
  • Mogo Doesn’t Socialize
  • Abin Sur (based on “Tygers”)
  • Emerald Knights
  • Laira (based on “What Price Honor?”

My favorite in terms of pure story was “The First Lantern”, just because it was so awesome to see how the Lanterns first came to be — and I love how Avro wasn’t willing to give up, and thus figured out how the rings were supposed to be used. I also loved the visual image used to show the first Lantern’s ring being handed down from Lantern to Lantern throughout the centuries, and finally to Abin Sur and from him to Hal. That was awesome!

“Mogo Doesn’t Socialize” was amusing. It’s a great story, and probably would have had more impact if I hadn’t had it spoiled for me.

“Kilowog” gives background and a bit more of a human side to the Lanterns’ drill sergeant by showing us his own drill sergeant. Still, it’s the same old “new recruit is terrorized by the drill sergeant but learns to love the tough love approach” story we’ve seen many times before.

“Abin Sur” is weird because it shows he and Sinestro working together, and also the criminal that Abin Sur arrests and jails makes several predictions, which I’m guessing come true in the GL continuity. Abin Sur, of course, doesn’t believe the predictions, especially of Sinestro, his dear friend, going rogue.

“Laira” is probably the darkest of the stories — but it’s fascinating and highly, highly enjoyable. I really liked that one too.

Finally, “Emerald Knights” is the name of the wrap-around story and the finale. Yes, it’s excellent. The entire film is extremely well done, enjoyable, and I just loved it. I highly, highly recommend this movie.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars