Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) – Classic Rivals and the Timelessness of Batman

Batman Beyond Return of the Joker

   “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” still holds up. It isn’t as good as I remembered it being, but it is still easily a favorite and does some really creative stuff with the Bat Family, seriously…this blows the modern day DC Animated Films out of the water. There simply isn’t a comparison in quality and storytelling and I think most of that credit goes to Bruce Timm who managed to make Superman interesting enough to receive an entire Animated Series and to have created two successful renditions of the Justice League…outside of creating the best Batman on screen.

    The film was directed by Curt Geda and written by Paul Dini (though Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami wrote the story too) and produced by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami.

     The story takes place in the universe of “Batman Beyond” which takes place years into the future where Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) has become an adviser and mentor to the new Batman Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle)  in Future Gotham. When the Joker (Mark Hamill) resurfaces after being dead for 35 years it is up to Terry to solve the mystery and discover the dark secret of why Batman was working alone when he found him.

The Pros: The World – The world of Future Gotham is fantastic! A new Batman, Barbara as the new police commissioner and the use of future tech in gang warfare are fascinating. As much as Gotham has changed, it has also stayed the same…which is fitting.

The Animation – This is WB animation with Bruce Timm at the helm and it rocks! The animation is unique and has a simple yet beautiful style to it. Each character looks distinct and Gotham looks like a true future city.

The Characters – The characters are why we’re here. They drive the story and it is that core drama between Bruce Wayne and the Joker and his drama with the Bat Family old and new. These core relationships drive the story.

The Jokerz – The Jokers are awesome and Dee-Dee are twins that are grandaughters of Harley Quinn, carrying on her legacy in their own way. They have cool look with a ghoul looking guy, a fat clown in a mask, a Scarecrow type and a man with Hyena blood spliced into him.

Harley Quinn – Harley is a messed up character who seems to have grown up by the end. She is one of the tormentors of Robin and takes part in the abuse and torture Joker puts on the populace, but when we see her as an old woman she regrets it all. She’s done and just wants to take care of her family. She healed from the trauma the Joker did to her, which is powerful.

Tim Drake / Robin –  Tim Drake is the last Robin in the Batman Universe and we learn why in this as he is tortured and turned into Little J by the Joker and Harley. After he is rescued and kills the Joker he is left with the trauma and scars that Barbara helps him through. Joker still won to some degree though as the micro-chip the Joker installed on him leads to the Joker taking control of him until Terry McGinnis can rescue him. In the end Bruce reaches out and expresses how lucky he is know Tim.

Barbara Gordon / Batgirl – Barbara is the one taking care of everyone as she is mature enough to deal with her trauma and others’ trauma (unlike Bruce Wayne). It is thanks to her that Terry finds out that Tim is the Joker and from there how to stop him. She really is an awesome character!

The Joker – Hamill is back as the Joker in the past (when he dies) and the future with his technology rebirth! He is such a great villain. He not only broke Harley making her a villain but broke Tim almost making him another villain and breaking him enough that Tim killed him the first time. This isn’t the end though, he destroys the Batcave, Wayne Manor, Laugh Gasses Bruce and a good portion of Gotham with a lazer. Seriously, not a single Joker compares to this besides Ledger’s in “The Dark Knight.”

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce deals with his trauma finally and we see him begin to heal as he faces the fact that he cut himself off from everyone, but thanks to Terry he begins to heal things with Tim and Barbara bringing the Bat Family back together again.

Terry McGinnis / Batman – Terry is the glue and the main driving force as we see him dealing with being both Terry and Batman and in the end finds he is Terry as Batman, not the other way around as he defeats the Joker not by being Bruce but by mocking him  and being himself and forcing the Joker to be stupid and tricking him. Terry is an amazing Batman and I’m glad he’s official canon now. He’s a Batman I’d like to see in live action films. This film shows why. He’s a punk who grew up and now does everything he can to help others.

Tim Drake’s Story and the Death of the Joker – This incident is why Bruce went loner. Tim kills the Joker breaking the rule and lives with the guilt from that only for Joker to win anyway…Not only did Joker destroy the Bat Family, he lived on from the trauma caused by that day. There is reason he is one of the greatest villains of all time.

Timeless Batman – Batman can work in any environment or world and it doesn’t have to be Bruce. This film showed as much, Terry has his own darkness as Bruce does but unlike the Joker it doesn’t define them and it is their classic rivalry against what the Joker represents in chaos that really makes Batman timeless. All of Bruce Timm’s Batman work shows as much as he explores the Batman of the future in Terry McGinnis and in the past in Bruce Wayne. Batman is about overcoming your demons and  using that to help others and that is what they do.

Okay: Side Characters – Dana and Bruce Wayne’s rival and Terry’s family are just kind of there. They exist in relationship to Terry and Bruce and don’t feel like full characters. They are good for their function in the script but could have been more…this movie should have been longer.

The Soundtrack – It is quite at times and besides the Beyond opening theme isn’t all that great. It works but it isn’t a pro.

  This is a film well worth your time if you are a fan of Batman. Bruce Timm and this world were a world I grew up watching and it holds up stronger to this day. Seriously, this film blows all of the “New 52” films out of the water. You get to know the characters, no characters are unstoppable and the flaws of characters are on display always.  The world of Gotham feels lived and there is so much history which you’d come to know from this film even if you’d never watched “Batman: The Animated Series” or “Batman Beyond.” This film stands on its own and is one of the darker films in the Universe that still manages to hold a place for healing and hope for the characters. If you get the chance, check it out!

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014) – An Underutilized Waller and Suicide Squad

Assault on Arkham

    So many of these DC films have potential. The “Arkham” Games are a great series that manage to explore the Universe in such a way that villains feel respected and like a threat versus in this they feel mostly small time or not wholly their own characters and underutilized, which is shame as this is a Suicide Squad film, one of the most fascinating groups in the DC Universe in one of the greatest Game Universes. This film still manages to be alright, but Amanda Waller and her threat feels like missed potential, you have a problem.

     “Batman: Assault on Arkham” was directed by Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding and written by Heath Corson and produced by James Tucker.

    The films involves Amanda Waller (C.C.H. Pounder) bringing together the Suicide Squad to infiltrate Arkham Asylum to get information held in the Riddler’s Staff. The team must deal with the threats of each other and Batman (Kevin Conroy) who is tracking them.

The Pros: The Animation – WB and DC animation do a good job with this. It captures some of the feel of the games, even if the animation is a bit more like that of the other current DC Animated films, but it still has enough character for me to make it a pro.

The Suicide Squad – They are underutilized overall but I like the idea and how some of the characters are handled.

King Shark – This guy is the Killer Croc of the team and is a lot of fun! He’s a cannibal but he falls in love with Killer Frost and she kind of does too, their relationship is adorable as this is the guy who wants to eat any enemies he comes into contact with. His design is funny and threatening too as he has a bit fin on his head and a metal mouth.

Killer Frost – Killer Frost is Waller’s agent who was sent to kill the Riddler since he broke away from Waller’s control. She never stops serving Waller and has good moments with the characters given that none of them can trust her.

Harley Quinn – Harley is very much the Harley of the games and sadly has an identity only as the Joker’s girlfriend in the end. She sleeps with Deadshot and tries to kill the Joker once before becoming old Harley again. I was hoping they’d do something more with her character but since this is a prequel and in the games she’s weak, of course they went this way. She’s still a pro though since it is great seeing Harley even if she isn’t used fully, in action.

The Riddler – Riddler is small character but his conversations with Waller and Killer Frost are great. This is a character who is all about the puzzles and they capture that decently here.

Amanda Waller – Waller should have been so much more badass. She was voiced by the actress whose voiced her in the Justice League (C.C.H. Pounder) and she’s amazing. Sadly here all her plans don’t end up going well and she isn’t shown to be a good villain this is a shame as she starts strong by killing KGBeast and Frost’s betrayal.

Joker – Joker breaks out during the Suicide Squad assault when Harley tries to kill him but it makes it so he can escape. He’s good but doesn’t do anything super memorable. He survives the impossible but his plan isn’t all that deep or funny…so he was good but not great.

Batman – Kevin Conroy voices Batman! To me he’ll always be the best Batman (the one in Season 1 of “Batman: The Animated Series,” and in this we see his detective work as he figures out where Joker’s bomb is and what the Suicide Squad and Waller are up too. He solves everything so it is good Batman, though I wish he’d lost this one.

Okay: Black Spider – Ninja on Suicide Squad who dies fast, at least his clash with Deadshot was interesting but brief.

Deadshot – The guy has a daughter and is presented as a rogue Mercenary. He wins every situation though and is the main character of everything. He was the definition of a Gary Stu/Mary Sue. He had no real weaknesses. He was okay at least, but not good.

The Cons: kGBeast – Waller blows off his head. He is just kind of there.

Boomerang – This guy is annoying, he seems to only exist to clash with Deadshot and is a punk. So surprised this guy wasn’t the one they chose to kill off. He seems to only exist to make Deadshot look good by comparison.

The Ending – Waller doesn’t win and Deadshot is targeting her with his Sniper Rifle…I never wanted to root for Deadshot, i was rooting for Waller and Harley…this was annoying and ruined what could have been a great dark film showing the danger of Waller.

    For a film that features the Suicide Squad I was hoping they’d actually win. It is okay for Batman to lose sometimes but it implies he doesn’t since Deadshot does what Batman can’t and even if he doesn’t kill Amanda Waller, at least defangs her a for a while. This is a shame as even within the games her organization was a perpetual threat behind the scenes, it is hard to take the threat seriously after this, Batman will just solve it on his own. There were some good things in this though…Harley Quinn and the Joker for one as well as C.C.H. Pounder returning to voice Waller, she had some great moments in the beginning even if they failed to have it payoff.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2011) – A Film That Grew My Respect for the Flash

Justice League Flashpoint Paradox

    As far as “The New 52” stories go, I actually enjoyed “The Flashpoint Paradox.” I wouldn’t call it a favorite but the Flash is one of the most likeable characters in a world populated by “New 52” versions of characters, where there is only tragedy and isn’t hope. This one also takes the grittyness to a whole new level with another timeline, that for what it is worth is fun exploring and establishes the strengths of the Nations our heroes represent.

     “The Flashpoint Paradox” was directed by Jay Oliva and written by James Krieg. While being produced by James Tucker and Alan Burnett and based off of the story of the same name written by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert.

     The story involves the Justice League and the Flash fighting off the Flash’s Rogues as it is all a trap set by the Reverse-Flash to force the Flash to make a choice that throws everyone into another timeline where the Justice League no longer exists.

The Pros: The Opening Fight – The opening fight against the Flash’s rogues is awesome. Especially when the Justice League has to disarm the bombs that Reverse-Flash put on them so that they can save the city. This was really well done.

The Justice League Voice Actors – Michael B. Jordan as Cyborg is perfect, the best Batman (Kevin Conroy) is voicing him again!, Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan and Vanessa Marshall as Wonder Woman make a great team.

Atlantis vs. The Amazons – I like how this war as presented as we have the Amazons taking over Britain to have a new home while Atlantis continues to strike with super weapons to wipe them out. Each side clearly has their own strengths.

Alternate Cyborg – Cyborg is trying to form a League to hold off both forces and save humanity. He’s the only really good character in this as everyone else is being used or manipulated.

Alternate Superman – He’s a child who was experimented on and doesn’t have much intelligence or strength but comes through in the end and is able to see the good in people again. His arc, for what it was was handled really well.

Thomas Wayne – Thomas Wayne and Martha Wayne went crazy when Bruce was shot as a child. Thomas Wayne kills and is more akin to the Punisher while Martha Wayne became the Joker. You see how haunted he is and he always has a drink in his hand. He is also the first to help the Flash get his powers back when there is even the chance he can bring back the old timeline and in turn his son Bruce. He even writers a letter for Bruce too.

The Flash – The Flash is both the protagonist and antagonist of this as it was prompting from Reverse-Flash that lead him to go back in time to save his mother, which created the timeline where he doesn’t have powers and the world is ending in war. His arc is learning to let go and in doing so realize the truth of his mother’s statement about how each person matters in ways we can’t understand.

Okay: Reverse-Flash – We get he’s a sociopath, but he doesn’t seem to have any motivation beyond that that we are shown. This was a missed opportunity on the part of the writers. He could have been so much more.

The Cons: Not Enough Time Before the Time Change – I wanted more time with Kevin Conroy’s Batman in the main timeline! We never get how he and Barry are friends before the change happens. The new timeline is sudden and causes a bit of a whiplash to the viewer.

Why the War Started – The reasons are never fully explained as to why the war started…it seems that Wonder Woman killed Aquaman’s wife after her and Aquaman had an affair but it is implied the wife struck first…and why are both sides targeting humanity? Humans are innocent in all of this.

This was a film that could have become a favorite if they’d taken more time establish motivations. I didn’t get Reverse-Flash’s motivations or fully understand the reasons for the war as Aquaman was cheating with Wonder Woman, he had his chance to be with her now after his wife tried to kill her. It all came from a twisted sense of honor. There were some things I liked but the plot holes were big enough to bring it down from great and keep it merely at good. If characters we are know are willing to kill civilians and use super weapons…their reasons for doing so need more explanation. I’d still recommend this though, this is a story that shows why the Flash has fans.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Batman: The Animated Series – An Episodic Exploration

batman-animated-series

Today is the day I began the Episodic Exploration of “Batman: The Animated Series” or “Batman: TAS.” It was one of the first shows I ever saw as a child and inspired by own writing and creativity in it’s dark and whimsical bent…it was what introduced me to Batman since I didn’t see Burton’s “Batman” until I was older. I plan to review some episodes every week until I’m through the entire series, after that a new show that may or may not be in the DC Animated Universe, but a list of my top episodes will also be there for the final review tied this series. Bruce Timm deserves appreciation for the fantastic work he did with his art and multiple series.

“Batman: The Animated Series” was created by Bruce Timm who in turn created the rest of the DC Comics animated universe including “Superman: The Animated Series,” “Justice League” and “Justice League: Unlimited,” “Batman Beyond,” “The Adventures of Batman and Robin,” and “The New Batman Adventures.” All of these minus “Superman” which I haven’t watched yet were shows I grew up with and love to this day.

This was the show that introduced me to some of my favorite comic book villains such as The Joker, Two-Face and Scarecrow. The show also has the best Batman and Bruce Wayne, which I’ll go into more when I eventually get to the films. How the handled is story made him more than just a dark and brooding sociopath with a justice streak…he was able to connect to people and form real friendships while never becoming paralyzed or inept like many of the movie Batman were. Kevin Conroy also does the voice change between Bruce Wayne and Batman so naturally. This series also had my favorite Two-Face where his backstory and drive are truly explored and one of my favorite Jokers. Mark Hamill’s Joker…That laugh…not to mention he is dangerous as well as funny.

The show isn’t completely gold, there are some dud episodes, which is why I plan to take it in order so that it can be taken as a whole with new eyes.