Superhero Sundays: Batman: Bad Blood (2016)
Matthew Turner | On 30, May 2021
Director: Jay Oliva
Cast: Jason O’Mara, Yvonne Strahovski, Stuart Allan, Sean Maher, Morena Baccarin, Steve Blum, Robin Atkin Downes, Gaius Charles, Ernie Hudson, Travis Willingham, James Garrett
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Directed by DC animation veteran Jay Oliva, 2016’s Batman: Bad Blood is the 24th film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series and the sixth film in the DC Animated Movie Universe series, a sub-set of films based on DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch. It’s also the third in a series of New 52 Batman movies, serving as a direct sequel to Son of Batman (2014) and Batman vs Robin (2015). To that end, there’s an important detail that may not be readily apparent to anyone not entirely up to date on their Bat-history, in that Damian Wayne / Robin (voiced by Stuart Allan) is the son of Bruce Wayne (Jason O’Mara) and Talia al Ghul (Morena Baccarin).
The plot begins with Batman and a new-on-the-scene Batwoman (Yvonne Strahovski) foiling the plans of a mysterious new Bat-themed villain known as The Heretic (Travis Willingham). However, in the process, Batman is caught in a gigantic explosion and disappears, presumed dead.
While Alfred (James Garrett) covers for Bruce’s disappearance and Wayne Enterprises (using a clever holographic phone device), Dick Grayson / Nightwing (Sean Maher), Damian / Robin and Kate Kane / Batwoman join forces to patrol the streets of Gotham, with Nightwing reluctantly donning the Bat-suit in Batman’s absence. Meanwhile, a brainwashed Batman is actually being held captive by Talia al Ghul, The Heretic and The Mad Hatter (Robin Atkin Downes) while they enact an ambitous world domination plan that involves the use of Wayne Tech.
Unlike many of the New 52 movies, Batman: Bad Blood isn’t a direct adaptation of any particular storyline, though it does incorporate elements from both Grant Morrison’s Batman: Incorporated and Tony Daniel’s Batman: Battle for the Cowl. It also serves as the effective origin stories for both Batwoman and Batwing, when Luke Fox (Gaius Charles) joins the Bat-team in a mechanised Bat-suit after his father Lucius (Ghostbusters’ Ernie Hudson) is seriously injured.
Give or take a couple of the character designs (Bruce Wayne looks too stocky out of costume and his head is too round), the animation is mostly excellent, striking a nice balance between the familiar comic book designs and some of the more anime-like material in DC features like Flashpoint Paradox. The action sequences are particularly impressive – the fight scenes feel real, muscular and well choreographed, to the point where they almost seem like live-action. There are some nice little details in the action too, such as Robin pulling Tusk’s head to the floor by his tusks.
In addition, there’s a notable uptick in humour in Bad Blood, in contrast to some of the other New 52 movies, which are often very dour and gloomy. One particularly groan-worthy moment involves the following exchange after Nightwing and Batwoman encounter a load of nuns with guns and swords: “Nuns with M-60s and katanas?” “That would make them nunjas.”
Similarly, the script places important core character elements at the centre of the story, such as the fact that Batman never uses guns (although Batwoman does) and never kills. It also addresses the complexities in the relationships between Batman and his surrogate son Dick, and his actual son, Damian.
In fact, there’s a pleasingly adult feel to the story altogether, not least in its sensitive depiction of Kate Kane’s sexuality – she’s shown flirting with an off-duty Renee Montoya (Vanessa Marshall), and her father, Colonel Kane (Geoff Pierson) is entirely supportive of her life choices. (He also knows and supports her secret identity, unlike in the live-action show). That sensitivity isn’t quite there across the board though – there’s a scene of Kate fighting in her underwear (technically, her robe has fallen open) that’s borderline gratuitous, while Talia al Ghul’s Black Widow-esque costume is a lot more revealing than you usually see in Batman cartoons.
In terms of the violence, the film finds a decent balance between standard comic-book punch-ups and some of the more extreme violence that has marred other DC animated films. Accordingly, legacy characters get killed off here in suitably grusome fashion (including a head exploding), but it’s handled effectively in a way that doesn’t call attention to itself. Similarly, there’s a genuinely shocking stabbing scene, but it’s done in a way that makes you think you’ve seen more than you actually have.
The performances – under the eye of casting director Wes Gleaon, rather than the legendary Andrea Romano – are mostly pretty good. O’Mara is still no Kevin Conroy, but he’s definitely improving, while Maher makes a decent Nightwing and his Firefly co-star Morena Baccarin is smartly cast as Talia. Similarly, Travis Willingham has suitably imposing presence as The Heretic, though the rest of the supporting cast – a rogues gallery that includes The Mad Hatter, Killer Moth, Tusk, Hellhound, The Calculator and Firefly – are largely underused and given next to no dialogue.
The film isn’t entirely without problems. The central twist – the identity of The Heretic – is excellent, and his agenda is genuinely chilling, but that part of the story is abruptly terminated for shock effect, when it ought to have been allowed to progress a little further. Similarly, the film pushes its luck a little by having Alfred get in on the fighting action, for no real reason.
On top of that, there’s a line of dialogue that’s so downright dreadful that you almost laugh out loud, when Kate says, “After I was kicked out of the military, my life was a blur of sex, drugs and techno house”, while relating her very depressing origin story to Dick.
On the plus side, the film does tap into some time honoured comic book tropes, in that our heroes eventually have to fight a brainwashed Batman. Indeed, that entire sequence is handled very nicely, especially the way in which it’s resolved.
Ultimately, this is an entertaining and engaging Batman adventure that delivers exciting fight scenes, touches of humour and strong character moments. It also has a cool Batmobile. Oh, and there’s a Batgirl cameo at the very end that serves as an effective tease for 2019’s Batman: Hush, the next film in the series.