Superhero Sundays: Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
Matthew Turner | On 14, Jan 2018
Directors: Shoujirou Nishimi, Futoshi Higashide, Hiroshi Morioka, Yasuhiro Aoki, Toshiyuki Kubooka, Jong-Sik Nam
Voices: Kevin Conroy, Gary Dourdan, David McCallum, Jim Meskimen, Ana Ortiz, Corey Burton
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Inspired by The Animatrix (2003) and originally intended as a bridge between Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), Batman: Gotham Knight is an anthology of six loosely connected anime-style shorts, co-produced by various Japanese animation studios in collaboration with DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation. It is the third in the line of Warner’s DC Universe Animated Original Movies, following Superman: Doomsday and Justice League: The New Frontier. Overseen by animation honcho Bruce Timm, each of the six tales has a different writer and director, with Bat-voice par excellence Kevin Conroy adding a measure of continuity by voicing the character in each short. However, the overall results are decidedly mixed.
Visually, the first short, “Have I Got a Story For You?”, is the most interesting. It sees three bored skater kids relating their experience of watching Batman chase down high-tech bad guy the Man in Black. However, each story is subjective, so the first experiences Batman as a sort of living shadow (because he moves so fast), the second as a monstrous, violent bat-creature (like Man-Bat) and the third as a sort of lumbering Robo-Batman (perhaps because of the different gadgets). The story ends with a fourth kid rescuing a more traditional-looking Batman and coming away with his own tale to tell. Aside from the cool-looking, cartoonish animation, this is also the most amusing of the six shorts, thanks to little touches, such as one of the kids inventing violent details (the bat-creature ripping off the villain’s head, for example), only for her friends to immediately realise she’s making it up.
The second story, Crossfire, is the least interesting, largely because Batman barely features. It concerns two MCU (Major Crimes Unit, not Marvel Cinematic Universe) cops – Crispus Allen (Gary Dourdan) and Anna Ramirez (Ana Ortiz) – transferring the recently caught Man in Black to Arkham Asylum and arguing about whether or not Batman’s vigilantism is a good thing, before getting caught in the titular crossfire between two warring gang factions. That said, there is at least some legitimate Dark Knight crossover, as two of the characters (Ramirez and the gangster Maroni) would later appear in Nolan’s film.
Field Test sees Bruce Wayne testing out a new piece of bat-tech with Lucius Fox (Kevin Michael Richardson), namely a force-field that’s triggered by gunfire. However, the field test leads to an unforeseen incident that makes Batman reconsider its usefulness. This is by far the strangest-looking of the shorts, not least because Bruce looks like a floppy-haired teenager, although he still speaks with Kevin Conroy’s familiar deep bat-voice.
The fourth story, In Darkness Dwells, is scripted by The Dark Knight’s David S. Goyer and is by far the most satisfying, mostly because it pits Batman against two famous Bat-villains, The Scarecrow and Killer Croc. It’s a nicely atmospheric story that benefits from being set entirely in a dank sewer, with an extra bit of imaginatively macabre detail in the fact that Batman encounters an old coffin delivery system that works like a pneumatic tube apparatus.
Scripted by comics writer Brian Azzarello, the fifth story, Working Through Pain, sees a badly injured Batman still in the sewer, flashing back to his time as a young man, when he learned to master control over his pain while studying in India with a woman named Cassandra (Parminder Nagra). The story is mostly notable for revealing that Batman apparently has a customised hot disc on his utility belt, in order to cauterise a wound, should the occasion arise.
The final story, Deadshot, pits Batman against the titular comics sharp-shooter, whose profile is now considerably higher thanks to Suicide Squad. There are some nice visual details (such as Deadshot rocking a wide-brimmed hat, or casually skewering a wasp with a tossed toothpick) and the action sequences are nicely handled. Indeed, it would be the best of the bunch, were it not for an unfortunate bit of scripting whereby Batman says “I’d never use one, but I can appreciate the attraction of a gun”, before waxing a little too lyrical about the various pleasures of shooty bang-sticks.
The gimmick of having different animation styles for six different stories is a nice concept in theory, but in practice the styles are very similar in the latter stories and only the first one does anything imaginative with the idea. Similarly, thanks to the graphic shoot-out in the second short, the film falls foul of a frequent complaint with anime-style superhero cartoons, which is that the gunfire, violence, bloodshed and language are needlessly excessive, here earning the film a 15 rating.
Overall, this is worth seeing for curiosity value, but it’s not as much fun as it should be and you can’t help wishing the animators had pushed the experimental boundaries a little further. Incidentally, if you’re wondering what Batman: Gotham Knight is in Japanese, it’s Battoman Gossmu Naito. Who says you can’t learn anything on the internets?