Batman animation on VOD: The beginning, middle and end
Batman: Year One7
Batman: The Animated Series9
The Dark Knight Returns8
Chris Bryant | On 04, Mar 2014
The Dark Knight occupies a fair section of Amazon’s animated streaming offerings, alongside some other well-known superheroes. On offer are tales of The Caped Crusader’s start, his adventures and his final challenge. Combined, they provide a epic insight into Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Batman, as well as our own.
2011’s Year One, adapted from Frank Miller’s 1987 comic miniseries, displays a Batman many will be familiar with. Dark, troubled, sporting a classic grey suit and black cowl and cape; Miller worked off the popular image of Batman to produce an origins story that influenced numerous works – not least a few by one Christopher Nolan.
Though Batman in name, Year One’s star is Gotham. Giving equal screen time to Batman and James Gordon (voiced by Bryan Cranston), it follows the sordid nature of Gotham and its effects on the inhabitants; turning a policeman into one of the worst crime bosses, turning a good cop into a cheat and turning a heartbroken young boy into a reckless, armour-clad crime fighter, torn between fixing the city that destroyed his life and taking revenge on those trying to stop him. As a work of Frank Miller it is naturally excellent, told in chronological form throughout the first year of Gordon and Batman’s life in Gotham; however, for a Miller piece, it is notably tame, with no major bloodshed or gruesome scenes. Producing themes of corruption, kidnap and revenge, it is Batman at his most middle-of-the-road. Classically animated and delivered straight from DC’s animated movies division, Year One could well be the definitive Batman origins story.
Where Year One runs into problems is simply in the format. Told scene-by-scene, date-by-date, we are shown the evolution of Gotham, with only the growing corruption to hold it together. It lacks a sense of adventure that makes The Dark Knight a comic book hero. What, unquestionably, does not lack a sense of adventure and fun, is The Animated Series.
The Animated Series
Leaping about between Batman’s escapades, the 1995 series (all four seasons of it) shows the hero at his most fun. Gotham is still a tough place, littered with brightly-coloured super-villains and dastardly plots. The Animated Series started a popular trend of seeing exactly what you can do with everyone’s favourite Bat. What happens if Harley-Quinn teams up with Poison Ivy? What stories are told when Penguin and The Joker play cards?
That’s not to say that it’s devoid of soul. Flawlessly written, The Animated Series explores Batman in every way. When poisoned by Scarecrow’s gas, envisioning his late father, his “I Am Vengeance” speech would rival any Nolan or Miller-penned affair. In one episode, he ingeniously fights an identical, robotic version of himself. In another highlight, he is forced into an Inception-esque dream world, in which he has married Selina Kyle and his parents are alive. Who would give up such a life, and how?
The Animated Series is perfectly soundtracked, intelligently written and is ultimately sixty-five episodes of an excellent animated television show.
The Dark Knight Returns
While The Animated Series might be seen by some as being at the more child-friendly end of the Batman scale, that mistake will certainly not be made with The Dark Knight Returns. Also adapted from Frank Miller’s comics, Returns takes a look at Batman in his later years.
Having retired from crime fighting and struggling with his past, Bruce Wayne (voiced spectacularly by Peter Weller) watches his Gotham fall into the hands of gangs of freaks and then The Joker, who feigns rehabilitation to escape. Exploring the idea of their connection and of Batman as a killer, the two part film is certainly the toughest of the three. Bloody, brutal and political, Returns also drafts in a well-known red cape to try and stop Batman, a face-off as cinematic as it is epic. Meanwhile, an embittered Wayne still wrestles with his orphaned past as he tries to shape a future for the city that has now taken everything from him.
Witty, deep and intelligent, the final part of the Dark Knight’s story also takes into account the role the media play in a modern society. The goriest and the saddest instalment, The Dark Knight Returns is exactly the ending you’d expect Miller and DC Animations to create for the toughest, most human superhero around.