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July 16, 2008 |

By Miscellaneous | Film | July 16, 2008 |

You are at one of those semi-fancy chain restaurants, like Red Lobster or something. You sit down and, thinking that you are pretty hungry, decide to order a nice appetizer. Except once you get it, it looks like an entire meal unto itself. You start to wonder if you are going to ever be able to finish it, let alone the meal you just shelled out 15-20 bucks for. But you not only manage to clean the plate, but you find yourself ready for more. That is what an appetizer does. It cues up

Batman: Gotham Knight is like that: An overflowing appetizer that simultaneously fills you up while still leaving room for the entree that is The Dark Knight.

While Batman: Gotham Knight does take place in the same world as Nolan’s films, the connection pretty much ends there. If anything, this anthology of short animated films has a deeper connection with another storied part of Bat-media: The acclaimed and practically legendary Batman: The Animated Series. Created in 1992 (also intended as a tie-in to a Batman film, in this case Tim Burton’s), B: TAS was a noteworthy accomplishment, and created an animation dynasty that is still being felt to this day. There are very few people who wouldn’t agree that the show shaped future portrayals of the Dark Knight (I dare say, it did more than the movies did). Considering that one of the producers is Bruce Timm (B: TAS), the similarities aren’t that shocking.In fact, if a person familiar with B:TAS and similar shows (Superman, Batman Beyond, Justice League) were to look at the credits, they will see a bevy of familiar names, such as series writer Alan Burnett, voice director Andrea Romano, and other voice actors from the show. This connection to the series is easily the film’s greatest strength. These are folks who have lived and breathed Batman for the better part of a decade and a half, and are responsible for developing the consummate portrayal of the character. Having this kind of pedigree, it is no wonder this project turned out so well.

Speaking of such connections, there was actually some controversy about the voice casting, since no one from the Nolan films reprised their roles (ala The Animatrix). But this is only a minor inconvenience at best, especially once you recognize certain voices. Batman is voiced by none other than Kevin Conroy, best known as the voice of Batman in the DC Animated Universe. Since 1992, Conroy has been the gravelly voice behind the Dark Knight, starting with B: TAS. He has lost nothing over the intervening years between his last project as Batman and this one, slipping into the role like hot butter. Those of you not familiar with his work may feel a bit confused with the marked difference between his voice and Christian Bale’s, but that is only temporary, as Conroy demonstrates his mastery of the character.

But enough about all that behind-the-scenes stuff. You want to hear about the actual films, right? Right.

Intended as a bridge between the previous film, Batman Begins, and the upcoming The Dark Knight, the shorts explore not just the intervening period, but also some of the unrevealed past of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Similar to another movie tie-in anthology, The Animatrix, the stories share characters and plot elements, but not much else. The six films are based on stories by Jordan Goldberg, and are linked by a common narrative involving Batman dealing with the aftermath of the events in Batman Begins.

Have I Got A Story For You
Writer: Josh Olson (A History of Violence)
Animation: Studio 4C (three films from The Animatrix including “Detective Story”, Spriggan, Tekkon Kinkreet)

The first film on the disc is a trippy little number. Similar to the animated series episode “Legends of the Dark Knight,” “Story” is built around four friends, with three of them discussing their encounters with Batman earlier that day. Though the kids’ stories, we are shown the perception that they (and by extension, most people in Gotham) have of the Dark Knight. It is a remarkable piece, one that shows how Batman is perceived by those unfamiliar with him. It is simultaneously outlandish, and yet immediately relatable. If you saw a guy in a bat suit “flying” around the city stopping crime, you may not be inclined to believe he is just another human either. It is the least connected to the other films, which leaves it slightly weakened story-wise. And the animations style is markedly different from the others as well, using bright colors and dusty shades. I can see why this one was put first, as the shift in tone was too great for it to function anywhere else. Then again, that is like saying that one bar of gold is slightly less shiny than five others. It doesn’t matter if it is a bit tarnished; it is still a goddamn gold bar.

Writer: Greg Rucka (Batman and Gotham Central comics)
Animation: Production IG (Ghost in the Shell franchise)

The Narrows is still cut off from the mainland, and now the entire island is considered part of Arkham Asylum. The criminal underworld is at war, personified by Sal Maroni (Rob Paulsen) and The Russian (Cory Burton). Meanwhile, the police department is being practically rebuilt by James Gordon (Jim Meskimen), many cops feeling the first beam of hope they have had in a long time. While things are nowhere near perfect, they seem to be turning around from the decadence and decay that previously engulfed the city. These are the state of things as Crossfire opens, and could be considered the true beginning of the continual storyline. It introduces us to Crispus Allen (Gary Dourdan) and Anna Ramirez (Ana Ortiz) two members of the Gotham City Major Crimes Unit, handpicked by Gordon in an effort to heal the broken department. Allen is a cynic who distrusts Batman and feels that the police do nothing but clean up after him; Ramirez is like most other Gotham cops, seeing Batman as a necessity, and is grateful to him for the changes in Gotham. They get into an argument over this, which is abruptly interrupted when they are caught in a showdown between Maroni and the Russian. It is another revealing look at how the people of Gotham perceive Batman, this time from the view of the police. Allen’s point has merit: What good are the cops when some costumed nut is doing their jobs? And why can’t they arrest him, since he is breaking the law? Of course, these questions are answered by the eponymous crossfire, and the entrance of Batman near the end is breathtaking, to say the least. It is a fitting introduction to all the characters, and sets the tone for the following shorts excellently.

Field Test
Writer: Jordan Goldberg
Animation: Bee Train (Noir, Immortal Grand Prix, .hack)

Lucius Fox (Kevin Michael Richardson) is working on a project when, like most scientific discoveries, he accidentally creates an electromagnetic device that, among other things, makes the wearer near-bulletproof. Wayne decides to use the device in both his civilian guise (investigating a crooked developer) and as Batman. But during a confrontation with Maroni and the Russian, he learns that the device has an inadvertent flaw that he cannot accept. This one is my personal favorite, not only for the gadgetry, but also for a truly developed peak into the mind of Batman, especially how he perceives his role in protecting people. When he realizes that the device, while effectively saving him from harm, puts others in danger, Batman doesn’t even hesitate to give it up. Despite the iffy role of the “innocent” that was hurt, the fact that Batman reacted the way he did spoke volumes. His final line in the episode says it best, and I won’t ruin it here. I also liked the little bit of humor with Fox and Wayne dancing around the by-now blatantly obvious fact that Wayne is using the technology as Batman. Fox is not a stupid person, and it is clear that Wayne, while not out-and -out saying it, truly trusts him with his identity and, in this case literally, his life. Since the tenor of their relationship was already set in Begins, it is nice to see it acknowledged. Another reason it is my favorite is that it is the most truly “anime” of the episodes, and an anime geek such as I is an easy mark for such things.

In Darkness Dwells
Writer: David S. Goyer (Batman Begins)
Animation: Madhouse (Ninja Scroll, Trigun, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust)

“In Darkness Dwells” is the episode most closely linked to the Nolan movie, and even then, it is a tenuous connection. A mysterious creature has kidnapped a popular religious figure and taken into the sewers, sparking a riot at the cathedral. Batman discovers a connection between the creature, the riot, and an old foe. While well executed and very entertaining, I could not help but be a bit disappointed. It seemed less like a self-contained story and more like a series of deleted scenes from the movie. This disappointment was countered somewhat by the kickass fight scenes, and I suppose there had to be a much more secure connection to the franchise. Still it wasn’t as if they really needed it.

Working Through Pain
Writer: Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets)
Animation: Studio 4C

If not for my tech-geek leanings towards “Field Test,” this would easily be my favorite. “Firefly” fans will note similarities between this short and the episode “Out of Gas.” In both, the heroes are quite wounded, struggling to stay alive and flashing back on their pasts. Of course, this being Batman, his flashbacks aren’t as rosy as Capt Reynolds. He goes back to a period during his training, where in an effort to learn how to manage his pain, he visits Cassandra (Parminder Nagra). She is considered a freak and outcast for dressing up as a male in order to study the near-mythical exploits of the Indian fakirs. During her time with them, she had learned how to control her reception of pain to remarkable degrees, able to take direct blows to the head without reaction. Bruce stays with her fro several moths, learning how to minimize his pain to the point where he can control it. She realizes, though, that the pain he has is not something she can help him with, especially since he seems to welcome it. Considerably the deepest and most philosophical short of the bunch, it has the saddest ending of the six, managing to wrest quite a few tears from my mauve (as in not-quite-blackened) heart.

Writer: Alan Burnett (“Batman: The Animated Series”)
Animation: Madhouse

One common thread in the shorts is Batman’s hatred of guns, which is a bit of foreshadowing towards this, the last entry. And boy, do they end things with a literal bang. Deadshot (Meskimen), an assassin of considerable renown and impeccable talent with firearms, is hired to kill both Gordon and Batman. He is shown to be the anti-Batman in more ways than one. In the most dynamic and action-packed episode, the two face down in a battle that showcases a gorgeous spread of Gotham City. Deadshot is portrayed as an interesting foil, embodying everything that Batman states in his opening speech about guns and the people who use them. The final fight scene is exhilarating, and the fact it is all 2-D animation makes it even more incredible. This episode will easily be the highlight for many viewers.

In conclusion, the folks at Warner Bros Animation have outdone themselves again. In Batman: Gotham Knight, they have created a fine product that stands on its own, without the tie-in to the upcoming sequel. While it has its weak moments, its strengths more than make up for it. Of course, casual viewers may not have the patience or interest to truly enjoy some of the episodes (“Pain”), and newcomers may find the jumping plots and different animation a bit much. And really, anyone who isn’t already a fan of animation won’t find anything to convince them otherwise. But no one who considers themselves a Batman fan should miss out.

By the way, if you are going to buy the DVD (highly recommended), then go for the two-disc DVD or Blu-Ray editions. They come with four choice episodes from B: TAS, including the aforementioned “Legends of the Dark Knight”.

Claude Weaver III aka Vermillion is once again looking for more pants after seeing the attached teaser for the Wonder Woman animated movie featuring Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, and Rosario Dawson. His lower regions may never be the same again. You can get more over at his blog, Vermillion’s Brain Receptacle.

The Original Terror That Flaps In The Night, Bitches

Batman: Gotham Knight / Claude Weaver III

Film | July 16, 2008 |

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