On July 27th 2010, Warner Bros. Animation and the newly founded DC Entertainment will release Batman: Under the Red Hood to the direct to DVD market. You should take the 75 minutes to watch this movie. Far from being the first animated incarnation of the caped crusader, it is easily one of, if not the best version of a Batman story put on screen. Unfortunately, a lot of the material does not live up to the potential of a Batman feature or series; this one does. Based on the storyline by writer Judd Winick, Batman is faced with a new mysterious masked villain who is able to stay one step ahead as he threatens to take over organized crime.
As part of the Warner Bros. Animation team, director Brandon Vietti has participated in bringing many DC characters to life on the small screen. He brings his experience and has improved upon his work from previous projects. Since DC Direct has been releasing good quality direct to video features geared towards an older audience for the last three years, we have had the opportunity to see well-known comic book narratives adapted to animation.
Here’s a list of the DC Direct animated features to date:
• Superman/Doomsday (2007)
• Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)
• Batman: Gotham Knights (2008)
• Wonder Woman (2009)
• Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)
• Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
• Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths (2010)
• Batman: Under the Red Hood (to be released July 27th 2010)
(‘Spoiler Alert’ to those who do not know who is under the Red Hood)
To enjoy Under the Red Hood, you don’t have to know the comic book history, as the movie explains everything that is relevant. To further appreciate the accomplishment of this adaptation, a little publication history might provide some insight. In 1983, a new Robin the Boy Wonder, named Jason Todd, was introduced. Comic history was made in 1988 when a phone poll was used to determine whether or not Robin would survive an encounter with the Joker. In the storyline called A Death in the Family, Jason Todd was beaten to a pulp, and then locked in an explosive-filled warehouse. Because of the phone poll results, Batman arrived too late and found his partner already cold to the touch. The story of Batman’s greatest failure was well done and remains a favourite among readers. In 2005, it was revealed that Jason had returned from the dead and was on a warpath under the name Red Hood (a title that other criminals had used, including the Joker prior to the famous dip into the chemical bath that bleached his skin and turned his hair green). Batman: Under the Red Hood puts the significant moments from Jason’s story into one flowing narrative, even though the source material was created by different writers and artists and across three decades.
Hands down, this movie has the best fight scenes in any of the DC Direct features, or any animated superhero movie, which is no small feat considering how good the fights were in Superman/Doomsday, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern: First Flight.
It takes a lot to make fans forget how great the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill were across several DC animated series from 1992-2006 as Batman and the Joker, respectively. With that in mind, the talents of Bruce Greenwood (JFK in 16 Days and Captain Pike in Star Trek) as the dark knight and John Di Maggio (Bender from Futurama) as the clown prince of crime leave no one wanting. Jensen Ackles serves admirably as the Red Hood, while Neil Patrick Harris plays a very likable Nightwing.
While watching, it is clear that the creators love the source material, and they include moments like a young Jason Todd stealing the wheels from the Batmobile, and the iconic image of Batman holding his dead partner amongst the rubble.
This film also carries significant emotional weight for the main characters. It isn’t just another mystery to solve or villain to defeat; there is much more at stake. Of course, that leads to a better script, stronger actor performances, and a better viewing experience.
Originally the source material was mired by its association with a comic book crossover mini-series, where most of the characters from the DC Universe were included. The return of Jason Todd was pathetically credited to an alternate universe Superboy punching the crystal walls of reality until Robin returned from the dead. This updated re-telling has the benefit of hindsight along with the restrictions of being a relatively self-contained narrative. Todd’s return from the dead makes more sense in a Batman universe, and it is much easier to suspend disbelief.
With the creative success of Batman: Under the Red Hood, and the fan support of all the DC Direct DVDs, we can look forward to 2011 when we will see Green Lantern: Emerald Knights and Frank Miller’s classic Batman: Year One.