So I watched the new direct-to-home-video Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusaders animated movie, starring those stalwarts of superhero snazziness Adam (Batman) West and Burt (Robin) Ward, with special guest villainess Julie (Catwoman) Newmar. And…yeah, that was pretty fun. My very mild apprehension re: West’s voice work from the trailer was thankfully not the problem I feared…no, not about the aging of his voice, but rather the way he seemed to play up the humor as opposed to essentially being the straight (Bat)man of the TV show. It wasn’t quite so bad when the entire project was taken as a whole, and it was nice to hear him Batting it up once again. I’ll have to say that Burt Ward’s voice didn’t sound like it aged a day, which was pretty amazing.
Nearly all the stuff you remember from the show is here, and more besides: you kinda/sorta see what happens as Bruce and Dick slide down what appear to be miles-long Bat-poles as their costumes are donned, and the Batmobile’s exit from the Batcave is now long and winding with an array of sliding doors. The ever-present dinosaur from the Batcave of the comics is here as well! The replacement voices for the other featured fiendish foes (Joker, Riddler and Penguin) do well enough, though I imagined briefly what it would have been like to get John Astin, who filled in as the Riddler for Gorshin on the TV show (and is still with us!) to reprise that role. Many of the other ’66 series villains put in brief appearances as well…even Shame is in there, somewhere.
The animation is serviceable, capturing the 1960s look-and-feel, the plot is silly but when were they not, and overall it was a good ol’ time returning to this classic iteration of the Batman. Interestingly, they didn’t go with the TV show’s narration, though someone is doing their best William Dozier impression for the sequences featuring the announcer on a TV show Bruce and Dick are watching. One voice acting moment that was particularly affecting was West’s portrayal of a Batman under the influence of a drug designed to make him…well, evil. Yes, it’s been noted here and there the humor of ’60s Batman quoting Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in one scene, but overall it was a little uncomfortable hearing Best Batman just being so mean. Kudos to West and the producers for making that bit of business work as well as it did.
I said in that last post that I figured this would be the one-and-only return of West ‘n’ Ward in animated form, but I was wrong. Boy, was I ever wrong. William Shatner as Two-Face is the classic TV crossover I never expected, but now can’t wait to experience. Alas, that we waited too long to get Ricardo Montalbán as animated Batman ’66 Bane.
So it turns out I was able to pick up the Batman: The Killing Joke Blu-ray for a reasonable price (“not cheap enough!” I already hear some of you saying) so I was able to form an opinion on the thing for myself rather than depending on the internet’s wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed its unleashing upon the world.
And…well…I mean, the cover’s nice:
…though looking at a large version of the image, I can’t precisely tell if this is a brand new image based on the cover of the original comic, just with extra details that extend beyond the borders of that comic’s cover, or if it is the original drawing, with those additional details added after the fact, or what. My vote’s for brand new drawing, since it wouldn’t surprise me if Brian Bolland exactly duplicated every strand of hair, every glare on the camera, for this new image. There are enough little differences that could be attributed to recoloring/Photoshop manipulation, I suppose, but…
“Hey, Mike, what about the actual cartoon?”
…Now, the discs inside are certainly very round, with nice labels, and…
Oh, okay, fine.
What we have here are two very different cartoons basically just glued together to make a feature with the expected run-times of DC’s usual home video product. You have the first half (more or less), which is relatively standard issue Batman/Batgirl fighting bad guys, and the second half which is the actual adaptation that you presumably bought the movie for. The big problem is an issue of tonality…the second part does not flow from the first part. You have slam-bang action with relationship melodrama, and then you swing into a story that, as originally presented in print form, has a measure of melancholy and introspection that the cartoon at least attempts to duplicate.
The elephant in this particular room is of course that Batgirl and Batman perform, to borrow a phrasing from my initial Twitter response, the horizontal Batusi in the first half of the story. Now, this seems very much to be wildly inappropriate for the characters, to say the very least, given the “mentor/student” relationship that the two have…and is in fact reinforced throughout this half of the film, despite Batgirl’s efforts to alter that status. Batman even says to her at one point “we’re not equals,” emphasizing the apparent power imbalance that makes this “hook-up” even more cringeworthy. Yes, in context, they’re both adults, but that’s not how their relationship has ever read. At any rate, I will say that to the film’s credit, their sexual encounter is presented as a Very Bad Idea, so for a one-off film, I suppose can deal with it…
…Not that there’s any real point to it, beyond (as I’ve seen some folks suppose) to give Batman even more reason to hunt down the Joker, since apparently just shooting one of his crime-fighting partners and, oh, the simple fact that he’s the Joker aren’t enough. This is part of the larger idea that the producers added this extended prologue to give context as to who Batgirl is, so that we’ll feel the loss more when Joker shoots her in the back half of the movie (oh, SPOILERS, by the way) and…I don’t know. I feel like if you had to it, an entirely separate adventure, giving us not just the classic context for Batgirl but the Batman/Joker conflict as well, would have provided sufficient contrast and not have diminished the whole by pretending to be part of “The Killing Joke.”
Now the actual adaptation itself is…serviceable, if viewed as its own thing. There are some highlights, like Mark Hamill’s voicework as the pre-Joker Joker, which was as good as I’d hoped. He sounds like a perfectly normal guy…with just the faintest hints of his eventual Joker voice at the edges. And the scene where Barbara opens the door and the Joker is waiting there with the gun pointed at her…that’s just as terrifying and horrible as it needs to be. In fact, that entire scene is probably the best paced of the film, and most closely resembles the source material. There are attempts at some of the visual transitions from the comic, too, and those aren’t too bad, I suppose.
But overall this trip didn’t feel necessary. Nothing’s really added by giving voice to the dialogue, by making the pictures move. Part of the appeal of the original Killing Joke is, like I’d said, the quiet melancholy, as in the scenes where the Joker is clearly reflecting on his past. And Batman’s opening speech to who he thinks is the Joker, about how he’s been “thinking about you, about me” — that works read on a page. It doesn’t work when read out loud. Even the joke that ends the story…the timing on its telling feels like it’s off…and we don’t get the sirens that drown out the laughter, even though Batman has explicitly said that the police will be coming. You can still interpret the ending in this way, however, which is a good thing since in my mind I do think that’s an important part of the story.
It’s like animating The Killing Joke has made it smaller, taking its sadness and its nightmarish qualities and reducing them to Just Another Cartoon, and tacking on an unnecessary prologue didn’t help.
I mean, believe it or not, I’m glad I saw it…I think it’s interesting from the perspective of what happens when direct adaptations like these are attempted (see also The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen), but maybe we’re better off when these stories are used as inspirations for new media adaptations rather than expecting accurate translations.
§ August 22nd, 2016§ Filed under adam west, batman, cartoonsComments Off on I think this new cartoon should open with a live-action version of the original show’s animated credits.
Okay, so I’m a little behind on this, but I’m thrilled this is happening…Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar returning as Batman, Robin and Catwoman for a new animated feature based on the ’60s Batman TV show.
There’s a trailer at the link…the animation looks nice, West and Ward’s voice work sounds good…it feels like West may be pushing the “jokiness” of his voice a bit more than we got in the show (similar to his voice work in Lego Batman 3) which sort of gives Batman more seeming self-awareness of the inherent ridiculousness of his circumstances. In the show, the joke was Batman was deadly earnest about everything, and making him in on the joke would undercut the show’s tone. HELLO, I’M THE GUY NIT-PICKING A NEW ADAM WEST BATMAN THING — I’m sure it’ll be fine, and will be perfectly happy getting new Adam West Bat-anything. I mean, I’m sure my voice won’t sound exactly the same 40 years from now. I’m just glad that The Bat-Powers That Be were able to get this accomplished while West and Ward and Newmar were…still available to perform, shall we say.
I’d love for there to be a series of these films, but I’m going to hazard a guess and say that one’s all we’re getting. Besides, they’ve already done an animated Dark Knight Returns adaptation, which is basically the only other story I’d insist on West voicing.
At the very least, it’ll be nice to have a new Batman direct-to-home-video cartoon that kids can watch, as opposed to the Killing Joke flick that was released a few weeks ago. I haven’t yet seen it, and I’ve been hesitant to do so after hearing about a wholly unnecessary and distasteful expansion to the story, with Batman and Batgirl having a sexual relationship. (Apparently to give Batman more reason to be angered at what the Joker ultimately does to her, since “the Joker seriously injured my crime-fighting partner” isn’t enough.) From what I hear, the adaptation of the actual comic itself isn’t bad…I mean beyond the problems with the actual story itself, which has undergone quite a bit of reconsideration in recent years…though apparently the ending is made less ambiguous. What I’ve been most curious about is Mark Hamill’s voice work on the pre-Joker Joker…I want to know what he does with that. Ah, well, maybe if the price on the Blu-ray drops a bit more, I’ll pick it up, or I can just Netflix it eventually.
Maybe instead of tacking on that unnecessary prologue, they could have used that portion of the disc’s runtime to adapt a different Joker story? Like “Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker.” They didn’t do an adaptation of that already, did they? Or while I’m thinking of it, how ’bout a series of two or three discs adapting this series? Sure this scene needs to exposed to the cartoon-viewing public.
So the full Justice League Dark animated movie preview is out there on the internettings, which is a special feature on the soon-to-be-released-in-physical-media-preferred-by-the-old Batman: The Killing Joke DVD and/or Blu-ray that some of you out there seem to be very excited about. Anyway, the video clip I have here is just the short version of said special feature, which you can go out there and find if you’d like, but I wasn’t comfortable just posting it in its entirety:
Of note: Matt Ryan, star of the Constantine TV show and reprised the role on an episode of Arrow is back providing the voice of John Constantine in…Constantine’s first animated appearance, I think? Unless someone hid him in the background of an episode of Teen Titans or something.
Also, Swamp Thing is in the cartoon, his first animated appearance since this cartoon and the one or two sneaky cameos in one or two other DC animated thingies. No voice credit for ol’ Swampy as yet, so I happily throw my hat into that mossy ring. I always imagined him with a sassy valley-girl type voice, as I’m sure all of you have, too.
So the other day I acquired a number of mid-1960s Gold Key comics, including a couple issues of the long-running Bugs Bunny series. Now, for years, it seems as if the Bugs Bunny comics, and the other Warner Bros. animated family of comics from Dell and Gold Key, have been forgotten by God and man and been shown no love in the back issue marketplace. I think, in the nearly three decades I’ve been at this, I’ve had requests for Warner Bros. back issues only a handful of times.
(Wait, I should add a caveat here…there were lots of requests specifically for Marvin the Martian, more often than not for tattoo ideas, and even that went away with the advent of Google Images. But aside from that, very few requests for Warner Bros. comics that could actually be realistically fulfilled, since Marvin 1) never had his own title, and 2) hardly, if ever, appeared in other Dell/GK books as far as I could tell.)
Part of the problem is, unlike the Disney books which had Carl Barks and a few other “name” artists, I don’t believe the Warner Bros. comics ever had their own “Good Rabbit Artist” spurring on collectors to acquire their titles (though it should be noted Barks did draw a Porky Pig story that includes Bugs). As such, I remember having at the previous place of employment issues of Bugs Bunny going back to the ’40s for as cheap as four or five bucks, or even less. I’d often use them as an example as “no, just because a comic book is old doesn’t mean it’s expensive.”
“Then why would you even buy any Bugs Bunny comics for your shop?” you may be wondering. Well, frankly, they were more or less thrown in with the other comics…as I was totaling up the books, I noted to the buyer I wasn’t going to pay much of anything for the BBs as I would likely never sell them, and as he was just looking to unload the whole lot, he was fine with that.
Thus, that is how I ended up with issue #108 from November 1966, featuring the premiere appearance of Honey Bunny:
“Who?” you ask? Well, “Who?” I also asked, and I figured it was just a one-shot character that was never seen again. Here’s another shot of her from inside the book:
I went to that inerrant font of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, and sure enough, there’s an entry on her which has informed me that she actually stuck around in one form or another until the ’90s. Not starring in cartoons (aside from perhaps a cameo here and there), but primarily in the comics and some merchandising, only to be replaced with the arrival of Lola Bunny in the film Space Jam.
And that’s how I found out about an obscure outlier in the Warner Bros. cartoon family, one that had actually seen a bit of use over the course of a few decades without ever significantly crossing over into wider animated visibility and into the general public’s consciousness. I mean, even Gabby Goat only made it into a couple old cartoons, and we all remember Gabby Goat, right?
2. The Pope story is so big, they featured it twice. Unless the Pope is going somewhere after he goes to Zimbabwe, since the destination is cut off in that second article.
3. Well, that’s an unfortunate date. …Even the most innocuous of usage sticks out like a sore thumb now.
4. Honestly, that typesetting. But I’m grateful to this newfangled Digital Versatile Disc technology allowing us to freeze on frames like these for such important projects as, say, looking for injokes or poking some gentle fun.
still from “Superman and Wonder Woman vs. the Sorceress of Time” (1988)
So I finally received my copy of the Batman Vs. Robin animated movie from Diamond this week, and this is some sticker that’s on the box:
Don’t know if that means anything to anybody that hasn’t read the comics…is there any kind of larger media presence for Talon and/or the Court of Owls that I don’t know about, that would make this sticker of use in attracting your average consumer in a Best*Mart? “But Mom, this movie has Talon and the Court of Owls! We have to get it!” Or is it enough that perhaps the very presence of the sticker ballyhooing their presence will pique curiosity: “Huh…these characters are apparently important enough for the manufacturer to go through the extra expense of printing and applying these stickers to the packaging…surely I, as a Blu-ray/DVD consumer, can’t let all that effort go to waste.”
Okay, I’m pokin’ a little fun. But honestly, one would think the promise of “BATMAN VERSUS ROBIN” would be enough get get someone to pull the trigg…OOH, sorry, Bruce, poor choice of words.
The movie itself is fine…not one I’d put on the TV to entertain the four-year-old in your life, because it starts off with a sequence that’s pretty much pure nightmare fuel. But it certainly delivers on the title, and I like the fact that this new movie builds off the previous Bat-imation film that introduced the Damian Wayne character rather than just leaving that as a stand-alone. I know the last couple of Justice League cartoons are effectively in sequence as well, but those are sort of blandish and empty (particularly the recent Throne of Atlantis), while these Batman films have a little more weight to them. There is one significant bump in the road, a flashback sequence that introduces the Court of Owls concept via a bedtime story in the most awkward bit of storytelling you can possibly imagine, but otherwise everything flows well, and violently, enough. I appreciated the clarity of the fight scene choreography, and I hope what I just typed right there turns up as a pull quote in an ad someday.
Anyway, I liked it. I hope they do at least one more to wrap up the Damian storyline…or, even better, maybe they can tackle the whole Batman Incorporated thing. That would be pretty amazing in animation. Plus, they still need to introduce this vital character.
Also rescued from that collection I was talking about a couple of days ago were a few of these Flintstones paperbacks from the mid-1970s:
I like the look of these, particularly that moody cover on The Bedrock Connection. Inside, the artwork (usually alternating pages with the prose, but sometimes sharing a page with some text) was…occasionally off-model, one might say. But it sufficed, I suppose, even if they cheated with similar poses and layouts in the images, like when they followed this pic:
…with this one just two pages later:
I think they’re supposed to be in the same place, but the moon has moved farther away, the house suddenly sprouted another tree and a new window treatment, the rocks at their feet have changed positions, etc. “Suddenly, Fred and Barney found themselves in a parallel dimension, just slightly different from their own. ‘Darn you, Gazoo!’ bellowed Fred.”
Here’s the first page of Gentlemen Farmers, to give you bit of a taste of what these books are like:
“A tall, thin who?” you may be wondering? The Thin Whiteschist Duke himself, David Boulderie? No, it’s this terrifying looking gentleman:
…who seems a bit creepily outside the standard Flintstones model, but not as much as this guy from the first page:
…which looks like some freakish proto-Barney who’s somehow escaped the studio’s round file and has entered the fictional world of the Flintstones to stalk and eventually confront his successor. Kinda like that Simpsons episode where Current Bart confronts Tracey Ullman Show Bart which is something that actually happened I’m assuming, and I didn’t just imagine it.
Anyway, I was posting some of these scans to the Twitter when Twitter pal Teresa asked who the author was. I repliced “Horace J. Elias,” and Teresa discovered that the fella wrote a whole lot of cartoon-related books. I’m assuming that’s an actual guy and not a pseudonym used by the publisher for the army of people they had cranking these out, but I didn’t have much like finding any info on the fellow. I did find this page on one of those ancestry sites which could be him, but I have no idea. Anyway, here’s to you, Horace…you had a good gig writing books based on cartoons, and I’m just a bit jealous.
So I was clued in by one of Johanna’s recent posts that there was a new Justice League animated feature that was going to be available exclusively at Target stores, which seemed to come as a surprise to pretty much everybody. According to this interview with the director, there was a desire for a DC superhero cartoon that maybe skewed a little younger than the usual DC Direct films that could be marketed alongside the toylines, and this was the result.
They really want you to know that this is an “original movie,” since it not only tells you so in a blurb directly printed under the title, but this sticker is affixed to the front of the package as well:
And this sticker is slapped on the box too, reminding you about Superman’s 75th anniversary last year:
As for the cartoon itself…it’s entertaining enough, with plenty of superhero versus supervillain action and a simplistic time-travel plot. The Legion of Super-Heroes are involved, kinda sorta, with Dawnstar and Karate Kid as two potential members of that future super-team who find themselves in the present day, trying to prevent Lex Luthor from using Legion villain the Time Trapper to destroy the Justice League. Dawnstar is given, in addition to her traditional super-tracking powers, some kind of magical glowy energy-healing ability that seems to primarily exist to provide a quick ending to the climactic battle of the movie. Karate Kid’s ability to spot structural flaws are given enough of a flourish to be a visually-interesting super power, and his martial arts skills are given a good showcase in a battle with Robin.
The character designs are New 52-inspired, with too many seams and not enough red trunks:
…though Superman doesn’t have that terrible collar, which is a plus. Bizarro does have red pants in this cartoon, in case you were worried. I should note that Superman’s design, from his costume to his facial features, do fluctuate somewhat throughout the feature, which is a little distracting.
One of the major highlights in the story is when everybody time travels back to Smallville, with the villains attempting to prevent the Kents from rescuing baby Kal-El, and the heroes trying to keep history on track. It’s a very funny, slightly surreal sequence as the good guys and bad guys play keep-away with Baby Kal, who is repeatedly referred to as “Superbaby.” This Silver Age fan approves.
While mostly enjoyable, if slight, there are some minor quibbles with the film, such as Robin’s characterization as a bit of a petulant child (meant to be comic relief, and probably funny to the target (heh) audience, but may grate on old people like you and me). Plus, the Time Trapper’s ultimate gambit, to apparently…wreck stuff around Earth with time vortices, I guess? — doesn’t seem like much of a final battle beyond giving heroes one last action scene to show off their stuff.
One surprising positive: this dude shows up, and though my initial reaction was “oh, no,” he’s actually one of the more entertaining parts of the film:
Yup, that’s the jester-ish Toyman from the ’70s Super Friends cartoons, redesigned into apparently being some kind of robot-toy-thing himself:
…and a brief shot of a display in a 31st century museum gives us his extremely depressing fate:
The original Toyman of the ’70s cartoons was mostly just annoying. I want to know more about this Toyman, who is less annoying and more creepy and / or goofy.
Bonus features on this disc include two of the original Super Friends episodes, both involving some kind of time travel, and I haven’t watched them yet because I’m sure I’ve seen them before and therefore they have already stolen away enough of my life.
Overall it’s a fun cartoon, despite some minor issues, and hopefully will lead to more all-ages original animated features based on DC properties. …By which of course I mean “Swamp Thing.”