Remembering a classic – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

There is a fantastic scene in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm that elevates it so far above other Batman films in terms of its story and character development. 

The scene is a flashback to when Bruce Wayne was developing the Batman persona. He has been out fighting crime, but realizes that criminals do not fear him and decides to craft an identity that will be the next step in honoring the promise he made to his parents. During this time, he is dating Andrea Beaumont who he considers stopping his vigilante operations for to propose marriage. Later when Bruce visits his parents grave on a rainy night he pours his heart out to them. Asking if he’s doing the right thing. He mentions how he can give more money to the police to hire more cops and other ways to help the city. Breaking down, he tells them, “I know I made a promise, but I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t count on being happy.” Shortly after Andrea surprisingly leaves Bruce for reasons unknown to him at the time. Believing he has lost his one chance for normalcy, he dons the cape and cowl for the first time.

This scene is one of many that highlight the greatness of this gem of a superhero story. 

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was originally planned to be a direct-to-video release. Warner Bros. then decided to give the film a theatrical release. It was released to theaters on December 25th 1993 and while it received critical acclaim, it did not succeed at the box office despite the popularity of Batman: The Animated series, which was on air at the time. The movie basically died on the vine due to the short notice in which it was released. I was 8 years old and loved the animated series so I certainly would have wanted to see this in theaters. I dont remember seeing a commercial and didn’t see it until it arrived on VHS. It’s a shame becuase more people needed to see that movie then and perhaps we would have gotten more superb animated films in that particular DC universe.

Mask of the Phantasm takes its cue from mystery/noir films of years past. There’s the main character who is a detective as well as a woman who plays a major part in the story. That makes it work much better as a cinematic experience as opposed to it being another tale with one of Batman’s rogues as the source of conflict. Although one of his rogues does play a part in the game, it’s not in the way you usually would see it. Going back to the noir aspects, I loved getting the chance to see Batman in his detective mode on screen. We are used to seeing it on television or in video games, but on the big screen it is either in limited amounts or not at all.  Always enjoyed stories where the action circles Batman as he tries to solve it as opposed to it being strictly about Batman. That’s what makes this film great. It’s a mystery involving the Dark Knight, but not about him.


(I’ll admit, even as a child watching a world I was already familiar with, the Phantasm is an intimidating character.)

I know it’s over 20 years old at this point, but I don’t want to talk too much more as to not spoil anything (if anyone is checking this out for the first time I want them to go in fresh). Batman: Mask of he Phantasm is a great addition to the Batman mythos. It’s gripping and atmospheric. It’s character focused and well-written. It’s one of the best Batman stories on big or small screens by a team who already made a timeless adaptation of the character. It’s a shame this was never released in high definition formats. This is long overdue for an intensive special edition treatment. Yet if you do want to check this out and never have seen it, it’s dirt cheap on DVD. I highly recommend this one. It’s worth your time.

The Science Behind Pixar

Hey everyone! I’ve been gone a while. I’ve spent most of September editing a small feature. Now that it’s all done. I can get back to things here. I do have some pieces in the works, but I did want to take a moment to share some moments from when my wife and I visited the Franklin Institute in my hometown of Philadelphia to see the Science Behind Pixar exhibit. Here we got to not only see, but get some hands on time with the technology that has made some fantastic films over the years.

My wife and I packaged as toys

Some Pixar tidbits and trivia…

And some sights from the main exhibition…

Film Review – Batman: The Killing Joke

Batman: The Killing Joke is the 26th film in DC Universe Original Animated Movies line. It is an adaptation of the 1988 graphic novel of the same name written by Alan Moore and drawn by Brian Bolland. The Killing Joke is a one-shot Batman story that has his archenemy The Joker, shooting Barbara Gordon and kidnap James Gordon in an attempt to prove that one bad day can drive anyone to madness. 

Now this graphic novel while acclaimed also has its share of controversy as it features the shooting of Batgirl and also the implied sexual assault of the character. This is a trope that has been prevalent in fiction for years where a female character is attacked in an attempt to spur the male character to action. Because of that, it was wondered how will this story translate into movie form? Let’s take a look.


Since the original comic isn’t a long read, DC animation added a 30 minute prologue that takes place before the events of the comic. It focuses on Barbara Gordon’s time as Batgirl before her shooting and paralysis. We got a teaser of Batgirl at the end of the film Batman: Bad Blood that I hoped would be a solo Batgirl film. I guess it was for this. It’s a shame because this sequence adds absolutely nothing to the original story. While Barbara is a capable crime fighter, she is presented as a needy girlfriend in a sexual relationship with Bruce Wayne. This element of the prologue pushes back something that would have been intriguing. During the sequence Batgirl gains herself an enemy who Batman warns her about the moment when a criminal takes it personal. Like him and the Joker. If not for the nonsense of their relationship, this would have been a great story on its own.


After the prologue, we get into the main story. And it’s pretty much an exact retelling of the original comic with not much else added to flesh things out. Since the controversy is so well known, it could have been an opportunity for Batgirl to have the spotlight and flipped the scripted where the Joker wants to drive her mad instead of her father. Here we get beat for beat the original story. 

As voice casting goes, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill return as Batman and Joker respectively. For some reason I felt Conroy was slightly off his game. He seemed a bit disinterested this time. Hamill on the other hand was fantastic as Joker and just as lively as he usually plays him. Tara Strong was also great as Barbara/Batgirl, however I was not a fan of Ray Wise as Jim Gordon.


The animation style for this film tries to emulate Brian Bolland’s fantastic artwork and at times it does work, but most times it feels very stiff. It doesn’t have much fluidity. Batman in particular seems to be the example of the stiffness that stood out to me the most.

Batman: The Killing Joke is mostly average. Since the prologue adds nothing to the original story and also manages as much controversy as the original, you could skip it and not miss a thing. The main story is beat for beat the graphic novel so it’s exactly what has been seen before It’s rated R, but honestly I feel Assault on Arkham pushed more limits with its PG-13 rating than this did with an R. This could have been an opportunity to right a wrong, but instead a mountain out of a molehill has been made with this story. Perhaps it’s just best to leave it be.

 

Final Rating (2.5/5) Batman: The Killing Joke is a missed opportunity to put this story in a more positive light. The prologue is pointless and adds nothing and the main story is unchanged with nothing added. Also has some stiff animation. Good for if you have the book and just don’t feel like reading at the moment. Pretty average adaptation.

Flashback Review – Batman: Assault on Arkham

This will be the first DeaconsDen flashback review. These will be reviews that I didn’t cover at the time of their release, but are perfect to revisit for an upcoming release.

Since the month August will see the release of the movie Suicide Squad, I’m going back to take a look at the 2014 animated film, Batman: Assault on Arkham.

One could see this as a test to see how audiences would react to these characters be given the spotlight in any cinematic format. Considering that we are getting a live action film, this must have passed the litmus test.


This film takes place as part of Batman: Arkham universe. It comes after the events of Batman: Arkham Origins. In the film, Amanda Waller gathers a team of criminals that include Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Killer Frost, King Shark, Black Spider and Captain Boomerang. Their mission is to break into Arkham Asylum and steal a thumb drive hidden in the cane of The Riddler. During their mission they will cross paths not only with the Dark Knight, but the diabolical Joker as well.

Although this is an animated flick, it certainly contains mature content. It carries a PG-13 rating, but it makes the most of what it can do with that rating in regards to its violent and sexual content. Because of that, this is one of the better entries in the animated DC canon. Batman is in the title, but he is not the focus. The Squad takes precedence here and the film doesn’t let you forget about it. They are not heroes and don’t act like it. What’s their motivations? Complete the mission so they don’t die at the hands of Waller. So they do what they need to complete the task. The film never forgets that. Also the somewhat grounded plot (as grounded as a comic book movie can be) is a relief as it’s mostly an infiltration/espionage type mission.


From a technical standpoint, Assault on Arkham has some nice fluid animation to match its equally talented voice cast. Kevin Conroy once again is Batman.Neal McDonough is Deadshot and Hynden Walch as Harley Quinn both do admirable work and capture each character well. C.C.H. Pounder voices Amanda Waller just as she did on Justice League Unlimited. Troy Baker, who played the Joker in Arkham Origins, returns in the role here.


Batman: Assault on Arkham is a quality animation that shifts the focus from Batman to the criminals he interacts with. The movie reminds you that these are not good guys, but it never revels in it. Rather you just enjoy the ride of these bad guys being bad.

Final Rating (4/5)

Review: Justice League vs Teen Titans

 Another day, another DC Universe film to review. Honestly these are some of my favorite things to review. I always love when these movies come out because they tend to cover storylines in the DC world that most likely won’t make it to the big screen, yet they work so well on the small screen. Today I’m covering the 25th installment, Justice Leage vs Teen Titans.

Before I begin, I need to clarify that this is not an extension or continuation of either the Justice League animated series or the original Teen Titans series. This continues the New 52 film universe that began with Justice League: War. So even though these are characters you are familiar with by name, these are different versions of them. 

 The story begins when Robin (Bruce Wayne’s son Damian) disobeys an order from Batman when the Justice League is fighting the Legion of Doom. Batman decides his son needs to learn what it is like working in a team and sends him to join the Teen Titans, a group of young superheroes consisting of Raven, Blue Beetle, Beast Boy and led by Starfire.  

 The bulk of the story focuses on Raven and her struggle to keep her father Trigon from freeing himself and wreaking havoc on the world. This conflict is used to highlight why Raven acts as she does and also to bring some development to Damian as he focuses on someone other than himself. It may not look like it but he has come a long way from his first appearance in Son of Batman. 

  

Since the story belongs to Raven and Robin, there isn’t much you get from the other Titans. Beast Boy and Blue Beetle don’t provide much. You can see that the film looks like it wants to do a bit more with Starfire and highlight her leadership capabilities, but the film is only 76 minutes so that sort of development would have to come in a later adventure.

The character animation feels smooth and is good looking in HD. The action is well drawn as well. The voice acting is fine. Nothing spectacular about it. I know I’m used to the voice from Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go, but that’s on me and my expectations not the fault of the film. It’s actually good they didn’t use those voices. It wouldn’t make this film any difference. 

 My only negative is that the film reaches its climax pretty quickly and as a result it hangs around it a little too long for my liking. I had to check the timer on my player to see how much time was left and there was still about 10 minutes left. Another thing I wished is that DC maybe take a break from these New 52 films and retool and give a little variation like the way these films used to. There also is a post credit scene that indicates that may not be the case, but I hope that if they are gonna make another film with the Titans, just give them the whole film. No Justice League. Just Teen Titans. 

This was an another enjoyably entry in the DC animated canon. A good story and some decent character focuses that move the story forward. If you like this film and are not familiar with the Teen Titans animated series, I highly recommend it. Particularly the 4th season which focuses on Raven and events similar to this film, but the whole series is great fun.


Final Rating (4/5) Good animation and story, but bogged down by a slightly dragging 3rd act. 

  

More DC Animation coverages at DeaconsDen:

Batman: Bad Blood
Justice League: Gods and Monsters

Young Justice

Review – Justice League: Gods and Monsters

  

The latest DC Universe animated movie takes us to an alternate universe. This actually isn’t new territory for these films, but usually it involves the alternative characters conflicting with the versions of the characters we are mostly familiar with. This time around we are solely in this universe, which is great.

Superman pretty much has the same origin except he is the son of Zod not Jor-El and instead of being found by the Kent family, he is raised by a Mexican family. His name is Hernan Guerra and although he grows up with the same hardworking ethic his Clark Kent counterpart, but he also deals with the troubles and discrimination that minorities deal with. This leaves him with a very short fuse in addition to his amazing powers.

Wonder Woman is Bekka. A New God who escape to Earth with a mother box after Highfather kills her husband and the Apokolips royal family. She has a very aggressive personality. Especially when working with Steve Trevor

Batman is Kirk Langstrom. A scientist who like his Man-Bat counterpart, transforms himself unintentionally into a human-vampire hybrid to combat his cancer. Yet his hunger begins to eat away at his humanity.

The trio works without accountability, so when 3 scientists, Victor Fries, Ray Palmer and Silas Stone are found dead, the team has a sensitive alliance with the government to clear their names.

 

What makes this alternate universe worth watching? It’s the fact that while these three may not initially reflect the versions we are familiar with, you can see these are good people. We see how people change despite the circumstances that surround them and this version of the DC Trinity is no different. By the film’s end they either can be what everyone thinks they are or be more.

This is certainly one of the better animations in this canon. The return of Bruce Timm’s iconic style and a character driven narrative make me eager for the follow up film and how they introduce other DC characters for this universe’s Justice League.

Final Rating (4.5/5)

Youth is not wasted on these young people: Young Justice Season 1

  

So I knew of the reputation of this show after it had gone off the air. Like another short-lived animated show, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Young Justice ended before it could truly begin. The first season had been on Netflix streaming for a while and I had it in my list. I finally started it a couple weeks ago. Before I finished the first season, I ordered the second and last season from Amazon. I didn’t want to wait for Netflix to get the second season. I had to have it ready for when this viewing was finished. This is one of the most gripping and character driven series, live action or animated I have ever seen. There is so much here. I hope I can explain it all.

  

The action begins when Aqualad (Kaldur’ahm), Robin (Dick Grayson) and Kid Flash (Wally West) tire of just being sidekicks and long for more responsibility alongside the veteran Justice League. Right there we already have outer first bit of character depth. Teenagers who want more responsibilities. Something almost all of us can relate to at one point in our lives. Their mission leads them to underground chambers of Cadmus Labs where they come upon a clone of Superman who soon after joins the team as Superboy. The team gets 2 additional members in Miss Martian, the niece of Martian Manhunter and Artemis, an archer who may or may not be related to  Green Arrow. Black Canary trains them, Batman assigns the missions and Red Tornado acts as their guardian for their headquarters.

First let me say the animation is brilliant. Crisp and easy on the eyes. It has a visual style that is fitting of the DC Animated Universe. There is a darker color tone, but the characters are bright and stand out.

  

It’s quite difficult to pick out a favorite character from this series when every single one of them is handled so well. Each one has something they are going through over the course of the season. Robin has desires to be leader of the team, but isn’t ready yet in addition to becoming more like Batman. Aqualad, who is leader ponders what life would be like if he never left Atlantis while keeping the team in line. Miss Martian struggles with the team learning about her true identity. Superboy has anger issues stemming from a rejection of his generic father Superman. Kid Flash has a great moment where he felt he could have changed the outcome of something if he was just a bit faster. Artemis fears rejection from the team in regards to her heritage and is insecure about her role as team archer, particularly when Red Arrow comes into the picture. There is so much going on that you wonder as a viewer how they balance it all, but handled well it is. Oh yea and they spend the season dealing with the possibility that there is a mole on the team which makes for some great spy drama as well.

I can’t praise this series enough. Fantastic animation, amazing characters and an awesome superhero atmosphere make this a totally engaging show. If you have Netflix streaming, season one is up now. I do however think that this is a show that money won’t be wasted on. I purchased season 2, but will be going back and getting season 1 to own the series. This is worth having in your collection. 

Stay Tuned for my feelings on season 2 once I complete viewing.

Also check out my take on The Spectacular Spider-Man and the 2011 Thundercats