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The Best and Worst of DC Universe Animated Original Movies

General Rules

As promised, I am beginning my revisting of the superhero/comic-book genre by splitting things up into categories.  The easiest of the categories with the most substance has to be the work DC has done in animation between 2007 and now.  The key to these movies is that they are geared to the PG-13- or R-rated crowd versus family-friendly. For the purposes of these rankings, I am making the following caveats:

  • Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is excluded due to it being released in movie theaters first.  I will address it as part of the DC Theatrical Releases rankings.
  • While they were released in the 90s, I will include the direct-to-video Batman animated movies that preceded the bulk of what is known as the current DC Universe Animated Original Movies as par tof my evaluations.
  • The DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection will be included for evaluation since it was released on its own despite three of the shorts appearing as extra features on 3 of the main movies.
  • The following are excluded due to my rule of not having watched them yet:
    • Teen Titans: The Judas Contract
    • Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay
    • The Death of Superman
    • Reign of the Supermen
    • Justice League vs. the Fatal Five
    • Batman: Hush
    • Wonder Woman: Bloodlines
  • As much as I will try to avoid it, I do have a natural tendency to be biased for Batman, and biased against Superman.  It’s not that Supes is a bad character; it’s more of a case that he has been better served in these movies when shown as part of the Justice League versus his solo efforts.

Best of

When I think of the term “Best of”, I equate it to terms of quality and rewatchability.  Think of this list as the ones I would have with me on a desert island, with the others gone the way of the dodo.  Rather than ranking them 1 to x, I will simply list them in chronological release order.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

This was DC’s first direct-to-video flirtation with a PG-13 or R rating.  The release was initially delayed due to concerns from WB about its dark nature.  Thankfully DC released a “director’s cut” a few years after Batman Beyond left the airwaves.  A solid story with great voicework that does veer into the darker side of Joker and Batman.

Justice League: The New Frontier

This was one of the first reviews I wrote regarding DC’s animated movies; click the title to read more detailed thoughts.  That said, I do wish DC would invest in doing other animated features similar to this in artwork and Silver Age stories.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

A good introduction to the Injustice League from a different Earth, as well as the concept of the Multiverse.  James Woods makes a good Owlman, and is easily the standout for this movie.

Batman: Under the Red Hood

An iconic Batman storyline adapted faithfully for animation.  This was the first attempt at adapting a lengthy storyline to animation since DC’s first attempt with Superman:Doomsday (read the Supes review to see how not to do it), and you can tell they learned from previous mistakes.  While Bruce Greenwood is not Kevin Conroy, he is still a good choice for the Dark Knight.

DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection

Headlined by the short Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam, DC wisely put this collection out so that people could enjoy the small stories that they had brought to life via animation.  My favorite is The Spectre, with some great vociework by Gary Cole.  The shorts for The Spectre and Jonah Hex are definitely more adult, but serve as morality tales.  The Green Arrow short helps lighten things up within the collection.

Batman: Year One

While the title leads you to believe it is about Batman’s introduction to Gotham City, it is most definitely Jim Gordon’s story, just as it was in the comics.  Between this and UTRH, you can tell DC is hitting its peak with quality in animation and story-telling.

Justice League: Doom

What I like about this movie is that it shows that Batman trusts no one and has contingency plans for dealing with all of the heroes, including himself.  While the team feels rightly betrayed, one can’t deny that Bats makes some solid points at the end.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Based on one of the first Elseworlds graphic novels DC ever published, this turn-of-the-century take on Batman is enjoyabel for both Batman fans and Sherlock Holmes fans.  DC did a great job in bringing this story to life.

Honorable Mentions

While the following are good, I had to draw a line somewhere.  Here are some decent almost-made-its:  Wonder Woman; Green Lantern: First Flight; Green Lantern: Emerald Knights; Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox; and Justice League Dark.

Worst of

If “Best of” is evaluated in terms of story and rewatchability, then “Worst of” has to be those that DC seemed to rush into production or not really care about the quality of what was being produced.

Batman: The Mystery of the Batwomen

A forgettable feature set within the Batman: The Animated Series universe.  About the only thing I remember from it is the use of Kelly Ripa’s voice.  It has been several years since I watched this.

Superman: Doomsday

DC almost killed off this run with its first entry.  It has not held up well through the test of time and even caused to DC to revisit it by remaking it into The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen.

Justice League: War

A case of DC trying to tie into the New 52 by adapting the first 6 issues of Justice League from that run.  It was a weak story in print, and even weaker in animation.

Batman: The Killing Joke

This was a tough selection.  While the animation quality is good and the voicework is superb, one cannot ignore other issues.  In order to flesh out the movie to be animated-feature-length, the storytellers decided to add in a controversial storyline revolving Batman and Batgirl.  While I am not a prude and one can see at times that there was some possiblity of romantic entanglements for the two, what was presented was done simply for additional shock value in a story that already dealt with possible rape and severe mental trauma.  While I am glad that I watched it and while there may be parts I appreciate, this is one storyline that should have remained in print and not been adapted.

“Dis”Honorable Mentions

After peaking with Batman: Year One, DC definitely spenty the next few years being the “McDonald’s” of animated features.  Crank’em out, regardless of quality, and people will consume them.  I am as guilty as everyone else for feeding this mentality.  A number of releases after the peak could have been on the “Worst of” list.  That said, it seems that quality is improving and maybe we will see a new renaissance.

Rethinking Superhero and Comic-Book Movies

When I started this site back in 2007, movies inspired by known superheroes or comic books were still in their infancy as a genre.  Who knew that 12 years later we would see a genre that would not only grow exponentionally, but also dominate most cinematic discussions?  You can see the height of this naivete with my list from June 30, 2008, where I listed what I thought were the top 10 superhero movies of all time.  Marvel had just released what would end up being entry #1 of 22 in what is now known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); Chris Nolan had just released the second entry of what would become known as The Dark Knight Triology; and DC was starting to dominate the animated movie front via Blu-Ray/DVD.  Streaming services were starting to be visualized, but not in wide production.  Additionally, movies and franchises like Kingsman: The Secret Service, Kick-Ass, A History of Violence were actually pulled from graphic novels and small comic-book series not known by most, with studios taking some risks in developing those properties.

If the period of the late 90s and early 2000’s was consumed with fanboys/fangirls angrily drawing battle-lines between Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, then 2008 would see the rise of a war that looks to put those earlier battles to shame: the MCU versus the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).  With the events (on- and off-screen) of the past 3-5 years in both franchises, fans on each side have only gotten more steadfast in their positions and leave little room for those that enjoy both.  What is interesting is that lost in all of the debate would be the following:

  • Marvel has surrendered the animated movie arena to DC
  • While some movie-watchers bemoan the live-action offerings from DC, many do not realize that DC has been quietly producing 2-3 animated offerings per year over the past 10-12 years, with many being well-received.
  • Despite some missteps by WB and DC, the DCEU is realizing that the way to compete with Marvel is to frame their “universe” differently.  As the DCEU moves away from the idea that each movie must be firmly tied to the other movies, the storytelling and offerings improve, giving audiences credit for understanding that not every movie has to set up the next one and that not each one has to have crossovers.

As these thoughts have been bouncing around in my head, it does force me to rethink how I need to evaluate this genre that has exploded with content.  As a result, I will be revisiting my 2008 Top 10 list and framing it differently.  I will also build out lists evaluating Marvel and DC separately; to try to do both together is a fool’s errand of the magnitude of one of Don Quioxte’s quests.  This will give me some content to develop over the next 1-2 months in between movie reviews and other items.

As always, comments are welcome below…

Time Flies, and All That Jazz

Hello faithful readers, if any of you are left.  I know it seems like I abandoned all of you and let this site wither away.  The truth is that life got in the way, as it does for many people’s creative efforts.

That said, like the phoenix rising, so shall this site once again.

To what do I credit this resurgence and interest to revie the sites?

My friends over at The Reasons I’m Broke podcast.

I met Daniel during the time frame that I was visiting one of the local comic shops and had different discussions with him over the years.  He started up a podcast and then started a Patreon to help fund his passion.  I was (and still am) happy to give him $5 a month towards bringing his podcast to life.

One of the perks to being a Patreon for his podcast is access to a private Discord server where various topics similar to what he covers on the podcast are discussed and heavily debated.  During one of these discussions, I mentioned this haven of movie reviews and thoughts.  Imagine my surprise when I heard Daniel not only give me a Patreon shout-out and thanks for support, but he also started discussing this site.  He talked about the Movie-Goer’s Bill Of Rights and added some food for thought for me to add.

Well, now that it has been thrown out there over the airwaves, how could I in good conscience let the site go fallow any longer?

I couldn’t — which is why it is coming back.

While I don’t get to the theaters as much anymore, I still have thoughts on movies and related items.  I will continue to review things I have watched, offer editorials as I feel the need, and in general just continue to add opinions to an already crowded Internet.

As a final note, since Daniel sparked this rebirth, it is only fair I give you ways to enjoy his offerings.

The mothership website is The Reasons I’m Broke Podcast .

If you want to support him via Patreon, feel free to visit The Reasons I’m Broke Patreon and join in the fun.


Joan Rivers, 1933-2014

When I wrote my tribute to Robin Williams, who knew I was being prophetic with my opening line.  One has to wonder if the afterlife was getting low on comedy with the passing of two giants in such a short time…

One’s memory of Joan Rivers depends largely on when you were first exposed to her.  In thinking about it, I see 3 distinct eras for one of the hardest working woman in entertainment:

  • Stand-up comedienne – to be fair she did this her whole life, but it was her early career that launched everything else
  • Talk-Show Host/Plastic Surgery – From her time with The Tonight Show to having her own daytime talk show, the stories had a hard time competing with the amount of stories related to her fascination with plastic surgery
  • Fashion Critic – the acerbic wit turned loose on the red carpet as she said things we wished we could to people

For me, I was exposed to her during the second era.  I remember her being Johnny’s permanent guest host, and then I remember the bitter feud that developed due to her wanting to take a shot at her own show on Fox.  To date, she is still the only female to have hosted a late-night talk show on a non-cable network.  It was also during this time I remember hearing (and sharing) the plastic surgery jokes.  To me, a bright spot is when she appeared in Mel Brooks’s Star-Wars parody, Spaceballs.  If you think about her role, it sort of symbolizes her career over the years:  no matter how much people tried to keep her in the background or “keep her down” in general, she always managed to produce quality, memorable work.

One of the best things to happen to her this year was Jimmy Fallon’s olive branch to her to come back on The Tonight Show.  In both appearances, one could tell she was happy to be back on a show whose history was intertwined with her career.  Now one hopes that she and Johnny have reconciled in the great comedy club in the sky…


The November Man


Most people naturally think of James Bond when they hear the name Pierce Brosnan, particularly when the word “spy” is in the same sentence.  Given the strong association of any actor who has played that iconic role, any spy movie not relating to the world of James Bond has to be better than the average spy movie due to the immediate comparisons to the Bond franchise.  Even more importantly, a new spy movie that is not being touted as a reboot or remake should not immediately evoke memories of a movie that was out 13 years prior.

After a long Labor Day weekend that had me moving apartments, I needed a movie.  Part of my bribery…err…convincing of my buddy Russ to help out was that I would cover the cost of the movie.  The original plan was to see Guardians of the Galaxy since Russ had not seen it; unfortunately the times didn’t work out.  The November Man fit the schedule and was one that captured our interest.  Only downside was that it was a Regal location; however the AMC at Downtown Disney is hampered by poor parking.

The November Man centers around a spy who has retired and is enjoying life out of the spy game.  An old handler shows up with a mission that requires Brosnan’s special touch.  What follows is a fairly formulaic movie with predictable plot points.  What was jarring for me was that within the first 10 minutes I immediately flashed on the memory of watching 2001’s Spy Game with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.  Sadly this memory kept popping up throughout trying to watch The November Man.  Spy Game had a better story, which made things worse.

The charm of Brosnan does a lot of the heavy lifting of this movie, but it is not enough to save it.  The director and writers are to blame for this mess.  I wanted to include the trailer as part of this review, but can’t due to the fact that the majority of the contents are from the last 30 minutes of the movie.  That makes it way too easy to spoil already easy-to-detect plot points.  The positive of the afternoon was that we saw it at matinee price.

My advice: wait for cable or streaming.  It is not worth making a trip to the theater, particularly when USA has aired better options with Burn Notice and Covert Affairs…