Category Archives: Blu-Ray

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.

Batman: Assault On Arkham

Batman-Assault-on-ArkhamOver the past 6-7 years, Warner Brothers and DC have done a great job in making and releasing direct-to-video animated movies.  In most cases, they have done so well that fans often are left wondering why they can’t have the same success on the big screen.  Assault On Arkham is the latest entry in the animated DCU, and, much like its title, it packs a punch.

Assault is based on the Batman universe created for the Arkham Asylum/Arkham City video games.  It is also the first Batman animated movie to not be based on events already published since Batman: Gotham Knight.  While Batman is in the title and figures into the movie, it is really about the Suicide Squad.  For those not familiar with the Squad, it is a grouping of some of the more popular villains that can do some good every now and then.  The Squad gets its missions from Amanda Waller, only person not in prison that is not afraid of Batman.  For each mission, the objective is simple: get what Waller wants, or die trying.  That last option includes her remote-detonating bombs that have been implanted.  In this movie, the Squad is to infiltrate Arkham, recover something the Riddler has hidden, and then bring it back.  There is a subplot of Batman looking for a hidden nuclear bomb made by the Joker, as well as another subplot relating to Harley Quinn and her “sweet Puddin”.

Much like the video game, there is plenty of action.  Make no mistake: this movie is rated PG-13, and I feel it is a hard PG-13.  Unlike most DCU animated movies, the body count is high and the bloodshed is shown on-screen.  As I watched this, I couldn’t help but think about an episode of Kevin Smith’s podcast, “Fat Man on Batman”, where he was doing a “live” commentary of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker with Paul Dini.  During that podcast, it was discussed how WB was reluctant to release the first version because it involved shooting someone on-screen.  Of course that was 14 years ago, and Warners has changed.  The other jarring thing that makes this a hard PG-13 is the partial nudity displayed by Harley and Killer Frost.  Now don’t get that excited – both were from the back, but Harley was more exposed and hers led into a sex scene.  While Frost’s reasons made sense, Harley’s scene felt gratuitous.

The voice work was ok.  Kevin Conroy was excellent as usual, as was the use of CCH Pounder in reprising her Justice League/JL Unlimited role of Amanda Waller.  John DiMaggio was wasted as King Shark, when had done so well as Joker in Under The Red Hood.  When you have the guy who got great reviews while being compared to Mark Hamill for the Joker, then YOU USE HIM AGAIN.  Instead they went with someone else that did ok.  The new person doing Harley was fairly decent, but felt like she was impersonating Tara Strong – if she reprises this role again, she should change it enough to make it unique from Tara.  That is what Tara did to differentiate herself from Arleen Sorkin.  All of the other vocal performances were serviceable, but none really stood out.

The Blu-Ray comes with the following features:

  • Digital copy
  • DVD version
  • Commentary track
  • Making-of featurette
  • Sneak peek at next feature to be released (Justice League: Throne of Atlantis)
  • Harley Quinn featurette
  • 4 bonus cartoons
  • Best Buy exclusive: plastic Harley Quinn figure

My Advice:  If you just want action/violence with a thin semblance of story wrapped in the guise of the Batman world, then have at it.  This is definitely not for kids under age 13 due to the violent deaths.  I just wish they had spent more time developing a better story that would have made us care as to why we are watching this.  While I have included the trailer below, notice that it acts like the violence will be about the same level as the other movies.

Batma: Assault On Arkham Official Trailer from Warner Brothers and DC Comics

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 & 2

Settle in for a long read, faithful TAM readers.  This is not going to be your average review, and there will be several plot points discussed…

The Dark Knight Returns (TDKR) pulls its story from the groundbreaking mini-series created by Frank Miller in 1986.  1986 was an interesting time for the world and the United States.  It was the height of the Cold War, and groups of Americans still had distrust for the government after the handling of Vietnam.  The wide-eyed, “Leave it to Beaver” innocence of the 50’s no longer existed as more and more people grew cynical about everything.  That cynicism started to bleed over into television, movies, music, and books.  Comics seemed to be the last refuge for those that wanted to believe that heroes would always do the right thing and were above reproach.

Then DC Comics did the unexpected by allowing Frank Miller and Alan Moore to publish dark tales of heroes.  Alan Moore presented The Watchmen, using characters that seemed to be clones of DC icons.  Since it did not contain any of the mainstream heroes, The Watchmen was seen as its own universe, one that did not mirror the current US, and seemed a bit extreme.


Frank Miller’s tale caught everyone off-guard for several reasons.  Most people my age grew up on the live-action TV show and the cheesy Saturday morning cartoons.  These formats gave us a Batman that was as much a Boy Scout as Superman is often referred to as being.  A dark and sinister Batman that could intimidate everyone was something new that reminded us of how much we liked another dark-caped fictional character, Darth Vader.  TDKR also gave us a different view of Superman, one of someone who is physically impressive, but may not be as strong as Bats in the brains department.  We were also unsure as to how to react to the fact that Bats was hated by the police and the US government.  Finally, we were not prepared for the amount of real violence depicted in Miller’s tale, perpetuated by both heroes and villains.

What followed after publication was the inevitable maturing of Batman as an icon.  The regular series took the reception of the mini-series as an indicator that the reading audience wanted a darker, grittier Batman.  Tim Burton used the dark, brooding icon as the basis for his vision of Batman on film.  He even references Miller’s book by mentioning a conflict in Corto Maltese, a significant location in TDKR.  The Batman most people love today has his roots more in Frank Miller’s creation than in Bob Kane’s original ideas.

Ok, enough about the comic book – this is supposed to be a movie review.

DC and Warner Brothers made the smart decision to split the story into 2 movies.  Normally, I hate this; however, by doing so, Warner’s was able to give us the entire story on-screen with little left out.  The comic mini-series was 4 issues; the movies were set up to do two issues per movie.  The overall animation is good and Andrea Romano does well with voice-casting.  She does not rely on her usual go-to Batman/Joker team of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.  Instead she uses Peter Weller of Robocop (nice 80’s pop culture nod) and Michael Emerson.


Part 1 shows us a Gotham City without Batman.  He has been “retired” for 10 years, leaving matters in Commissioner Gordon’s hands.  Most of Bats’s Rogues Gallery are locked up and show no sign of wanting to escape.  The first story arc deals with Harvey Dent going through plastic surgery to repair his mangled face and being released.  Soon a crime wave hits, Bats comes out of retirement, and it is soon discovered that there is no plastic surgery that can heal mental scarring.  Meanwhile, an undercurrent of unrest is flowing through Gotham thanks to a gang called the Mutants.  It also does not help things that the Joker’s shrink is going on TV and blaming Batman for creating all of the whackos.  One person who believes in Batman and wants to help is young Carrie Kelley.

Let’s pause for a moment and delve back into comics history.  In what seems like a throwaway scene in TDKR, one of the reasons given for Batman’s retirement is the death of Jason Todd, the vilified second Robin.  This scene is complete with a view of a memorial case with Jason’s uniform.  TDKR came out in 1986; does everyone remember what happened in 1988?  That’s right – DC killed off Jason Todd (oops, I mean “the public killed off Jason Todd by calling the phone number that said kill him”).  Given the unpopularity of Jason Todd, one can easily surmise that DC noted the public’s acceptance of Jason’s death in TDKR as clearance to kill him off in the main continuity.


Now back to the movie.  Carrie Kelley convinces Batman into keeping her as Robin after she helps him in escaping from his failed first encounter with the Mutants.  Even though he knows the risk of introducing another Robin, Batman also realizes he needs her help.  With that, he is able to defeat the Mutant leader and reestablish dominance over Gotham City.

That brings us to the end of Part 1.  On to Part 2…..


This is the part of Miller’s story that took everything we believed about Batman and turned it upside down.  Creating a story of this magnitude and not including the Joker would be like planning a Super Bowl party and not including the Super Bowl.  It just doesn’t happen.  While Joker’s homicidal tendencies had always been referenced, previous incarnations of Batman had always stopped the plans before anyone died.  Not true here – with every life Joker takes in TDKR, Batman relives the horror of his parents’ own deaths at the hands of a robber.  We don’t just see someone die – we see multiple people suffocate or carelessly shot by Joker as he walks along.  However, the most terrifying part is seeing how close Batman comes to breaking his one unbreakable rule of not killing.  Even then, it is questionable regarding Joker’s demise.  While Joker does the final act, it is Batman who makes it possible with little effort from anyone else.  What is not focused on, is how Robin ends up taking a life while trying to save hers.  All of this leads up to final story arc of Superman versus Batman.

If you saw Pulp Fiction, then you might remember the scene where Mia Wallace asks Johnny Vega if he is a Beatles man or an Elvis man.  She goes on to explain how you can appreciate both, but deep down you like one or the other more.  The same is true for comics.  More than any two other heroes from any publishing company, people most identify themselves as a Superman fan or a Batman fan.  In case you could not tell, I am in Bats’s cave.  Given the popularity of both, it has been a constant debate as to who would win in a fight between the two.  Miller makes every fan-boy happy by giving us that fight.  Neither hero survives unscathed, with the strengths and weaknesses of each one on full display.

One aspect I had not given much thought to was that of the obvious dating of the material.  I am so used to DC’s animated movies taking place at any point in time that I was not expecting obvious 80’s references.  The most jarring of these was the inclusion of Ronald Reagan in several scenes.  That made me look closer and realize that everything had an 80’s look to it.  The other notable reference was the use of Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union and the public’s fear of nuclear war.  It also makes you really appreciate a Batman story nearly 30 years old that still captivates the audience.

Both Blu-rays include the standard mini-documentaries on Batman, Superman, and Joker.  They also include select episodes from the animated series and digital copies of both movies.

My advice:  A must-buy for devoted Batman fans; for everyone else, definitely get it from Netflix or RedBox….


rango_ver2One of the surprise movies during the early spring of this year was the first animated feature from the guys at ILM.  I have to admit that when I first heard about this movie, I was not all that interested in seeing it.  However, as the release date grew closer, I started hearing good things from trusted reviewers.  So with time to kill one morning, I popped over to the Premiere Cinemas in Fashion Square Mall for the $4.50 first-show-of-the-day.

Settling in to a near-empty theater, I was soon amazed at what I saw unfold.  This was probably one of the best non-Pixar, computer-animated features that I have seen.  The guys at ILM really focused on a good, simple story, making sure to follow the principals of basic storytelling.

What are those principals, you ask?

Well, they include fully defining relationships; making the hero have to solve his own problem with what he has; and, most importantly, making a point of emphasizing why it was important to tell this character’s story at this juncture.  Everything introduced was utilized, leaving no unfulfilled promises to the audience.  There were even nods to adult pop-culture references that were not simply throw-aways.

But alas, it is no longer in theaters – well never fear, faithful readers, it is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.  Much more reasonably priced than a lot of videos, the Blu-Ray also includes a DVD and a digital copy, making it a complete bargain for multiple systems.  The Blu-ray includes an extended edition, which I am interested in seeing how it compares to the theatrical version; there are also the usual extras.

My advice: grab the Blu-ray or watch it on-demand; it is good for the whole family, even if it only consists of 2 adults and 3 cats…

Superman Batman – Public Enemies

Over the past year or so, I have been rather effusive with my praise for DC Comics and Warner Brothers for understanding how to make animated movies and keeping the quality up.  So here I am again with a review of yet another offering from the DC Animated Universe.

Our story is based on the popular graphic novel of the same name, which is really the first 5-8 issues of the Superman-Batman comic book series.  Lex Luthor is President and has turned public sentiment against those superheroes that “refuse” to swear an oath of loyalty to him…err….the US. A subplot deals with the approach of a huge kryptonite meteor.  What follows is a story with a good beginning, okay middle, and, sadly, poor ending.  My first warning sign was the running time of 67 minutes, just over the amount of time for two episodes of Justice League.  I liked where the story was going and then it was bam!!  In the final 15 minutes, everything that had been set up was completely resolved with little effort.  The last time I felt this dissatisfied with a DC movie was when I watched Superman:Doomsday.  Neither movie did anything to wow me…

I bought the Blu-Ray version, so I can not review the added features.  I watched this via the digital copy provided.

My advice:  Good enough to kill time, but do not expect the level of goodness that you get from Green Lantern: First Flight or Justice League: The New Frontier….