Many of you probably balk at the work animated. Just to remind everyone that the art of animation is not limited to children. Our baby boomer grandparents are in fact part of the target audience of classic cartoons like Snow White, Disney Classic shorts and Looney Tunes. And then there’s the weird adult-oriented animation from our Japanese friends. DC just released the animated adaptation of one of the most popular Batman stories of all time—”The Killing Joke” which is rated R due to the violence and sexual content. It was released theatrically for a day and is now readily available on home video. Again, a reminder. While it’s a cartoon, it’s not for kids. Just get over your cartoons-are-for-kids bias because you’re missing out on some great stories.
While the comics version of The Killing Joke, penned by Alan Moore is considered a masterpiece, many fans are divided over the animated version. The story itself is pretty short, where The Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon in an effort to drive him insane just to prove that anyone can go the deep end because of one bad day. Kind of like that Michael Douglas film, “Falling Down.” “The Killing Joke” is where Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl gets shot on the stomach which hits her spine and gets paralyzed and later becomes Oracle. “The Killing Joke” story will make a good hour at the most once translated to animation, but that won’t do. One of the shortcomings of the original story is that Barbara Gordon simply becomes a plot device with not much background. The film sort of fixes this by giving Batgirl a backstory which happens before the actual Killing Joke plot. Spoiler Alert: If you’ve watched later episodes of the animated Batman Beyond, it was implied that Commissioner Barbara Gordon ‘dated’ Bruce Wayne. You’ll get the picture.
Why are fans divided? Because after seeing the film, there seemed something missing. Despite the added Batgirl exposition, the film still felt incomplete, but that will be for you to decide. Also, the Batgirl exposition, while necessary, felt disconnected. It was like a feature in itself and not very much connected with the story. Again, pick up this flick and decide for yourself and if you haven’t read The Killing Joke, you’ll get the story. However, this not-great-not-bad reception of this film might exclude it from the ranks of DC’s great animated films. Again, if you’re not a cartoon fan, you’re missing out. But admit it, you liked Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy. Here are some of the greatest DC animated films. Many of these are Batman’s.
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm – was released in 1993 but is still regarded as a high bar for animated superhero films. This film has Batman fighting a mysterious villain who is killing off Gotham’s top mafia bosses. This story also expands on Batman’s origin and makes him choose between love and ‘the mission’. A hint of The Joker’s origin is also shown here. The drama, the animation, the direction and story are top notch.
- Batman: Under the Red Hood – is partly an adaptation of the popular Batman Death in the Family storyline in which Jason Todd, the second Robin gets killed by The Joker, and returns as the mysterious Red Hood. Batman later has to deal with his former partner and The Joker at the same time.
- Superman: Doomsday – is loosely based on the popular Death of Superman story. Superman battles the super-powerful creature Doomsday, accidentally unearthed by Lex Luthor which ends in his apparent death. Superman soon returns but is somehow a bit off and soon loses his sense of morality. Who will save Metropolis?
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – just like the Killing Joke, Batman: The Dark Knight returns is an animated adaptation of an iconic Batman story written by the legendary Frank Miller. This is the story that took Batman out of camp and brought him back to the dark and gritty. In the future, Gotham, no longer protected by an aging Bruce Wayne descends into chaos. Wayne later decides to come out of retirement to retake the city. The government does not approve of his methods and sends Superman to deal with the caped crusader. The recent movie Batman v Superman is based on this epic battle.
- Justice League: New Frontier – is a story of the Justice League set in the 1950s. This features the Justice League as they were during the Silver Age of comics which is also reflected on the art style. New Frontier features a great story mostly centered on Green Lantern Hal Jordan but the characters of the rest of the league like Superman, The Flash, Martian Manhunter, Batman and Wonder Woman are also well-done. Death and violence are very much present in this film
- Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox – this is here things get brutal. This film is definitely not for kids because of implied sex and gratuitous violence immersed in a great story. The Flash Barry Allen is goaded into traveling back to the past to save his mother from being murdered but sets of a chain of events that undoes his current reality. In the resulting timeline, the Justice League doesn’t exist, and Wonder Woman’s Thermiscyra and Aquaman’s Atlantis are at war with each other threatening to destroy the world.
- Justice League: Throne of Atlantis – is a follow up to the Justice League New 52 origin story, Justice League War. This film deals with the origin of Aquaman and his later involvement with the Justice League.
- Batman: Assault on Arkham – is basically the story of the Suicide Squad. Again, strictly not for kids for depictions of sex and crazy violence. This features suicide squad members Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Killer Frost, Black Spider, King Shark and KGBeast. The villains are assembled by Amanda Waller to retrieve a thumb drive from the recently arrested Riddler while Batman is after the same thing as the drive contains info on The Joker’s latest plan.
- Justice League: Doom – Vandal Savage is back, and he wants to destroy the world with the help of a collection of major villains. This film pays homage to the Legion of Doom featured in the 70s animated series Challenge of the Superfriends and at the same time adapts the Tower of Babel comic book storyline. Batman know how to neutralize the rest of the Justice League and Vandal Savage uses that to his advantage.
- All-Star Superman – is a feature-length semi-anthology film about Superman which adapts the series of the same name written by Grand Morrison. The stories and visuals are highly praised which includes the Lois Lane incarnation of Superwoman, the attack of the Suneater Solaris, the escape of the villain Parasite, the takeover of hostile Kryptonians culminating in a battle with Lex Luthor.
DC, while trying to fend off Marvel when it comes to live action, excels in animated home video. These films are worth seeing and will make for a great video collection.