DC Animated Movies: Batman VS Dracula

Batman_vs._Dracula

Happy New Year! I’ve been doing a lot of Batman thinking lately, due mostly to the abundance of trade graphic novels I picked up from the library last week. (The more I read of Damian Wayne’s story, the more he’s my favorite Robin. And the more I dread getting to the end. I love this kid and I hope he gets resurrected soon!) And of course because I was due for another animated movie. But before I dove into Batman VS Dracula, I decided to watch an episode or 2 of The Batman, the series it was tied into.

An episode or two turned into a season and a half and thus the watch got pushed off. Anyway, I watched, I enjoyed and here we go.

It was definitely good to watch the show first, not because this version of Gotham needed much exposition, it’s pretty shallow, but because the change in animation style for B:TAS to The Batman is jarring. It’s much more cartoony, and decidedly lighter. It’s a whole lot more fun, and there’s a good deal of focus on the gadgetry (which gets criticism, but the Nolan movies also focus a whole lot on the gadgets.) Also, That Batman makes a few other decisions to change, namely the most important choice that any Batman writer must make, who’s the real guy? Batman or Bruce? Timm and Dini truly believed that Batman was the real guy, but The Batman seems to believe that Bruce is the real guy.

This is an important detail because Batman VS Dracula is the animation debut of Miss Vicki Vale. I’m not a huge fan of Vicki’s, I liked Kim Bassinger in the original Burton Batman, but her comic appearances make her seem vapid and kind of a lightweight when it comes to her romantic competition. But she serves the narrative well here, doing what Vicki does best, taking being stood up by Bruce in stride and being nosy.

The plot is thicker than I expected, even with the Bruce/Vicki action taking a backseat. Basically, The Penguin breaks out of Arkham and chases after a rumored buried treasure in a cematery. Instead of treasure he finds Dracula who because of comics has been moved to Gotham from Transylvania. Penguin accidentally cuts his hand and awakens the Dark Master. He then takes on the toady role, and is almost as much fun in it as Xander Harris. Meanwhile, Batman fights Joker across town, and Joker falls almost to his death. Batman assumes he’s dead and it hits him hard. But not so hard that he can’t go on a date disguised as an interview with Vicki.

As Dracula gains a foothold several Gothamites begin disappearing, and of course witnesses report a bat like figure at the scenes, thus Batman is getting the blame. Bruce begins trying to unravel the mystery of “The Lost Ones” while falling just a little bit for Vicki. When the Penguin tells Dracula that the way into Gotham society is through Bruce Wayne, the vamp shows up to a Wayne Foundation fundraiser using the pseudonym Dr. Alucard (Dracula backwards, but well, come on, I immediately thought of “Dr. Acula,” a joke that will never ever get old.) Eventually, Joker shows up again, gets turned into a vampire. (Vampire joker is awesome) and Bruce winds up under Dracula’s thrall. Then he beats him.

I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. The Batman embraces camp in a way that B:TAS doesn’t, so rather than feeling just a little forced, the way the Mystery of The Batwoman did, it feels a little bit silly but exactly right. Rino Ramano’s Bruce/Batman is very different from any of the others I’ve heard. It (like this style) is a lot lighter, and a good deal younger. Like I said, this version seems to focus on Bruce over Batman which is cool. Alastair Duncan’s Alfred is probably my favorite part of this series. He’s comedicly awesome. And his organizing of the staff during the Wayne Foundation Gala is a masterful bit of characterization. I greatly enjoyed Kevin Michael Richardson’s Joker. It’s not my favorite or even number two (that goes to John Dimaggio in Under The Red Hood) but it’s very good and I love the Joker character design her. Tara Strong is Vicki Vale, and she really is immensely talented. Overall the cast is good and the voice acting excellent. The animation is highly stylized but never clumsy. Overall, it’s a good watch, far more enjoyable than Mystery or and more even (but I don’t love it as much as) SubZero. It isn’t a masterpiece like Phantasm and the action doesn’t match Return of The Joker, but I’ll probably watch it again some time and I absolutely plan on finishing The Batman as a series. (And not only because I know that Dick and Babs are coming, and I haven’t encountered them yet!)

Up next is Superman: Braniac Attacks. I’m really psyched to get past Batman. I don’t know what’s happening to me!

Hope everyone has a happy new year. I’m looking forward to a year full of Man Of Steel: Justice League and Avengers: Age of Ultron news, the return of Agents of Shield, Captain America: Winter Soldier, the final season of Mad Men and a new Doctor. It’s going to be quite a fangirly year!

A Town Called Christmas

Doctor who christmas

Merry Christmas to all! My family’s week long crazy Christmas is just getting started. I have some awesome Tommy quotes for you guys, but you’ll have to wait until next week, because I have a weekend with other cousins coming up, and I may just do one big post on them all.

I loved “The Day of The Doctor” so much that I knew as soon as I sat down this morning to watch the DVR’d “The Time of The Doctor” I was going to be disappointed. It was inevitable. Also, as The Matt Smith Era has never terribly gripped me, unless the whole special was shown through Clara’s eyes (spoiler: It wasn’t!) I wasn’t going to be head over heals affected by this one. While it’s going to be weird to adjust to a new Doctor, and this is the first time I’m doing it in real time (when I started the show, Smith had already been in for two seasons.) I’ve been looking forward to the new incarnation since it was announced this summer.

There are plenty of straight recaps around so I’m just going to talk about the things that I liked.

  • I was glad that the events of the “The Day of The Doctor” were acknowledged and dealt with. I was really afraid that we were going to get a Moffat retcon that somehow involved River Song showing up again and, I don’t know, I was just worried. Instead, the Doctor talked thoughtfully through his upcoming death, because he was out of regenerations and the entire plot hinged on the fact that Gallifrey and the Time Lords did survive.
  • Jenna Louise Coleman is awesome. Clara has pretty much been my favorite companion since we saw her in “Asylum of The Daleks.”
  • Clara’s first encounter with The Weeping Angels. Ugh, I love them so much. They’re so terrifying and awesome.
  • The crack in the wall. In my head this was similar to The Moment choosing Rose as it’s form. The universe shaping itself to something that would immediately draw The Doctor in.
  • Clara and The Doctor flirting, I love it. I love them. I’m going to miss 11 and Clara. I really am.
  • Seeing Amy again, I thought it was manipulative and stupid and I still cried.
  • For a Moffatt/Smith Christmas special there were surprisingly few shenanigans. There were of course some shenanigans! There have to be, but again, the character development from “The Day of The Doctor” was not ignored. Hooray!
  • The removal of the bowtie, ugh, the feels. So many feels!
  • The Doctor continues to learn from River, by using regeneration as a weapon, just like she did. It’s pretty awesome.
All in all it was enjoyable, and a nice send off for Smith. Most of my friends who are huge 11 fans really loved it. So I guess it was a success. Now we wait for August…sigh.

We missed you Legolas

The hobbit

If you weren’t a preteen/teenage girl at the turn of the century, then I don’t think that you could possibly understand what it means to really and truly love Orlando Bloom.

I remember walking out of The Fellowship of The Ring awestruck and how great that movie was. But for some reason (fangirl, fangirl, fangirl) all I could talk about was Orlando. I mean, I didn’t know his name back then. He was just Legolas, and that was enough. Now, in case you may not remember, Legolas is like barely in The Followship of The Ring. He has maybe two lines, but one of them is “The ring must be destroyed!” So there’s that. But every girl I knew who saw the movies, (and that was a lot of them, because I was a huge nerd) was completely obsessed. The internet was still nascent back then, but he was a good many AIM icons. (Remember AIM?)

Anyway, I went to go see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug yesterday afternoon, and well, um, how do I put this? I really liked it. A lot. But again, my mind is completely filled with Orlando Bloom.

I don’t even like pretty boys like that anymore. (I mean, except for Chase Crawford, obviously.) These days when I watch The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, I’m looking at Viggo Mortenson. But when he jumped down and shot an arrow at those giant spiders all of a sudden I was fourteen again and I didn’t care about anything else.

I was back on the Orlando train. I walked out and wondered aloud to my father if he thought that that was good enough for Disney to give him his job back for Pirates. My dad laughed, but I was entirely serious. I still am bummed out that his version of The Three Musketeers Flopped. He will now probably never get to play Robin Hood.

That’s not entirely true. Ian McEllen is great in his scenes. I really do love Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins, and wowza was Smaug a sight to behold. My dad talked me into going to the IMAX 3-D instead of the standard, I will always be grateful for this. Benedict Cumberbatch did fantastic work hissing and laughing and sputtering  The movie is extremely beautiful. Do you know who else is beautiful? Evangeline Lilly. Her character doesn’t exist in the books, but who cares? It’s Kate! In elf ears! And I could actually smell the fanfiction as she and Killi flirted through his cell. It was great.

I definitely recommend Desolation of Smaug, except that the cliff hanger ending is a little bit ridiculous. There is nothing but questions left and this was one of my big problems with pushing 9 hours out of 200 pages of content. Sure, it was cool to spend a half hour fighting spiders, and to see Gandalf confront Sauron, and see another half hour of Smaug in all his glory, but when you really think about it, nothing happens in this movie. I don’t expect things to happen in all movies, but things do happen in The Hobbit, so I expect things to happen in this movie.

But overall it was good, and I’m glad I dragged my butt there. And I’m glad that Legolas is back.

Trailers!

Holy Moley does does the Interstellar trailer pack a wallop. I mean, I love Christopher Nolan, I love Matthew McConaughey, I love space, I love American optimism!I think I’m going to like this movie.

Godzilla actually looks good. I am surprised. It will probably not be as good as Pacific Rim, and that will make me sad.

Amazing Spider-Man 2. Yawn.

So is Ant Man going to be a comedy?

From the minute it was announced that Ant Man was going to be directed by Edgar Wright, it was always pretty clear that it was going to be little bit cheekier than the rest of the MCU. This is the man who managed to turn a zombie gore fest into one of the best romantic comedies of the new millennium. He’s all about subverting expectations.

Then he casts Paul Rudd as Hank Pym.

We’re really big fans of Paul Rudd in my house. If you’ve sat in a hotel room and listened to an almost word for word recitation of the scene where he and Seth Rogen are on mushrooms from Knocked Up then you might have some idea of how much my sister loves Paul Rudd.

I'm high up! I'm up high!

I’m high up! I’m up high!

If you’ve ever rented Role Models on a family vacation, you might understand how my mother feels. And if you’ve ever written a paper on how Clueless is the best adaptation of any Jane Austen ever, then you know how my best friend feels.

As for me? I’ll never forget his memorable turn as Phoebe’s husband Mike on Friends, and the impact of “Do you wanna know how I know you’re gay?” from The 40 Year Old Virgin has yet to leave me.

I’m guessing that Ant Man is going to be subversive, a little bit dark and hugely funny. Because if there’s anything that describes the collective work of these two men, it’s “a little dark and hugely funny.”

And also those 5 lines in Romeo + Juliet that Rudd had, because Paris is the most ridiculous excuse for a character William Shakespeare ever farted out.

Also apparently Rashida Jones is going to be The Wasp? Who else wants to see Aziz Ansari, Amy Poehler and the rest of the Pawnee gang get in on the MCU action? I know that I do.

DC Animated Movies: Batman: Mystery of The Batwoman

So, yeah, here we are

So, yeah, here we are

I booked right along on this one because I really wanted to get Batman: Mystery of The Batwoman out of the way.

I do not like this one. Granted, this second watching I picked up on more stuff that I liked than the first time. Kelly Ripa’s voice performance as Roxanne “Rocky” Ballantine (And the character of Rocky period.) is a definite highlight, for example.

The plot isn’t super great. The Penguin, Rupert Thorne and Carlton Duquesne have some plan to manufacture weapons and sell them to the Kasnian military. Kasnia is a pretty sketchy place, I’ve gathered. They managed to upgrade at some point, and wound up buying weapons from Ares himself, but let’s not talk about JLU’s “Hawk and Dove” right now, because it’s way better and I’ll get distracted. Their plans keep getting foiled by the mysterious Batwoman, who doesn’t mind crossing lines that Batman won’t cross.

The story moves along with Batman having to figure out who Batwoman is, in order to stop her rather destructive vendetta against this trio of villains. Meanwhile, Robin and Alfred make many sarcastic comments at him. Normally this is the kind of stuff I love, and again, I liked it better this time, because I knew to focus on them instead of the parts I didn’t like, they came out more. It’s a little upsetting to see Tim Drake so soon after watching Return of The Joker, but well, I still love him and Eli Marienthal does a great job as usual. Tara Strong is back as Barbara Gordon and while I generally find Bruce/Barbara action icky, her one scene is hilarious as it’s clear their romantic relationship is developing and he has no idea how to handle it.

The movie unfolds with Batman solving the mystery by discovering that the three new women in his life are all actually Batwoman. The afore mentioned Rocky Ballantine, a young brilliant scientist at Wayne Tech, Detective Sonia Alcana, Harvey Bullock’s new partner (she’s great, but makes me miss Renee Montoya.) and Kathy Duquesne, the spoiled daughter of one of three villains who for reasons passing understanding Bruce falls for.

Then Bane shows up, I guess because they wanted Bane there? I don’t really get it.

The action is flawless and beautiful which should always be the main point, but the story lacks coherence and the new characters aren’t terribly compelling. The voice cast does a good job, because Andrea Romano is something of a genius when it comes to casting and vocal direction. With the exception of Conroy, who you get the feeling was phoning it in on this one, the cast is fantastic. I already pointed out Kelly Ripa as the stand out, but I also loved David Ogden Stiers as the Penguin and Kyra Sedgewick as Batwoman.

As I said before, I’m kind of looking forward to moving past the Batman: The Animated Series stuff. Not because I don’t love it (most of it) but because I know so much of the other Batman stuff (Year One and Under The Red Hood) and Justice League stuff (Doom) is so good, and there’s so much of the Superman stuff that I haven’t seen, I’m eager to move on from the stuff that I have seen before and maybe don’t love as much.

But first I’d like to point out that I haven’t mentioned much about Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and his repeated excellence as Alfred. It’s easy to forget about Alfred, but Zimbalist does such an amazing job delivering zinger after zinger that I can’t believe I overlooked him at all. But, in many ways, I take his excellence for granted. Of course Zimbalist is going to be the best part of any B:TAS material. Everything after that is gravy.

Up next is Batman VS Dracula, which I actually have never seen and is tied in to The Batman, which I have also never seen. I think this one is going to maybe not be in my top.

Just a feeling.

DC Animated Movies: Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker

Return of The Joker

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time convincing people how worthwhile Batman Beyond is. Mostly because it’s not as iconic as B:TAS, and most of my friends remember it vaguely because it was on after Pokemon on Saturday mornings. Even I dismissed it, until I watched it again.

I love Beyond, I love Terry McGinnis, I love Old Bruce and Old Barbara. I love that “the future” of the DCAU looks so much like a techno video from 1999. In many ways it’s a cleaner and more sophisticated show than B:TAS, and certainly has a clearer narrative and a more streamlined style. All of that comes through in Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker.

The film has some of the coolest DCAU action in it’s opener, where Terry fights off a gang of Jokerz (the “z” is very important) who it turns out are working for the big guy. This contains two of my favorite characters (one character?) Dee Dee, twin teenage girls who (Spoiler) it turns out might be Harley Quinn’s granddaughters? This gives me so many questions. Who is their Mother/Father? Harley’s kid with Joker? Or did Harley get her act together and marry some normal guy and settle in the suburbs like Poison Ivy pretended to that one time? Did she ever get over Mr. J? I WANT TO KNOW! (Got so many answers I didn’t care about in “Epilogue” why not any of these?)

I’m noticing that what I’m really enjoying about the Batman movies is the lived in feel of them. Because the characters and their dynamics are so firmly established, we get to see them interact in very natural and interesting ways. This serves Terry and Bruce and Terry and Barbara better than anyone in Return. But it’s also nice to see Terry and his girlfriend Dana. Dana’s not a character I’ve ever particularly cared for. I get why she’s there. She’d one of the marked differences between Terry and Bruce. (Terry’s from a working class family, at 16 he’s in a committed relationship, not as smart.) But she always seemed more like a plot device than a character. In Return, however, it might be the only time she doesn’t break up with him. Instead she gets annoyed, but is supportive and appreciates the effort he’s putting in.

But Return of The Joker is a show piece. Oh, Kevin Conroy, Will Friedle and Angie Harmon are fantastic. Conroy in particular does great work, there’s a scene where Bruce gets gassed by The Joker and so he’s both hysterical and managing to direct Terry. It’s good writing and he does it very well. But this isn’t Phantasm. This one doesn’t belong to him. This is Mark Hamill’s flick. I find the Return Joker completely unsettling, because until the very end, he’s almost completely contained and in control.

One of the craziest  details about The AU is that The Joker actually beat Bruce. There’s nothing but defeat in the way the two of them leaves things. Terry then beats The Joker back, but still, it’s exceptionally bleak when you think about it. The flashback sequence in the middle of Return (Also, does anyone else think that it’s funny that a movie that features Mark Hamill so heavily is called Return of The Joker, the pattern there seems AWFULLY similar to another movie he made once upon a time…but I digress.) chronicles the last days of Tim Drake’s career as Robin, which ended in kidnapping, torture and murder. Tim gets the excellent distinction of being whacked on the head with a mallet by Harley Quinn (not bad really, it’s almost an honor!), and is then tortured for three weeks by Joker to the point of insanity, while Bruce and Barbara search frantically for him. Then after cracking and spilling The Secret, Tim is transformed into a mini Joker rather than the hero he actually is. After a spectacular fight between Harley and Babs (really it’s an incredible moment for both of them) that ends with Harley falling to her death (or not? So many Harley questions guys!), and a chase between Batman and Joker. In the end, Joker tosses Tim a gun and tells him to shoot Batman. Instead Tim turns the gun on Joker.

That’s defeat right there. Tim kills an enemy, with a gun. I mean, AU Tim has always been a kind of Tim/Jason mash up and wasn’t in his right mind at the time, so it’s not totally out of the blue, but it’s no wonder Bruce just began to grow more and more bitter and isolated as time went on. (Also, we’ll get to Jason later.)

Seriously, WE WILL GET TO JASON LATER!

Seriously, WE WILL GET TO JASON LATER!

The more bonkers Nano tech Tim/Joker hybrid thing is one of my least favorite plot devices. I get why they did it. But it’s just kind of blah to me. I love the Bat Family make up scene at the very end, and the climax fight between Terry and Joker is another one of my favorites. (I love the action sequences in this movie.) That Terry figures out the only way to beat Joker is by being himself and not Bruce is fantastic and somehow handled in the least corny manner possible. And the line, “You never got a laugh out of the old man, did you?” Is my third favorite thing Friedle has ever uttered. (“FEEEEH-NAY!” and “Menke is but a few vowels from monkey” will win out.) It’s a spectacular ending and one that my cousin Tommy and I argue over constantly.

But that’s a story for another day.

DC Animated Movies: Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero

Ice to meet you! (Sorry, had to!)

Ice to meet you! (Sorry, had to!)

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero aka The Movie that Batman & Robin Should Have Been, feels less like a movie and more like a really long episode of Batman: The Animated Series. There’s nothing quite wrong with that exactly, but after Phantasm it feels small and kind of incomplete. But what I like about it is that it’s one of the few pieces of AU material that really does right by Dick Grayson.

Let me explain. I’m a huge fan of the character (If you’ve ever read this blog before I think I’ve made that abundantly clear), and I think he was pretty much given the shaft in the DCAU. When he isn’t whining or pitching a fit, he’s screwing up a plan. They did give him the dignity of pants though, so that was nice.

SubZero shows off some fun dynamic duo action, and I like the way their more brotherly relationship is shown. It’s always been kind of a cool B:TAS detail that Bruce and Dick are more like an older and younger brother, and Bruce and Tim are more like a father and son. Early on, after the establishment of the bad guy problem (In an attack on his arctic fortress, Mr. Freeze’s beloved Nora is knocked out of her cryo tube and is about to fully die) they take out some guys who robbed a jewelry store. Batman’s “We’ll be watching you scum!” is one of Kevin Conroy’s better deliveries. Then Bruce and Dick are off to a benefit for a children’s hospital. (This kind of sentence would happen in every episode of my imaginary Batman themed teen soap. This is also why I will never actually get to write a Batman themed teen soap.) They’re immediately greeted by Commissioner Gordon, who teases Dick about his relationship with Barbara. (Again, would happen all the stinking time on my show.) 

Then we see Babs herself, also taking down a mugger until she realizes that she’s late to the benefit. (Ahem) And when she arrives we get more good natured ribbing from Dad about her and Dick. Later, Dick asks her to go away for the weekend and on their way out, she’s kidnapped by Mr. Freeze, since she’s a match for Nora’s blood type. Batman and Robin go after Freeze to rescue her, and of course she does a good deal to rescue herself.

There’s a reason why I’ve loved SubZero since the first time I watched it folks. Aside from focusing on my second all time favorite super hero relationship (Ollie and Dinah get the number one spot) it features so many of the cool art deco retro future aspects of B:TAS in the best possible way. The soundtrack is all jazz, Dick and Barbara go out on a date to a swing club. (This is both retro and timely, since SubZero came out in 1998, at the waning of the swing revival.) Bruce gets into a fight with Veronica Vreeland for not calling her enough. Bruce and Dick do some actual detective work. It’s a fun little slice of life for characters that I’ve spent so much time with over the past few years.

The voice performances are adequate. Because Batman’s role is pretty minimal, Conroy does well but doesn’t really shine. I’m not a huge fan of Loren Lester’s Dick Grayson. Like I said, I always feel like he’s whining. But probably the most disappointing is Mary Kay Bergman as Barbara. It’s not that she’s bad, persay, she’s just not Tara Strong, who provided her voice all through B:TAS. Her performance is a lot less aggressive and sassy, and it’s jarring to see a different voice coming out of the familiar character.

Of course it’s always great to see a Dini and Timm Mr. Freeze story. Even as a little kid I loved Mr. Freeze, recognizing some of the best story telling out there surrounding his peculiar legend and Michael Ansara does really good work with his stilted and cold voice. Giving him a surrogate son of his own, a little Eskimo boy names Koonak also creates pathos. The B:TAS version of Freeze was always desperate, not evil. Sometimes desperate men do evil things.

Since so many of the early movies are B:TAS tie ins, I’ve seen most of them. I’ve also seen most of the Justice League ones. But still, I’m actually looking forward to leaving Batman behind and getting deeper into the Superman stuff…I don’t know what’s happening to me.

Up next is Batman Beyond: The Return of The Joker, which, you know, Terry, so yay!

DC Animated Movies: Batman: Mask of The Phantasm

So, with movie season in my rear view, I wanted to do something to keep some structure to this thing and make myself update once a week. Since most TV shows are going on their winter hiatuses over the next few weeks, I’m going to have free watching times. Now, I could use this time to finally watch Breaking Bad. (I don’t WANNA. It seriously feels like an assignment at this point.) But instead, I’m going to watch ALL of the DC Animated Movies.

I’m using the list provided by Wikipedia. Also, they have to have been conceived and originally released as full films, so, no Batman/Superman Movie, because that’s technically 3 episodes of Superman: The Animated Series. (I’ll probably watch it anyway. But I’ve pretty much written ad nausiem about it.) And I’m debating whether the shorts count. (I do love some of them, and might take it as a chance to watch them again.) Also, I’m going in release order, which means that there may be some gaps as I try to track some of them down.

But let’s start with Batman: Mask of The Phantasm

YEAAAHHHHH!!!!

YEAAAHHHHH!!!!

I watched this movie for the first time during the initial Bat-Binge last summer. I don’t know how I missed it before that, and I actually may have watched it in childhood, given my brother and my insatiable thirst for Saturday morning cartoons, it seems unlikely that we didn’t. But I have no memory of it before last year.

It’s actually a fairly complicated film, moving, emotional and quite scary. And it was nominated for all kinds of awards in animation the same year that The Lion King came out, so there’s that. It focus on two interconnected but separate times in Bruce Wayne’s life, and they link up via his love for woman named Andrea Beaumont.

Andrea herself is actually tied as my second favorite Bruce Wayne love interest in the AU. She’ll never beat Selina (NO ONE EVER WILL!)  but she’s on even footing with Zatanna. Also she’s voiced by Dana Delaney, who later voiced Lois Lane, who is number 4. (Talia gets the 3 spot, then Diana, then Barbara. I hate Bruce/Diana, but it’s less icky than Bruce/Barbara, but we’ll get there.) She’s a well drawn tragic character and her apparent death packs a punch. (She didn’t die, according to the Justice League Unlimited Episode “Epilogue” she’s eventually hired by Amanda Waller to kill Terry McGinnis’s parents.) And her return to Gotham strikes a haunting chord when she becomes a dark mirror version of Batman called The Phantasm who’s willing to kill for her vengeance. It’s not the first time (or the last) that the distinction between vengeance and justice is made in a Batman story, but it deals with what Alfred calls, “the abyss” in a more clear way than Rachel Dawes taking Bruce’s gun and slapping him in the face in Batman Begins. Last week I read Chris Sims from Comics Alliance’s list of the top 10 B:TAS episodes. He kept talking about how clear the show always was. I’d never thought of that adjective but it’s absolutely the best descriptor. Rather than circumvent and postulate, like my two other favorite Batman writers, Christopher Nolan and Grant Morrison, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini get to the point and then have Batman punch the point in the face. It just so happens that in Phantasm, the point is Bruce Wayne’s ex girlfriend.

The Joker is also there, but I’ve never felt like his part in the story was terribly organic. Mark Hamill’s Joker is still one of the greatest creations ever, so it’s worth it. He’s more terrifying here than in probably any other appearance besides Return of The Joker, and there’s a scene where he acts like a robot is his wife that reminds me so much of his wedding to a skeleton in Batman and Robin Must Die, that I got all tingly.

Which brings us to the biggie. Obviously Kevin Conroy’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is the best in the world. He owns this character. I’ve talked one time about the coolest thing being he has 3 voices, the public Bruce Wayne Voice, The Batman Voice and the people who know Bruce is Batman voice, which really only gets used with Dick, Alfred and later Barbara and Tim. Once he’s old and with Terry, he’s pretty much given up on Public Bruce Voice and just uses the Batman voice. But in Phantasm, there’s a fourth, which is Young Bruce. It’s similar to public Bruce but a good deal more earnest.

Aside from the great performances, it’s remarkable how like modern superhero movies Phantasm feels. The dark tone would be at home in any of Nolan’s stories, as would the flashbacks and the lack of glory in Bruce’s transformation into Batman. The “Gotham World’s Fair” scenes seem identical to the Stark Expo and World’s Fair portions of Iron Man 2 and Captain America. It has more in common with the cinematic superhero fare of the past ten years than the decade it came from. Which is probably why it under-performed. There was no context for this kind of movie in 1993. It was all Christopher Reeve in pajamas and Tim Burton kookiness back then.

I didn’t cry this time, which is surprising, because Phantasm usually makes me cry. My mom did bring laundry into my room right as The Joker let out a laugh though and that made me jump out of my skin. So there’s that.

Up Next: Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero, which as I recall is less about Batman or Mr. Freeze and more about Dick doing something right for a change. (I think it goes without saying that I love this one.)

Isn’t it Rich?

Six By Sondheim

When I was a junior in high school, every girl at my school had to learn how to write a full on research paper by spending our entire spring semester writing a 10 page research paper.

Apparently this is unusual because once I got to college, most people had never written anything beyond a few pages and had never done real research outside of a library encyclopedia.

Anyway, the paper was allowed to be on pretty much anything we were interested in, so long as it was school appropriate. I chose to write mine on the work and influence of Stephen Sondheim.

If you think that I’m obsessed with things now, it’s nothing compared to the all encompassing, eclipsing obsession that I had with musical theater in general and with Sondheim in particular. It’s not easy for a 17 year old girl to spend six months immersed in anything, but I was steeped in Sondheim. I read articles and sections of books, I listened to interviews, and dissected the lyrics. I listened to the OBC’s over and over again. (And some of the revivals too, I’ve always prefferred Bernadette Peter’s Gypsy to Ethel Merman’s for example.)

It was an exceptional project and one of the many things that I’m incredibly grateful to my high school for providing me. Other topics my friends did, The Construction of The Chrysler Building, The Life of George Balinchine, The Societal Impact of Fairy Tales and the development of Disneyland. It was an incredible assignment.

Anyway, I was reminded of this paper, and my work on it, when I watched Six By Sondheim, a new documentary directed by Mr. Sondheim’s long time collaborator James Lapine. The film takes an in depth look at his life and career and specifically at six of his songs, “Something’s Coming,” from West Side Story, “Opening Doors” from Merrily We Roll Along, “Send in The Clowns” from A Little Night Music, “I’m Still Here,” from Follies, “Being Alive” from Company (Seek out Neil Patrick Harris’s version from a Lincoln Center Concert. You’re welcome.) and “Sunday” from Sunday in The Park With George. It’s punctuated by some others, but it’s really on these six.

Mr. Sondheim himself radiates warmth and joy as he talks about his work and life. He’s an incredible figure, who’s lived to see his complete impact on an art form. He’s still writing. He could never write another note or word and he’d still be one of the greatest figures that musical theater has ever seen, possibly the greatest. I kind of love that Six By Sondheim is lovingly crafted by his friend and collaborator. Lapine wrote the book for and directed my two favorite Sondheim shows, Sunday in The Park With George and Into The Woods. It’s a charming love letter to a friend.

The insight into Mr. Sondheim’s writing process, his relationship with his mentor Oscar Hammerstein, and his views on teaching are new for me, even having spent six teenage months consumed with him. I learned a lot, and was deeply entertained.

The section on “Send in The Clowns” was particularly moving, because it’s a song that means so much to so many people. Lapine edited together several versions, going line by line, ending in a stunning rendition by Audra McDonald. But the recreation of “Opening Doors” which starred Jeremy Jordan, America Ferrera and Darren Criss (with a special appearance by the man himself as The Producer) is a lot of fun, and honestly, if Merrily We Roll Along wasn’t such a mess of a show, I’d want to see a full scale production starring those three. The interpretation of “I’m Still Here” by Jarvis Cocker was inspired but fell flat for me personally, and not messing with perfection, we simply heard original recordings of “Being Alive,” “Something’s Coming,” and “Sunday.”

It really doesn't get better than the two of them.

It really doesn’t get better than the two of them.

Sondheim’s words were some of the first to catipult me into my love of musical theatre, when I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch West Side Story on TV when I was little. I’ve even performed in Into The Woods as Jack’s Mother in college, wrestling with Sondheim’s difficult chords and chaotic words. Katie has my favorite sum up of Sondheim musicals, “Everything’s terrible, dissonant chord, soaring ballad about the meaning of life or art or whatever.” That’s a simplification, but it’s actually pretty accurate.

Whether you’re a fan of Sondheim’s work or not, this is an interesting look at his work and process. If you’re interested in writers, it’s worth checking out. If you’re interested in musicals at all, then it’s a must see!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to “Move On” and cry my eyes out a little.