Similar to what The Animatrix DVD was to the Matrix films, Gotham Knight is a direct-to-DVD animated anthology tying into the recent Batman films. As reported on Wednesday, this film is the latest after Superman and Justice League DVDs, with Wonder Woman’s turn coming next year. Containing six short films from different Japanese animation studios and American writers, they each look very different from one another. The only similarity between all six tales is Batman’s voice; that of Kevin Conroy. Initially it is jarring to hear it coming from an animated Batman that doesn’t resemble the Batman: The Animated Series version from the mid 1990s, but I eventually warmed to it.
The first vignette, “Have I Got A Tale For You,” is not entirely original for Bat fans. It presents a group of kids recounting their run-ins with the mysterious Batman, and shows how they view him differently – as a soldier of smoke, a monster and a robot. A similar episode was seen in Batman: TAS, but it’s a good introduction and shows how Batman has lasted through the decades. He’s simply a versatile character. He can be the gothic creature, or the street-level detective, or the traditional superhero or the man with all the sci-fi gadgetry. But it’s all still Batman, just different parts of the same whole.
“Crossfire” is written by comics scribe Greg Rucka and continues what he started with the comics title, Gotham Central – revealing how the Gotham police see the Dark Knight. He uses characters from the series that he knows well, namely detectives Crispus Allen, and Renee Montoya (though for some reason she has been renamed Anna here) “Field Test” is an interesting take on Batman’s use of, rather than reliance on, all his “wonderful toys.” Lucius Fox gives Bruce Wayne some hardware that makes him a lot more powerful, but essentially waters down the essence of who Batman is. “In Darkness Dwells” written by Batman Begins co-writer David Goyer Scarecrow shows up (in a much better costume than his Batman Begins version) as Bats travels to the sewers and briefly encounters classic comics villain Killer Croc. Comics writer Brian Azzarello creates “Working Through Pain” which picks up straight after “Darkness” as Bats struggles to maintain consciousness as he traipses through the sewers, bleeding as he does so. He reflects on training he received while in India as a young man and learns the power of mind over matter.
Finally, and probably the best of the bunch, “Deadshot” which introduces another great comics bad guy. It offers a great story and well directed action and is written by Alan Burnett who has written comics and episodes of Batman: TAS. There are two versions of the DVD available. The standard one-discer has an audio commentary, a cute Lego Batman video game trailer and a 10 minute look at next year’s Wonder Woman film. However you may have trouble accessing them as separate features and they may only appear after the end-credits. A big blundre from Wraner Bros. The two-discer contains those features, four episodes of Batman: TAS with intros by Burnett, a doco on Batman creator Bob Kane and also one on Batman’s rogues gallery. I’ll certainly check this version out. Each of the six tales don’t really tie into one another, and Alfred sounds more like a refined gent (a la TAS) rather than Micahel Caine’s Cockney speak. The artistic style is different in each take, but they still all resemble the dark detective that we all know and love. In some instances Bruce Wayne looks far too young but the Japanese artists have restrained themselves well. Yes, these versions may not be the Batman that everyone expects, but neither are they too jarring. The soundtrack throughout is also excellent, though I’m still fond of Danny Elfman’s score from the Tim Burton films and Shirley Walker’s take from TAS. Music makes the hero. There’s nothing in this collection to link it to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, as has been promoted, but it more closely resembles them than it does the current state of the comics. A pleasant enough, though short, glimpse at Batman’s life for those who feel prompted by all The Dark Knight hype. Oh, and the backgrounds are gorgeous, which can’t be said about the DVD cover. With the hype The Dark Knight has been receiving, this package deserves better. There has been no mainstream promotion and to top all the other problems off, there is no Japanese audio dub on the Blu-Ray version, in spite of the cover saying there is. WB’s marketing team have dropped the ball I’m afraid. It is the most adult and bloody animated Batman ever seen, but you could still be more satisfied by spending your money on any number of comic collections, such as The Long Halloween, KnightFall, Hush, The Dark Knight Returns or any number of recent paper escapades.