REVIEW: BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER

 

CAST (VOICES)

Will Friedle (Boy Meets World)

Kevin Conroy (Batman:
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Angie Harmon (Agent Cody Banks)
Teri Garr (Young Frankenstein)
Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)
Tara Strong (Comic Book: The Movie)
Matthew Valencia (Lawnmower Man 2)

Melissa Joan Hart (Melissa & Joey)
Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville)
Frank Welker (Transformers)
Henry Rollins (Wrong Turn 2)
Rachael Leigh Cook (Antitrust)
Ryan O’Donohue (The Iron Giant)
Vernee Watson (The Big Bang theory)

It’s a shame that Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker did not have the opportunity to grace the silver screen. Though the film was originally conceived as a direct-to-video effort, Bruce Timm reported in San Diego during the summer of ’99 that Warner was flirting with the idea of a theatrical release. Was not to be, though, and as the Halloween 2000 release date of the video and DVD drew closer, the entertainment industry was under the watchful eye of the government, fending off accusations that it was delivering adult content to children. A nearly two month delay for the dark, violent Return of the Joker was announced shortly thereafter, and fans were aghast at the timing. Rumors began to circulate that Warner was unhappy with the content of the movie in this hostile political climate and sought to water it down considerably. Writer Paul Dini confirmed in an interview with Ain’t It Cool News that edits were in the wings, and though he was positive about the changes spearheaded by partner Bruce Timm, it did apparently lead to a rift in the seemingly insurmountable team.

 

To get an idea of how drastically certain portions were changed, World’s Finest has a assembled a detailed list of edits, though bear in mind that there are substantial spoilers. Sales of the edited disc were lackluster, due in large part to a lack of any real promotional effort by Warner Bros. Though the quality of the butchered product was still exceedingly high, it seemed as if the untainted version would never see the light of day. Slowly, positive news began to trickle from Tinseltown. Paul Dini, at the Wizard World Convention last summer, stated that he was certain that an unedited release would be forthcoming. This was confirmed by Warner two months later in a chat on the Home Theater Forum. Now, just over three years after Paul Dini first put pen to paper for his initial draft of the Return of the Joker screenplay, Warner has finally given the movie the release it deserved from the very beginning.


Batman Beyond, for those unfamiliar, takes place some fifty years after the previous animated series. Bruce Wayne had long since shelved the cape and cowl, and Gotham City went two full decades without a protector. Derek Powers, who picked up the reins at Waynecorp, was using Wayne’s company to traffic weapons, including some of the thoroughly nasty biological variety. The father of troubled teen Terry McGinnis stumbled upon this secret and paid for this knowledge with his life. Terry, after a chance encounter, deduced Wayne’s secret identity and lifted a Batman suit, setting out to punish those responsible for his father’s murder. Despite some early friction between Bruce and Terry, the mantle was passed, and Terry took over as Gotham’s champion.


The Clown Prince of Crime has been painted in the animated series as more of an entertaining nuisance than a psychotic murderer, a far cry from how the character has appeared in comics for the past couple of decades. Return of the Joker shows the title character for what he truly is: a genuinely deranged, insane soul. Bruce has made a conscious effort to avoid telling Terry about his greatest foe, though such facts cannot remain buried forever. A gang of thugs inspired by the Joker has been ripping off bleeding-edge tech, which isn’t exactly their style. While Terry tries to determine who it is they’re fencing for, Bruce regains control of his corporation after a prolonged battle, much to the chagrin of the worm who was next in line. At a celebration to commemorate his return, the gang strikes again. This time, they are led by an individual who looks and sounds exactly like the Joker, unmarred by the ravages of time. Terry is assured that the genuine article is dead, though Bruce and Commissioner Gordon are both reluctant to provide a detailed explanation. Whatever may have happened decades ago was obviously traumatizing for the elder Wayne, who is concerned enough to request that Terry step down as Batman. Though the Joker is six feet under the festering remains of Arkham Asylum, whoever’s stepping into the role is well-aware of the secret identity of both Batmans, seizing the opportunity to rid himself of the Caped Crusaders once and for all. Long-buried secrets are unearthed, and not everyone will walk away from the final battle unscathed.

I cannot heap enough praise upon Return of the Joker. The animation is theatrical quality, sharper and more fluid than any of the previous animated tales or the best of the television series. The roster of voice actors put in excellent performances, particularly Mark Hamill as the Joker and the always-reliable Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne and the original Batman. Return of the Joker also doesn’t pull any punches…literally. Though it’s not really any more violent than what can be found on the printed page, this is undoubtedly the most extreme representation of the Caped Crusader to date, live-action or animated. It’s kept in character, though. Bruce Wayne has said time and again in the animated series that Batman does not kill, but in the film’s central flashback, he lobs a knife at the Joker with fatal force. It may have missed, but it’s difficult to fully describe the sensation of seeing Batman pushed that far. The intensity of the flashback to the torture inflicted by the Joker rivals most any live-action film I can recall offhand.

This DVD-only release of the unedited Return of the Joker includes the supplemental material from the previous release, as well as its original commentary track and intended aspect ratio. Devoted fans of the Batman Beyond series ought to find a purchase to be a no-brainer, and even those who didn’t much care for the concept of the series may very well feel differently about Return of the Joker.

REVIEW: SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – VOLUME 3

Starring

Tim Daly (Madam Secretary)
Dana Delany (Desperate Housewives)
David Kaufman (Stargate SG.1)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Sharon Lawrence (The Ranch)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)
Miguel Ferrer (Robocop)
Renée Taylor (The Nanny)
Jack Carter (McCloud)
Brad Garrett (Christopher Robin)
Michael Ironside (Total Recall)
Steve Sandor (The Yellow Rose)
Joseph Bologna (Big Daddy)
Bruce Weitz (Half Past Dead)
Victor Brandt (The Batman)
Mike Farrell (Patch Adams)
Shelley Fabares (Coach)
Joanna Cassidy (Blade Runner)
Michael Dorn (Star Trek: TNG)
Sherman Howard (Superboy)
Carolyn Seymour (Congo)
Nicholle Tom (Gotham)
Edward Asner (Elf)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans)
Diane Delano (Jeepers Creepers 2)
Andrea Martin (My Big Fat Greek Wedding)
Diane Michelle (Robotech: The Movie)
Clyde Kusatsu (Midway)
Peri Gilpin (Frasier)
William H. Macy (Fargo)
Peter Gallagher (The Gifted)
Dennis Haysbert (24)
Gregg Berger (Transformers)
Kevin Conroy (Batman: TAS)
Mathew Valencia (The New Batman Advntures)
Roddy McDowall (Planet of The Apes)
John Glover (Smallville)
Paul Williams (Smokey and The Bandit)
Henry Silva (Above The Law)
Bob Hastings (The Poseidon Adventure)
Charity James (Space Jam)
Corey Burton (Critters)
Jason Priestley (Tru Calling)
Jason Marsden (Hocus Pocus)
Chad Lowe (Unfaithful)
Melissa Joan Hart (No GOod Nick)
Joely Fisher (The Mask)
Bud Cort (Harold and Maude)
Townsend Coleman (The Tick)
Tress MacNeille (Futurama)
Gilbert Gottfried (Critters: A New Binge)
Frank Welker (Transformers)
Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Carl Lumbly (Supergirl)
Sarah Douglas (Superman 1 & 2)
Ted Levine (The Silence of The Lambs)
Michael P. Greco (Bleach)
George Dzundza (Crimson Tide)
Peter Mark Richman (Defenders of The Earth)
Melissa Disney (Superman vs The Elite)
Malcolm McDowell (Star Trek: Generations)
Billy West (Futurama)
Stephen Root (Barry)
Miguel Sandoval (Medium)
Brian George (The Big Bang Theory)
David Warner (Tron)
Olivia Hussey (Black Christmas)
Michael Horse (Roswell)
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Hot Shots)
Jeff Bennett (Enchanted)
Lisa Edelstein (House)
Charles Napier (The Silence of The Lambs)

3447328-absolute-powerSuperman is everywhere. He’s also been everywhere; for nearly seventy years now the character has been inspiring us with his tales of heroism, adventure, and fantasy. Seventy years is a long time and with a character as popular as Superman it equates to a lot of different interpretations. From the original comic books to a radio series to a handful of television shows, it seems that the Last Son of Krypton has done it all. We are very lucky then to have these DVDs, because in all of that time, throughout all the years, the stories found in Superman: The Animated Series are his best. The fifty-four cartoon episodes (spread across three boxed sets) that make up the complete run of Superman: The Animated Series aren’t just the best take on the character because they’re faithful. Nor is it because they’re animated, for all ages, or very imaginative. It’s for all of these reasons. And several more.3447300-little_big_head_manThe creative team behind the series has plundered the rich mythology of the character and come up with a fantastic take on each and every piece of the Superman universe. For starters, their Clark Kent and Lois Lane interpretation is spot-on. Clark isn’t too much of a goof, nor is he too simple. Similarly, Lois is fiery, funny, and lovely. Seeing the characters come together at the end of Legacy, Part 2 makes for a great cathartic moment. Superman has saved Lois a countless number of times, it is only fitting then that Lois save him when he needs it. The main arc of this season borrows from the comic book universe and brings Darkseid and his homeworld to the forefront. Hinted at earlier in the show, it’s in this third volume that the Lord of Apokolips finally gets his payoff – and his payback. In a trio of two-parters, Apokolips… Now!, Little Girl Lost, and Legacy, Superman fights one of his most ruthless foes in a series of episodes that offer some excellent action, drama, and science fiction fun.maxresdefault (1)While these episodes are very faithful to the mythos, we’ve also got a great selection of original stories that go to prove that with a character like Superman, there is no limit to the stories that you can tell. One of my favorites is Knight Time. When Batman goes missing, Superman pays a visit to Gotham City and tries to find out where his friend has gone. Supes inadvertently ends up masquerading as Batman – dressing up in the Dark Knight’s costume and everything! – and teams up with Robin to solve the mystery of the missing Bruce Wayne. Not only is the episode entertaining, but it’s also got a great sense of humor. Seeing Superman do his best impersonation of Batman is wonderful – Clark doesn’t know which utility pockets contain what, and his attempts at being grim (nodding his head instead of speaking) are great.stas-legacy7Watching these shows you get the feeling that it was during this final stretch of episodes that the show’s producers were finding new ways of playing with the formula that they had designed, and perfected, with both Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series. Not only do these Superman episodes have a lot of two-parters, but we’ve also got some great guest-stars; it seems that this show is the precursor to Justice League. We’ve got heroes, Kyle Rayner from In Brightest Day, and villains, Ra’s Al Ghul in The Demon Reborn, and everyone in between – everyone’s favorite master of the sea, Aquaman in Fish Story. We also get an expansion of the Superman supporting cast when Supergirl makes a welcome appearance in the Little Girl Lost two-parter.Superman_TAS_2x27_001The animation is somewhat more limited when compared to the fancy digital effects that more modern shows exhibit, but the handcrafted style gives the show a wonderful atmosphere. If you pay close attention you’ll notice that a lot of effort has gone into the design of the animation – much more so than most animated series. The framing here is frequently packed. Helping flesh out the world are all of the voice actors; everyone from Tim Daly (as Superman/Clark) to Clancy Brown (as Lex Luthor) is perfect in his or her role. The only thing holding the show back, and this is a small point, is the fact that the stories, due to their child-friendly animated nature, are a little more limited than the best television shows tend to be. Even so, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better adventure series – animated or live action.Superman_meets_SupergirlIn one of the episodes found in this collection, Superman pays his final respects to a recently departed friend. In the graveyard, Superman comes to realize something very important: “In the end, the world didn’t really need a Super man. Just a brave one.” This show gives us a character who is both brave and super. It gives us a real hero. It gives us Superman… as good as he’s ever been.

REVIEW: BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – VOLUME 4

Starring

Kevin Conroy (Justice League Doom)
Mathew Valencia (Lawnmower Man 2)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Loren Lester (Red Eye)
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Hot Shots)
Bob Hastings (McHale’s Navy)
Robert Costanzo (Total Recall)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Arleen Sorkin (Days of Our Lives)
Diane Pershing (Gotham Girls)
Marilu Henner (Taxi)
Liane Schirmer (Dark Wolf Gang)
Tress MacNeille (Futurama)
Corey Burton (Transformers: The Movie)
Peter Jason (Mortal Kombat)
Richard Moll (Scary Movie 2)
Lloyd Bochner (Point Blank)
Jeff Bennett (Johnny Bravo)
Michael Ansara (The Message)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)
Cree Summer (Voltron)
Jeffrey Combs (The Frighteners)
Pamela Adlon (Better Things)
Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing)
Townsend Coleman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Billy Barty (Masters of The Universe)
Earl Boen (The Terminator)
George Dzundza (Basic Instinct)
Mel Winkler (Coach Carter)
Paul Williams (Battle for TPOTA)
Allan Rich (Serpico)
Sam McMurray (Raising Arizona)
Tippi Hedren (The Birds)
Barry Bostwick (Spy Hard)
Sela Ward (Gone Girl)
Bumper Robinson (Sabrina: TTW)
Dennis Haysbert (Heat)
Billy Zane (Titanic)
Roddy McDowall (Planet of The Apes)
Henry Silva (Aove The Law)
Mark Rolston (Aliens)
Thomas F. Wilson (Legends of Tomorrow)
Brooks Gardner (Raw Deal)
Buster Jones (Transformers)
Laraine Newman (Coneheads)
Dorian Harewood (Terminator: TSCC)
Jim Piddock (Mascots)
Ian Buchanan (Stargate SG.1)
Pamela Hayden (The Simpsons)
Neil Ross (Transformers: Ther Movie)
Gary Owens (That 70s Show)
Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap)
Michael Ironside (Highlander 2)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Nicholle Tom (Gotham)
Lori Petty (Tank Girl)
Linda Hamilton (The Terminator)
Tim Matheson (Animal House)
Malachi Throne (Star Trek)
John Glover (Smallville)
Steven Weber (2 Broke Girls)
Billy West (Futurama)

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The  this fourth boxed set Batman: The Animated Series is finally available on DVD in its entirety. For anyone that grew up loving this ’90s legend, that’s a very good thing indeed. Technically the show “ended” with the third volume, but when the producers moved on to Superman: The Animated Series, they were asked to bring back a Batman cartoon, and they did – making a few changes in the process.MV5BMzIwOTM3ZDYtMWVhMi00NDhlLWI1ZmItM2JlODc1NTgyYmE4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1342,1000_AL_Any fan can tell you that the new series, dubbed Gotham Knights and airing as the part of the double-feature The New Batman/Superman Adventures, wasn’t as good as what had come before. Even so, if you’re a fan then it’s certainly worth checking out as it serves as a nice precursor to what we’d get with the Justice League series. Plus, there are some great episodes here that any Bat-fan shouldn’t miss. An animated segment from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns? Yes, please! While the show is essentially the same as the previous version, there are some differences. For one, the episodes here take place two years after the events in the original show. The Bat family has been expanded to include Batgirl and Nightwing, and the first thing you will notice is the abundance of new character designs.MV5BZTA4ZjYzNzAtM2FkYS00Y2E2LTgxYTYtNjA3ODkwOWMzM2QwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_When coming up with a fresh take on the aging series, producer Bruce Timm decided that sprucing up the characters would give the show more punch. For the most part, he was right. Some of the characters got slight touch-ups while others were totally redesigned. For example, the new Joker looks more menacing, but the lack of red lips to surround his wicked grin takes away from the impact of the character. On the other hand you’ve got the new Scarecrow, with demented eyes staring out at Batman through a terrifying burlap mask, which is far creepier than the old design.MV5BZjg2OGFkMmUtYmQwNC00ZjIyLWFkMGEtNjJkNzA3YWY2YjY4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1340,1000_AL_Batman himself suffered some changes too; the costume loses the yellow around the Bat-insignia and the chin is longer, giving Bats’ head a more rectangular shape. Overall, the changes are welcome and they add more than they take away. While the cosmetic upgrades are easy to spot, they are not the most important change; after a few episodes you’ll see exactly what it is. The show just isn’t as good as it used to be. That isn’t to say that it’s bad – it’s still one of the better animated series out there, but the atmosphere and maturity of the earlier episodes is missing. The greater reliance on secondary characters (Robin, Batgirl) and gadgets (glider jetpack) injects the show with a more playful tone than it had in the past. You’ve got less character, but more characters. At first I saw this as a shortcoming, but I quickly came to see it as something different – an opportunity.MV5BYTI0Nzg2MmQtNTBiNC00NzBjLWE5NDItZTFmODRjYzZiN2EzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_You’ve already got three boxes worth of classic, wonderfully moody Batman material. If the showrunners want to take the show to hipper, more action-oriented place, I say let them. After all, as far as experimentation goes, there’s some great stuff here. There are a number of gimmicky episodes, but don’t count that out as a bad thing. There’s still a lot of fun to be had. Meanwhile, other DC Universe characters are brought in, making the show feel more connected to what would follow (Superman, Justice League). The Demon Within brings in the mystic characters of Etrigan/Jason Blood and Klarion the Witch Boy (talk about timely). Girl’s Nite Out sees Batgirl and guest Supergirl team up to take down Live Wire (from the Superman show), Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn.MV5BMTUwMzU0OTUzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODE4OTQ1MjE@._V1_But, hand’s down, the standout episode of the box, and one of the coolest of the series, is Legends of the Dark Knight. A group of kids get together and swap stories of what they think Batman is “really” like. One kid tells the story of a campy, golden age interpretation of Batman… and we get to see it animated! It’s a classic story where Batman and Robin battle the Joker in a giant musical instrument museum (?!). The voices and music are hilarious and lovingly done in the ’50s Dick Sprang style; there is no sarcasm here. Seeing the Joker tie our heroes to giant piano strings and then jump on piano keys (in an attempt to squash them) is very amusing for its innocence and simplicity. Next, we have the second kid’s story: she thinks Batman is an old, stoic avenger. In other words, the interpretation that Frank Miller used to catapult Batman into the serious mainstream. We are then treated to a great segment from Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns book as it is brought to life.MV5BMjU3OWFhMWYtYzdlZS00NzRmLWFkMWMtZWZmMjYxMTk3YTg1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_Watching Batman take down the mutant leader in a mud-pit, set against grungy ’80s music, is a real treat. What you get with these two segments over the comics is the great voice acting and an additional storytelling layer by way of background music. The voices and music add a wonderful texture to these classic tales and the idea of juxtaposing bright and goofy with dark and serious makes for a very satisfying episode. While these action-focused and gimmicky episodes are not the show at its best, they are a great diversion and a fun reinterpretation of an aging show. It’s not as good as it used to be, but it’s still Batman: The Animated Series. And that makes it worth your time.