Thursday, July 17, 2008

If you can't get enough of the Dark Knight...

To coincide with The Dark Knight, which opens tomorrow, a lot of new Batman merchandise, both good and bad, has been released to stores over the past couple of weeks. Here’s what I think is the Good Stuff.

The first nine issues of Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder have been collected into a nice, hardcover “Volume 1.” This “monthly” comic launched in 2005 and has been plagued by constant delays (only a single issue was released in 2006) and miserable reviews. Just about everybody seems to hate it, complaining that Miller’s portrayal of Batman is too hard, unflattering, and inappropriate. Personally, I see the series as a natural fit with other entries in Miller’s alternative Dark Knight Universe (Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Dark Knight Strikes Again). Sure, this comic is tough. It’s shocking. It’s uncomfortable. But I’ve never expected anything less from Frank Miller. And Jim Lee’s artwork is exquisite. I just hope another three years don’t pass before we see Volume 2.

On the DVD front, DC Comics’ third direct-to-DVD entry is Batman: Gotham Knight. It’s an interesting though very disjointed 75-minute, anime-style movie made up of six separate episodes by three screenwriters and a half-dozen Japanese animators. It’s supposed to fall into Christopher Nolan’s Batman movie universe, somewhere between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. But even with two viewings under my belt (admittedly, I was listening to the feature-length commentary when I watched it the second time), I don’t really “get it.” The six episodes are too loosely linked for my taste, and the film meanders in all directions. And none of this is helped by the fact that Batman and other recurring characters are drawn differently in each chapter. The only element that really ties everything together is Kevin Conroy, who reprises his voiceover role as Batman from the old Bruce Timm cartoon series. Despite all this, the movie looks cool, it’s never boring, and the two-disc DVD set includes a very nice, 45-minute documentary about Batman creator Bob Kane. Batman: Gotham Knight isn’t essential for fans, but it’s worth checking out if you’re among the hardest of hardcore Batman fanatics, like me.

Also available is the fifth complete season (13 episodes) of The Batman from the Kids’ WB. Again, this is something a lot of Batman fans seem to dislike. But I’ve enjoyed the series from its debut in 2004, even though it’s never reached the heights of Bruce Timm’s cartoons from the 1990s. Just as Batgirl was introduced in the third season and Robin in the fourth, this fifth bunch of shows is highlighted by the appearance of other DC heroes, including Superman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Flash — in other words, the Justice League. My only reservation about this particular string of episodes is that Batman, notoriously the grim loner, is presented as the great team-builder. But that’s not too big a deal. This is a fun set of cartoons.

Finally, much to my delight, the WB’s short-lived revisionist TV take on the Batman mythos from 2002, Birds of Prey, has finally made it to DVD — all 13 episodes, plus the unaired pilot (really just another version of the first episode, with alternative footage and some different casting). This show was a wonderful bit of kickbutt superhero eye-candy, starring Ashley Scott (who later starred in the Jericho TV series), Dina Meyer (the best thing about the original Starship Troopers movie), and Rachel Skarsten. I was a diehard fan of this show when it first aired, and it’s terrific to be able to revisit it. My only disappointment with this DVD set is that a lot of the original music from the program has been replaced due to licensing problems. This includes Aimee Allen’s memorable title theme, “Revolution.” Regardless, I highly recommend Birds of Prey.

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