Sunday, August 08, 2010
red hood done right
Batman: Under the Red Hood (DC Animated)
In which DC Animated takes on the origin story of Jason Todd as the Red Hood and makes it make sense.
To be sure, the DC Animated people had both a signal advantage and disadvantage. Feeling that Jason Todd had been rather badly treated (a vote to kill him off, for heaven's sake, and one that seems to have been mishandled, at that), DC Animated gave Jason's origin story to Tim Drake in the Batman animated series of the 1990s, so that Bruce Timm and friends could tell Jason's story they way they wanted -- only without Jason. Of course, that meant that if they were going to keep the movies in the same universe as the animated series, and they wanted to tell this story, they not only needed to introduce Jason from scratch, but make us understand who he was and how he fit in. After all, if all you'd ever seen was the animated series, and then went to this, your immediate assumption of the start is that the Joker is beating on Tim Drake, and that would be quite wrong.
DC Animated seem to be treating the direct-to-DVD animation as though it were almost its own universe, almost but not quite independent of the storylines they'd established with the various series.
As for Jason Todd, he gets his own origin story back. In fact, I would be very curious to see if they didn't simply re-animate, or improve, on the Tim Drake origin story from the animated series; the scene showing how Batman met Jason -- lifting the wheels of the Batmobile -- looked very familiar when it appeared (surprisingly late in the film, actually). Jason also apparently gets Dick Grayson's original Robin outfit to start with, scanty panties and pixie boots included. He winds up with Tim Drake's Robin outfit -- the red sleeves and leggings, rather than the green ones. (What they're going to do if they decide to bring Tim Drake into this version of DC Animated, I'm sure I don't know.) Moreover, he gets a Red Hood origin that actually works. No "Superboy prime punches the universe and Jason wakes up in his grave" nonsense; without giving anything away, let's just say it's about someone trying to make something right that they did wrong. (One of the enduring surprises about the "Lost Days" comic book is that DC Editorial didn't allow the writers to take the opportunity to retcon that storyline; given what they actually did allow them to do, it would have been fairly simple. DC Animated chose to take that simple path that DC Editorial didn't.) Jason does die as he did in the comics, being blown up by the Joker. After that, things get ... different. Except when they don't.
Assuming that the DVD movies don't take place independently, this story takes place before any of the Batman animated series. Interestingly enough, Bruce has a better relationship with Dick Grayson/Nightwing in this movie than he does in the series -- much less hostile on Dick's part. (Dick also has short hair, which he didn't in the series.)
Once DC Animated didn't have to limit themselves to the bounds of what was acceptable for broadcast television, they got much more violent. The sheer number of corpses in this video, while entirely in keeping with the original Red Hood arc, is truly astounding for an animated Batman story. Moreover, the violence meted out is unusually gory. We begin by watching the Joker beating Jason Todd with a crowbar, complete with blood spatter, middle with the Red Hood killing a really startling number of crooks, and end with watching the main characters mete out a couple of jaw-dropping beatings. We also get the same discussion of Batman's philosophy of violence that occurred in the comics, if not quite in the same situation. Interestingly, Batman isn't required to make quite the same sort of choice at the end that the comic book required of him. What happens here makes much more sense, and it shows the very stark difference between Batman and Jason at that point.
The animation is, of course, very well done. Bruce Greenwood takes on the voice of Batman, sounding very like Kevin Conroy, who will be back for the next film -- "Superman/Batman: Apocalypse", the origin story for Supergirl --and has done all but one of those, plus the animated series. (That said, Greenwood will be the voice of Batman for the Young Justice animated series.) They have, for no apparent reason, given Alfred a different character design from the series or anything else. As has been the habit of recent DC Animated DVDs, it contains no extras relating to the actual story being shown; there are trailers for upcoming and different DVDs, but nothing at all about this one. A pity; it would have been nice to have had a secondary audio track, as they did with Return of the Joker, explaining what they did and why. (For no apparent reason, the audio tracks are English 2-channel, English 5+1 channel, and ... Portuguese?)
If you're a Batman fan, and wanted to see the Jason Todd story done right -- or closer to right, anyway -- then this is definitely something that you ought to see.
Excellent; Highly recommended.