Tag Archives: Batman: The Animated Series

The Phantom (1996)

My favorite movie in the Mummy franchise is The Phantom, but hardly anyone else seems to agree with me. “Nay,” says Naysayer, “you’re mistaken — Phantom is a superhero movie.” Though Naysayer’s rationale is increasingly appropriate such that one can visit a cinema and blindly say that’s a superhero movie and usually be correct, the film adaptation of the long-running Phantom comic strip seems much more at home in a category with The Mummy, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tomb Raider, Romancing the Stone and all of the other Indiana Jonesey flicks that muster at least a small degree of fresh fun. When asked to think of a superhero movie, it’s doubtful The Phantom leaps to mind. Is archaeology adventure an acceptable genre label? We know Naysayer’s answer.

But this was 1996, long before the homogenization of the superflick under the all-encompassing tyranny of the Shared Universe Model. Maybe in 1996 there was nothing at all to blink at: Phantom, a comic-strip costumed vigilante, is up on the screen saving people and slamming evil. This is a superhero. Maybe today there’s just a more rote formula for such a thing, and maybe calling Phantom otherwise is an act of desperation.

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Film & TV News: February 20

News

  • True Blood‘s Kelly Overton has been cast as the gender-swapped vampire-hunting Van Helsing in SyFy Channel’s newest series, which already sort of seems doomed for cancellation. Is anyone clamoring for more Van Helsing? Is the gender-swap just…because? Will Hugh Jackman appear as a grizzled old man in a hood on a lush island in the final moments, with Overton’s new heroine extending his old lightsaber to him in an offering of peace?
  • …okay, more sequel news. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has begun principal photography, and Pom Klementieff and Kurt Russell have officially been announced as new cast after a few months of likely rumors. Klementieff will be playing the scantily-clad comics character Mantis, and odds are Russell will be playing Big Papa Quill. Hopefully not scantily clad, though.

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Batman: The Animated Series 1.32 – “Beware the Gray Ghost”

As an animator with an undeniably strong sense of visual storytelling, it’s perhaps not too much of a stretch to assume that Bruce Timm played with toys. Kids are kids, sure, and even the ones who don’t grow into animators with undeniably strong senses of visual storytelling still tend to love toys. But we might assume this love to be especially strong in the visual artists of the future, an unconscious recognition of the memorable facets of personality reflected in a color scheme or a suit or a pair of pointy black ears. Bruce, if you’re reading, feel free to comment with confirmation or denial of youthful toy-loving.

Whatever the case, the Timmverse is populated by designs from a toymaker’s dream. Classic characters — especially those most well-known rogues appearing in Batman: The Animated Series — get fresh, clear-eyed revivals, unmistakably cartoonish concepts that somehow mesh perfectly with the “Dark Deco” cityscapes of Gotham City. If you’re crafting miniature Batmans and Jokers and Riddlers and Catwomen for the kiddies to play with, both you and the kiddies are going to be happiest with the toys that look like Bruce Timm drawings. They’re simple, memorable, cohesive, and there’s nary a muddled line on any of the character designs. See for yourself.

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Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

I have a few favorite Batman moments, but the one that trumps them all occurs in the first Batman animated movie Mask of the Phantasm. The comic books are full of contenders, of course — the iconic “legends can never die!” panel in Jim Aparo’s “Man Behind the Mask”, the more-iconic moment in “Hearts in Darkness” when Batman rises from the grave, or the most-iconic “fiend from hell” moment from “The Demon Lives Again!” (which we talked about in our rundown on Batman Begins). The feature films have some epic moments as well, like the introductory call-to-arms of Batman Returns or the final ascension from the pit in The Dark Knight Rises. But Mask of the Phantasm captures what many of these moments capture — the determination of Bruce Wayne, the -ness of the Bat — in a unique way.

Phantasm, of course, is more than just the best animated Batman movie — it might be the best Batman movie, period. It certainly stands with the live-action iterations of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, and getting over the fact that Phantasm happens to be animated (as if that’s a point against it) is just a necessary assumption akin to classing The Incredibles at the top of the list of Best Superhero Films. It’s easy to forget about The Incredibles amid the present torrent of live-action Marvel hero flicks, just as it’s easy to forget that Mask of the Phantasm is without a doubt a better Batman film than at least 6/10 live-action Batfilms. I’ll let you figure out which ones I mean.

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

As with our recent article on Batman Begins, this won’t exactly be a traditional “review” of The Dark Knight Rises so much as an examination of the comics that directly inspired the film, previous iterations of the character on the big screen, and the things that Christopher Nolan chose to pinch and blend together from the two of those in order to give us a recognizable version of Cinema Batman. Some of the most legendary moments in Nolan’s trilogy are those of true originality, but it’s good to remember every now and then that Bruce Wayne has been around a hell of a lot longer than Nolan and Co.

And if we’re talking comics that influenced Nolan’s last Batfilm, the only one really worth mentioning is Knightfall. Yes, there are a whole host of comic arcs that can claim to be influences for parts of Rises — the No Man’s Land arc sees Gotham cordoned off from the rest of the world; the four-part story The Cult has a villain operating from the sewers; Bane is the explicit right-hand man of Ra’s al Ghul in 1999’s Bane of the Demon; and Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns has a similar premise and conclusion to Nolan’s Rises, which we’ll come back to in a moment.

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Batman Begins (2005)

Most of the comic book influences on Batman Begins are fairly evident. Everyone points to Frank Miller’s Year One, the redefining four-part series that put the “Dark” back in Dark Knight, and they’re right to hold that book up as the major influence. Begins relies heavily on Year One for a number of things, not least among them the exploration of the Bruce Wayne/Jim Gordon relationship, the exploration of the Bruce Wayne/Alfred relationship, the Gotham Monorail, the mention of the Joker at the end, the entire character of Flass, the entire sequence where Batman calls a squadron of bats to his aid (a bat-talion, am I right? Guys?) and, of course, the entire bat-flies-through-window genesis of the hero himself.

So Year One is the obvious one. Nolan and David Goyer pilfered little things from other famous Bat-books as well, often just an image or a line of dialogue. Here’s the Scarecrow in Loeb and Sale’s The Long Halloween, another popular arc:

Long Halloween
The Long Halloween (1996/97)

Goyer brought this to Nolan and said “I think Katie Holmes and the little kid who will eventually grow up to be Joffrey from Game of Thrones would look really good if we added them in front of the horse here” (paraphrased) and Nolan said “true dat, brah” (not paraphrased) and ran with it:

Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins (2005)

The red eyes and flames are an admittedly nice touch.

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