Batman: Gotham Knight DVD review and the state of DC's media division

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I couldn't help but be embarrassed the other night as a DC Comics fan after an ABC News story that talked about the continuity between the various Marvel movies out now, leading to an eventual Avengers movie. The Dark Knight didn't even get a mention. Competing sales records for Secret Invasion and Final Crisis I can handle, but this made me feel like DC is behind the times.

Watching Batman: Gotham Knight the other night didn't help. Granted Gotham Knight is a breathtaking movie, and each story is more beautifully drawn than the last, but it's a movie for people who like animation, not Batman. The elements of Gotham Knight bridging the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are fairly light, as is the plot in general; a few of the stories are nearly silent, and at times the action just stops altogether, without reason, giving the audience time to sit back and admire the art. Gotham Knight is exceptional -- but the casual fan who picks it up at the video store is likely to be bored silly.

This makes three times now that DC Comics's new direct to DVD project has missed its mark. Superman: Doomsday was fairly slow and methodical; Justice League: New Frontier was pretty, but moved too quick for anyone unfamiliar with the comics. Both movies, and Gotham Knight, use their PG-13 rating like a kid with a fake ID, trying to be more mature than they are; when Superman says "crap" or when a faux-Batman slices off a villain's head, it's so out-of-place it's laughable. It surprises me that this is the same DC Comics that produced the fantastic Justice League cartoons, which still hold up after numerous viewings.

The bright spot on the horizon is the preview in Gotham Knight for the upcoming direct to DVD Wonder Woman movie. It could turn out to be just as slow as Superman: Doomsday, but my hope is that the freshness of the material -- Wonder Woman's origin story being not nearly so overdone as Superman's or Batman's -- will make the movie feel fresh as well. Certainly a Wonder Woman origin story should be far more accessible than New Frontier or Gotham Knight, and maybe that will count for something.

As for Gotham Knight itself, I liked "Field Test" the best, a story of young Bruce Wayne's opportunity to be bulletproof, and the reason he chose against it. The end of this twelve-minute tale comes suddenly, and it's one that you understand more in retrospect, but I favored it over fare like Greg Rucka's "Crossfire" where the twists were more obvious (sorry, Greg!). David Goyer's "In Darkness Dwells" is creepy in all the right places, and I liked the dichotomy between Batman and the villain in "Deadshot."

It'll be a week or two, probably, before I see The Dark Knight, but already my sense is that this is a horror movie masquerading as a superhero movie, and not a superhero movie itself. At three hours, and with all the rave reviews Heath Ledger's getting for his portrayal of the Joker, my early guess is that The Dark Knight, too, will be art -- but I'm just not sure "art" is what DC Comics needs right now. In the long run, it's probably better to be smart than popular, but a little popularity wouldn't kill DC Comics's media division.

[Panels of Awesome has a more straightforward review of Batman: Gotham Knight at the link.]
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