Alright, sure, I have twisted Batman’s words here to introduce this top ten list but if you are like me, you know that in a few short weeks The Killing Joke will be released. While many of us are desperately wishing July 25th would hurry up, this list is designed purely on a “this should hold me over” until that date. This list is looking at specifically movies that were released to DVD/Blu-ray without a theatrical viewing, so that is why you will not see Batman Mask of the Phantasm on here although it would be high on the list under other parameters.
I’ve been thinking lately. About you and me. About what’s going to happen to the list in the end. We’re going to disagree with each other, aren’t we? Perhaps you’ll hate me. Perhaps I’ll surprise you. Perhaps sooner. Perhaps later. Anyway, sit back, relax, and see if your list is close to mine. As always, feel free to post your list/comments below!
10. Superman/Batman Apocalypse
If nothing else, this version of Superman meeting his cousin is intriguing but too many fanboys will point out how much it is missing the mark. So what makes this a worthy contender on this list of films? Really it is two factors: cast and action. This film is simply a slug-fest of the three powerhouses (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) traveling to the realm of Apocalypse and doing what they do best. In an attempt to rescue Superman’s cousin, the three use cunning and strength to take on the forces of Darkseid. It does not hurt that Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, and Susan Eisenberg all reprise their roles respectively either. Grabbing the original talent of the hit shows from the late 90’s/early 2000’s is always a treat as these roles are like a second skin to them. Really, if nothing else, the final scene in the movie makes this list between Darkseid and Superman duking it out on the home front of Smallville, it is impressive to say the least. In other locations, the sense of scale these two powerhouses wield is lost to other factors and yet here you have nothing but miles of country and even then the destruction that is shown is massive. Aside from the massive destruction though, the story is somewhat weak, yet it is entertaining to watch these characters do battle with one of the strongest villains in the DC universe.
9. Batman Assault on Arkham
In all honesty, the title is off only because this feels like a Suicide Squad movie more than a Batman film, yet it takes several pages of lore from the Arkham games and utilizes it within an original premise. Once again, talent takes center stage in this unique story with Kevin Conroy as Batman and Troy Baker reprising his role as the Joker from the Arkham Origins game. What makes this a contender on the list is the fact the Suicide Squad really had not been explored up to this point. The shows of yesteryear have not really elaborated on the unique aspect of this group. Yet with a few story lines from Arrow and a very soon to be released movie, this telling of the group works within the Arkham universe, but not really anywhere else. The battles are fun, the villains’ interaction with one another provides some humorous moments, and the characters are unique. It is fun seeing characters outside of the Gotham universe and how well the team does not get along but must work together lest they want those spinal bombs to go off. The action is decent for the film, but once again, it is the ending that will win a lot of people over with the final battle that uniquely does not involve Batman.
8. Justice League the Flashpoint Paradox
One of the hardest things the DC animated universe has had trouble with in terms of developing these animated films is trying to cram flushed out comic series into an eighty-minute production and that…does not always work. Case in point, Flashpoint Paradox focuses on what happens when Flash (Barry Allen) returns to the past and stops his mother from being murdered and how life is affected due to this decision. Thomas Wayne takes the mantle of the gun-toting Dark Knight; Wonder Woman and Aquaman are at war with one another, disposing of friends left and right in order for dominance; at the center of it all Flash has lost his powers. Sound like a lot? It is, and some of the things the story needs to address, do not get the attention. Yet, it is the voice acting that takes the cake here. Sure, action is good when it shows up, but it simply comes down to the interaction of all the heroes and how they are handling this massive war that is currently on its hands. While I believe many viewers would not mind a longer movie to flush out details, the DC animated universe is targeting a younger audience and there is a LOT of back story to truly do this movie justice. Yet, do not let this deter you from watching a decent telling of what happens when you mess with the past. Think “The Sound of Thunder” meets the DC universe and you have Flashpoint Paradox.
7. Batman The Dark Knight Returns part 2
Frank Miller…enough said, am I right? Hailed as one of the quintessential comics of all time, it received the animated treatment back in 2013. It is the only comic adaptation to receive a two-part animated version to date, and part 2 is a lot better than part 1 in the way the story is told. As well, the second part focuses on two major aspects that all fanboys know and care about: Batman vs. Joker and Batman vs. Superman. As an aging Batman confronts his greatest nemesis, the interaction between the two characters is unforgettable and fortunately Peter Weller (Robocop) as the disgruntled Dark Knight pulls off the tired and grizzled Batman perfectly. As a viewer you feel for this worn out character as he not only has to stare down death once more from the Clown Prince of Crime, but also with someone he has called “friend” for so many years. DC animated spares no expense in trying to recreate the pages of the comic and thankfully the battles are perfect. So why so low on the list? Well, in order to get to part 2, you have to go through part 1 and unfortunately the first round of storytelling is off its mark. There are no major changes but watching the back story play out through TV broadcasts of the events is cheap. It makes the story feel disjointed and definitely throws off the pacing, and yet, it is necessary in order to understand how Gotham has reached the current situation. That initial set-up with part 1 will leave die-hard fans with a level of uncertainty when it comes to viewing part 2 but ultimately it works out in the end. It is evident that DC did not want to mess up something as major as the ending battle between the characters and thankfully it looks like they learned their lesson from part 1.
6. Batman Under the Red Hood
Man, do I love this story. It is so good and you should do yourself a favor and read the comic/graphic novel first before seeing the movie, not that there is anything wrong with it. Believe me, this is one of the few movies where the DC animation team pretty much took the story page for page and turned it into a great joyride of a movie. There are some subtle changes: Mr. Freeze is not present, the assassins are different, and the Red Hood’s fight with Black Mask is absent, but still, it is a great visual display. So why in the sixth slot? Well, in this case, it IS the voice acting that does not hold up this time. While each actor is great in their own right, the players in this showing feel very out of place. This is one of those times where Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill needed to be in on this because outside of The Killing Joke most fans will agree the death of Jason Todd is a fantastically tragic telling of vengeance to the largest degree. Bruce Greenwood takes the mantle of the Dark Knight but as his first run it feels like he is always pissed off, not “I have failed myself/everyone” pissed, but rather “You messed up kale and spinach salad you stupid intern!” pissed. This story has regret and anguish about the death of a partner and Greenwood does not sell it exactly as one would hope. On the flip side of the same coin, John DiMaggio’s version of the Joker is too much of himself. When you have a unique voice like DiMaggio it does not matter what role he is playing, it is way too hard to not think of your first time hearing his voice for a character you love…Bender, sigh. While I appreciate and respect DiMaggio for taking the mantle, this story is too important and in this case we needed the Conroy/Hamill interaction. Redeeming factor: Wade Williams sells it as Black Mask.
5. Justice League Doom
It pains me to see this in the middle of the stack but there is a reason we are at the middle of the road here with Doom. Based off the story, “Tower of Babel” we see Batman’s contingency plans for how to deal with his Justice League partners in case they ever decide to go off the deep end and unfortunately, the Legion of Doom finds those said plans. Fans of the animated Justice League series will be happy to know that most of those actors reprise their roles with Nathan Fillion filling in for Green Lantern in this version. The interactions between the two different teams and the action sequences are reason enough to watch this movie to the end, but it helps to have some really great moments of action displayed throughout. What feels light is the main villain, Randal Savage and his desire to obliterate part of the world so that he can rule the rest. Savage, while a decent enough villain, is one of those one-dimensional characters who can have moments of surprise and shock…just not here. As well, it is a little distracting to see Savage talk about creating the Legion of Doom when in reality Lex Luthor has always had that claim. Am I being a little nit-picky here? Sure, but I love my comics and movies. However, this should not stop anyone watching a reunion of talented actors team up once more to fight the forces of evil.
4. Justice League Crisis on Two Earths
These last few choices are so hard to place in order of awesome, but one of the more stellar portrayals comes from Crisis on Two Earths. Here’s what really sells this movie: parallel universes. Ah, who does not enjoy seeing your favorite superheroes be super evil? Well, wait no more! It is great to watch the heroes see what their counterparts act like as they attempt to stop them from not just destroying their earth, but all of them. Having James Woods play Owlman with his deadpan voice and attitude is a definite highlight, especially with his interactions with Superwoman (Wonder Woman’s parallel twin). As well, this movie really shows what potentially the superheroes could have become had they decided to traverse down the path of pandemonium. While Superman is restrictive and unwilling to end lives, Ultraman is happy to do it after he shakes one down for a couple grand. This movie really has a great opportunity to show the dichotomy of hero versus villain, especially when the villain potentially is yourself! Also, there is an awesome short of an underappreciated hero, The Specter and it is pretty decent with the only downside being, why do we not have more opportunities to bring him in?
3. Batman Beyond Return of the Joker
Okay, I am certain there are a lot of you out there screaming at their computer screens and hashtagging about how much I am off my rocker here, but again, these last few are so close to being at the top. Here’s why Batman Beyond is taking the bronze, it has nothing to do with the story (it is stellar), it has nothing to do with the action (fast paced and well done), it has nothing to do with the voice talent (Conroy, Hamill, Friedle, Harmon), it has everything to do with the fight between Terry McGinnis’ Batman and the Joker. While the fight is good, the interaction between the two does not feel “earned”. Terry’s Batman has not experienced what Bruce’s Batman has and because of that, it does not feel natural. I do like the movie, do not get me wrong, but as someone who has watched the old Batman the Animated Series episodes, the true history and interaction between the iconic characters feels misplaced. I thoroughly enjoyed watching McGinnis turn Joker’s strength into his weakness and how he resolves the situation, but the aftertaste feels a tad bitter for someone like me. Overall though, you should do yourself a favor and see this, it really is that good…
2. Superman vs The Elite
There’s good, and then there is fantastic. The story of Superman and how far one can be pushed and what it takes to restrain oneself is all done here extremely well. Where Crisis on Two Earths gives us a taste of the power and destruction Superman could become, The Elite takes Superman to the breaking point and slightly nudges him over the edge. Superman, the American hero, a true testament of peace, nobility, kindness is pushed aside when some new “heroes” come into town and do exactly what Superman will not when it comes to dispensing justice. Superman has always refused to be judge, jury and executioner, but The Elite find that is his biggest weakness because the villains always escape, they always return to causing destruction, and they always manage to harm innocents. DC animation did a great job here showing the struggle of what it means to be a hero and where to draw the line. Viewers feel bad that a time-honored treasure, Superman, is basically being called out and booed because he does not snap necks first and ask questions later. The selling point is obviously the end battle between Superman and The Elite. Something changes in the hero as he is being pummeled to death and what happens when Superman will not take it anymore is spectacular as people see just what it would be like if Superman acted as judge, jury and executioner. This is a great film, especially if you are looking for a movie that pushes limits.
1. Wonder Woman
If Superman vs The Elite is fantastic, then Wonder Woman is darn near perfect. This movie hits everything one needs in a good superhero action movie. It is extremely close to the original origin story (about 90%) accurate. It has a phenomenal voice cast with the biggest being Alfred Molina cast as the deadly and despicable Ares, God of War. The story and the action are perfectly paced. Finally, the message is exactly what is intended for both young and old viewers of this hero…and no, it is not violence solves everything. What Wonder Woman pushes is that strength comes not only from inside, but from family as well. In a male-dominated world, women have to draw inspiration and strength from multiple sources and Wonder Woman stresses that these things are definitely not weaknesses but rather the foundation for being an amazing and unique person. In the massive list of DC animated movies, Wonder Woman is the only stand-alone movie dedicated to a female superhero and while I love and enjoy the Batman, Superman, Justice League centered movies, watching this hero not only take a hit but equally dish it back out to her foes is a great feeling. Viewers, especially females, can see a sense of justice being served on more than one level with this movie. Now, this is not to say that men cannot enjoy or extrapolate the central message, but one has to understand that this movie goes beyond the simple struggle of a female warrior and her sisters to truly appreciate what DC animation is doing here. Tradition of female roles and what women can and cannot be are thrown out the window here and there is no better icon to showcase what it takes to be badass. Overall, Wonder Woman has all the right elements to make this at the top of the list and if you have not seen it yet, do yourself a favor and pop this in immediately!