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November DC Animated Roundup: "Batman: The Complete Series" & "Superman - Doomsday" Reviews

December 09, 2008 by Zach Demeter

Widely considered to be the greatest animated series of all time, Batman: The Animated Series came about via a perfect storm of happenings at the time. A darker Batman was on the screen courtesy of Tim Burton, Fox wanted a show that appealed to more than just kids and Warner Bros. gave the producers complete control over the show in terms of the stories they wanted to tell. Never before has a show been given such freedom to breathe and as a result one of the most critically acclaimed and Emmy award winning animated series of all time was born.

When the two shots rang out, Bruce Wayne’s life changed forever. He pledged himself to justice, and he held that oath for years. Wearing many names – the Dark Knight, the World’s Greatest Detective, the Caped Crusader and Gotham’s Greatest Hero—he battled tragic foes like The Joker, Penguin, Mr. Freeze and so many more. But deep inside, he knew that he shared something with them that most of humanity wouldn’t understand—a commitment to the fight. The acclaimed, Emmy-winning TV series redefined this complex man as an edgy hero struggling for revenge and redemption each time he donned the cape and cowl, and this Comprehensive 17-Disc DVD collection contains every episode, with all the allies, criminals and showdowns in Batman’s history.

How great it is that Warner Home Video themselves wrote the above description? I’ve known as a fan of the show how brilliant it was, but with the sometimes strange packaging that the series received over the four volumes released, I wondered how seriously Warner was taking their own product. Now with Batman once again on the screen with an emotionally moving film, the series gets shoved into the spotlight once more and as before, the fans benefit from it.

It seems almost a moot point to review this series at this point in time. Anyone who has been visiting this site for awhile will no doubt remember the drastic conversion that went on here through the years, as we attempted to redefine The World’s Finest into the premiere DC Animated resource. With each passing year my time spent on the website became greater and greater and it’s safe to say I spent almost the entirety of my teen years sculpting the site into the behemoth it currently is. It was all because of my love of Batman and of this show that I had the patience to spend so much time on it and to this day this series that started it all remains at the top of my favorite series list. You’ll be hard pressed to find an animation fan who doesn’t hold this series in high regard, but for me it was something I grew up with as a child and is something I can continue to enjoy into my adult years. You can’t say that about many other animated series—by now the majority have deteriorated and begun to show their age, yet Batman: The Animated Series stands out from the pack.

Of course I’d be delusional if I said that every moment of this series was gold. There were quite a few stumbling blocks along the way, as well as some of the worst stories in all of animation (The Terrible Trio is something I don’t particularly care to see again…ever). But for its flaws, the series is remembered due to fantastic episodes like the Emmy winning Heart of Ice and the first episode of the series, On Leather Wings, which remains one of the most beautifully animated episodes of all time.

As wonderful as Batman: The Animated Series was, however, it was the fourth volume of the set, The New Batman Adventures that I grew up with and as a result that volume remains my favorite of the set. I simply love the new designs and inclusion of a younger Robin into the mix and I could probably go on forever about how much I love that series. No doubt there are those that disagree with me, but for the combination of nostalgia and just how genuinely well written the fourth volume is, that’s where the majority of my favorites reside.

No matter which volume you gravitate toward, you won’t be amiss on any of them. The 109 episodes included here, running nearly forty-hours in length, are simply some of the strongest examples of animation from the 90s you’ll ever find. While modern animation has graduated onto digital coloring and plates, Batman: The Animated Series is a key example of animation done in the old style, complete with cel dirt and small animation glitches in all. Must See.

The DVD


Check out The World's Finest for more exclusive images and package shots from the "Batman: The Complete Animated Series" release.

Those who were around a few years ago may remember murmurs of a “complete series” set in production back shortly after Volume 4 was released. This release eventually disappeared from the release schedules and was all but forgotten until Warner Home Video dropped the bomb on us back in July that we’d be seeing the complete series set on DVD in November. Just in time for Christmas, this Complete Series set would include all four of the volumes as well as a bonus seventeenth disc with an small amount of new extras. On top of that would be a 40-page collector’s book containing never-before-seen production artwork, all packaged in a handsome cardboard box. I scoffed at the idea of this set at first, until I actually laid hands on it. As someone who begrudgingly lived with the four previous volumes sometimes goofy artwork selections, this set was exactly what I wanted all along in terms of packaging. A fantastic shot of Batman against a city backdrop, and underneath a matte black cardboard box with a black gloss shot of Batman that was used as the end credits logo for so many episodes. For those who have the cash, it’s worth it just to upgrade to this new set just for the packaging—obviously if you’re a casual fan that’s a bit excessive, but if you’re like me the packaging may be enough to tip you in favor of this set.

Inside the box are the two cases, housing eight discs in one and nine discs in another, courtesy of a swinging tray system, while the booklet rests on top of the two cases. The disc art is the same as the individual releases and disc content is identical. Video and audio quality is what you’d expect from an older series, with some of the later volumes looking pretty damn good in terms of clarity. The twelve episode commentaries and eight featurettes also return, so there are plenty of extras to check out if you haven’t picked up the individual releases previously.

For those who have, then you’re still in for a few new goodies. The seventeenth disc contains an all new featurette titled Shadow of the Bat: Batman's Animated Evolution (22:50). It covers everything from the Filmation era up to Gotham Knight and features interviews with Timm, Dini, Radomski, Burnett and a handful of other talent that have been involved with the animated Bat incarnations over the years. When I first heard about this extra I thought it was just some fluff piece they threw together from old interview footage, but they actually seem to have commissioned some new talking heads for this one and for that alone I have to give Warner credit. It’s not an amazing bonus, but worth checking out if and when you pick up this set. The remaining extras on the seventeenth disc are the previews for Gotham Knight, New Frontier, and Wonder Woman, which we’ve seen on the previous DC Universe DTV releases.

Overall Batman: The Complete Animated Series comes Highly Recommended if you don’t already own the previous releases. If you do own them and are a big fan of the series then I’d still look into picking this release up. You could sell off the previous volumes on eBay and recoup nearly enough to purchase the new set by itself, so you wouldn’t lose much by trading up—and the awesome packaging and new featurette is worth the hassle, I think.

Batman: The Complete Animated Series is now available on DVD.

"Superman Doomsday: Special Edition" Blu-ray Review

Click Here!The first of the animated DC Universe films out of the gate, Superman/Doomsday has the odd distinction of setting up the “mature” line of animated projects and at the same time staying true to the source material it’s based off of, which, while adult, is not exactly anything other than a bloody fist smear in the DC Comics timeline.

During the 90s when Superman was airing on television in both live-action (Lois and Clark) and animated (Superman: The Animated Series) form on television, the Man of Steel was having a bit of a crisis his comic book (or rather, comic books, as, like now, he had more than one monthly story going on). Because the writers of Lois and Clark wanted to be the first to marry Lois and Clark, the comic book was forced to wait years while the television show played catch up and the writers were stuck in a rut trying to figure out where to take the story of Superman for another year now that their original idea had been pushed to the side.

What followed no one, not even DC Comics, saw coming. When it was announced that Superman would be dying at the hands of a brutal alien known as “Doomsday”, the media went nuts. Press picked up stories of Superman’s impending demise and by the time the comic book had hit comic shop shelves, lines were forming in the early A.M. hours with fans and non-fans alike waiting to get their hands on a comic book that would end the life of the Man of Steel. Many in line read the comic as they waited, not wanting to wait to see how it ended.

While this was all very dramatic for the Man of Steel and the characters around him, what followed in the place of his book for a year was convoluted. Throwing in a myriad of other Supermen to take his place while the world awaited the true return of Superman, the comic book, despite being more popular than ever, went from being the one that killed the Last Son of Krypton to being one loaded down with stories to extend the life of the story.

Of course that last paragraph was laden with my own personal views on the comic book. Like many others who read the comic book way after all of the hoopla died down (I had, in fact, not read the trade paperback of the comic until after this direct-to-video feature was announced), I was thoroughly unimpressed with the story. While the documentary on the story of Superman’s death on the Superman/Doomsday DTV paints the death of Superman as dramatic, the truth is that even with all the planning that went into the story and the art, it eventually boiled down to single page panels of Superman and Doomsday having a knock-down, drag-out battle. Great and all, but hardly fitting for the Man of Steel to die over. While it was nothing the comic world had seen before, I’ve no doubt this started DC Comic’s obsession with creating big, convoluted stories for nothing more than media attention. Not that you can blame them—in a world of declining comic book sales, everything helps, but one tires of the overly dramatic stories all the time.

Still, I can’t completely deny that there weren’t some redeemable qualities in the book. Despite my dislike of the single-page panels, they were beautiful to look at and the ensuing depression that washed over the characters of the book, especially supporting characters like Bibbo, was heartfelt and truly impacted the reader. In the end though, the story was created as nothing more to extend the time period between when Lois and Clark would get married. The story, you could say, was a giant accident that got so over-hyped that the end result could never live up to the media attention, no matter the outcome.

And so, already before watching this direct-to-video, I was already unimpressed with what I’d read of the Doomsday storyline. On top of that, I had already seen portions of the story adapted into other episodes of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, which I would later realize after watching the film, really hampered my enjoyment of it. Still, I’ll get to that later, but for now we’ll discuss the film itself.

Inspired from but not a direct adaptation of the Doomsday storyline, Superman/Doomsday starts out immediately with much more Luthor than we got in the comic version. In fact, the key difference between the two is Luthor’s involvement, which is significant in shaping all three acts of the film. I don’t want to spoil too much of the film, so I won’t get too into plot details here though it should be noted that from this point on there will be spoilers from the film.

Once Doomsday is freed from his containment deep below the Earth’s crust, his destruction begins and leads him immediately to Metropolis. Engaged by Superman, the two throw down in one of the most violent and beautifully choreographed fight sequences I’ve yet to see in DC Animation. While it’s true a lot of the beats can be traced back to what we saw in Justice League’s “A Better World” and Justice League Unlimited’s “Doomsday Sanction”, there is some new moves to be seen in this fight and the final method Superman uses to take Doomsday out was new to me (and much more dramatic than what we got in the comic version).

One thing viewers will also notice right off the bat is the beefed up role Lois plays in this film over past animated appearances of her. Right off the bat we see that she and Superman are romantically involved, although she isn’t painted as a naïve reporter and immediately gets on Superman’s case for not revealing his secret identity to him (which she correctly guesses is Clark Kent—take that puny glasses disguise!). That’s one cool thing about this adaptation is Lois is given a much stronger role and isn’t simultaneously written as someone who is a great investigative reporter and yet completely overlooks the Superman/Clark connections.

The new voice cast in the film is also superb. I’m always wary of new voices for characters when I’ve grown so used to their past actors. The only newcomers I have qualms with is Cree Summer’s Mercy Graves and Anne Heche’s Lois, which, while giving the character a certain strength, doesn’t seem to mesh with the design which is overly thin and young looking (especially odd when paired with the much older looking Superman design). The issue with Summer’s Grave’s stems from the fact that woman seems to only have two voices (her own and a mix of children voices), making everyone of her voices sound the same.

Adam Baldwin and James Marsters, however, are the definite highlights of the film. Baldwin’s voice is much deeper as Superman and I oddly didn’t have an issue adjusting to the voice at all, despite questioning it by the little I’d heard in clips from the film. Marsters Luthor is perfectly sinister and I daresay it rivals Clancy Brown’s. As blasphemous as that my sound, I surprised myself while typing that, but after watching the film a couple times, Marsters really gives a rocking performance that is easily one of the highlights of the film. As cool as the original cast for these characters is, one of the exciting things about these films is the new cast we get to hear new interpretations and without Marsters in this film, I doubt it would have much of a lasting appeal.

Also new to the world of DC animation is the composer Robert Kral of Angel fame (I think Bruce Timm likes to steal as much from Joss Whedon as he can, whether it be voice actors or composers). Kral manages to incorporate a wealth of music that all sounds like it belong in the world of Superman. Not only does his score start off with the signature John Williams “bum-ba-duh” intro, but it eventually carries off into scores reminiscent of Justice League Unlimited, all the while sounding fresh and new. There were a few particular music cues that stuck out, most of which are all repeated in the end credits music and there are some very nice dramatic cues throughout as well, during Superman’s funeral and Lois’s discussion with Martha Kent. Overall a very strong score and one of which I would love to have a copy of. Hopefully if Warner continues to follow the trail Marvel has blazed in live-action and animated features, we’ll eventually see some of the DC Animated Universe film scores up on iTunes. Quick, easy and cheap distribution, Warner! Bring it on!

Despite being an all-around well crafted animated venture, Superman/Doomsday fails to be the truly revolutionary “mature” outing fans are no doubt hoping it will be. While there is certainly more in the film than what the television show could get away with, what with the few “ass” and “hells” here and there for language, the excess splattering of violence and gore and the not-subtle-in-the-least scenes with Lois and Superman together alone in the Fortress of Solitude and her apartment, it ultimately feels like the only reason it was rated PG-13 was for the things that people only associate with “mature” animation, which is the aforementioned extra language and violence.

Of course that’s a strong reason for an animated film to be rated higher than it has to be, but this film really doesn’t take advantage of the extra room given to it. With it adapting a storyline we’ve seen split across two plotlines in past DC animation TV shows, it’s hard to be too excited about seeing Superman fight Doomsday again or seeing how the world reacts when Superman dies. I fully understand the desire to do a DTV of the epic Superman death that caused newspapers across the world to cover it when the original comic book hit, but at this point in time we’ve seen it in comics and we’ve seen it in animation before, so we’re essentially just getting a third adaptation of the same characters and story, which is really a shame to devote such a large budget to something that’s really just a retread in the end.

Another issue I have with the film is that even before we saw Doomsday in Justice League I knew Bruce Timm was no fan of the “Death of Superman” storyline in the comics. Doomsday’s appearance in Justice League was cool and a once one-dimensional comic book character was given a new life in later episodes of Justice League Unlimited when his origin was revealed. Still, watching Timm go back to Doomsday so soon and essentially re-trimming his character down again to a one dimensional killing machine makes me wonder how much pressure DC Comics was putting on the creative team to make the Doomsday story be the first of the mature animated ventures. Despite Timm stating that he and Capizzi initially brushed off the idea of doing Superman/Doomsday in favor of doing some other comic book adaptation and eventually caving when they realized there was potential in doing this film, in the end, while it was a fine effort, is going to really surprise anyone. It’s by-the-books and the only shock value comes from not seeing the amount of violence before in an animated Superman outing.

This brings me to another point about the film: the violence. I mentioned it above a bit in how it feels tacked on, but the “mature” elements of the film are really nothing that couldn’t have been left out. Sure it’s cool to see Superman get punched in the face three times and then three more in the gut (I love mindless violence) and at no time does the film feel obnoxiously violent, I just don’t think Warner’s incessant instance on upping the violence and making it “darker” lent itself well to the project. If the comic they’re adapting into animation doesn’t immediately lend itself to a stronger MPAA rating from the get go (New Frontier and Judas Contract [which is now currently on the backburner], for example, already have a stronger subject matter from the get go, purely because of how they were written and the issues they deal with, while the “Death of Superman” storyline was just pure violence), then it shouldn’t be forced to become a PG-13 film just so it can be marketed as an adult film. Even though there are no frivolous one-liners from the characters to appeal to children, there is nothing in here aside from the sexed up relationship between Superman and Lois that parents could truly find objectionable to show to their young ones. And even then with the likes of young Hollywood starlets constantly flooding headlines about their sexual exploits, I don’t think Superman sleeping with a lady friend would really faze children that much in this day and age.

I don’t want my review to come off as negative—I really enjoyed the film and the more I write about it the more I find I liked about it. The animation was spot on and there were only a few instances I noticed oddly proportioned models and not once did anything seem sloppy to me, not even the CGI. The voice acting, as mentioned before, is top notch and there was a lot to like about the film…I just wasn’t so entertained by it because I knew what was coming. Yeah Capizzi and Timm did a great job at adapting a new telling of this story with Luthor’s involvement, but in the end it is just a retelling and nothing that is going to resonate with fans much when other adaptations of comic books that are less exposed are revealed (after viewing the ten minute preview reel on the Superman/Doomsday DVD for The New Frontier, my anticipation for that film jumped tenfold) for the first time in animated form.

Also something I want to tackle is the complaints the film immediately attracted when Duane Capizzi’s name was attached to it. Capizzi’s previous Superman outing, Brainiac Attacks is, without a doubt one of the worst animated DC titles I’ve seen in my life. I even eloquently called the movie a “pile of horse crap” in my original review of the film and I still stand by it; however, Capizz is in no means a bad writer. I know the man can write extremely well and it was later revealed the extenuating circumstances behind the Brainiac Attacks mess (explained in our own interview with Duane Capizzi here), so those who are in the least bit worried about his name being attached to this or future DC projects need not worry—Capizzi in no way needs to defend his writing credentials, neither before or after Brainiac Attacks, but for those that feel he has to will be shut up after Superman/Doomsday — it’s nothing short of a superb outing in the writing area and I’m sure his next outing, also a DC animated film, will be great fun to watch as well.

In a sense, Superman/Doomsday is simply a couple years too late. If you ignore the existence of the previous telling of Doomsday and the death of Superman in Timm’s animated series then this film is immediately much stronger. It does a superb job in showcasing Doomsday’s destructive force and just how much the world would mourn the loss of Superman and throughout the film Capizzi and Timm have written excellent scenes for all of the characters, ranging from the child-loving Toyman (talk about creepy—although hearing John DiMaggio’s voice emit from this version only made me laugh as it was so close to that of Bender from Futurama) to the new area Jimmy Olsen’s character traveled to after Superman’s death, we get a smattering of new character explorations throughout that keep the film fresh and new viewers will no doubt be enthralled by the quality of the writing, animation and voice acting in this film. In the end, even with the burden of past stories on its shoulders, Superman/Doomsday comes Recommended.

The Blu-ray
Click Here!After apparently solid Blu-ray sales of The New Frontier and Gotham Knight, Warner Home Video chose to revisit their first DC DTV outing and release Superman Doomsday in a new loaded Blu-ray release as well as a two-disc DVD edition. This Blu-ray release comes with a few new tweaks which we’ll get to, but first off is the packaging. It’s a standard fair, with an all-gold cover to differentiate itself from the previous release and the slipcover front is embossed and foil reflective. Inside the packaging is just the disc (plain black disc art) and an insert telling you to keep your players firmware up to date.

The VC-1 encoded 1.85:1 video transfer hovers around the 29mbps max bit rate range, giving this film a particularly impressive looking transfer that really floored me at times. I hadn’t watched this film since the original DVD release, so watching it again in HD was a bit of a revelation as I picked up on elements in backgrounds (in particular a strange sign in Lois’s apartment that says “I Heart Lava.” The hell does that mean?) that I didn’t notice before. I was also quite amazed by the film’s opening credit sequence, with every one of the stars in the sky coming through with perfect clarity. An absolutely brilliant looking transfer through and through and one I’m glad they re-released on Blu-ray.

Unfortunately the audio accompanying this mix is the same disappointing DD5.1 mix that was originally released with the original DVD release. Although it is 5.1 and the rear channels occasionally get a voice or sound effect, the track might as well have been 5.0 as there is very little, if any, thunder felt from the subwoofer. Only when Luthor goes off during the second act do we feel anything, Superman’s entire brawl with Doomsday is unfelt—extremely disappointing. This is what you buy a subwoofer for and whoever mixed this track must have completely forgotten about the bass. It’s not merely a case of underuse; the subwoofer channel was simply not utilized in the least. My receiver does a better job faking bass with the 2.0 Justice League Unlimited mixes than this audio track did with its supposed full surround.

Moving onto the extras (all in standard definition) we get to revisit the same extras from the previous release. First up on the disc is a full audio commentary with producer/writer/director Bruce Timm, writer Duane Capizzi, voice director Andrea Romano and executive producer Gregory Noveck. The track is lively throughout and Timm and Capizzi freely share their experiences on the film and what they like about it. Timm is quick to correct those who question just how violent this film is over his past superhero outings, although he does yield when Romano insists that Superman was never punched three times repeatedly in the face like he is by Doomsday early on in their battle. The track is well worth listening to and the only real dry moment comes when Timm begins to comment on Superman’s face getting pushed into the train by Doomsday—he seems to be gearing up to compare it to the Spider-Man/Sandman subway fight in Spider-Man 3 when everyone goes quiet on the commentary for nearly a minute and the discussion that starts up after it is completely unrelated. I guess if they did mention Spider-Man 3 it might have been cut for legal reasons, but you’d think they’d have trimmed his comment about the head bashing completely.

“Requiem and Rebirth” (43:16) is the heaviest portion of the DVD, covering the entire history of the “Death of Superman” storyline. Running a full hour in length, nearly all the original artists and writers of the Death and Return storylines are interviewed and a couple even get choked up remembering some of the more dramatic issues that followed Superman’s death. Rightfully so as no matter how you feel about the comic, a few of the writers threw their heart into some of the stories, even if most of them were all just filler before the Man of Steel returned. Overall it’s a cool featurette to watch, but having read the comic myself and finding it a giant waste of time, the back-patting everyone gives one another made me roll my eyes after awhile.

“Behind the Voice” (5:18) is a quick featurette on the voice actors that worked on the film. Although the crew discussed some of the voice decisions on the commentary, we go a bit more in-depth here and even get interviews with Anne Heche, Adam Baldwin and Ray Wise. Oddly enough the Amazon.com video clip of James Marsters talking about his work as Luthor is completely omitted from all releases of this film, meaning we don’t get any word from Marsters at all about his role in the film on the set. I understand making clips exclusive to retailers to help promote the release, but I’d think making exclusive clips from the film would be more appealing than completely omitting what an actor has to say about his role from the DVD/Blu-ray.

While the lack of Marster’s clip annoyed me a bit when the film was originally released, this re-release is a great deal more impressive with the extras that focus on the film. There are two new ones, the first of which is When Heroes Die: The Making of Superman Doomsday (29:17), a fairly in-depth documentary about the production of the film. The first half of the extra is just talk about the origins of the idea for the film, which seems like a bit of a retread from the “Requiem” extra. By the time we get halfway into it we have a decent view into the production of the film and how the story was shaped. As a bonus, this appears to be a retrospective piece, likely recorded during the same period as the Wonder Woman extras (I’m only guessing on that one, we’ll see once that release hits). The second film focused extra, The Clash of the Juggernauts (13:10) really seems to be more of the same information we got from the “When Heroes Die” piece, as odd as that is. This also seems to be a bit more of an EPK style release, with an advertisement for the films eventual DVD release date included at the end. You’d think this would have been included on the original release as well, considering how short and actually film-focused it was.

In addition to those we have Bruce Timm's Top Picks (1:24:51), four episodes from Superman: The Animated Series including “Apokolips…Now!” Parts 1 and 2, “Brave New Metropolis” and “Mxyzipixilated.” All fantastic episodes of the series and definitely episode that would spark ones interest in the series if Superman Doomsday was their first expedition in animated Man of Steel. The remaining extras include the original New Frontier publicity piece, as well as the same Wonder Woman sneak peek from the Batman: Gotham Knight release.

Overall this Blu-ray release is definitely a worthy upgrade from the standard single disc DVD release, especially if you’re a fan of the film. The two new featurettes are interesting enough to check out, but it’s the 1080p video transfer that will really push you to upgrade, as it is quite the impressive visual feast. A Recommended double dip.

Superman - Doomsday is now available on two-disc DVD and Blu-ray

 

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