DC Comics have been releasing original animated movies for some time now, making them alongside their various animated series, an area where they have continued to kick Marvel’s collective asses for some time now. While Marvel is trying to catch up with the use of Disney’s animation department, they have a long way to go. DC’s animated films use to be made for television, but tv broadcasts of these films now seem to be an afterthought as these straight to DVD and Blu-Ray released films have increasingly offered more adult driven content, with the occasional limited cinematic run.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 & 2 based on the Frank Miller graphic novels and Alan More and Brian Bolland’s adapted Batman: The Killing Joke have both been released over the last few years to praise (& cinematic runs), the later bringing Mark Hamill back to voice the Joker, a character he had retired from. They have told stories from the comic books, individual stories that are not connected to an overreaching arch. These stories are told the best way the filmmakers can with the confines of length, usually between 75 and 95 minutes.
But on the 7th February 2017 with the release of the animated film Justice League Dark, DC Comics and Warner Bros Animation have given us something a little different; fantasy (in this case magic) with a healthy dose of adult themes and a darker plot. In fact, in the United States it was slapped with an R rating for the magical themes coupled with the humour and the moderate action. In Australia, where I reside clicking away at the computer keys, the film was given an M rating for mature audiences for the same reason.
Based on the Justice League Dark comic series in the recent New 52 soft reboot of DC’s titles written by Peter Milligan, Jeff Lemire, and Mikel Janin, the screenplay for this film was penned by J.M. DeMatteis and Ernie Altbacker and directed by DC/Warner Animation veteran Jay Oliva was a sigh of relief for many DC fans. After the Guillermo del Toro’s failed attempt to give us a live action Justice League Dark film, the property seemed to die a tragic death of never being translated to another medium. And the announcement of the animated film gave many hope, as did the casting of Matt Ryan returning to voice the character of John Constantine which he played in the short lived live action television series. Hope seemed to be alive for a motion picture or tv show of either JLD or Constantine. Or both. Can we all be that lucky?
The story features the (regular) Justice League troubled and very confused about a large string of supernatural killing happening all over the country. While meeting about the mystical crimes, Batman bows out and leaves, leaving the other members scratching their heads. But after a strange occurrence featuring the name ‘Constantine’ written in blood over Bruce Wayne’s bedroom does Batman snap into action. Tracking down Zatanna and Deadman as a means of finding Constantine, we are introduced to him and the House of Mystery where he resides and the human like avatar Black Orchid, who protects the magical artefacts Constantine stores in the house. After a fact-finding mission into the mind of one of the survivors of the mystical attacks thanks to the aid of Ritchie Simpson, an old friend of John’s, more members join the fight and the villains revealed.
Jason Blood and his demon alter ego Etrigan, join to help stop a foe that they both faced back in the time of Merlin, a character called Destiny, and the ever-popular fan favourite Swamp Thing also joins the fight against Destiny and Felix Faust. And in the final confrontation, even the (regular) Justice League are thrown in to mess thing up.
While this is primarily a John Constantine story, it is good to see some of DC’s lesser used characters in the next best thing to a live action movie. All that it was missing, apart from more Swamp Thing, was the DC equivalent to Marvel’s Doctor Strange, Doctor Fate. Now, while is not usually presented as a dark character, it would have been amazing to see.
The DVD release of Justice League Dark is rather bare, but the Blu-Ray release has some of the standard extras we have come to know and love from DC’s animated films. The great comic writer Len Wein, who created Swamp Thing, along with other artists and writers appear in the documentary ‘The Story of Swamp Thing’. This little talking head doco gives us the characters back story, his changes over time, and reason for the character’s appeal.
There are also four little vignettes ‘Did You Know?’ giving us a little trivia on the production, trailers for other DC animated movies, a trailer for the new Wonder Woman film, two bonus episodes of Batman: Brave and the Bold featuring some of the characters from the main feature and a sneak peek at the next animated feature, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. As a special feature’s package, this is pretty standard. But some these the DC’s animated titled are packed with docos and extras, like the DC Showcase, action packed short featuring various heroes and villains. Sadly, there are no sign of the Showcase shorts here.
If you haven’t picked up any of the DC animated titles, I high recommend buying one or two and checking them out. They are rarely released about $20, often retailing for much less, and are always entertaining. Intriguing and entertaining stories, characters you know and love in various incarnations, beautiful animation and some real kick ass action.
I give it 4 out of 5 severed monkey heads.
Here is a list of the DC Animated films from recent to earliest:
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)
Justice League Dark (2017)
Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016)
Batman: Bad Blood (2016)
Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015)
Batman vs. Robin (2015)
Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015)
Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014)
Son of Batman (2014)
Justice League: War (2014)
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
Superman: Unbound (2013)
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 2 (2013)
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 1 (2012)
Superman vs. The Elite (2012)
Justice League: Doom (2012)
Batman: Year One (2011)
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (2011)
All-Star Superman (2011)
Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (2010)
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)
Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)
Wonder Women (2009)
Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)
Superman: Doomsday (2007)