As many followers of this site and the podcasts that come with it know, there is a movement right now spearheaded by the host of Batgirl to Oracle: A Barbara Gordon Podcast to get Batgirl: Year One back on the slate for production by DC Universe Animation. It is a worthy cause, but after watching Batman: Under The Red Hood, and considering most of DCU’s “comics-to-screen” adaptations so far, it kind of makes me think it’s a blessing in disguise that the Batgirl: Year One mini was taken off the table.
Now, if this was an original story, I’d say “okay, its decent enough” and I know Hollywood has a tendency to place fast and loose with adapting source material (just ask Stephen King about The Shinning, and I kid you not, before Coppola took the reigns The Godfather would have been set in Kansas City and the Corleones would have been a bunch of hippies), but this is a case where the actual story could be told on screen and didn’t need to be all convoluted to fit a certain director’s vision. It’s a comic book cartoon, how hard is it to translate from the printed page to the animated screen, I mean that is exactly what they did in the 1960s with stuff like the Marvel cartoons.
Alright, to start with, what the heck is so wrong in keeping with the original A Death In The Family source material? Jason Todd was on the quest to find his mother, finds her in Ethiopia who got into bed with The Joker who beats Tood to near death in a warehouse, ties up the mother and leaves them both to die in an explosion. Why the heck is it some random plot by Ra's al Ghul with the Joker working for him in Slovakia? Family themes were all over that story, there is no need to completely change it for whatever reason they want to give.
In fact, why the heck is Ra’s even in this to begin with? He is supposed to be dead when Under The Hood was coming out? Do we really need him to provide exposition to Batman about how Jason was resurrected? I hate to borrow a phrase with bad connotations among comic book fandom, but its comic books, we don’t have to explain it! Or let me put it in the words of Grant Morrison in a recent Comic Con panel, “it works cause ITS FICTION!” All they had to do was just have Jason causally refer to remembering being in some kind of Lazarus Pit or whatever, heck Talia al Ghul would have fit nicely into this story, why did they use her and not Ra’s?
No mention at all about Bruce’s state of mind at the time of Under The Hood, going through the crap of Identity Crisis and War Games and pretty much isolating himself, another great theme of the story that is completely done with. I mean why is Nightwing there but not Tim Drake Robin? A throwaway line goes a long way in filling gaps that I understand can’t be filmed in a tightly formatted story.
Speaking of Tim Drake, aesthetically speaking why the heck were the teen Todd flashbacks and the memorial of the Tim Drake costume? Todd was still rocking the vintage Golden and Silver Age version of the Robin costume at the time of his death. Sure it wasn’t Dick Grayson, but tell me that emotional punch of the famous image of Batman cradling Todd doesn’t get you more because it’s a classic Robin outfit on the boy.
I did like seeing Nightwing’s inclusion, but, wasn’t he nursing a bad leg at the time? They kind of allude to this in the film, but in the books he is drawn with a brace on his leg, but whatever. The more important issue I’m having with Dick Grayson is why is some two-bit thug fully aware that Nightwing is in fact Batman’s old partner Robin? I can buy The Joker having an inkling that the first Robin and this Nightwing guy are one and the same, but some thug? Yeah it is that throwaway line of exposition I was saying should be there, but coming from the wrong person and the wrong way. So everyone is aware of the history of the Bat-Family is basically what this movie is telling us, never mind the fact that Batman himself is supposed to be an urban legend.
Now I did like the turf war going on with Black Mask being put against Red Hood with Batman going after Red Hood, but something about Wade Williams’ performance wasn’t doing it for me. Reading the comics I kind of imagined Roman Sionis a bit like Michael Corleone, maybe Tony Soprano as well. Calm on the surface, but raging when called upon to do so. I watched this movie, and I’m thinking of screwball comedy versions of mafia gang leaders; something to snicker at and not to be feared of. The voice just did not sync up to what I have in mind when it comes to Black Mask at all, and that took me out of his scenes completely.
This really is indicative of the problem with the comics-to-screen adaptations. Too much time is spent cutting and reshaping the story to fit the limits of the 75 minute time frame, they really are better off making completely original stories and working within their continuities like Green Lantern: First Flight and Wonder Woman, or give the team the freedom to delve into the story by expanding the running time. Otherwise they are going to be stuck churning out stuff that bears some resemblance to the source material but in the end seems very half baked because of it.
Batman: Under the Red Hood:
Reviewed by SteveJRogers