Bob Kane

Batman (1943, Lambert Hillyer), Chapter 2: The Bat’s Cave

While the resolution to the previous chapter’s cliffhanger is extremely lackluster, The Bat’s Cave sort of recovers as it goes along. It just has to get through Batman Lewis Wilson terrifying butler William Austin with the radioactive laser gun.

Then it’s time for villain J. Carol Naish to order the kidnapping of Shirley Patterson and for Wilson and Douglas Croft to have to mount a rescue. Director Hillyer does all right, especially considering the budget, as Wilson and Croft investigate in disguise before suiting up in their long johns.

The finale has some strong action involving a power line (clearly shot on a set then cutting to James S. Brown Jr.’s underwhelming day-for-night photography) and a decent fight sequence where Wilson and Croft take on the kidnappers.

Hillyer does try to cover the budget deficiencies, but there’s only so much he can do. A nightclub scene, with recycled establishing shots, doesn’t impress and neither does the “Bat’s Cave”, where Wilson and Croft apparently hold criminals (without restraint) next to Batman’s brooding desk.

Sadly, despite the steady action in the second half, this chapter’s cliffhanger is even weaker than the last one. Though it will be interesting to see if everyone survives this one–the opening resolution apparently kills off a bystander as it rescues Wilson.

CREDITS

Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, and Harry L. Fraser, based on characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger; director of photography, James S. Brown Jr.; edited by Dwight Caldwell and Earl Turner; music by Lee Zahler; produced by Rudolph C. Flothow; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Lewis Wilson (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Douglas Croft (Robin / Dick Grayson), Shirley Patterson (Linda Page), William Austin (Alfred Pennyworth), Gus Glassmire (Martin Warren), Robert Fiske (Foster), and J. Carrol Naish (Dr. Daka).


Batman (1943, Lambert Hillyer), Chapter 1: The Electrical Brain

The first chapter of Batman introduces the main cast–Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft as Batman and Robin (and their alter egos), villain J. Carrol Naish, damsel in distress Shirley Patterson–and establishes some of the ground situation. Naish is an evil Japanese agent (if Electric Brain is any indication, Batman is going to be exceptionally racist) who kidnaps Patterson’s uncle. He’s got a ray gun, a secret lair, mind control devices, all sorts of gadgets.

He’s also got henchman who can beat up Wilson and Croft without much trouble.

There’s not much establishing for Wilson and Croft; I’m not even sure they get their civilian identities. And Brain skips any Batman origin–there’s a quick line of dialogue suggesting Batman and Robin are unofficial domestic agents, trying to root out Axis evil on the home front.

Decent (enough) performances from Wilson and Patterson–and an amiable one from Croft–work in spite of the script. When he’s not in costume running around, Wilson’s mostly a boob. And Naish and his goons are pretty dim, so Wilson comes off as incompetent, which doesn’t help things.

There’s only the one big action sequence, setting up the cliffhanger. Wilson and Croft get mercilessly beat up. While problematic for the narrative, it is the only time the Batman costume looks all right. Dwight Caldwell and Earl Turner’s editing, both on the fisticuffs and an early car chase, is solid. There’s only so much they can do with the material though.

The teaser for the second chapter is particularly weak–and completely unrelated to the cliffhanger, like the filmmakers knew the cliffhanger wasn’t compelling.

CREDITS

Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, and Harry L. Fraser, based on characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger; director of photography, James S. Brown Jr.; edited by Dwight Caldwell and Earl Turner; music by Lee Zahler; produced by Rudolph C. Flothow; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Lewis Wilson (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Douglas Croft (Robin / Dick Grayson), Shirley Patterson (Linda Page), William Austin (Alfred Pennyworth), Gus Glassmire (Martin Warren), Robert Fiske (Foster), and J. Carrol Naish (Dr. Daka).


Batman: The Movie (1966, Leslie H. Martinson)

Burt Ward is really bad in Batman: The Movie. Sure, he’s just around to parrot Adam West, who’s a horny, kind of dumb, know-it-all. The problem is it doesn’t seem like anyone else is in on the joke because director Martinson does such a bad job. There are some okay scenes in Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script–none for West and Ward but, they’re still okay scenes. And Martinson screws them up. Yes, Howard Schwartz’s cinematography is bland but why bother with anything given Martinson never does anything.

Until the big fight scene at the end. The big fight scene at the end has the potential to be a farcical masterpiece. It could even be one subtly. But Martinson. And editor Harry W. Gerstad. He cuts the action too long; it gives more time to the actors, which they don’t need given the scale of the action. It’s too bad. Some gem in Batman: The Movie would be nice to find.

At best, the film has an amusing moment for Alan Napier (as Alfred), who apparently wants to perve on West romancing Lee Meriwether and Ward has to shut it down. Ward’s Robin is an obnoxious little yes boy, spouting off stupid ideas. It’s like West isn’t even letting Ward in on the joke.

Meriwether’s Catwoman is bad. She’s kind of likable, but only because West’s such a dumb horny guy around her and she gets it. So she’s in on the joke. But she’s not good at all.

Burgess Meredith has some moments. Less than if Martinson and Gerstad cut his close-ups better. The composition is a mess. Martinson’s framing for The Movie is way too much like a TV show (shocker) and it needs to be more open. Just enough for headroom in some cases.

Frank Gorshin’s okay. You know, he’s okay. He’s weird. It works. A lot better than Cesar Romero’s Cowardly Lion Joker character. But Romero’s kind of likable. You feel a little bad for him. You don’t feel bad for the scenes of West and Ward acting like clowns. Batman: The Movie is most engaging when the lack of awareness about the absurdity–the complete lack of verisimilitude, if you would–makes it an unbearable experience.

And what’s up with the music? Nelson Riddle has some pretty decent music and then some awful music. It’s a toss-up. It’s probably the best thing about the movie–except the opening titles. They’re actually pretty darn cool.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Leslie H. Martinson; screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on characters created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger; director of photography, Howard Schwartz; edited by Harry W. Gerstad; music by Nelson Riddle; produced by William Dozier; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Adam West (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Burt Ward (Robin / Dick Grayson), Lee Meriwether (The Catwoman), Cesar Romero (The Joker), Burgess Meredith (The Penguin), Frank Gorshin (The Riddler), Alan Napier (Alfred), Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon), Stafford Repp (Chief O’Hara), Madge Blake (Aunt Harriet Cooper) and Reginald Denny (Commodore Schmidlapp).


Batman: The Killing Joke (2016, Sam Liu)

There’s a lot to be said about Batman: The Killing Joke, both the comic book and its animated adaptation. It’s another of Alan Moore’s unintentional curses on mainstream comics; listening to his dialogue spoken… it’s clear he was hurrying through the Batman stuff. Or Kevin Conroy just doesn’t do it right. I don’t know. Because Killing Joke is also the big deal reuniting of Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker. These two guys helped legitimize voice acting in animation. It became a thing. So is Conroy supposed to be doing his traditional Batman or is he supposed to be doing what the movie needs? I know my answer, but I’m not an “Animated Series” fan. Batman: The Killing Joke is a precarious proposition.

So what’s inexplicable is why there’s this misogynistic “Batgirl” short stuck on the front. It was obviously intended to be a special feature and not part of the movie proper because Liu’s downright ambitious with the Hamill Joker stuff. The flashback stuff is all crap and Liu screws it up worse, but the Joker stuff is awesome. The Batman stuff sucks. It’s earnest though, it earnestly sucks. The Batgirl opening, with dreadfully cheap animation (especially compared to the “feature” portion of the film), clearly has a story behind it. Like it was entirely farmed out and there’s some terrible overseas meninist who wanted to tell this frankly disgusting story about Batgirl being incapable as a superhero because she’s a woman. The dialogue’s real bad too. Screenwriter Brian Azzarello has some almost quite good lines in the feature, so it probably wasn’t him. It’s very cartoony, very simple language, short sentences. I’m not even sure it’s really Conroy voicing Batman, he doesn’t talk enough. And then in the feature, he can’t shut up.

Batman: The Killing Joke is far more controversial out of stupidity than anything else. If the “Batgirl” short really was something crappy your overseas studio’s C unit threw together in two weeks and the first draft of the script actually features a period joke, hire someone else. Hire anyone else to rewrite it. Because it’s really nasty and if it were actually what Killing Joke were doing–reconfiguring the entire Batman mythology in a really cheap animation style, which is what the “prologue” implies, Killing Joke would be worth talking about seriously as a film, as an adaptation of a watershed (intentional or not) moment for comic book brands. It’d be important. But it’s not. It’s a crappy, cheap, terrible prologue. And the producers don’t even have the stones to lay blame. They actually let Liu and Azzarello on the hook for it. I mean, the opening twenty-eight minutes of Killing Joke are some of the worst minutes of animation I’ve seen. There’s no visual rhythm. There’s objectification of Batgirl, who’s a cartoon. There’s a gay stereotype sidekick. There’s no narrative rhythm either. It’s like there’s an app for randomly generated screenplays with nods to social relevance and buzzwords and sex (oh, yeah, the opening slut shames Batgirl).

But there’s no apology in the “feature.” There’s no acknowledgement. There’s a bridging sequence set years after the prologue where the director (Liu?) again objectifies a cartoon character and Batman then gets to ruin her night without actually talking to her because she is a slut after all. She slept with him. And he’s old enough to be her dad. What’s so strange about the prologue is it knows what it’s doing. It knows how it’s condemning her, demeaning her. It’s intentional. And gross. And not part of the actual Killing Joke adaptation. But it’s forced upon viewers as such. These DC animated movies started out with ninety minute runtimes in hopes of syndication sales down the line and they never broke that mold. Killing Joke was going to run too short. There’s an explanation for why they made these choices, but it’s not an excuse. They don’t get a pass. It’s about not taking those adaptations seriously enough. They’ve had standouts over the years, but they’ve missed a lot of opportunities in some cases and just made terrible films in others. Would The Killing Joke be worth it as a short? No. Hamill’s great. The animation is pretty good with too many exceptions, particularly the boring Batman. Conroy’s not my thing. He’s not good with the dialogue. It’s not the right casting or not the right direction, which means commercial wins over artistic there too.

Real quick–the “feature” characterization of Strong’s Batgirl (but just alter ego Barbara Gordon) is pretty lame. Azzarello doesn’t care. But he’s not hostile. She actually gets something of an arc. And Strong is worse in the feature part than she is in the opening. In the opening she’s just got a crap script. In the feature, she’s got a less crappy script but more dramatic necessity and she doesn’t bring it. Though she’s not good. Even with Azzarello’s writerly misadventures trying to ape the original comic writer’s dialogue style; she should get to chew on those lines, but she doesn’t. It wouldn’t be such a big deal except she started the damn movie as narrator–the “prologue” has very nice bookends–which doesn’t figure into the rest of the film. It hangs Strong out to dry. She went from being dumb high energy to smart low energy. I mean, as is, The Killing Joke just begs for discussion–the movie kind of one-ups Superman II, which ethically castrates the Man of Steel for eternity, by ending up implying Batgirl making Batman acknowledge his sexual attraction for her meant she should end up paralyzed so she could never know similar male affections, and never again from him. It’s weird how intentionally gross it all works. It’s like someone at Warner Animation hates Liu and Azzarello and loves they’re credited on all this nastiness. Because the feature part does all right by Strong’s character. It doesn’t do well, but it does all right. Liu does have some missteps with the implied nudity (because it’s not a cartoon if it doesn’t have nudity, you know, for kids), but he finds his footing. He’s not doing cheap butt shots like in the prologue. He’s not interested in the female character enough to do anything, positive or negative; he’s there for Hamill.

When The Killing Joke was announced, I assumed it’d be crappy. When it started, with that super-cheap animation, I wasn’t surprised. DC animated movies never surprise me with their cheapness. But the “feature” portion is better than I would’ve thought, but it’s still not good. Liu’s enthusiastic but he’s not good. He’s not creative enough, especially not considering you’re taking the super-realism of Brian Bolland and turning it into a not at all super-real cartoon. It’s all supposed to be good enough because the idea of Killing Joke as an animated movie with Conroy and Hamill is cool. That prologue is supposed to get a pass because they just had to make the movie a certain length for the theatrical screenings or something. It’s Killing Joke as a cartoon, give it a pass.

It doesn’t not get a pass because of the prologue. I mean, it won’t get a pass with that prologue, I’m not going to argue for that kind of Vanilla Sky appeasement. But its fail is in Liu’s limited imagination and fundamentally weak rendering of the story. He’s too static, he’s too faithful to the original panels and he’s utterly tone deaf with this characterization of Batman.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Liu; screenplay by Brian Azzarello, based on a comic book by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland and characters created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis; produced by Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett and Sam Register; released by Warner Home Video.

Starring Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamill (The Joker), Tara Strong (Barbara Gordon / Batgirl), Ray Wise (Commissioner Gordon), Maury Sterling (Paris Franz), Brian George (Alfred) and Robin Atkin Downes (Detective Bullock).


Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993, Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm)

There are a lot of excellent things in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, but maybe my favorite thing is the end credits music. It’s smooth jazz. It’s this smooth jazz love song over the cast and when you see names like Abe Vigoda and Dick Miller and John P. Ryan in an animated Batman movie, you want to enjoy the moment. With smooth jazz.

But, just wait, it’s not only smooth jazz. It’s a Tia Carrere song. Who knew there was such a thing as a Tia Carrere song but there is in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which makes it special. It’s not bad, either. It’s fine. Phantasm is this fifties melodrama style mixed with impossibly big buildings–which matches the lushness–and it’s a perfectly reasonable way to end the movie.

I wish they hadn’t done the “and Batman’s adventures continue” tag, but the finale of Phantasm has a number of problems. The movie starts exceptionally strong but the writing in the first act is stronger than the second and momentum runs out. It’s still really good–there are frequent action scenes and they’re phenomenal–it’s just not as good as it seemed like it might be.

Because Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is breathtaking. The designs are gorgeous, the animation is gorgeous. And it’s a solid outing for Batman; Kevin Conroy’s Batman is far more likable than anything else. He’s got personality, but not too much and not jaded personality either. It’s accessible to the kids, which is an inevitable.

But the screenwriters do a good job getting everything onto that chastened level–Conroy’s romance with Dana Delany, Hart Bochner’s sliminess. Not Mark Hamill’s Joker, however. It’s the one thing Phantasm never backs down on. It’s a very strange sensation because you’re watching a cartoon and somehow Hamill makes the character into a show-off. It shouldn’t be possible, but he’s so good, so well-timed. It’s kind of freaky, especially the editing on the Joker’s murder sequences. Al Breitenbach’s editing is great throughout, but it’s something special on those Joker sequences. It’s scary.

Good music from Shirley Walker. She has some cute nods to the Tim Burton scores.

Almost all of the acting is good, Delany and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in particular. In addition to Hamill, of course. And Conroy’s real good. Stacy Keach doesn’t impress though. It just doesn’t work.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is pretty darn good. It’s got a beauty pace–directors Radomski and Timm take their time with the shots, it’s cinematic through its pacing, not just its action sequences. It’s got some great acting. It just has some second and third act problems. But it’s pretty darn good; it’s often spectacular.

And it does end with a Tia Carrere ballad, which defies reality–a perfectly fine and appropriate Tia Carrere ballad too, which defies reality even more.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm; screenplay by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Paso and Michael Reaves, based on a story by Burnett and characters created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger; edited by Al Breitenbach; music by Shirley Walker; produced by Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Conroy (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Dana Delany (Andrea Beaumont), Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Alfred Pennyworth), Bob Hastings (Commissioner James Gordon), Hart Bochner (Arthur Reeves), Stacy Keach (Carl Beaumont), Robert Costanzo (Detective Harvey Bullock), Abe Vigoda (Salvatore Valestra), Dick Miller (Chuckie Sol), John P. Ryan (Buzz Bronski) and Mark Hamill (The Joker).


Batgirl (1967)

I’m not sure the actual story, but I’ll just assume at the height of the “Batman” show’s popularity, the producers thought about doing a “Batgirl” series. The pilot, if it’s any indication of the prospective series, suggests the world didn’t miss anything by it going unmade.

The approach is a sexist one, with everyone mooning over Yvonne Craig. She doesn’t fight crime, just sits around and watches the boys do it. Her performance is awful, though she’s much worse as Batgirl than her civilian persona.

Burt Ward and Adam West show up and turn in a couple dreadful performance. It’s hard to believe the pilot’s for a “Batgirl” series since Craig’s just guesting in a “Batman” scene.

The only good thing is the library set. Craig’s a librarian when not wearing spandex to attract Batman. It doesn’t make much sense when she destroys the library.

“Batgirl”‘s a horrific seven minutes.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Based on characters created by Bob Kane.

Starring Yvonne Craig (Batgirl / Barbara Gordon), Adam West (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Burt Ward (Robin / Dick Grayson), Tim Herbert (Killer Moth), Joe E. Tata (Mothman #1) and Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon); narrated by William Dozier.


Catwoman (2011, Lauren Montgomery)

So in the mind of writer Paul Dini, human traffickers take women from the United States and ship them overseas. I really hope he’s not heading a commission for the U.N., because that situation isn’t accurate.

Catwoman opens, in an attempt to show just how grown up DC’s cartoons are, in a strip club. I wonder how many parents are going to buy this movie for their kids and then realize the filmmakers think mature storytelling means pornographic implications.

Sadly, director Montgomery is excellent. Though Catwoman’s really silly—she swings around on a whip, doing Spider-Man stunts—the direction is amazing. Until the final shot, which is too goofy, there’s not a single false moment.

The cartoon’s fast, which is nice, but can’t disguise the mediocre voice acting.

Eliza Dushku is okay (nothing more) as Catwoman, but John DiMaggio’s weak as the villain.

Besides the writing, it’s essentially competent.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Lauren Montgomery; screenplay by Paul Dini, based on the character created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane; edited by Margaret Hou; music by Christopher Drake; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Eliza Dushku (Catwoman), John DiMaggio (Rough Cut), Kevin Michael Richardson (Moe) and Liliana Mumy (Holly).


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Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010, Lauren Montgomery)

Kevin Conroy has been doing the Batman voice for, off and on, almost twenty years. If his work in Apocalypse is any indication, he’s gotten a little tired of it. At least there’s only one aspect of a phoned-in voice performance. Some of it might be the awful script from Tab Murphy (probably taken verbatim from the awful comic book by Jeph Loeb), but Superman-regular Tim Daly manages to be earnest–even with the absolutely dreadful animation.

Montgomery’s direction is occasionally okay–she did a fine job on the Wonder Woman animated (unfortunately she handles that character terribly here)–especially at the beginning, with a complex action sequence involving Supergirl arriving on Earth. It’s idiotically written, but choreographed well.

Besides Daly, the voice work is pretty lame. Andre Braugher is terrible as the big bad guy, who looks like he should sound like Darth Vader but instead sounds like Frank Pembleton. The animation on that character, Darkseid, looks unfinished and just plain cheap.

Summer Glau might be good as Supergirl, but it’s hard to tell, since the character is so reprehensible. She’s vapid and materialistic–I’m shocked no one at Warner has thought of making an animated “Simple Life” for the character.

Apocalypse fails at really simple stuff–the big joke of having Ed Asner play an ugly woman doesn’t work when the animation is so bad it’s unclear she’s supposed to be female.

These Warner superhero cartoons are just getting worse and worse.

Besides Daly, of course.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lauren Montgomery; screenplay by Tab Murphy, based on comic books by Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner and characters created by Bob Kane, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, William M. Marston and Jack Kirby; edited by Margaret Hou; music by John Paesano; produced by Bobbie Page and Montgomery; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Tim Daly (Clark Kent / Superman), Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Andre Braugher (Darkseid), Summer Glau (Kara Zor-El), Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), Julianne Grossman (Big Barda), Rachel Quaintance (Lyla) and Edward Asner (Granny Goodness).


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