DC Showcase Animated Shorts – Batman: Death in the Family!

Just picked this up and thought I’d watch and review it – the main feature is an adaptation of a classic Batman story with a twist to match the original. The rest are shorts that appeared alongside previous DC animated movie releases, and in some cases were better than those main features!

Batman: Death in the Family

A short (or long, depending on your choices) adaptation of the famous “death” of Jason Todd, acting as a companion piece to the previous Batman: Under the Red Hood from ten years ago (would you believe?). Bruce Wayne takes tough street kid Jason Todd under his wing, but he’s too violent, so Bruce takes him out of service and he strikes out on his own. However, they’re brought back together in Bosnia to stop Ra’s al Ghul and Joker. And then…

The original comic invited readers to vote on the fate of Todd, whether he lived or died after a beating from Joker. The majority chose the latter, which was held to until an interesting manner of reviving him came around years later. Similarly, when you get to a certain point in the story you’re invited via on-screen menu to choose whether Robin cheats death, whether he dies, or whether Batman saves him. The last option leads you down a series of different paths, not all of which I’ve investigated yet.

The cheating death option leads to a short but interesting epilogue narrated by Todd, which is pretty brutal as far as what happens to him and what he does to others, but leads to a conclusion taken from comics published years later. His death leads to a mostly retread version that summarises UTRH using a framing device of Bruce and Clark Kent meeting for coffee. Being saved leads to the death of someone else, then a choice of how to make up for that. I tried a couple of ways before leaving it for now. Joker gets a bit irritating after a while, so I’ll make less humane choices in the future.

What I did do, though, presents us with an alternate version of a character that’s from the archives, but again used as an obscure oddity by a future writer of the book. The ending the way I went is suitably chilling and sad, but it’s interesting to have that option of choosing differently and seeing what you get. The novelty will wear off, so best left as one-off, but if you were going to do it with any story this was the one you needed to do it with.

Sgt. Rock

If I don’t mention it here, or haven’t already mentioned it, I fucking hate the comic shop opening for these shorts, with Bruce Timm standing on the left with a comic obscuring his face. May as well just have big arrows going “LOOK AT ME!”.

Sgt. Rock loses all of Easy Company and takes a new mission to recover some missing scientists. His backup: the Creature Commandos, consisting of a vampire, a werewolf, and Frankenstein’s monster. Given the short running time, it’s not too much of a surprise when the top secret project he’s sent to stop turns out to be what you’d expect it to be. New friends face old friends in a setting that’s been used before, but works just fine here. Could be longer, but wouldn’t work (or sell) as a full length movie.

Adam Strange

Adam Strange is down on his luck, drunken and unshaven, a bum in a wintry mining town, waiting to be “taken”. The inadvertent release of killer bugs brings him back into action as we find out about his traumatic past via flashbacks.

This one is modelled on films like Alien, using space as a cold, hostile setting, somewhere unhappy and menacing. I was surprised to find out that Strange is played by Charlie Weber, who I remember best as Ben, the human host for Glory, the big bad of season five of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the last thoroughly good season of the show). In my research when it was included on the prior Blu-Ray I was surprised to see how much he’s muscled up and matured since then.

The story is about redemption so that Strange can both emotionally and geographically move on. I imagine there was a little bit of planning to correspond this with Tom King’s Strange Adventures, which I’ve not read, but if it’s anything like his Batman books or Mister Miracle then I’d be sure it’s one of the better DC books out on the market at the moment.

The Phantom Stranger

A girl and her friends in the sixties head to a party in California in an old camper van, joints on the go, all talking about the enigmatic Seth. The Phantom Stranger, voiced by Peter Serafinowicz (which seems like it should be an awesome vocal match, but doesn’t work as it should), watches on, with the protection of the girl his main priority.

I really liked the sixties touches and Jefferson Airplane-esque score. Michael Rosenbaum is sinister as always as the handsome Seth. I really wish he’d had the career he seemed to be likely to have with being in Urban Legend and Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane around 2000. I’m sure Smallville gave him a few years of work, but it seems like it might have typecast him, and he shouldn’t just be doing voice acting.

Only thing to fault with this is that it has a relatively happy ending, and with the Stranger being the determiner of fates I thought he could’ve seen it go even darker. Ah well, the next one makes up for that!

Death

Neil Gaiman’s Death, from The Sandman, is the focus of this one. A friend of mine was very keen to see it, but ended up a little disappointed with it. Vincent, an artist from childhood, is haunted by demons. A strange, dark girl comes into his life that fascinates him, but it doesn’t make his life that much better, as we see everything that leads him to where he is and where he’s going.

Probably the best of the ones in the collection and a little longer than the rest too, which works out. It’s one to watch and then watch again to pick up on how things could go and do go. Vincent is given something and has something taken away from him at the same time. Death ends up releasing him from his torture and his demons, but it doesn’t make it any sadder. There’s something in it that resonates with me related to someone I lost a few years ago, so watching it again brought me to tears and took the wind out of me. But, as I say, better to feel sad or unhappy than feel nothing.

Conclusion: Cool to see these shorts collected, although the better collection previous was with Shazam, Green Arrow, Jonah Hex, and my personal favourite, the Spectre. I’ll have to review that another time, maybe soon with this in mind.