Ah, “Batman: Gotham Knight” – now that’s a feature that gets better with a second viewing.
This collection of shorts bridging gaps between “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” requires some adjustments in perception. Most people model their expectations on the blocky character models, 1950s retro-gothic scenery and somewhat stock, generic villains (not counting the super-baddies, of course) of the animated mid-to-late-1990s Batman iterations.
But give someone enough time – and, once again, maybe a second viewing – and these stylized renderings of the Batman mythos really come across with a refreshing twist.
Not surprisingly, that twist is so fresh because it combines the minds and talents of the latest Batman saga (the one beginning with “Batman Begins”) with those who brought the highly regarded, acclaimed and fondly remembered animated Batman television offerings to life.
We have Kevin Conroy – the voice of multiple animated Bruce Waynes and Batmans – bringing to life the kind of brooding, Earthy, gritty dialogue David Goyer might write better than nearly any writer in Hollywood. Among the other people helming this ship: Alan Burnett, the writer-producer behind “Batman: The Animated Series”, the standard-bearer for the character’s ink-and-paint adventures; “Batman Beyond”, which took a frankly stupid Batman concept and made it truly light-years better than it had a right being; and the frankly awful series “The Batman”.
Every punch bowl has its turd.
Rounding out this dream team writing and producing these six connected shorts, is Academy Award nominee Josh Olson (Best Adapted Screenplay-“A History of Violence”); DC/Batman veterans Greg Rucka and Brian Azzarello; and Jordan Goldberg, of whom I know next to nothing, except that his Wikipedia entry says he co-founded StickK, “an American Internet start-up company that enables users to make commitment contracts in order to reach their personal goals.”
Buyer beware: anybody who loathes stylized Japanese anime or really felt let down by “The Animatrix” best steer clear. Four studios (five, if you count Warner Bros. stirring this distinctive stew of ink and paint) crafted six distinctive-looking shorts serving as an interlude – or appetizer, given its timely release just ahead of the arrival of “The Dark Knight” in theaters – between director Christopher Nolan’s first two installments in Hollywood’s most successful franchise reset to date.
But for anyone who worships at the altars of “Ghost In The Shell” or “Cowboy Bebop”, come on down.
These shorts could fall into really nearly any Batman continuity with which one could choose to associate them. But given certain fleeting elements – one short focusing on Batman’s duels with the Scarecrow after the incident at The Narrows in “Batman Begins”, the presence of Lucius Fox as Batman’s secret “Q” and an ongoing one-man war on semi-central “Dark Knight” villain Sal Maroni – it’s obvious where the scribes behind these pretty pictures expect initial associations to fall.
Nevertheless, the right themes of these early (career-wise) Batman adventures are all there to be ticked off the checklist: Batman passes on a device that protects him quite well but risks hurling others into a crossfire, when it inadventantly leads to a Russian goon’s wounding in a shootout; he expresses a certain admiration for the power and efficiency of guns, despite a refusal to ever employ one in his street wars; and despite so many lives saved, Bruce never giving up “trying to stop those two bullets” that birthed Batman from Bruce Wayne so long before.
I won’t spoil much here. Trust me, it’ll be more fun this way. However, I must concede this much: I think Batman has become a character made for the Japanese anime aesthetic, in terms of story as much as his look. It even surprises a little that this is the first time anyone has attempted translating Batman in this manner. It’s jarring at first, but digest it once through, then give it another look.
Then you’ll get it.