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Animation: Batman: Gotham Knight

July 18, 2008

I finally figured out what to write today about four hours ago. 

I don’t know how many people are covering this, and I honestly don’t care, but today will be about Batman: Gotham Knight

Monday, it will be honestly a little late considering how much information about Dark Knight will be out by then and already is out, but I’ll do something of a Batman week next week. Monday I’ll tell you how I felt about Dark Knight, I’ve decided to make Hush it’s own thing and I’ll end the week by transitioning into Nightwing, my favorite DC hero. 

And on with the look at Gotham Knight.

Background: Batman: Gotham Knight is very similar to Animatrix, in that it is six short stories in the Batman universe animated by some of the top Japanese anime companies. It also employs some very good voice-acting talent. My favorite is Kevin Conroy reprising his role as Batman. You might remember Conroy from Batman: The Animated Series from the 1990s. Honestly, if anyone were to voice Batman it should be Conroy he is the voice of Batman for me. 

In order the various episodes were written by Josh Olson, Greg Rucka, Jordan Goldberg, David S. Goyer, Brian Azzarello, and Alan Burnett. It’s a pretty good line up of writers. 

Gotham Knight was released as a tie-in to Batman: Dark Knight, and was created by the producers of Dark Knight. 

Some other notable things include the actors Gary Dourdan as Crispus Allen and Ana Ortiz as Anna Ramirez. There are some other famous voice actors involved including Will Friedle, James Marsden, and Rob Paulsen. 

The Movie: 

The way that I’ll be doing this is breaking it down into the six episodes and offering information and opinion on each. 

Have I Got a Story For You – Josh Olson

This one doesn’t actually feature Batman so much as four kids ideas of what Batman really is. Three of the kids tell their compatriot that the reason they’re late is because they watched Batman fight a criminal on the way over, each on their own and with differing results. One sees him as a shadowy, growling, red-eye thing. The other sees him as a living Bat-man, and the last sees Batman as a ridiculously powerful robot. 

The criminal in the fight looks the same in every battle for whatever reason. Eventually, the criminal and Batman manage to bring the fight to the kids and the last kid sees Batman as the actual guy in a suit. 

This episode is my least favorite of the six. In fact, I don’t really like it at all. The animation style is one that I don’t particularly enjoy. All the humans have this weird bug-eyed quality to their faces and their lips range from nonexistent to overly plump. It disturbs me. The biggest problem that I had was with the first and last Batman. I realize that the first three renderings of Batman are the children’s faulty memories but the first one is just made all the more ugly by the artistic style of the whole thing. It’s kind of like watching Lupin the Third. This is a bad thing for me because I hate the art style of Lupin the Third as much as I hate the voice acting and writing. Needless to say it’s up there.

When the last kid sees the real Batman it’s just disappointing. Batman is portrayed as fat, slow, and on the verge of an asthma attack. What?! It wasn’t Batman at all, it was like the Comic Book Guy dressed as Batman with the voice of Kevin Conroy. It was depressing, to say the least.

The only problem I had with the story was the dialogue. The idea has been done before in comic and cartoon form with Batman, so it wasn’t like following a bad plot. It’s just that these kids are supposed to be be punk ghetto kids and the acting and dialogue seems so forced and stilted from them that it’s like listening to suburban white kids pretending that they’re hard. You’d think that the guy who wrote A History of Violence could do better but apparently not. The only decent acting came from Kevin Conroy and he only had maybe 3 lines in the whole episode. 

I tried finding a still from the first one but even the official website doesn’t have one. I’d argue that they were embarrassed by the first episode.

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

Crossfire – Greg Rucka

Again, Batman isn’t really featured in this one for the first half of the story. He comes at the end again, but he’s still just kind of there. 

Crossfire focuses on Crispus Allen and Anna Ramirez, two detectives who are ordered to take the criminal captured in the first episode to Arkham Asylum. Turns out the captured criminal is named Jacob Freely and is an expert in technology and explosives. 

Rucka uses Crispus as an out of towner who plays the mouthpiece against vigilantes and Ramirez is the girl from Gotham who respects what Batman is doing and the subsequent drop in crime because of him. The vignette shows Allen and Ramirez taking Freely to Arkham and leaving. For whatever reason Ramirez pulls their car over during their Batman argument and decides to set the record straight. 

They just so happen to have pulled into a lot where Sal Maroni and another gang leader, The Russian, have decided to duke it out in the streets. The cops come under fire and eventually Batman saves them and a sense of respect for Batman is begrudgingly formed by Crispus Allen. 

The style is much better in Crossfire than the first episode. Everything is darker, the colors are toned down, and a sense of pervading evil in everything fills the animation. It’s also a much smoother and nicer piece to watch. The art alone gives this one three stars. 

However, the story and the dialogue take one away. Once again, despite Dourdan and Ortiz’s best efforts, the dialogue feels stiff. Honestly, the best parts of this episode are when the characters are not talking and the visuals are carrying the story. I suppose, a couple of grunts here and there during the fight sequence counts as noises but it’s not really dialogue. 

The Batman dialogue is the worst. I know that he’s supposed to be cold and aloof but the way his dialogue seems to come in with little provocation or sense just takes away from it. 

Artistically this is a three or a four, but it’s going to get a 2 because art can’t always carry plot.

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

Field Test – Jordan Goldberg

Goldberg’s addition to Gotham Knight is more about his equipment than anything else. Lucius Fox develops an electromagnetic field that Batman can wear which will deflect bullets. At one point Bruce Wayne goes to a golf tournament and steals a PDA. Eventually, he also steals a boat owned by Maroni and happens to run into a boat owned by the Russian. 

Before I even get into the art I’m going to tackle the story. What is going on here? There are two different stories in one in this episode. The problem is that everything having to do with the golf tournament doesn’t relate at all with the rest of the story, except, that Wayne uses some electromagnetic device to throw another golfer’s club into a forest. Okay…

The only reason the second half relates is because Batman uses the device to deflect bullets from Maroni and the Russian’s crews. He threatens the two gang leaders and tells them that their turf is split, one gets the docks and the other gets a part of the city. No real explanation for that one either. Anyway, one of the deflected bullets hits one of the Russian’s henchmen and Batman takes the guy to the hospital. In the end he gives Fox the electromagnetic device back saying he won’t be apart of killing anyone, even accidentally. 

Right.

The dialogue is better in this one leaps and bounds but the plot is off-kilter and there are huge holes. It really takes away from the story line.

The art is good in this one as well. The only problem I had with it was Bruce Wayne/Batman. For whatever reason, he is the only character drawn in that weird androgynous style that Japanese anime are known for. You know, the one where the guys look almost girlish like girls and their mannerisms and the way they walk, sit, and act are somewhat girlish? Yeah, that one. For another movie, fine but for Batman?! No. It’s just not right. Hearing Conroy’s voice come out of a character that looks like Wayne does in Field Test doesn’t feel natural at all. It’s like meeting a fat guy with a voice like he just inhaled helium, only the reverse. 

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

In Darkness Dwells – David S. Goyer

Now, I realize that I have not been giving much love to these episodes for the first half of the movie. Honestly, it’s because the first three are not as good as the last three. I would recommend five of the six in a regular conversation. Episode 1 would never be recommended by me, but the other two are decent enough to deserve viewings but the quality of the art and the writing goes up immensely once you get to the latter half of the movie. 

Dwells actually features two of Batman’s recurring enemies. He responds to a high profile kidnapping of a church leader,  Cardinal O’Fallon, who was taken during a service. Following the trail into the  sewers he later finds that the villain behind it and several other kidnappings is Killer Croc. While discussing the origins of Killer Croc with Gordon via radio, Croc attacks Batman. The two fight deeper into the sewers where Croc bites Batman and fear toxin from his saliva is transferred into Batman who begins to hallucinate. 

Eventually, he fights off Croc, who runs away, and takes an antidote to the fear toxin. Batman recovers and finds O’Fallon being sentenced to death by the Scarecrow and several members of his cult for helping homeless people. Of course, Batman kicks some ass and saves O’Fallon by blowing up the room using the already present methane gas.

The dialogue by Goyer makes this story an easy one to swallow and despite its brevity Dwells is a fun story to follow and the action sequences are well drawn.

Batman’s costume and demeanor are more sinister in this one and the art while sepia toned follows the same kind of dark ideas as the second episode. It’s easier to follow and feels almost reminiscent of the 1990s Batman cartoon. A plus in my book.

I give this one high marks for an improvement over the first three and for being genuinely good.

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ 

Working Through Pain – Brian Azzarello

Azzarello story involves Batman wandering through sewers injured and having flashbacks to a time he spent in India. In the early scenes of the episode, a criminal shoots Batman in the stomach, Batman cauterizes the wound and tries to find the street surface through the pain. 

During his flashbacks Bruce Wayne comes to train under an Indian woman, Cassandra, who teaches him how to ignore pain. The plot switches regularly between the two. One showcases Batman dealing with his pain and trying to escape the sewers and the other has Bruce Wayne training to ignore pain and/or having philosophical discussions about pain and life. 

The art in this one is pretty good, and visually my favorite of the six. Bruce Wayne looks a little too lean but I can still accept Conroy’s voice from this rendition of Wayne. I think that the Bat suit is the best rendered in this one as well. It’s not as stylish or fancifully weird like some of the other episodes. 

I think that Azzarello being a comic writer had a better feel for Batman than some of the others and I definitely feel that he had a better handle on Bruce Wayne. The dialogue is smooth and flows well and Wayne’s training sequence and discussions with Cassandra really bring the character some depth. 

Azzarello and Goyer’s stories are my favorites of the three and thus get the highest marks.

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ 

Deadshot – Alan Burnett

I’m going to say this right now, the art in Deadshot is great except for one thing, Batman’s inhumanly giant chin. If the Wayne’s chin from Deadshot were measured it would have six inches all its own. What the hell were they thinking with that ridiculous chin?

Otherwise, the art is great. Most everybody else looks relatively normal but the best part artistically about Deadshot are actually the nonhuman elements. The backgrounds, the moving vehicles, the fight scene on the train, even Deadshot’s lunch with his employer. They are all amazingly drawn, painted, rendered. It is beautiful just for those things. 

The story is pretty cool as well. In the opening scenes it switches from Deadshot assassinating someone from a ferris wheel, to Wayne training in his home and discussing guns with Alfred. 

Later you find that there is a contract put out on Lt. Gordon’s life with Deadshot being the supposed assassin to attempt it. Do you remember that PDA that Wayne stole in the third episode? Yeah? Well, that comes back in this episode, the last episode. Here it at least makes sense but there is no reason for it all the way in episode three. If you hadn’t watched episode three you would still understand episode 6, except for Wayne’s Jay Leno chin of course.

Anyway, Wayne gives Crispus Allen the PDA because it contains records of the owner, Ronald Marshall, hiring Deadshot in the past. 

Long story short, Batman stops Deadshot from killing Gordon, fights the man on a moving train and eventually arrests him and Ronald Marshall. Yay, the day is saved, again.

Burnett’s dialogue and plot are the best written of the entire movie. Yes,  Goyer and Azzarello’s scripts are good but Burnett really brings the action to the movie and keeps it flowing smoothly throughout. The dialogue isn’t forced and you know what is happening and why. It is a well done bit of writing.

Solely based on Burnett’s writing I would give this episode a 4 but that damn chin angers me to no end and for that I give it a 3. 

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

Overall, I give the entire movie a three and I would recommend that you check it out. It’s an interesting addition to the Batman universe and an enjoyable trip for those who like Batman. 

I did forget to mention that it’s supposed to be set between the events of Batman Begins and Batman: Dark Knight. Honestly, it doesn’t mean much but if you like things chronological than you might want to watch Gotham Knight before you watch Dark Knight.

Scyo.

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