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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


It's going to be a great summer for Batman fans. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight has, of course, had fans drooling, but if you want even more great bat-action, look no further than Batman: Gotham Knight, a new animated feature from Warner Premiere, hitting DVD on July 8. I've been a fan of Bob Kane's legendary character since I was a kid, and even as an adult I've enjoyed the animated Batman adventures. Gotham Knight is easily the best and most ambitious of them.

The film is similar to the Matrix animated spinoff known as The Animatrix. There are six separate-but-interlocking stories, each looking at a different aspect of the character. The segments have been created by visionary anime directors and acclaimed screenwriters including David S. Goyer (Batman Begins), Alan Burnett ("Batman: The Animated Series"), and Oscar-nominee Josh Olson (A History of Violence). Here's a look at each individual segment:

Have I Got a Story For You - This one was directed by Shojiro Nishimi, who previously worked on the animation team for the Japanese film Tekkon Kinkreet (one of the best of the modern anime pictures, in my opinion). Sharing that film's distinct visual style, "Story" features a group of teenagers relating to one another their individual encounters or sightings of Batman. Each kid perceives the hero in a different way: as a shadowy figure, as a robot, etc. The segment explores how Batman means different things to different people, and it also captures his multi-faceted persona.

Crossfire - Batman finds himself in the middle of a gang war, with a dubious cop uncertain of the Caped Crusader's motives. Written by comic book author Greg Rucka, "Crossfire" is about how fine the line is between crime fighter and vigilante. Its atmospheric visuals and moral ambiguity - combined with a riveting shootout in the finale - give this segment a real punch.

Field Test - Lucius Fox provides Bruce Wayne with a brand new gizmo. He learns to use it, tests it out, and ultimately has to decide whether it's safe enough (for himself or anyone else) to use. The gadgets of Batman have always been one of the prime draws for fans, and this episode takes a unique approach, showing us how Wayne weighs the potential hazards of his toys against their potential benefits.

In Darkness Dwells - Punctuated by a deep, color-saturated style reminiscent of Mike Mignola's Hellboy series, "Darkness" sends Batman down into the Gotham sewers in search of villain Killer Croc and the Scarecrow. They are responsible for terrorizing a local Cardinal and his congregation. Like many of the best Batman adventures, this one draws on social/humanitarian issues and shows us how he does whatever it takes to defend decent, law-abiding citizens.

Working Through Pain - The premise here is simple: Batman is injured, but must figure out how to continue fighting the formidable enemy who harmed him. Via flashbacks, we see how Bruce/Batman has learned to push the pain aside and keep going. At its core, this is the essence of a superhero - the ability to remove any obstacle that prevents him or her from prevailing. Since Batman was always an ordinary human being without any magical powers, the need for him to work through the pain takes on added significance.

Deadshot - The best is saved for last. This is a straightforward action segment that has Batman going up against the titular villain, a flawless assassin who makes nearly-impossible shots and never misses. The animation in this episode is particularly outstanding, and the eventual confrontation between good guy and bad guy is immensely exciting. "Deadshot" makes an excellent capper to the DVD.

Although each episode of Batman: Gotham Knight has its own distinct visual style and tone, they are complimentary and add up to a stunning animated feature. The approach really works for this character, who has been interpreted in so many different ways over the decades. Most importantly of all, Batman: Gotham Knight is just fun to watch. It has clearly been made by a team of people who understand what's special about the Caped Crusader and who love his legacy as a pop cultural icon. That love comes across throughout. Of all the animated superhero DVDs that have come out in the last few years, this one is the best. It's a serious artistic look at one of the most popular characters ever created.

( 1/2 out of four)

DVD Features:

Batman: Gotham Knight is available on DVD and Blu-Ray starting July 8. The DVD contains several bonus features, including audio commentary from DC Comics Senior Vice President of Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, former Batman editor Dennis O'Neil, and official Voice of Batman Kevin Conroy. After that is an extended sneak peek of DC Universe's upcoming animated Wonder Woman feature. Included are interviews with the all-star cast: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Rosario Dawson, Alfred Molina, and Virginia Madsen. Finally, there are previews for The Dark Knight and Journey to the Center of the Earth, the soon-to-be-released Lego Batman video game, and a DVD collection of classic Popeye cartoons.

As wonderful as the DVD is, I highly recommend the 2-disc special edition DVD or Blu-Ray version, which contain all of the above-mentioned features, plus these:

  • "A Mirror for the Bat: The Evil Denizens of Gotham City" - In this 30-minute documentary, various comic book authors and DC comics experts dissect the idea that a hero is only as good as his villain. They comment on each and every one of the legendary Batman baddies, theorizing about what makes them so effective. This is an excellent primer on comic book villainy.

  • "Batman and Me - A Devotion of Destiny: The Bob Kane Story" - Also running about 30 minutes is this comprehensive biography of Batman's creator. Informative and entertaining, we learn about Kane's childhood, his inspirations for the character, and even his alleged fling with Marilyn Monroe. Highlighting the facts are rare archival interviews with Kane, as well as interview clips with those who knew him, including Marvel Comics ace Stan Lee, who recounts their friendly rivalry. All involved acknowledge that Kane had a big ego about his character; however, as Mark Hamill says, it's hard to begrudge him his pride considering the financially difficult childhood he lived through. In the end, Bob Kane was a warm and friendly man who was thrilled beyond words at the popularity his creation achieved.

  • "Batman: The Animated Series" Bonus Episodes - Bruce Timm selects his favorite episodes from this excellent program.

    The bonus features on the 2-disc set are every bit as exemplary as the feature itself. Batman: Gotham Knight is a must-have DVD for anyone with an interest in this legendary DC character.

    Check out the official website: Batman: Gotham Knight

    Or purchase it online here

    Batman: Gotham Knight - Own it on DVD July 8

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