This week’s Batman animated review by me is taking us away from the DC animated universe and away from Kevin Conroy’s Batman to get Bruce Greenwood’s Batman and the first of a couple detailing animated versions of DC stories.
Well, first off, I’ll discuss how this holds up as a movie in and of itself, then go into how it holds up to the original graphic novel it is based off of.
As a movie, this works pretty well. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t actually seen the movie or read the graphic novel, so beware. One thing that the movie had to do was give us the reason Batman is so affected by Red Hood being unmasked. Batman considers his greatest failure to be letting Jason Todd die. He found Jason Todd stealing the tires from the Batmobile, took him in, and raised him to be Robin. This was around when Dick Grayson became Nightwing and Batman needed a new sidekick. When the Joker kidnapped and beat Jason Todd, then killed him, it was the worst thing to happen to Batman since losing his parents and perhaps affected him even more. See, with his parents, he was just a kid. With Jason Todd, he was an adult, he was Batman, and he was supposed to protect people, and he couldn’t even save his sidekick. For years, he didn’t take a new Robin until Tim Drake barged into Batman’s life and he kept Jason’s costume in a case in the Batcave, as a reminder. It really is something that affects him and something that has made him a darker character. When Red Hood is revealed to be Jason Todd, in a stand-alone movie, it needs to be something that anyone can understand why it affects Batman. That means explaining who Jason Todd is to everybody and explaining why Jason Todd is important, and thus, they put the end of A Death in The Family in the very beginning of the movie.
Putting A Death in The Family into the movie is something that needs to happen, and I understand why they put it in the beginning, but it feels awkward. I’d need someone who doesn’t know who Red Hood is to watch the movie to see how the beginning affects the rest of the movie, but how I took it was that it had to tie in somehow. If that is in the movie, it needs to affect the movie in some way or another, and probably in a big way. Personally, I don’t think it should have been in the beginning, and should have been put somewhere near the middle during reminiscing. When Nightwing and Batman are chasing Red Hood, they notice how good he is, noting that it seems like he’s been trained absurdly well, given how he cuts Batman’s line before it goes taut, something he does casually. Once they start going over who Red Hood could possibly be, they could then show Jason Todd as Robin, and how in the end, Batman ultimately failed to protect Robin. Then, it would be in the story, but wouldn’t be something that people will be thinking about during the movie, thinking, “How does this unrelated scene relate to the rest of the movie?”
Other than that, I feel that the movie was pretty darn cool. There were some pretty good fight scenes between Batman and Red Hood, between Batman, Nightwing and Amazo or between Batman, Red Hood, and the guys in the tech suits. All in all, I really did feel that Red Hood felt what he was doing was right and that Batman was really conflicted about taking Red Hood down. While he fought Red Hood at every step, he seemed more reluctant the more he realized who Red Hood was. I also loved how the last scene played out, with Red Hood, the Joker and Batman. It was pretty dramatic and it was really emotional, to the extent that I was really feeling something.
Okay, now on to the task of comparing it to the comic. Well, the movie mostly took a lot away. The image I posted last week with Mr. Freeze freezing a guy so that his face broke off, that was from Under the Hood, the graphic novel inspiring Under the Red Hood. He wasn’t in it a long time, mostly just to try and deal with Red Hood pretty early. He showed up, worked with Black Mask, then failed to kill Red Hood and left when Batman and Nightwing showed up. Also showing up were Zatanna, Jason Blood, Green Arrow and Superman, discussing death and rebirth, considering Zatanna and Jason Blood are experts on magic and Green Arrow and Superman both have died and come back from the dead. All the while he’s doing this, Onyx is beating people up and then fights with Red Hood (both on his side and against him). All of this is condensed into Batman going to see Ra’s al Ghul (who was the mastermind behind Jason’s rebirth in the movie) with no special meeting with Red Hood. In the second volume, which takes place right before Infinite Crisis, Deathstroke shows up to make a deal with Black Mask, loaning him Captain Nazi, the Hyena and Count Vertigo in order to take out Red Hood. It is during this that Nightwing’s city of Blüdhaven is destroyed by Chemo with Batman and the Red Hood watching from Crime Alley. In the movie, well, Freeze isn’t in it, Zatanna, Jason Blood, Green Arrow and Superman aren’t in it, Onyx isn’t in it, Deathstroke, Captain Nazi, the Hyena and Count Vertigo are replaced by some guys in tech suits (practically) and Chemo isn’t in it at all, with Blüdhaven’s destruction not entering into the movie. I understand why all of them weren’t in it, since the comic takes place in a much bigger universe with things affecting other things the entire time (they’d have to assume people’d be okay with Batman checking in with Green Arrow and Superman, they’d have to explain the Secret Society of Super Villains and they’d have to explain Blüdhaven and Chemo, things that are irrelevant to this story). Still, it’d be nice if somebody other than Nightwing showed up in it. As it is, the movie makes it seem like only Batman’s cast of characters is in this (which makes some sense, I guess), but also cuts out all the other Bat-characters.
Something else that the movie doesn’t cover is where this takes place in Batman’s own continuity. In Batman’s continuity in the comics, this takes place right after Black Mask and Batman fought in a massive war (the War Games story arc), in which Oracle’s clock tower is taken down, resulting in her leaving Gotham, as well as all of Batman’s other support characters leaving, including Robin and Batgirl (the Tim Drake Robin and Cassandra Cain Batgirl), as well as some other major things. None of this is really mentioned in the movie, such as Nightwing almost asking to use Oracle before forgetting she isn’t there anymore. I understand that the changes had to be made, but what the movie does is make it seem like Batman never took another Robin after Jason Todd, considering there are no references to Tim Drake at all. Now, Batman’s attitude following War Games is pretty much perfect for the movie, considering that the end of War Games was Batman having to deal with Stephanie Brown’s death (another death of a Robin).
The Joker gets a much bigger role in the movie, as he really wasn’t a big part of the comics. In the comics, he pretty much had to be there for the finale, but they didn’t do much before that, pretty much just showing Jason kidnap and beat him, then they have a scene with them together, and then the ending with the showdown between Batman and Red Hood. In the movie, he not only shows up at the beginning, in the A Death in The Family part, but he also shows up in Arkham Asylum (as opposed to somewhere else after getting run out of town by Hush), and then Black Mask deals with him (as opposed to Freeze, kind of), breaking him out of Arkham, when the Joker turns on him. Considering that they didn’t put in other characters (completely understandably), I think making the Joker’s role bigger was a good choice.
All in all, the tone of the story was there in the movie, I felt. The comic made me feel for Batman and also for Jason. At first, you’re supporting Batman, as he’s the good guy, but as time goes on, you start to root slightly for Jason, because while he may be the bad guy in the story, he isn’t doing the most horrible things ever. Through the story, he kills people, but he only kills criminals. When it comes down to what he’s doing, he corrals the biggest drug dealers in Gotham into working for him, but doesn’t want them to sell to kids. That’s just the first of many things that make you believe he’s not fully a bad guy. He reminds me of Zoom, in that Zoom doesn’t really want to kill Flash, more he wants to make Flash a better hero. Sure, Zoom’s methods are much more extreme, but the comparison stands. In the comic and the movie, you feel really bad for Jason Todd by the end. This is a spoiler for the movie and comic, so be warned. Again, I guess.
This is in the final part of the comic, which was changed only slightly in the movie:
Batman: Enough! All of it ends tonight! You say you want to save Gotham! To kill a part of it so it can survive! You say you want to be better than me! But it won’t happen! I know I failed you. But…I tried to save you, Jason. I’m…I’m trying to save you now.
Jason: Is that what you think this is about? Your letting me die? I don’t know what clouds your judgment more. Your guilt or your antiquated sense of morality. Bruce, I forgive you for not saving me. But why…why on God’s earth??! <He kicks down a door, showing the Joker tied to a chair> Is he still alive!!??
Joker: <Laughs maniacally> Now we’ve got ourselves a party! One big happy – all together again! Who’s got a camera? Dracula, you must have a digital picy-poo on that hardware store you wear around your waist. Get one of me and the kid, first. Then, you and me. Then the three of us. Then one with a crowbar.
Jason: <Punches Joker in the face> You’ll be as quiet as possible or I’ll put one in your lap first.
Joker: Party pooper. No cake for you!
Jason: Ignoring what he’s done in the past. Blindly, stupidly, disregarding the entire graveyards he’s filler, the thousands who have suffered…the friends he’s crippled…I thought…I thought killing me – that I’d be the last person you’d ever let him hurt. If it had been you that he beat to a bloody mass. If it had been you that he left in agony. If he had taken you from this world…I would have done nothing but search the planet for this pathetic pile of evil, death-worshipping garbage…and sent him off to hell.
Batman: You don’t understand. I don’t think you’ve ever understood.
Jason: What? Your moral code just won’t allow for that? It’s too hard to “cross that line”?
Batman: No. God almighty, no. It’d be too damned easy. All I have ever wanted to do is kill him. For years a day hasn’t gone by where I haven’t envisioned taking him…taking him and spending an entire month putting him through the most horrendous, mind-boggling forms of torture. All of it building to an end with him broken, butchered and maimed…pleading – screaming – in the worst kind of agony as he careens into a monstrous death.
Joker: Aw…y’see, I’ve thought about that too…
Batman: I want him dead – maybe more than anything I’ve ever wanted. But if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place…I’ll never come back.
Jason: Why do all the club scouts in spandex always say that? “If I cross that line, there’s no coming back.” I’m not talking about killing Cobblepot and Scarecrow or Clayface. Not Riddler or Dent…I’m talking about him. Just him. And doing it because…because he took me away from you.
What I love about this piece is how it sums everything together and really gets to the heart of everything. Jason was pissed that his death went unavenged, as Talia al Ghul said. Perhaps he went insane, and he went about his point in a dramatic fashion. But it really is about how Jason felt that Batman wasn’t going far enough with his actions, that leaving criminals alive was a mistake that could come back to bite you. It’s a point brought up a lot of times by lots of heroes, but few could make a stronger argument than one of the victims, who was a hero. I understand where Batman and Jason are coming from. For Batman, he really does fear that if he starts killing criminals, he won’t stop, and he’ll just keep adding to the bloodshed in a major way. He fears that he couldn’t stop at Joker because while Joker took Jason Todd from Batman, other criminals who’ve killed have taken a son or daughter from a parent, and he can’t justify to himself that it’s okay to kill just one criminal because it’s personal. For Jason, he doesn’t understand how Batman can’t take it personally. Batman started his war on crime because his parents died. After he lost his partner, who was practically like a son to him, he didn’t go after the criminal any harder. Sure, he still is angry at Joker, but that’s practically it. He’s just angry, not to the point of doing worse. Both sides have valid points, and while Red Hood decided upon the Punisher approach of just killing every criminal, Batman went with the more common approach and just puts them away.
I really liked Under the Hood and Under the Red Hood is a great adaptation of the original. It’s only 75 minutes long, so there isn’t any time for it to really get slowed down and become boring. Almost the entire thing is action, but meaningful action, and the movie tugs at the right emotions at the right times. If you are still reading this, then if you didn’t care about spoilers, but haven’t read Under the Hood, read Under the Hood and then watch Under the Red Hood. If you read this and had already read Under the Hood, Under the Red Hood is a faithful adaptation which, while missing some components, captured the general feel of the original if not all of the specifics (all the extra characters, etc). In general, I really recommend both the comic and the movie.