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Josh Reviews Son of Batman

Well, I have just about given up on these direct-to-DVD DCU animated films.  There have been some great ones over the years (Batman: Under the Red Hood is probably my favorite), but the series has been very hit and miss.  Since Bruce Timm’s departure as mastermind of the series a few years ago, things have gotten particularly wobbly.  Earlier in the year saw the release of Justice League: War, an adaptation of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s revamped origin of the Justice League, part of DC’s universe-wide total reboot a few years ago that was nicknamed “The New 52.”  I am not a big fan of that reboot of DC’s comic-book universe, I think it has caused more problems than it has solved, and the animated adaptation was just atrocious.  When it was announced that War would be the start of a new continuity between the upcoming animated films, all based on DC’s “New 52” revamped universe, I was concerned.

The latest DVD, Son of Batman, isn’t nearly as bad as War, but if mediocre is the most I can hope for from these DVDs, it’s probably time for me to stop watching.

Son of Batman adapts Batman & Son, the initial four-part story that kicked-off Grant Morrison’s years-long run on Batman.  I spent quite a while writing about that entire run last year.  Click here for my detailed thoughts on Mr. Morrison’s initial story-line, the source material for this DVD adaptation.  The hook for Mr. Morrison’s tale was his decision to take an old, ignored, generally considered to be out of continuity story (in which Batman and Talia, daughter of villain Ra’s al Ghul, hook up and Talia, without Batman’s knowledge, gives birth to a son), and to bring that story-line into mainstream DC continuity.  In the opening of Mr. Morrison’s tale, Talia shows up in Gotham city with her son, the young Damian.  Bruce takes him in and tries to break the arrogant, spoiled, vicious Damian — who had been trained to kill by the brutal League of Assassins that Talia and Ra’s controlled — and teach him morality.  Meanwhile, Batman fights manbat ninjas and all sorts of other craziness.

The comic is a great story, and since Damian went on to become a hugely popular character, this is a great choice for an animated adaptation.  Now, because the original four issue tale was just the start of a years-long story-line, I can understand how certain changes would have to be made in the adaptation process.  It’d have made sense to trim away a few subplots, and to try to give the story more of a resolution than it had in the comics.  But I was disappointed by how completely this animated film ignored the source material.  The main elements are still here: Talia, Damian, ninjas, manbats, but an entirely new story has been created around those elements.  It’s not bad, but it’s nowhere near as good as the original.  This is a much more generic, by-the-books Batman adventure.  Everything that was fun and weird and interesting about Mr. Morrison’s story has been lost.  Even the clever, somewhat tongue-in-cheek title of Batman & Son has been changed to the more obvious, dull, Son of Batman.  Maybe you don’t think that title change makes any difference, but to me it makes all the difference in the world, and it’s emblematic of the creative failures of this animated film.

Jason O’Mara continues on from War as the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman, as has Batman’s character design.  I don’t care for this armored-up look for Batman in the “New 52” comics, nor do I care for it in these animated films.  While Son of Batman boasts some lovely animation, it’s hamstrung by the across-the-board terrible character designs.  There’s such a generic, slightly-anime look to all the characters that I felt was off-putting.

The voice-cast is also flat.  Mr. O’Mara is OK as Batman, but he doesn’t bring much modulation to his voice work.  His Batman is gravelly and deadpan from start to finish; I didn’t get much sense of character or emotion from him.  As for the rest of the characters, I felt there was a sameness to the voices cast for Ra’s al Ghul, Deathstroke, and even Commissioner Gordon that surprised me.  None of those voices felt quite right for those characters.  Morena Baccarin is OK as Talia (though I really missed the more exotic voice of Helen Slater as Talia from Batman: The Animated Series).  Sean Maher (it’s a Firefly reunion!!) is much better as Nightwing.  (I wish Nightwing had a larger role in this story, they really missed an opportunity by not including more conflict between him and Damian)  Stuart Allan is solid as Damian.  So no home-runs other than Mr. Maher’s work, and over-all a lot of let-downs.

There’s a lot of violence and some harsh language in this film.  (I never thought I’d hear the word “sperm” in one of these animated films!)  I am all for some adult content to these super-hero stories, there’s no need to make them all for kids.  But in this (as was the case with War), it’s all superficial.  The story-line is childishly simplistic and straight-forward.  There’s no complexity to this story, no real depth to the characterizations or the story-lines.  Animating a lot of bloody deaths-by-ninja-swords doesn’t make this a story of interest to adults.

This one was a let-down, folks.  Not a catastrophe like War, but eminently skippable.

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