Monday, January 10, 2011

"Batman: Gotham Knight" (2008)

Starring Kevin Conroy, Gary Dourdan and David McCallum
Written by (Various)
Directed by (Various)

Batman Gotham Knight [Blu-ray]Oh, how I love Batman.  Seriously.  I know I've gone on and on about that before, but what more can I say?  He's my favorite comic book hero.  And when brought to life by Kevin Conroy, well, there's really nothing better.

Released in conjunction with Christopher Nolan's live-action sequel "The Dark Knight," "Gotham Knight" is an animated anthology of six short films by prominent Japanese animation studios.  Though not 100% "canon" with the universe established in "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," these six episodes are meant to be relatively in line with them, featuring some of the characters and mentioning certain events. 

The first short, "Have I Got a Story for You," written by Josh Olson and animated by Studio 4-C, features a plot that had been done before and better in an episode of "Batman: The Animated Series."  Three kids tell their stories of their encounters with Batman, each one featuring a different interpretation of the Dark Knight - one as a living shadow, one as an actual giant bat, and one a technological marvel.  And, of course, just as in that old episode, the kids themselves come face to face once more with the actual Batman and even help him apprehend a villain. 

Next, "Crossfire" follows Detectives Crispus Allen and Anna Ramirez tasked with escorting a prisoner (the villain captured in the previous story) through the Narrows to Arkham Asylum, only to be caught in the middle of a gang war between Maroni and the Russian.  I was excited to see Detective Allen brought to life from the pages of "Gotham Central," easily one of my favorite Batman comics.  The short is well-directed and features some pretty cool imagery of the Batman in action.

In "Field Test," Batman tests a new device created by Lucius Fox which will create a sort of sonic forcefield around his body to deflect bullets.  As Bruce Wayne, he goes to a society event to investigate the recent mysterious death of a woman named Teresa Williams.  He meets Marshall, whom he is sure had something to do with it, and decides to investigate further.  He goes to Marshall's yacht and is accosted by armed men.  The device works, but the bullet ricochets into one of Marshall's men.  Batman rushes him to the hospital and decides not to use the device again, saying that he can only risk his own life and not anyone else.

Batman and the GC PD respond to a riot at a church in "In Darkness Dwells."  It seems the people have been poisoned by the Scarecrow, but some of them talk about a giant creature.  Batman goes into the sewers to investigate and runs afoul of Killer Croc, who had been a patient at Arkham but now roams the sewers of Gotham.  Croc's bite infects Batman with Scarecrow's toxin, and he gets away just in time to find Scarecrow himself about to kill the priest from the church.  Despite the fear poison, Batman rescues the priest and breaks up Scarecrow's underground lair.

Next, Batman finds himself in the sewers once again.  A homeless man poisoned by fear toxin shoots him.  As he attempts to escape back home to get help, a series of flashbacks shows us Bruce's attempts to learn to manage pain by visiting a woman named Cassandra.  She teaches him how to deal with "internal" pain, but when he defends her from a gang of men come to harass, she throws him out.  Before leaving the sewers, Batman finds a cache of dumped weapons which could help solve any number of crimes.

Finally, in "Deadshot," a number of threads from the previous shorts come together.  The Russian hires the mysterious assassin, Deadshot, to kill Batman.  Batman uncovers evidence that Marshall hired Deadshot to kill Teresa Williams, and gives it to Detective Allen.  Word gets out that Deadshot is going to kill James Gordon, but it turns out to be a ruse to draw out the Batman.  Batman is wounded, but ultimately bests Deadshot and brings him to justice.  Later, he feels discouraged, but sees the bat signal in the sky and heads out into the night.

The anthology setup of "Gotham Knight" means that it doesn't really have much in the way of a plot, even though certain threads run through all six shorts.  It makes it difficult to judge "Gotham Knight" as a whole, when its pieces don't add up to much of one.  Each short is entertaining and well done in its own right, but they go by quickly and its hard to have much depth in that regard.  Again, the first short is very similar to an episode of the old animated series, but not as good.  The others sometimes have that feel, as well. 

The animation varies by short, obviously, but is generally pretty excellent.  The voice acting, as well, quite good.  Kevin Conroy returns as Batman, and does a great job with what he's given.  But his dialogue is mostly limited.  One problem is that his voice doesn't often match how Bruce or Batman is designed.  He often looks like a young teenager, even though the character is meant to be older.  Conroy's gruff voice just doesn't seem to fit, which creates an odd sort of incongruity. 

"Gotham Knight" is worth checking out, but it's not exactly required viewing.  I'm always glad to hear Conroy back as Batman, even in lesser projects.  And, minor as it may have been, the chance to see a bit of the "Gotham Central" world brought to life is great, too.

See Also
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
Batman: Subzero