- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The comic book permeates all levels of popular culture. This sporadic feature reviews some recent examples from the world of digital video discs (compatible with DVD-ROM and Blu-ray enabled computers and home entertainment centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

Batman: Under the Red Hood (Warner Home Video, rated PG-13, $29.99)  Warner Bros. Animation attempts to turn another famous comic-book story arc into a teen-rated, direct-to-DVD/Blu-ray cartoon.

Unfortunately, writer Judd Winick’s intense resurrection of Jason Todd (aka Robin), previously seen in the main Batman comics back in 2005, is simply run through the Bruce Timm animation factory with predictable results.

Within a great story of revenge and a tight screenplay by Mr. Winick, viewers watch loads of familiar characters, including the Joker, Nightwing, the Riddler, the Black Mask, Amazo, Ra’s al Ghul (as a sort of Dr. Frankenstein) and a grumpy Dark Knight, mix it up in a serious stew of drama.

Despite harsh scenes of the Joker unloading a crowbar on Robin, eyes getting gouged out and brutal, bloody fistfights, viewers still are saddled with ineffective animation that seriously lacks style.

The voice-over work doesn’t help the situation, either. I’m too used to Kevin Conroy as Batman to change things up with Bruce Greenwood. Additionally, the vocal portrayal of the Joker by John Di Maggio falls flat when compared to Mark Hamill’s wicked efforts. Heck, I’d even take Cesar Romero at this point; too bad he’s not available.

So, once again, although the Batman: Under the Red Hood bursts from the screen in the high-definition format, what will it take to get a groundbreaking animated effort that pushes the boundaries of the superhero cartoon?

Maybe Disney’s purchase of Marvel Entertainment will give the boys at Pixar a chance to show how it should be done.

Best extras: Consistent with the DC animation franchise on Blu-ray, fans get an enormous selection of stuff to help them forget the main feature.

I’ll start with two minidocumentaries that must be watched.

First, and exclusive to the Blu-ray, the 20-minute “Robin’s Requiem: The Tale of Jason Todd” explores one of Batman’s greatest failures  the inability to prevent the death of his partner — through interviews with creators Dennis O’Neil, Len Wein, Judd Winick and others as they recall the days of the “A Death in the Family” story arc and Jason Todd’s ultimate return.

Next is the 24-minute “Robin: The Story of Dick Grayson” feature. It offers plenty of artwork from Bob Kane and Frank Miller accompanying a dissection of the character by folks such as DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio, former DC President and Publisher Paul Levitz and a couple of superhero historians.

Extra cartoons also abound on the disc, with a DC Showcase of Jonah Hex leading the way.

Starring the voice of Thomas Jane (pulling from his best Punisher impersonation) and Linda Hamilton as Madam Lorraine, we get a 12-minute look at the vigilante gunfighter who delivers a bit of ironic payback to Lorraine through an animation style bowing to Japanese influences.

In fact, I’m actually seeing shades of Full Metal Alchemist character designs here. Bravo, Mr. Timm.

Story Continues →