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Zadzooks: Batman: Year One review (Blu-ray)

- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2011

Warner's superhero cartoon maestro Bruce Timm continues his mission to turn every great DC Comics' sequential-art series into a direct-to-disc, PG-13 animated movie by now taking on his riskiest conversion to date.

He and Warner Bros. Animation attempt Batman: Year One (Warner Home Video, PG-13, $24.98), one of the more popular “early years” tales of the Caped Crusader, originally crafted by super sequential-art master Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli over a four-issue story arc back in 1987.

To succeed in my eyes, it means getting the grit, grime and anger lines in all the right places while capturing Mr. Mazzucchelli's nourish style at all costs.

Well, “Holy Boss Falcone Batman,” Mr. Timm and the boys almost got it right.

Delivering a style reminiscent of the Japanese anime-twinged Batman: Gotham Knight, viewers get a dark, 64-minute look at Bob Kane's favorite hero's arrival on the Gotham City scene.

Now it's not motion comic reverence plucked from the issues, and way too clean for my tastes, but enough visual moments are embedded (reference Batman stuck in burning building) to cause readers of the original source material to sweat out a pint of deja-vu.

For those not familiar with the comics, the story is never really all about the Dark Knight (though, still an important look at Batman's emergence) but much more focused on introducing the incorruptible Lt. James Gordon and his origin story to viewers.

Amongst the rather short effort, creators toss in pivotal scenes of Bruce Wayne figuring out what his alter ego should look like, the introduction of prostitute Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman) and some questionable moral choices by the eventual Commissioner of Gotham to make quite an adult, dramatic cartoon.

The voice cast is bland at best (I'll forever associate Kevin Conroy's vocals with any Batman cartoon, sorry Ben McKenzie) but never hindered, appreciating the onscreen, often bloody action.

Now one could argue this adaptation is pointless since many of Mr. Miller's pivotal scenes have already been absorbed into Christopher Nolan “Batman Begins.”

Fair enough, but until Mr. Timm has the big enough Batarangs to try and adapt Mr. Miller's The Dark Knight Returns (supposedly in the works), I'll take this mature, animated visit to Year One. 

Best extras: The best part of Batman: Year One resides in the bountiful bundle of extras found on the Blu-ray disc.

First, a 23-minutes rehash of our vigilante hero in “Heart of Vengeance: Returning Batman to His Roots” featuring comic book luminaries Denny O'Neil (former Batman comics editor), writer Greg Rucka, artist Len Wein, editor Mike Carlin and producer/historian Michael Uslan. It mainly covers the history of restoring the Caped Crusader to his brooding darkness spearheaded by Frank Miller's 1980s work. The entire featurette is embellished with art from such legends as Bob Kane and Jim Lee.

Better yet, get your Batman geek off with 40 minutes at a DC Comics roundtable starring Batman comics writer Scott Snyder, Denny O'Neil, DC co-publisher Dan Didio and hosted by Michael Uslan. The boys just hang and talk Dark Knight mixing favorite memories, work experience, shaping the character and key parts of the movie and comics mythos.

Next, enjoy two episodes from the iconic series “Batman: The Animated Series” and “The New Batman Adventures,” “Catwalk” and “Cult of the Cat” co-starring, you guessed it, Catwoman (voiced by Adrienne Barbeau). The episodes may badly be in need of some digital restoration, but they clearly display the brilliance of Mr. Timm's vision of the Dark Knight.

Finally, viewers get the DC Showcase animated short Catwoman, extending her continuity from the Batman: Year One story. She stars in a 15-minute story about taking care of a diamond smuggler named Rough Cut with action mainly split between a risqué scene in a strip club and a nail-biting chase scene through the streets of Gotham.

Now, this cartoon should give animators a chance to experiment with a short-form daring style. Well, viewers get daring but in the area of questionable content. Catwoman's quite sexy and violent strip tease won't soon be forgotten. Suffice to report, children need not apply. 

Read all about it: The good news is owners of the Blu-ray get to read a digital version of issue No. 404, the first part of Batman Year One story arc, right on their never-big-enough screen. Not so good is no zooming or slideshow presentation (like recently seen in the Justice League issue in the “Green Lantern” Blu-ray) to view the panels. So, get your nose right up to the screen or buy the biggest monitor you can find.

Still, even on a 32-inch screen or so, it's an eye-popping delight while ogling Mr. Mazzucchelli's haunting art. Anyone intrigued should immediately go buy and read the trade paperback ($19.99) to experience the full event.

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