Batman: The Long Halloween — Part One

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Animated;
$29.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence, bloody images, language and some smoking.
Voices of Jensen Ackles, Josh Duhamel, Billy Burke, Titus Welliver, David Dastmalchian, Troy Baker, Amy Landecker, Julie Nathanson, Jack Quaid, Fred Tatasciore, Jim Pirri, Alastair Duncan, Naya Rivera.

Originally released in 1996 and 1997 and best known today as a graphic novel collection, the comic book miniseries “Batman: The Long Halloween” is considered one of the seminal works of the Batman canon.

Taking place over the course of a year early in Batman’s career, “The Long Halloween” tells the story of how Gotham City transitioned from gangland violence to being overrun with costumed supervillains, while also tracking the toll it takes on new district attorney Harvey Dent, who eventually becomes the villain Two-Face.

This first half of the two-part animated adaptation (the second half coming in a month) is heavily focused on the mafia side of things, and feels very much like Batman (Jensen Ackles) has been dropped into the plot of The Godfather.

This is a Batman still perfecting his skills as a vigilante. He makes obvious mistakes, isn’t too adept at jumping from roof to roof just yet, and he doesn’t seem interested in being a detective. He forms a pact with Dent (Josh Duhamel) and police Capt. Gordon (Billy Burke) to clean up the gang wars, but this only puts more of a target on Dent’s back, much to the chagrin of his wife. It also opens the door for the costumed crazies that Batman has inspired, such as the Joker (Troy Baker) and Catwoman (voiced by the late Naya Rivera in one of her final roles), as a serial killer begins targeting key mob personnel each month on a festive holiday.

Batman fans already familiar with the “Long Halloween” arc should appreciate the adaptation, which matches the animation style of the earlier Superman: Man of Tomorrow and Justice Society: World War II, potentially putting it in the same shared universe as those adventures. Long Halloween was reportedly intended to kick off this new continuity years ago, but was delayed when it looked as if Matt Reeves’ The Batman would be doing the storyline.

Casual Bat-fans who don’t know the graphic novel will likely recognize many aspects of the story, particularly the troika of Batman, Dent and Gordon, and the focus on Gotham’s mob bosses, from Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, which was heavily influenced by Long Halloween.

The Blu-ray includes a nine-minute preview of the upcoming part two, which delves further into Dent’s transformation into Two-Face.

There are also showcases for previously released Batman animated movies The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and Gotham by Gaslight.

As is customary for these DC Universe releases, the Blu-ray also contains two cartoons from the Warner Bros. catalog that are thematically similar to the movie — in this case, the “Batman: The Animated Series” episodes “Christmas With the Joker” and “It’s Never Too Late.”

Also included is the newest DC Showcase animated short film, the 16-minute The Losers. This one’s about a special forces unit during World War II caught up in a mission on an island overrun by dinosaurs brought from the past by a powerful energy barrier. The premise seems cobbled together from a few familiar sources and as a whole the short doesn’t amount to much, but the implications of some of the plot developments could be intriguing if explored further.

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Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 4/10/18;
Warner;
Animated Action;
$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong bloody violence throughout, sexual content, brief graphic nudity, and some drug material.
Voices of Christian Slater, Billy Brown, Liam McIntyre, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Gideon Emery, Tara Strong, Vanessa Williams, C. Thomas Howell, Dania Ramirez, James Urbaniak, Julie Nathanson, Jim Pirri, Greg Grunberg.

This ain’t the “Super Friends.”

There have been ‘R’-rated movies from the DC Universe brand before, but Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay pushes the limits of its rating more than those previous installments, and not just by increasing the level of violence. The film also has a lot of fun turning the dial up on sexual material and nudity in a way viewers might not have expected from a comic book movie.

Then again, this is a “Suicide Squad” movie, and that’s probably going to bring a harder edge by default. As comic book fans would have known even before the live-action movie version came out in 2016, the Suicide Squad is a team of supervillains assembled by a shady government operative named Amanda Waller to undertake dangerous missions for which they can take the blame if anything goes wrong. And they follow orders because Waller installs explosives in their head that she can detonate if they betray her.

For this mission, Waller wants the team to retrieve a mystical artifact that can guarantee the soul of whomever is holding it will go straight to heaven. But it will only work once, which makes for some great plot dynamics since anyone who wants it can’t get it from someone who has it by killing them.

Waller’s not the only one seeking the “Get Out of Hell Free” card, providing plenty of opportunities for action as several teams of bad guys confront each other to take control of it. The plot also allows for a nice connection to the previous DC movie Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, which paved the way for this string of 10 movies that share a continuity.

The lineup includes a few characters familiar to those who have seen the live-action version, including the assassin Deadshot (excellently voiced by Christian Slater), the snarky Captain Boomerang (Liam McIntyre) and, of course, Harley Quinn (Tara Strong), whose primary contribution to the team seems to be her immense popularity.

This is a much more satisfying treatment of the material than the live-action attempt. The ‘R’ rating has lifted the constraints from the creative team, and everyone seems to be having a lot of fun pushing the material as far as they can. And with bad guys versus bad guys, there’s a lot of ways to push, and no reason to expect that any of them can’t be killed off at any time (except for Harley, maybe).

And that brings us to the commentary track by producer James Tucker and writer Alan Burnett, who wrote the script as one of his last projects before retiring. They can’t help but talk about Burnett’s long career in superhero animation, dating all the way back to the squeaky clean “Super Friends” cartoons of the 1970s and ’80s. So it’s only natural that they would joke about how any 10 seconds of this movie would make the network standards-and-practices suits responsible for “Super Friends” blush.

Comic book fans will enjoy seeing appearances from some of the more obscure characters in the canon, including Tobias Whale, who can also currently be seen in live-action as one of the main villains on the new “Black Lightning” TV series. And another member of the team is Killer Frost (Kristin Bauer van Straten), a version of whom is part one of the heroes on the current “The Flash” TV show. Frost was also part of the team in another great Suicide Squad adventure, the 2014 standalone animated movie Batman: Assault on Arkham, the success of which supposedly helped get approval to make the live-action movie.

The Blu-ray also includes short featurettes about the histories of the Deadshot and Boomerang characters, as well as a 10-minute pontification about the power of the “MacGuffin” — a good plot device to set the story in motion.

Finally, the Blu-ray offers a sneak preview of the next DC Universe movie, The Death of Superman, which will be the first of two films to adapt the legendary comic book storyline that was the basis (in a much abridged form) for the first DC Universe animated movie, Superman: Doomseday, back in 2007.