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From Under A Rock: The Batman Superman Movie

March 19, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
8.2
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From Under A Rock: The Batman Superman Movie  

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So there’s this little independent film coming out next week called Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice that some of you may have heard about. As one of the few comic nerds writing for 411 who definitely considers himself to be a “DC Guy”, this is simultaneously one of my most anticipated and most dreaded films of 2016. I (Aaron) just want it to be good.

But regardless of how Zack Snyder’s movie does, I’ll always have plenty of great DC material to work with. Today, Michael and I look at one of the corners of the DC Universe that I love the most: the Animated continuity, which started with the legendary Batman: The Animated Series and continued on through the impressive Justice League cartoon. Today, we look at perhaps the most important incident of that universe, where DC’s two biggest heroes came together for the first time, setting the stage for a grander universe to come.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael took Aaron’s red stapler after watching Office Space. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock by introducing him to The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest.

The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest
Released: October 4th, 1997
Directed by: Toshihiko Masuda
Written by: Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, Stan Berkowitz, Rich Fogel, Hilary Bader, & Bob Goodman
Starring:
Tim Daly as Superman/Clark Kent
Kevin Conroy as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Dana Delany as Lois Lane
Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor
Mark Hamill as The Joker
Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn

Aaron Hubbard: You know what a really underrated animated series is? Superman. Despite being made by the same people who made the much lauded Batman counterpart, and being a solid success in its own right, I feel like many people overlook it when talking about the great cartoons of the 1990s. While not as good as Bruce Timm’s first stab at a DC superhero, it’s a really good series and is my personal favorite interpretation of the Superman character to date. Not only was Superman great, but Lex Luthor, Lois Lane (with Andrea Romano’s all-star voice cast) made this a great show. So, combine that with the greatness of Batman and you get one of the standout stories from the entire DC Animated Universe.

Michael Ornelas: I’m much more partial to Batman, so I’ve seen every episode of his animated series. Superman, not so much. I’ve just never been drawn to the character, but when you told me this was the same storytellers, I was completely on board.
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Day and Night, But Both Have Light
Aaron: Okay. If you’ll let me vent here; I really hate this stupid debate with fans about whether Batman or Superman would win a fight between the two. Not because it’s not fun to think about how Bruce could compete with a godlike being, but because it’s turned arguably the greatest team-up in comic book history into “two people who are total opposites, so they can’t get along” and I can’t stand it. And thanks to Frank Miller and the generation of comic book fans who bought into his alternate future story as being the definitive take on the characters, that’s what I get. I get Batman v. Superman not World’s Finest, a movie where these guys team up and act like goddamn superheroes.

This animated cartoon, on the other hand, is made by people who understand that Batman and Superman are at their best not when they are at odds with each other, but when they are working together. They complement each other’s personalities and abilities and are a virtually unstoppable pair. It doesn’t shy away from their differences, and even puts them at odds with each other. But this never devolves into a stupid fantasy SmackDown between the two heroes. They work together to save the day. It’s simple, it works, and I can’t get enough of it.

Michael: It really was cool seeing them team up, I’ll admit that (as someone who hasn’t seen any Justice League animated movies except for “Throne of Atlantis”). That said, if you call yourself a superhero and you’re up against the Joker and you still can’t bring yourself to team up with someone to take him down, you really don’t have your priorities straight. I liked that the villains were teamed up as well, as it gave us a lot of dynamics to work with. I enjoyed the early-going of this story more because seeing Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent interact while unaware of the other’s identity created a palpable tension. The story with Lois Lane and Bruce Wayne dating (which I’ll get to more later) was my favorite part. I guess what I’m getting at is this: seeing the two franchises cross-pollinate in such a thorough way was satisfying. No combination was avoided with Bruce, Clark, Superman, Batman, Lois, Joker, and Lex. And I even got some Harley too!

Aaron: Having Joker and Lex team-up and then turn on each other was an inspired decision. Both are excellent characters with common goals but disparate philosophies. Joker is street level and wants everyone to know he’s committing the crimes, while Lex is in the background and working on both a corporate and world domination level of crime. And having Harley and Mercy Graves (Lex’s bodyguard) constantly at each other’s throats was also great. Poor Mercy took a beating in these three. But I agree – the characters and their interactions are the true appeal here.
Lois
Life in the Fast Lane
Michael: Bruce Wayne has never been one to live life cautiously. So when he gets to Metropolis, he goes straight for the object of Clark Kent’s affection in Lois Lane. They hit it off, and she proves to be a fantastic, well-rounded character despite being a love interest and a damsel in distress. Normally I wouldn’t be caught dead complimenting the writing of a female character who ends up in that role, but Lane is tough here, and I truly love the relationship that forms between Batman and her. That said, there are so many mind games at play on Batman’s end to get into the head of Superman, and it actually works. We’re used to seeing Superman as this indestructible, all-powerful being and it’s rare that we get a glimpse into his mental turmoil (at least based on what I’ve seen of him). I still don’t know if I believe Wayne’s intentions were pure in this love triangle, but seeing someone creep under the skin of Kent in that way was just a blast.

Aaron: I think people tend to forget that Superman is still, well, a man. He’s a person with emotions and dreams and wants, but he also puts them all aside out of a sense of responsibility. Now, he’s not as mopey about this as say, Spider-Man, because Clark is an adult. But putting him in a situation where the living embodiment of all his hopes is suddenly pulled away from him, and he becomes a bit more vulnerable inside. I for one do believe that Bruce was completely sincere with Lois. My reasoning for this is simple, and a point that needs to be made; Bruce Wayne is every bit the “boy scout” that Clark Kent is. He’s compassionate, honest (as much as he can be), and does care about people even if he doesn’t always show it very well. Bruce would never date someone just to get in someone else’s head. He’s above that sort of petty behavior. But it’s fun to see them work that angle, especially since Clark will always put Lois ahead of himself. This added an emotional thread that complemented the main action plot very well. And I will never get tired of Lois Lane’s reaction to finding out her boyfriend is Batman.

Michael: The knowing smirk of when Batman finds out Clark is Superman is pretty amazing as well. For an animated show, they certainly captured “acting” with the expressions of these human characters, which is something that doesn’t get enough credit when it’s done well in cartoons.
Animation
Drawn Together
Aaron: I think one reason that I always return to the DC animated universe is that hand-drawn animation has become something of a lost art. Even Justice League Unlimited makes use of notably bad CGI. But aside from some poor design decisions (like The Joker), the character models of Bruce Timm have become iconic images in their own right. I’ve always admired how they manage to capture the essence of the characters with a minimalist approach but also have so many unique, distinct character models. And that all really started with Superman, as the Batman cartoon had more “complex” models that ultimately just don’t work as well in a large-scale production.

Michael: The animation style has become, to me, the definitive way to draw action scenes. Everything is great from a character design standpoint, and the static scenes still capture my interest…but the action really stands out as a cut above other animated shows. The color palettes allow explosions to pop, the contrast draws your eyes to exactly the right set pieces, and the backdrops are animated in such a conspicuous way that you don’t notice them until there’s a reason to (and then you see that the details were there all along). It’s the perfect blend.

Aaron: It makes me miss this sort of thing and thankful that at least Warner Brothers is committed to keeping hand-drawn animation going (although their recent few have all had an anime-light aesthetic that I’m not as high on). But I mean, I remember watching recent Disney movies like Frozen or Zootopia, and while I like them just fine as they are, I can’t help wishing for the heyday of hand-drawn animation that I grew up in.

Ratings:
Aaron: The meshing together of two series featuring the two most iconic comic book characters of all-time is an epic event. It’s huge in 2016, and it was huge back when this movie (or episodes, depending on how you look at it) came out. For the time that it came in, I think this was about as good as we could hope for, with the first third being one of my favorite DC Animated Universe episodes ever. Parts II and III don’t hold up as well, and I think this may be one situation where cutting it down to two parts would have resulted in a stronger product over all. The first episode gets an “A”, but the whole thing ranks a bit lower.

B+

Michael: This was great. If this rating was for Batman: The Animated Series in its entirety, I’d go with an A+ because I think that’s one of the best-done shows of all-time. And I can’t speak to much of Superman: The Animated Series but it looks to hold up similarly. But this is just on a specific series of episodes, and while I enjoyed it immensely, the scale of this show (ie. pitting it against the other picks we’ve done in the past and their respective ratings) determines that this falls short of truly “classic” territory (anything in the A-grade family, to me). Still an awesome experience though and I suggest checking this out before or after Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice just to get a different perspective.

B+

Aaron: I will say the Superman show is more of a “B+”, as Superman doesn’t have quite the impressive Rogues Gallery to mine for good stories. But I think it did a lot more with the material than anyone could have expected, and it does have more humor than Batman and fun character bits with Lex, Lois and Clark. It’s only about 54 episodes and most of them are a good time.

Michael: To be fair, holding anything up against Batman: The Animated Series is a lofty task. And I have so many shows on my “Up next” list but who knows, maybe some day I’ll get around to this one.

What’s your favorite story arc in Superman: The Animated Series?

Next week:

Michael: I haven’t watched this next pick in years, but it’s actually the movie that started a trend I’m adamant about these days: avoiding trailers. As a writer, I enjoy the idea of experiencing a movie completely chronologically, and trailers sometimes give away moments, set pieces, funny lines, or in some cases, big plot points. Well this pick was the first movie I ever saw where I knew literally nothing about it…and I loved it.
Drive
Aaron: Drive is a movie that I’ve heard quite a bit about as something that fell flat for many audiences because it wasn’t a straightforward action movie and was instead more focused on plot after the first scene or so. I’ve been anticipating this pick for a while, actually.

Michael: Huh. Because of my seeing it blind, I didn’t really have a knowledge of how people perceived it. And since most of my friends who told me to see it were film majors with me at the time, I think there was an appreciation for it despite its lack of “being conventional.” And I know you share the ability to see something for what it is, and not just for what you expect it to be. It’ll be a really cool conversation to have with you next week.

What’s your favorite movie that you went into completely blind?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest

Charity!

Dan West was a farmer during the Spanish Civil War who aided refugees. But he soon realized that the rations he was providing was insufficient for the needs. But if you teach a man to fish, you can provide for him for the rest of his life. Or in Dan West’s case, a cow. Heifer International provides animals such as cows, goats, chickens, and bees to poor families, providing them the tools they need to produce food and goods not just for their immediate needs, but to provide a source of long-lasting income. But even if you don’t have an animal to give to a family, you can still donate to Heifer International and help them to achieve their goal of improving lives, for the long haul.

8.2
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
If you're a fan of DC Comics or just grew up with animated cartoons in the last quarter century, chances are you're aware of Bruce Timm's work on Batman, Superman and Justice League. He and his team of artists, voice actors and writers created a world that's one of the best interpretations of DC's iconic heroes, and this event was the first time the two big guns got to work together (and play against each other) in that world. It's suitably epic, focusing mostly on character dynamics but also providing plenty of action that fits both characters and their worlds. It's worth going out of your way to see if you haven't.
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