Since 2007, DC and Warner Bros. have been cranking out comic book movies on a regular rotation. Direct to DVD animated flicks which are surprisingly not shite. Hell, most of them are even better than live-action blockbuster films which have budgets that are dozens of times larger than the ones used in making magical 2D drawing of men in tights punching one another.
There’ve been more than two dozen of films in the DC Animated library, films that have focused on everyone from Batman to Aquaman. Here’s ten of the really good ones.
Batman: Under the Red Hood
Batman goes through Robins like our president goes through finance ministers lately. It’s not easy being a sidekick to the world’s greatest detective, and it’s a job which usually ends with somebody taking a crowbar to the head. There’s consequences that you have to account for when you work for the dark knight, as nothing ever goes to plan.
And that’s a theme that runs throughout Under this DC film, as the Batman has to contend with a new player in Gotham, a gang war and even a killer robot as the Joker starts a new reign of terror. Brilliantly voiced and with an action sequence near the end that puts most Batman movies to shame, Under the Red Hood is essential viewing on any DC Animated list.
The Dark Knight Returns
I’m cheating slightly here, but there’s no way that I’m able to view this adaptation of Frank Miller’s landmark 1986 mini-series as two halves. Released in two parts, The Dark Knight Returns is the most faithful adaptation in the entire DC Animated library. It’s an older Batman, worn down and fed up with an endless war on crime that never ended. And then one night, one random encounter with the ugliness of Gotham City reawakens a slumbering demon.
This is the Batman that criminals fear. Not a gadget-heavy caped crusader, but a terrifying beast that is more than happy to break you both physically and mentally. One of the grittiest Batman films around, TDKR makes the various fight scenes absolutely brutal affairs of broken bones and ripped sinew, whether it be a Mutant gang leader or even the Man of Steel himself.
All of this, drawn in a style that perfectly imitates the art of Miller and Klaus Janson. In a year where Christopher Nolan released the final chapter to his own big budget Batman trilogy, it was an animated masterpiece that proved itself to be the best dark knight of the year.
Superman Vs. The Elite
A lot of people regard Superman as a corny hero. A symbol of a more innocent age where truth and justice were ideals worth striving for. Ideals that don;t exactly hold up in a more cynical world. But what’s actually so bad about fighting for a better tomorrow? That’s the idea behind Superman vs The Elite, where Superman’s morality is questioned when a newer, edgier group of vigilantes show up and start enforcing a more lethal brand of justice.
In a world that is ready to push Superman away for a more easily gratifying sense of instant justice, the man of steel questions whether or not his dream of a better tomorrow is even possible. It’s a scary thought, but nowhere near as terrifying as the idea of a Superman who doesn’t live by a moral code, thanks to an unforgettable showdown in the third act that plays out like a WWE Extreme Rules match.
Justice League: Gods and Monsters
Clark Kent. Bruce Wayne. Diana of Themyscira. All recognisable names of the greatest trinity of heroes around. But what if Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were the names of completely different heroes instead? Heroes like a refugee from New Genesis, a medical experiment gone horribly wrong and General Zod’s DNA managing to supplant that of the House of El.
That makes for a darker trinity, but also a more interesting collective of heroes that the world doesn’t trust completely. And that’s where Gods and Monsters works best, because the greatest superpowers of that universe find themselves embroiled in a global conspiracy designed to remove them from the equation. It’s a great plot, punctuated by DC’s trademark polished action. And easy to watch without finding yourself drowning in an ocean of references that go completely over your head.
All Star Superman
Superman’s powerful enough, right? I mean the guy could bench Metropolis for a morning workout, before punching a scheduled army of killer robots into outer space. He’s also nigh-invulnerable, an unstoppable force of justice who never gives up. But what happens when Superman finds himself pushed too far, and left with only a year to live? You get a silver-age adventure where the last son of Krypton makes the most of the time that he has left.
Adapting Grant Morrison’s and Frank Quietely’s landmark series to a single film is one hell of a tall order, a Herculean feat that leaves out a considerable amount of content along the way. But what is there, is truly special. There’s a jail cell interview with Lex Luthor that runs into difficulties, a titanic tussle with two Kryptonian survivors that cracks the moon, an arm-wrestling match between gods and the greatest love story ever told.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s the final moments between Lois Lane and Clark Kent that leave my internal ocular-fluids malfunctioning every time. As fantastic as it is to see Superman fly into space to battle Solus the Tyrant Sun, it’s moments like that that prove just how super Clark Kent really is, and why Superman is the greatest of all comic book heroes.
Batman: Assault on Arkham
While Batman and Superman may sell DVDs, there’s still plenty of space for other characters to take the spotlight. The Suicide Squad finally got their chance last year, and it was something different to the usual DC animated movie fare. It’s by no means the best film in the entire library, but it certainly is a slice of cheesy fun that kicks into overdrive near the end.
Riskier, gorier and filled with memorable moments voiced by a cast of capable veterans (Jennifer Hale will always be the best Killer Frost), Assault on Arkham is the kind of movie that knew how to make the most of a comic book universe that was otherwise constrained to video game consoles. That, and watching Batman punch King Shark’s groin into submission with electric knuckle-dusters, never gets old.
Justice League: The New Frontier
Comic books are usually divided by certain eras. The Golden age of the 1920s that lasted through World War Two and into the 1950s, the Silver Age that saw the medium undergo a renaissance and a Bronze Age that gave rise to grittier heroes and disastrously EXTREME makeovers. But it’s that gap between the golden and silver ages that is fascinating, a period in time when heroes evolved to become something more than just men dressed in tights who spent nights dishing out punches and one-liners.
Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier is a mammoth celebration of this, a huge mini-series that focuses on changing attitudes and roles within the superhuman community. Adapting it entirely was next to impossible, but DC tackled it anyway. And what resulted, was a final hurrah to an age of comic books that rode off into the sunset many decades ago.
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights
Sure, there was a Green Lantern film previously, but First Flight was very much a by-the-books origin story that was decent at best. Emerald Knights was a far better pseudo-sequel, made to cash in on the release of DC’s massive box office flop film of the same name. A collection of short stories that charted the tales of the first lanterns, the adventures of new recruits and how one relentless mercenary finally relented, Emerald Knights had no fear. In blackest night or brightest day, the Green Lanterns were kicking ass in this quirky collection of short stories.
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
DC has a habit of regularly rebooting itself, like an errant PC that needs a fresh restart. The most recent of these universal reboots came out of the aftermath of the Flashpoint Paradox, that saw the Flash rewrite continuity entirely. It led to a New 52 which may have been hit or miss over the last couple of years, but the story that created it was solid popcorn-munching action all the way. When Earth’s greatest heroes find their origins drastically rewritten, it’s up to the Flash to set things right. If he can ever run fast enough to do so, that is.
The first DC Animated film since Warner Bros. Animation kicked off their brand of superheroic direct-to-DVD flicks, isn’t the best out of the lot. But it’s actually still a damn good movie on its own. It’s an animated film that wasn’t scared to draw blood, condensing months and months of comics into one coherent storyline that set the bar. It’s Superman versus an unstoppable Kryptonian killing machine in a battle that should have been used to show Man of Steel that the last son of Krypton can actually hold his own without levelling most of Metropolis.
Death is only half of the equation however, as the reappearance of Superman and his newer, more lethal approach to crime has people wondering just what is really happening. All this, and Lex Luthor’s latest machinations in the background of a plot to finally triumph over the man of steel. Not the greatest Superman story ever told, but a damn fine entry point into an entire library of quality entertainment.
BONUS! Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Sure, it was made in 1993, but here’s what you need to know: Forget Batman Begins. THIS is the definitive origin story of the dark knight.
Last Updated: February 18, 2016