-MONTHLY FILM & TV REVIEW-
Batman: Gotham Knight|
voice cast: Kevin Conroy, Gary Dourdan, David McCallum, Parminda Nagra, and Ana Ortiz
directors: Shojiro Nishimi, Futoshi Higashide, Hiroshi Morioka, Yasuhiro Aoki, Toshiyuki Kubooka, and Jong-Sik Nam
73 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Warner DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Designed to bridge the gap between Batman
Begins and The Dark Knight, this is a project that you could be forgiven for approaching
with a combination of anticipation and fear. Anticipation because the array of talent involved is
formidable, and fear because The Animatrix,
a project that this is very similar to, was - by and large - a triumph of style over content.
However, Gotham Knight is both stylishly produced and involving, opening with Have I Got A Story For You
by Josh Olsen and Studio 4C, whose most recent work includes Tekkon Kinkreet. Dealing with three skater
kids and their interactions with Batman as he pursues a criminal called the 'Man in Black' across the city, it's
a kinetic story that neatly plays with the different ways the character is perceived by Gotham's citizens, a
story that Olsen openly admits is a homage to The Batman Nobody Knows, a story written by Frank Robbins
and later adapted as an episode of the Batman animated series. However, whilst the art is both washed out
and pleasingly grounded, the story itself never really takes off due to a combination of an obvious structure
and some unnecessarily awkward dialogue.
Crossfire, the next story, follows Crispus Allen and Ana Ramirez, two MCU squad detectives asked
to transfer the Man in Black to Arkham. Written by Greg Rucka, the co-writer of the excellent and much
maligned Gotham Central series, it's an elegant piece that manages to do a lot in very little time.
Animated by Studio I.G. (responsible for, amongst other things, the anime sequence in
Kill Bill part one), it
explores Allen's very different view of Batman, sets up the mob war that leads to Sal Maroni's arrest
and prosecution, and introduces a beautifully simple explanation for why the Narrows, the setting for
much of the first film, isn't referred to in the second. The island has been bought by the asylum and
is now, in essence, an open prison in the centre of the city, an idea that has exactly the right combination
of mania and plausibility for Gotham.
Field Test is next, written by Jordan Goldberg and animated by BeeTrain, best known for the .Hack
series. This is a much lighter episode in tone, with BeeTrain's Bruce Wayne a charming and distinctly boyish
figure who revels in the idea that thanks to an accidental discovery of Lucius Fox's, he's now bullet proof.
However, the mob war rears its head once again and the end of the story neatly returns to the idea that
Batman, in the end, has to do what he does alone. It's a delicately played character piece and one of the
best on the disc.
In Darkness Dwells is written by David S. Goyer, one of the screenwriters for the films,
and drawn by Madhouse, best known for Perfect Blue and Paprika, is next and is one
of the two best parts of the disc. Cardinal O'Fallon's kidnapping leads Batman to the labyrinth
of tunnels beneath Gotham, an encounter with Killer Croc and the return of an old enemy. Heavy on
action and light on character, it's nonetheless a tautly paced and well-constructed piece with at
least one line, in a conversation between Batman and a vagrant, which stands as one of the finest
hours for the modern character.
However, Working Through Pain, written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Studio 4C once again
is arguably the best episode here, to say nothing of one of the best bits of animated Batman
material ever. Following Batman as he struggles back to the surface, badly wounded, it cuts between
him learning how to manage pain from Cassandra (Parminder Nagra in very good form), and trying to
keep himself alive. As grim as the character himself, the final scene alone not only sums the
character up but also remains one of the most haunting images of Batman in the last few years.
Deadshot, the final chapter written by Alan Burnett and drawn by Madhouse inevitably feels
like a step down after the previous two but is still a well-constructed story incorporating the
assassin Deadshot into animated continuity and seeing Bruce Wayne in a reflective mood. It's not
perfect but it rounds the disc off well and David McCallum as Alfred is especially impressive.
With great voice performances from the legendary Kevin Conroy of Batman: The Animated Series
as Batman, CSI star Gary Dourdan as Crispus Allen, and guest voices like Nagra and McCallum
putting the icing on the cake this is a quality addition to the DC animated line. Intelligent, dark
and well written and illustrated, this is Batman at, if not his best, then close.