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

RATING: 9/10
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.