DC Comics is crushing its biggest rival in one unexpected way.
The comics juggernaut and Warner Bros. have carved out a successful niche in comic-inspired animated films. It’s the one arena where DC Comics officially laps its main competitor, Marvel.
DC continues its animated features with “Batman: The Killing Joke,” inspired by Alan Moore’s graphic novel “Batman: The Killing Joke, Deluxe Edition.” The movie will be shown in theaters July 25 and 26 courtesy of Fathom Events.
The film contains high-profile talent behind the scenes. Mark Hamill returns to voice The Joker, a character he famously inhabited in the popular ’90s cartoon, “Batman: The Animated Series.”
The film also is a step forward for DC and Warner Bros. It’s their first R-rated animated comic book adventure. “Joke” also promises to be one of Fathom Event’s biggest screenings, expanding to more than 1,000 theaters over two nights due to popular demand.
For those waving off the animated releases as either childish or aimed at teenagers, think again.
These animated releases, especially the Batman films, have proven far more important than recent live action comic book movies. Here’s five reasons why the animated Batman world matters.
- Faithful Comic Adaptations: Live-action adaptations draw only loosely from their source material. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” used minor elements from Frank Miller’s seminal “The Dark Knight Returns.” “Captain America: Civil War” only relied on the concept of the bestselling Mark Miller penned Marvel run. However, the animated Batman features are where you’ll find the faithful comic book adaptations fans crave. The adaptations aren’t just faithful, but they’re downright adult, not shying away from the darker elements of their source material. There was the highly regarded two part adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic “The Dark Knight Returns,” with Peter Weller voicing the older, brooding Batman. The film earned kudos for its rich and faithful adaptation of the classic book. “Batman: Year One,” another Miller adaptation, which was perhaps the first animated DC film to surprise people. With Bryan Cranston voicing a young Jim Gordon, the film dealt with adult themes of justice, infidelity and heroism.
- Pushing Boundaries More than Live Action: As experimental and new as live action comic book movies can feel, they are still products first and foremost. That’s not to say no good work comes out of the process. When hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line, you can’t expect something to take too many risks. This is what explains the entertaining, but formulaic Marvel films. Besides Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy and the recent “Deadpool,” comic book films mostly stick to a winning, albeit conventional, formula. The animated Bat films have the luxury of working for a smaller audience with tighter budgets. They can be more experimental and push more boundaries. This is what has led to the surprisingly good reviews for many of the features. Expect the R-rated “Killing Joke” to experiment more than any Batman animated film yet.
- Ahead of the Curve: Because the Batman animated films are made specifically for comic book fans, they tend to be ahead of the curve compared to live-action fare. Case in point: we already had a Suicide Squad picture, and it was fantastic. “Assault on Arkham Asylum” contained all our favorite villains like Deadshot and Harley Quinn, both soon to appear in August’s “Suicide Squad” film.
- Bringing Comic Worlds Together: The new trend with comic book films, and franchise films, is to create interconnected universes. It’s a method with long roots in the comic book realm. While it’s exciting and still mostly fresh, the notion leads to rules that can sometimes handicap films. For instance, some Marvel movies can simply feel like two hour trailers for the next Marvel sequel. The Batman animated films present multiple universes, much like the original comic books offer. They exist in their own worlds- some are connected while others are stand alone tales. It appeals to all kinds of Batman fans for different reasons. For instance, “Assault on Arkham Asylum” takes place within the universe of the popular “Arkham” video games. Films like “The Dark Knight Returns” are solo outings (although Miller’s “Year One” was also adapted), while “Son of Batman” earned itself a direct sequel. It’s a varied world with a special flavor for every Batman fan.
- More Batmans: There are a variety of Batmans in comic books and other mediums. Everyone has their own spin. Frank Miller wrote a version, Kevin Smith delivered his take on the Caped Crusader. While every Batman is the same character, different actors and writers bring new layers to the Dark Knight. The animated movies allow this flexible nature to be seen. Kevin Conroy portrays Batman in “Killing Joke,” Peter Weller gave his own grizzled spin to the character in “The Dark Knight Returns,” and Jason O’Mara has gotten the opportunity to voice the character in multiple features. While even detractors will need to get used to Ben Affleck as the big screen Batman, the animated films allow different spins and takes on the character to breathe in relatively short amounts of time.