The Dark Knight joins forces with the Man of Steel in another Animated Series spin-off.
Who made it?: Toshihiko Masuda (Director), Rich Fogel, Steven Gerber, Stan Berkowitz (Writers), Bruce W. Timm, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett (Producers), Warner Bros. Animation.
Who’s in it?: Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Dana Delany, Mark Hamill, Clancy Brown, Arleen Sorkin, Lisa Edelstein, Bob Hastings, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
Tagline: “Cleaning Up The Planet One Villain At A Time.”
IMDb rating: 7.7/10.
DC Comics might not have an interconnected universe on cinema screens like Marvel, but they’ve been doing it for well over a decade on the small screen. The creative forces behind Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series knew early on that a feature-length follow-up to Batman: Mask of the Phantasm should probably include the Man of Steel. And while it might seem like a moneymaking decision on the surface, you just know that it was an idea that excited regular producers Alan Burnett, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Their first-rate handling means that the awkwardly titled The Batman/Superman Movie: World’s Finest is one of the Dark Knight’s most memorable video releases. There’s nothing quite like a crossover to get comic book fans salivating, even if World’s Finest is just three episodes from Superman: TAS stuck together.
Events open in Gotham City. The Joker’s moll, Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin), enters an antique shop and subdues the owner with gas. The Clown Prince of Crime (Mark Hamill) appears and makes off with a seemingly worthless jade statue, the “Laughing Dragon.” Batman (Kevin Conroy) examines a shard of the statue and realises that it emits a low-level radiation and is, in fact, a solid piece of Kryptonite – the only thing that can kill Clark Kent/Superman (Tim Daly).
As alter-ego Bruce Wayne, Batman jets off to Metropolis to stop the Joker’s plans and save the city’s “favourite son.” The millionaire isn’t in town for 10 minutes before he manages to swing a date with Clark’s flame, the forever-in-peril Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Phantasm‘s Dana Delany). After much bickering, the heroes unite to take down the demented clown. However, they don’t count on The Joker being in league with rich industrialist Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown), whose hatred for the Kryptonian knows no bounds. They work out a plot to kill the costumed heroes, but it won’t be a harmonious alliance, and as Batman says to Superman at one point, “expect the unexpected.”
While it isn’t the perfect spin-off that Mask of the Phantasm is, World’s Finest delivers everything you could reasonably want from a Batman/Superman team-up. As characters, they go about their cause differently, and are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Bruce Wayne is a mere mortal who trained his body and mind to fight crime, whilst Clark Kent (or Kal-El) is an alien imbued with near indestructible abilities. Batman’s cynical and rule-breaking nature is at odds with the Big Boy Scout’s honest earnestness, and their petty squabbling is one of the film’s most enjoyable attributes. It is a dynamic the World’s Finest comics exploited for decades, and the pair’s begrudging partnership led a series from 1941 to 1986. No matter what you think about each character, and more than enough people dislike Superman, there’s something undeniably cool about seeing DC’s flagship heroes sharing the screen.
Like this year’s Avengers Assemble, the animated “film” is therefore a tale about superheroes putting aside their differences and working together. Luthor and Joker’s scheme feels more like the B-plot, and rightly so. The rivalry between the two leads is the most fun to watch. Anyone who’s ever read a Batman or Superman comic will smirk at the way Bruce makes the moves on Miss Lane, the only female in the DC Universe to notch up more super lays than Wonder Woman. Kent’s priceless jealousy is only magnified when he uses his X-ray vision to take a peek under Batman’s cowl. The Dark Knight’s revenge for this breach of trust is one of the most bad ass things he’s ever done in a cartoon (see below). Eventually, the pair begin to trust each other’s instincts and turn their attention to the threat at hand.
If writers Rich Fogel, Steven Gerber and Stan Berkowitz take great relish in contrasting their heroes, then they are just as interested in charting the relationship between their villains. I don’t need to say anything else about this iteration of The Joker, since you know Hamill makes the most of it. The screenwriters mine a great deal of humour from this madman colliding with Lex Luthor’s steely business sense. If there’s anything the bald mastermind hates, its people wasting his time and money. Brown, who some of you may remember from The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Starship Troopers (1997), has always been one of my favourite actors to tackle the role, and Luthor’s exasperation here is funny stuff.
Taking the compare-and-contrast style to its absolute limits, there’s also an amusing parallel between the clumsy Harley Quinn and Luthor’s driver/assistant, Mercy Graves (House‘s Lisa Edelstein). Their catfight is glorious and one of the unexpected highlights.
Despite the presentation’s brief 65-minutes, director Toshihiko Masuda still manages to include that all-important action. My favourite sequence would be Batman and Superman’s combined attempts to take down Luthor’s deadly robots, but there’s also the OTT finale in which The Joker begins fire-bombing Metropolis. Considering this is essentially the third episode in a TV series, the explosion-heavy finish is all the more impressive. The pair get to flex their gadgets and muscles frequently, ensuring that sub-plots such as Bruce and Lois’ romance are pushed to the sidelines. It’s not like they’d ever end up together, anyway.
Ultimately, The Batman/Superman Movie is a well executed bit of family entertainment that should get more DC fans to give Superman: The Animated Series a chance. If nothing else, it proves that the show’s style was just as good as the Dark Knight’s. The Caped Crusader also frequently one-ups the Man of Steel, making this a must see for Superman detractors. Even when faced with a superior being from another planet, Batman is the height of comic book cool. Fans should find this crossover a worthy addition to his animated adventures.
After managing to knock the Man of Steel to the ground (??!!), Batman continues his battle of words with Superman by revealing a handy chip of Kryptonite. Bats also uses the opportunity to place a tracker on his cape, and follows Superman home, discovering that he is Clark Kent. Ownage!
- Harleen Quinzel, AKA Harley Quinn, was first introduced in a 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Her unexpected popularity led to the character being included in the comic book continuity and related media, most recently in the video game Arkham City.
- The remaining animated Batman features in this continuity are Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998), Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003).