Under the Red Hood & Return of the Joker
(This month's column is going to be a short one - my September's been rather busy. Also, minor spoiler alert - enjoy!)
In the interests of full disclosure, I always thought that reviving Jason Todd was a bad idea on DC's part.
Granted, having "Batman's greatest failure" paraded around might not be a bad idea, but reviving the character seemed more out of fannish obligation than any sense of storytelling creativity. (The fact that Batman writers had to shoehorn Todd into a post-Hush universe, and that the character still generates controversy, seems to back this claim). Even the Under the Red Hood arc that reintroduced the character seemed a bit derivative and lackluster, despite juggling a series of subplots.
What makes this disc extremely disappointing that the voice talent and writing could have been much better. Bruce Greenwood as Batman? Should have worked....had Greenwood not chosen to mimic Kevin Conroy's classic tones? John DiMaggio as the Joker? Unlike many who enjoyed his performance, for some reason, I kept hearing Bender from Futurama. However, I think most of my disappointment stems from the fact that producer Bruce Timm has previously told this tale - a tale of the Joker's revenge, a Robin's downfall, and Batman's greatest failure - in a much stronger, much more entertaining way.
I liked this movie much more when it was made as Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.
Now my tastes may be coming into play again - I quite enjoyed Batman Beyond during its initial run. In fact, it was a rather unique take on the character - basically, "What if Robin didn't take over as Batman". Taking please in a near-future Gotham City, Batman Beyond managed to add an extra layer of mystery to the DCU, and in the process, also managed to add another level of excitement to an already cool "franchise".
(And I hate the word franchise. It makes it sound less like a creative entity and more like a mass produced product).
Return of the Joker is definitely one of the high water marks of the whole DCAU Universe. Even though it was originally released in an edited form, even the neutered version packs a really strong narrative punch. (The later "original cut" version - available on DVD and Amazon rental - really strengthens the depth and gives the film a much harder edge). Admittedly, it was meant to be a Batman Beyond/Batman: The Animated Series crossover of a type, but ultimately, it told the tale of how Bruce Wayne suffered a traumatic loss of a Robin - not through death, but through something even more insidious...
What makes Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker a really strong Batman story (and much better than Under the Red Hood) is that it is multi-layered story that hints as much as it hides. Unlike Under the Red Hood (with Neil Patrick Harris taking a vocal turn as Nightwing), we never learned what happened to Dick Grayson in the Beyond universe; while we get a better explanation for Todd's resurrection other than the Superboy retcon punch in the comics, Under the Red Hood relies primarily on fan-oriented speculation rather than strong narrative.
Simply put, Return of the Joker focuses on the fall of a Robin as the machinations of an enemy, hurting Batman where it hurts, and questioning his entire mission. As a result, the Bat-family suffers a major blow, and we see things turning much darker.
In Under the Red Hood, Robin falls because of his own arrogance, and although Batman is compromised, when Jason Todd confronts Batman, he doesn't blame the Caped Crusader for letting him die...but for never killing the Joker.
One plot is the reflection of a mature take on a character; the other is merely a glorified what-if.
Under the Red Hood, in my opinion, really doesn't even warrant a rental - you might be better off purchasing the trade version. Or, better yet, track down Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. It's worth the cash.
As always, please feel free to state your case in the Comic Related forums, touch base with me via Twitter at @gordondym, message me via Facebook, or check out my blog at http://www.blogthispal.com
And as always, keep watching!
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