You would have to be a comic book reader who had been living under a rock to have never heard of one of the most controversial and innovative Batman story arches of the 1980’s- Batman: A Death in the Family (1988-1989). This story arch earned a reputation and legacy that would live on in the Bat mythos for years to come. Thus, it’s no surprise that WB and DC Animation used a large chunk of the story in 2010’s animated adaptation of Batman: Under the Red Hood. As with most DC Animation adaptations, I feel Under the Red Hood is decent and faithful to its source material. But, like most of these adaptations, it’s not one I’ve revisited either. Still, the studio got my attention when they said they would be producing a version of Batman: Death in the Family for the animated medium.
Then, I became even more interested when they announced that the movie would be a choose-your-own-adventure style, interactive piece of entertainment. Alas, this branching story option is an option exclusively on the Blu-Ray and DVD releases of the film. No matter, though, my main concern was seeing the movie itself, not the interactive aspects. (And from what I’ve read and researched, those physical releases only give you three additional branching options. All of which add scant minutes to their particular version of the story. None of which change things all that much.)
Thus, I figured I’d be just as well-served merely renting the digital version. Right off the bat, we’re treated to something new. The camera (and we, the viewers) takes on a comic book store customer’s perspective as we’re drawn to a wire rack in the center of the shop filled with DC single issues. Then, an issue of Batman: A Death in the Family floats off the rack, presenting itself for consumption. Unfortunately, however, this is the last original thing we get for a while.
Over the next twenty minutes that unfolds, Bruce Wayne (Bruce Greenwood) recounts Under the Red Hood’s events to an unseen companion. As such, we’re shown to a flashback style retelling of the titular Death in the Family depicted in that film. I found this to be an odd but intriguing approach. I mean, if they’re summarizing the main event upfront, where is this movie going? Frankly, I was excited and thought I was in for a real treat. And then…the end credits began! Initially, I admittedly experienced a confused and somewhat agitated reaction. But, then, I quickly rationalized, thinking, “Oh, okay, this must just be how they transition into the other non-interactive versions of the story.”
Much to my chagrin, though, I couldn’t have been more wrong as the next scene takes us back to the comic book rack and displays an issue of SGT. Rock. Only then did it suddenly dawn on me that this release, interactive or otherwise, is ultimately just a showcase of DC Animation shorts. The 20 or so minutes of Death in the Family that had roped me in was now gone and buried. Even still, I decided not to have an adverse reaction and instead simply see what this DC Showcase had in store for me. This SGT. Rock short (with Karl Urban voicing the titular character) did not disappoint and made me crave a feature-length animated film revolving around the character.
Alas, the trifecta of shorts that came after this are quite uneven. While all of them are animated beautifully in what I would dub the DC Animation house style, which mixes traditional American animation with Japanese anima influences, the Adam Strange and Phantom Stranger shorts didn’t do a thing for me. Thankfully, though, it seems the best was saved for last, as they say. Neil Gaiman‘s Death character from Sandman is brought to life in an exquisite and moving screen adaption. One which simultaneously left me feeling melancholy while wanting to Sandman expand into a full animated series.
This DC Showcase is not a bad way to spend 95-minutes. However, I can’t help but think that fans/viewers (myself included) will feel ripped off by Batman: Death in the Family, no matter what format in which they watch the movie. I hate to say it because I enjoyed most of these shorts, but this release is nothing more than a quick money grab in a time where every industry’s attempting to stay afloat. It’s the animated equivalent of buying what you think is a graphic novel covering arch and cracking it open to find an omnibus of first issues.
The Interactive Version of Batman: Death in the Family is Available Exclusively on Blu-Ray & DVD
The version I reviewed above is available digitally too.