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Batman: Under the Red Hood DVD

By Mark Clapham on 21 October 2010

Last time I looked at the DCU Animated Movie line, the range was just finding its feet. In the last couple of years Bruce Timm et al have refined their approach, offering straight to DVD movies for the fan market that are a mixture of introductory/origin stories (‘Green Lantern: First Flight’, ‘Wonder Woman’), original material loosely inspired by various comic book stories (‘Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths’) and relatively faithful adaptations of popular story arcs from recent DC Comics (the two ‘Superman/Batman’ films taken from Jeph Loeb’s run on that title).

‘Batman: Under the Red Hood’ falls into the latter category. Apparently comic book writer Judd Winick wrote a screenplay based on his ‘Under the Hood’ arc in the main ‘Batman’ title on-spec, and the producers were so impressed they chose to run with it. It’s been released in the UK as an HMV/Fopp exclusive, ostensibly as part of DC’s 75th Anniversary, which will apparently see other previously Region-1-only material getting a Region 2 outing.

Adaptation is a funny business: it doesn’t necessarily require great source material to create a great movie, and sometimes the long shadow of a story’s earlier incarnation can be a positive disadvantage, making any adaptation seem pointless and an unnecessary deviation from a perfectly good original.

No fear of a ‘Watchmen’-length shadow being cast here: ‘Under the Hood’ was a perfectly fine Batman story as a comic, but it’s hardly a sacred text of the medium. The comic book story was also kind of contentious, tying into a lot of unwieldy continuity and other, controversial stories. The shadow of a big fake-out in the ‘Hush’ storyline, the phone vote as to whether the second Robin would live or die, the notorious ‘Superboy punches holes in continuity’ element of ‘Infinite Crisis’… all these strands made it hard for Winick’s reintroduction of the Red Hood to stand alone.

Winick has used the adaptation process as a chance to cut away these continuity links, and to tie those loose threads together into a more satisfying and self-contained story. The simplest of these is revealed in the opening moments of the film – by creating an alliance between Ra’s Al Ghul and the Joker, Winick reshapes the end of ‘Death in the Family’ into a pre-title sequence to ‘Under the Red Hood’, smoothing the two stories together into a satisfying whole.

This is, thankfully, not as ruthlessly pared down an adaptation as ‘Superman: Doomsday’, which restricted itself to a very simple version of Superman continuity. Multiple Robins are vital to the plot here, so we get Nightwing, and there are also such Nolan-unfriendly DCU elements as power-armour and Amazo: the rest of the Justice League may not turn up, but that doesn’t mean that wider superhero world isn’t there. There’s the odd clunky bit of exposition – two crooks discussing the fact that Nightwing used to be Robin is a notably poor bit of scripting – but in general a great deal of Bat-history is conveyed very well, with flashbacks incorporated into the action.

Action is a strong point of the film, dynamic with a certain bone-crunching quality that sets this apart from any broadcast ‘Batman’ cartoon, while also having a fluid freedom that would be impossible in live action.  The animation quality is very high, and the character designs are good, if not exceptionally distinctive – these are very much the standard-template Bat-characters from the recent comics.

The voice cast are all good, although as usual with these things the celebrity voices bring very little to the party that a less full-time voiceover actor wouldn’t. Bruce Greenwood is good as Batman, but he’s the same not-quite-Kevin-Conroy we’ve had from every other Batman in the range, while Jensen Ackles could be anyone as the Red Hood. Exception to the rule here is John DiMaggio (best known for playing Bender on ‘Futurama’), who provides a deeper-voiced, more grizzled Joker than we’re used to, an interesting approach to the part.

‘Under the Red Hood’ manages the surprising feat of taking a comic book story mired in sprawling continuity and turning it into a highly enjoyable, accessible action thriller, and as such should play well with both fans who want a superheroic Batman in a wider DC universe, and general viewers looking for a good, self-contained action movie with Batman in it.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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