DC Animated Movies: Batman: Mask of The Phantasm

So, with movie season in my rear view, I wanted to do something to keep some structure to this thing and make myself update once a week. Since most TV shows are going on their winter hiatuses over the next few weeks, I’m going to have free watching times. Now, I could use this time to finally watch Breaking Bad. (I don’t WANNA. It seriously feels like an assignment at this point.) But instead, I’m going to watch ALL of the DC Animated Movies.

I’m using the list provided by Wikipedia. Also, they have to have been conceived and originally released as full films, so, no Batman/Superman Movie, because that’s technically 3 episodes of Superman: The Animated Series. (I’ll probably watch it anyway. But I’ve pretty much written ad nausiem about it.) And I’m debating whether the shorts count. (I do love some of them, and might take it as a chance to watch them again.) Also, I’m going in release order, which means that there may be some gaps as I try to track some of them down.

But let’s start with Batman: Mask of The Phantasm

YEAAAHHHHH!!!!

YEAAAHHHHH!!!!

I watched this movie for the first time during the initial Bat-Binge last summer. I don’t know how I missed it before that, and I actually may have watched it in childhood, given my brother and my insatiable thirst for Saturday morning cartoons, it seems unlikely that we didn’t. But I have no memory of it before last year.

It’s actually a fairly complicated film, moving, emotional and quite scary. And it was nominated for all kinds of awards in animation the same year that The Lion King came out, so there’s that. It focus on two interconnected but separate times in Bruce Wayne’s life, and they link up via his love for woman named Andrea Beaumont.

Andrea herself is actually tied as my second favorite Bruce Wayne love interest in the AU. She’ll never beat Selina (NO ONE EVER WILL!)  but she’s on even footing with Zatanna. Also she’s voiced by Dana Delaney, who later voiced Lois Lane, who is number 4. (Talia gets the 3 spot, then Diana, then Barbara. I hate Bruce/Diana, but it’s less icky than Bruce/Barbara, but we’ll get there.) She’s a well drawn tragic character and her apparent death packs a punch. (She didn’t die, according to the Justice League Unlimited Episode “Epilogue” she’s eventually hired by Amanda Waller to kill Terry McGinnis’s parents.) And her return to Gotham strikes a haunting chord when she becomes a dark mirror version of Batman called The Phantasm who’s willing to kill for her vengeance. It’s not the first time (or the last) that the distinction between vengeance and justice is made in a Batman story, but it deals with what Alfred calls, “the abyss” in a more clear way than Rachel Dawes taking Bruce’s gun and slapping him in the face in Batman Begins. Last week I read Chris Sims from Comics Alliance’s list of the top 10 B:TAS episodes. He kept talking about how clear the show always was. I’d never thought of that adjective but it’s absolutely the best descriptor. Rather than circumvent and postulate, like my two other favorite Batman writers, Christopher Nolan and Grant Morrison, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini get to the point and then have Batman punch the point in the face. It just so happens that in Phantasm, the point is Bruce Wayne’s ex girlfriend.

The Joker is also there, but I’ve never felt like his part in the story was terribly organic. Mark Hamill’s Joker is still one of the greatest creations ever, so it’s worth it. He’s more terrifying here than in probably any other appearance besides Return of The Joker, and there’s a scene where he acts like a robot is his wife that reminds me so much of his wedding to a skeleton in Batman and Robin Must Die, that I got all tingly.

Which brings us to the biggie. Obviously Kevin Conroy’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is the best in the world. He owns this character. I’ve talked one time about the coolest thing being he has 3 voices, the public Bruce Wayne Voice, The Batman Voice and the people who know Bruce is Batman voice, which really only gets used with Dick, Alfred and later Barbara and Tim. Once he’s old and with Terry, he’s pretty much given up on Public Bruce Voice and just uses the Batman voice. But in Phantasm, there’s a fourth, which is Young Bruce. It’s similar to public Bruce but a good deal more earnest.

Aside from the great performances, it’s remarkable how like modern superhero movies Phantasm feels. The dark tone would be at home in any of Nolan’s stories, as would the flashbacks and the lack of glory in Bruce’s transformation into Batman. The “Gotham World’s Fair” scenes seem identical to the Stark Expo and World’s Fair portions of Iron Man 2 and Captain America. It has more in common with the cinematic superhero fare of the past ten years than the decade it came from. Which is probably why it under-performed. There was no context for this kind of movie in 1993. It was all Christopher Reeve in pajamas and Tim Burton kookiness back then.

I didn’t cry this time, which is surprising, because Phantasm usually makes me cry. My mom did bring laundry into my room right as The Joker let out a laugh though and that made me jump out of my skin. So there’s that.

Up Next: Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero, which as I recall is less about Batman or Mr. Freeze and more about Dick doing something right for a change. (I think it goes without saying that I love this one.)

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