Before going out to see The Dark Knight, I first sat down with Batman: Gotham Knight, a direct-to-DVD release that is meant to bridge the year between Batman Begins and TDK. How do these 6 anime shorts relate to the events of the new movie?
Warning: Includes spoilers.
Have I Got a Story for YouWe see different parts of the opening story through the eyes of four skaters' varied and skewed points of view. Batman might be a Lovecraftian shadow, a human bat or Iron Man, depending on their perceptions. It's perfectly fine, though we've seen it all before, most notably in the animated series (in Legends of the Dark Knight, which is even included in the DVD release). It does thematically serve a purpose however: These four different visions of the Batman and his world pave the way for the 5 more to come in the following shorts. It's a permission slip for Batman's lack of a coherent look in Gotham Knight.
Animation: Looks good, nice and edgy, creepy and original. I do find the pacing a bit slow though.
Connective Tissue: None really, though this introduction does conclusively place us in Nolan's version of Gotham City. Same look: Up top, it's deco, down below, it's a garbage dump.
Greg Rucka's story perhaps sets up elements from the film most of all and stands as another POV piece, this time that of the Gotham PD. The detectives get caught in a mob war, which plays out like a horror show, with minimal involvement from Batman.
Animation: Classic anime with big eyes, plenty of still shots, and hard-edged shadows. Again, the pacing seems to be on the slow side, but there are some nice moody moments.
Connective Tissue: Lots. The Waynecom satellite that makes the end of TDK possible is mentioned. Detective Ramirez, the Renée Montoya stand-in, is introduced. Why not Montoya? Well, I don't think DC approved of one of their heroes (she's the new Question) being polluted by charges of corruption. She's doesn't seem to be in anyone's pocket in Gotham Knight, but perhaps she gets bought later. Gordon is still a Lieutenant as per TDK, and heads the Major Crimes Unit. Crispus Allen got a lot of face time in Gotham Knight, so I was surprised not to see him in the movie. Maybe he quit the MCU after all.
As for Gotham's underbelly, the mob war that rages makes use the mobs brought together by Lau in TDK, in particular the Russian's and Maroni's (Eric Roberts' character appears, though in TDK, the Russian is replaced by the Chechen). Arkham is here updated to cover all of the Narrows, turning them into a prison island, which sets up the idea of having to ferry prisoners to and from there.
Batman tries a new force field idea to deflect bullets, but he discovers that ricochets are just too dangerous. It's an interesting study of just how far Batman is ready to go to protect himself and/or the city. Not at the risk of harming others. Against this, the mob war continues to heat up and Bruce Wayne investigates a corrupt land developer.
Animation: Bruce Wayne is real pretty. Batman's stylized armor is really cool. But again, the pace is rather slow.
Connective Tissue: Thematically, it prefigures the hard choices Bruce and Lucius make about spying on the city in TDK. Otherwise, it continues the Maroni/Russian story.
In Darkness Dwells
The action finally ramps up as Batman goes down to the sewers to fight Killer Croc and the Scarecrow and save a Cardinal put on a show trial. Though the story is rather straightforward, I'd have been a lot more amped up about Gotham Knight if the earlier shorts featured this level of action, though I do think the hallucinatory bits are rather tame and ordinary. It's funny that watching it the first time, at the end of Field Test when a gun slides into the sewers, I said "Well, they just went an armed Killer Croc", without knowing he was in this story. I always get odd looks from people I watch these things with. They think I'm psychic.
Animation: A lot more kinetic, which is how I like my anime. Croc's character design is disappointingly monstrous, but the Scarecrow looks really cool. Definitely one of the more expressionistic of the lot.
Connective Tissue: Sets up that the Scarecrow is still at large. Though the previous short had a quick gliding scene, this episode shows Batman definitely flying around the city, as well as how sharp his glove fangs can be. Both set up moments in TDK.
Working Through Pain
Probably my favorite of the shorts. Seeing more of Bruce Wayne's pre-Batman days is always interesting, but it's more than that. Though he learns to endure/ignore physical pain, he fails to learn Cassandra's actual lesson: that enduring pain means not reacting to it. He resorts to violence, the violence that spawned him and the resulting psychic pain he cannot ignore. The final metaphor of Batman, not being able to get out of a hole with his weapons full of discarded guns serves a dual purpose. It shows how his struggle is far from over, discarded weapons symbols of unsolved murders, and it's his inability to escape the cycle of violence. Thank you Brian Azzarello.
Animation: Gorgeous. A cleaner, softer style, and good use of computer effects to simulate the wind through the trees and the dripping blood.
Connective Tissue: None.
I love Deadshot. Possibly in all his iterations. The character here is a little more vain and cowardly than my beloved Suicide Squad version, but he's still a lot of fun, making his shots purposely harder than needed. It's also a meditation on the love of the gun. Even Batman respects its power, for after all, he was forged by it. I love Deadshot's defense: "I was just doing my job." Yeah, that'll fly in a court of law. Really cool action, and the culmination of the mob war storyline.
Animation: The hard shadows are back and the action attempts a Matrixy feel. Nice stuff, and pretty uncompromising in its violence (without going ultra-violent).
Connective Tissue: Killing off the mayor creates room for Mayor Mascara to get elected and start asking for changes at the D.A.'s office. Bruce Wayne's doubts are set up here and will play out in the film. I was really hoping TDK would show the bat-signal before it showed Batman, connecting Gotham Knight's last scene with he movie. And it did! If enough time passes in "Deadshot" for an impromptu election, then one wouldn't be wrong to imagine it ran back to back with The Dark Knight.
Overall, great to hear Kevin Conroy, the one true Batman, doing the voice again (I missed him in New Frontier), though I found the transition cards between shorts a bit awkward. Gotham Knight could have used a little more "connective tissue" itself. But in general, the best straight-to-DVD release from Warner's animation division yet.