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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Batman: Under The Red Hood



Batman: Under The Red Hood opens with a bizarre redo of one of the most famous and tragic moments in the history of Batman: The Joker beating Robin II (Jason Todd) to death with a crowbar and then exploding him, as depicted in the seminal "A Death in the Family" story. Bizarre, because suddenly Joker is murdering Robin in the Himalayas instead of Beirut in the comics, while Ra's Al-Ghul, who wasn't in the comics story, frets about it in his mountain stronghold. Five years later, the Red Hood, a new masked crimelord-slash-vigilante stalks the streets of Gotham. Batman and his first Robin Dick Grayson, now Nightwing, are on the case, and gradually uncover the identity of the Red Hood - gasp! - it's the late Jason Todd! (Resurrected via the Lazarus Pit by a penitent Ra's Al-Ghul.)

Under The Red Hood is steeped in Batlore both old school (Joker's origin as the Red Hood as depicted in the classic "The Killing Joke", flashbacks to how Batman meets Jason Todd and makes him Robin) and recent (Black Mask ruling the Gotham Underworld). The main plot starts off awkwardly; Batman and Nightwing randomly battle and defeat Amazo, the One Man Justice League, while the thugs they capture provide forehead-slapping exposition to the audience - "That's Nightwing! He was the first Robin!" Gradually, the plot thickens involving The Joker and Black Mask, who looks exactly like Captain America's arch enemy The Red Skull, only, you know, with a black mask. There's some nonsense involving Red Hood employing Black Mask's henchmen, then killing them, then robot ninjas coming after Red Hood until Batman shows up. Batman and Red Hood fight and fight and fight and fight and fight - sometimes together, sometimes against each other, sometimes Nightwing's there, then he's conveniently injured and sits the denouement out.

Jason Todd's convoluted master plan to reunite himself and his mentor Batman with The Joker doesn't make any sense and is riddled with plot holes galore. The biggest one was Joker and Red Hood falling into Gotham River while Batman, flying overhead in the Batwing, receives a voice mail from Red Hood: "I've got him! I'll meet you in Crime Alley!" Oh? And how did Jason Todd manage to drag the Joker from the middle of the river all the way to Crime Alley undetected? Later, the Red Hood unmasks himself to reveal he is Jason Todd, but beneath his mask, he's wearing his Robin mask. Let me get this straight: he's wearing a mask under his mask? Shoddy comic book plotting and dialogue by Judd Winnick aside (and you know it's Winnick because one character calls another a "brain donor") the morality play in the final showdown between Jason Todd and Batman was well done, with the Joker providing some funny commentary. (And luckily, Joker didn't overhear Red Hood calling Batman "Bruce".)

Under The Red Hood employs a more anime design than Batman: The Animated Series to great effect, especially with the chase sequences around Gotham. The voice acting was better than average for a DC Universe cartoon. Bruce Greenwood does a convincing job growling like the beloved voice of Batman Kevin Conroy. Jensen Ackles and Neil Patrick Harris are very good as Robin and Nightwing. The oddest was John DiMaggio as The Joker; hearing Bender's voice come out of Joker's red, smiling mouth took some getting used to. Under The Red Hood's story contained a few too many similarities to the rather excellent Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, which also involved the Joker and a traumatized Robin, but even if it's sort of the same Bat-tale, Under the Red Hood is overall a fine Bat-time.