It was one of the most controversial decisions in the history of comics. Back in September of 1988, DC Comics opened up a 24 hour vote where fans would decide the fate of Jason Todd, the second Robin in the famed Batman canon. By less than a 100 votes, fans decided that Batman would not make it in time to save Jason from the clutches of the Joker and thus complete the now legendary “A Death in the Family” story arc. Flash forward 20 years now (about four or five in the actual DC Universe) and DC decided to find a way to bring Jason back. Batman: Under the Red Hood is the story of how Batman’s greatest failure comes back to haunt him in ways he never could have imagined. More after the jump:
The comic story arc was originally written by Judd Winick and so it was only natural for DC Animation to approach Winick to rework his story into a screenplay. That was an easy decision. The difficult part was going to be having Winick actual trim down years of comic pages into something that could be told in a 75 minute movie.
There were some obvious reworks that needed to be had, like the summarization of 20 years of guilt on Batman’s part into a simple monologue in the Bat-Wing, but there were others that fans might come to question. Like the complete removal of Tim Drake as the third Robin and nothing more than a cryptic reference late in the movie to Barbara Gordon (the original Batgirl). Removing Tim Drake took away the great confrontations that the prodigal son Jason Todd had with the latest Boy Wonder and is something that fans would probably have liked to have seen.
Aside from this, many of the reworks were necessary to tell the story of the return of Jason Todd as efficiently as possible. There would have been no way to explain how the events of Infinite Crisis and Superboy Prime were what brought Jason back from the dead without making another new movie, so it was written off as being Ra’s Al Ghul and his Lazarus Pit. Also, to show every hit Jason did against the Black Mask as he began to move up in the underworld ranks would have taken an extra hour, so only showing a couple got the point across as well as moved the story along at a good pace. And for those out there who were not familiar with the “A Death in the Family” arc, there are plenty of flashbacks to fill in the remaining blanks of the Batman canon.
So, the story is about as true to the source material as it could be when being crammed into 75 minutes of animation, but what about the actual movie itself? I say it is absolutely brilliant. I still wish DC Animation would stop adapting raw source material and come up with some original stories again like in the Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond days, but for what it is, Batman: Under the Red Hood is a great telling of a landmark Batman story.
The animation is crisp and really jumps off the screen on Blu-Ray. For the most part, the voice acting is top of the line and although most Batman: The Animated Series fans would wish that Kevin Conroy was voicing the Dark Knight, Bruce Greenwood does an admirable job stepping into the role. Add in voice acting veteran John Dimaggio playing possibly the best Joker since Mark Hamill (a possible future replacement once Hamill permanently hangs up his acid spraying flower?) and Jensen Ackles wonderfully portraying the rage and raw emotion Jason Todd is always emitting, and almost everyone involved did a great job bringing these characters to life for this story. The only character portrayal I question was the Black Mask and how he was made out more to be a stereotypical Italian mafia boss instead of the criminal mastermind and psychopath who has come to haunt Batman time and again. I understand he was more of a plot device here to help set-up the final confrontation, but the character deserved more respect than what it was shown.
As always with these straight to Blu-Ray/DVD movies, there are plenty of bonus features to make the buy even more worthwhile and Batman: Under the Red Hood does not disappoint. Included on the disc are four episodes featuring Robin from Batman: The Animated Series, as well as two short documentaries detailing both the creation of the character of Robin and the infamous 1988 vote that sent Jason Todd to his doom. Throw in a preview of the next DC Animated feature, Batman/Superman Apocalypse, and a short bonus cartoon about Jonah Hex, based on a story by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, that is as brilliantly done as the main feature itself, and you have nearly three hours of bonus content that will make any DC Universe fanboy work a nice groove into their couch to watch this great package.
When all is said and done, any and every Batman fan will enjoy this portrayal of Jason Todd and his story as he has been reworked back into the DC Universe. Great action, superb voice acting, and tremendous storytelling make this a must have for fans of the Dark Knight.