Thursday, April 7, 2016

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Year 8, Day 98 - 4/7/16 - Movie #2,298

BEFORE: I've started the planning and paperwork for this year's San Diego Comic-Con - if you've never been to the "big show" at SDCC, it's kind of like the Super Bowl (minus the sports) swallowed the Oscars (minus the awards) and crapped out a costume party and a traffic jam.  It's NerdStock, GeekFest, Lolla-pa-Loser - yet when you get 125,000 geeks in one place, it sort of seems like they've taken over the entertainment world (which they have) and that the stuff we all talk about and are interested in is somewhat important.  (Like, who would win in a fight?  Batman or Superman?) 

But, as you might imagine, this sudden influx of people to the great city of San Diego causes a lot of problems - long lines in restaurants, lack of available hotel rooms.  But it also helps out the city a great deal, especially people who own restaurants and hotels.  The event brings thousands of people and millions of dollars to the city - so on behalf of geeks to the the people of San Diego, I say two things: "We're sorry" and "You're welcome."   

Last year, as I was in the S.D. airport, waiting for my plane back on the very busy travel day after Comic-Con, there was a flight attendant at the next gate trying to entertain a large crowd of passengers with a trivia quiz, so they could win free snacks to enjoy on the plane. "First question: What is Batman's real name?  That's right, it's Bruce Wayne!  You win!"  Umm, no, I thought, if this guy was up on his comic-book knowledge, he would have known that Bruce Wayne "died" several months before, and for the moment at least, Jim Gordon was subbing in for Batman.  

"Second question, what is Captain America's real name?  That's right, it's Steve Rogers!  You win!"  Again, I thought, this guy is behind the times, because Marvel had chosen to allow Steve Rogers to get really old, lose the super-soldier serum, and passed the costume and shield on to Sam Wilson, who was formerly known as the Falcon.  "Third question, what it Hulk's real name?"  I just had to put my face in my hands and try to ignore this quiz - because, which Hulk?  Green Hulk?  Red Hulk?  She-Hulk?  Rick Jones Hulk?  While we're at it, which Spider-Man?  Peter Parker, Miles Morales, Ben Reilly or Otto Octavius?  Marvel was doing a cross-time storyline where all the Spider-Mans (and Spider-Women) from all the different realities were teaming up.  

But I felt that it wasn't my place to try and correct this guy - he meant well, after all.  Plus he probably wouldn't have believed me, but the simple fact is that I knew much more about the subject at hand than he did - and these stories are constantly changing.  The comic-book writers will give a hero some time off, like they did years ago with Tony Stark as he battled alcoholism, then let James Rhodes take over as Iron Man, and then when they brought Tony back, they just turned Rhodes into War Machine, and boom, two heroes where there once was one.  That's another title on the shelf.  

To be continued in the next section.  Voice actor Fred Tatasciore carries over from "Batman: Year One".  

THE PLOT: Batman must go toe-to-toe with a mysterious vigilante who goes by the name of Red Hood.  Subsequently, old wounds reopen and old, once buried memories come into the light.

AFTER:  Which brings me to Robin, Batman's sidekick.  Or sidekicks, because there have been 5 Robins so far, more if you count the one seen in the future, or in alternate realities.  And DC's continuity over the years has been so complicated with universe-changing reboots like "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and "Flashpoint" that each character's history has become hopelessly convoluted. 

The first Robin aged out of the program and became an adult superhero, Nightwing.  The second Robin, Jason Todd, had an origin similar to the first one, being the child of circus acrobats, but then the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" happened, and reality changed - he became an orphaned street kid who tried to steal the tires from the Batmobile.  This is what's known as a "retcon", or retroactive continuity, when one writer changes the story that has come before, to suit his needs and create a different story moving forward.  

The problem with the new Jason Todd?  He was too "street", and kind of a dick. (And not the Dick Grayson kind of Dick.)  So, in a storyline titled "A Death in the Family", the next writer allowed him to be kidnapped and beaten up by the Joker, and let the fans decide via a 900-number whether Robin should live or die.  Fans chose death, Batman became moody (OK, moodier) and it was a few years before he took on the third Robin, Timothy Drake (who has since been retconned out of ever being Robin, but that's another story...).

Years later, it seemed like Jason Todd was alive again somehow, but it was really just Clayface pretending to be him to mess with Batman.  But then another reality-changing event in the DC universe caused two separate universes to merge (or something), and Jason was back for real, as the criminal, the Red Hood.  (The man who became the Joker was the first Red Hood, but that's also another story...)  It's a little unclear whether Jason just crossed over from another universe, or if reality was changed so that he never died in the first place, but it doesn't really matter, because that whole universe got retconned away by "Flashpoint" anyway.  

So if you watch the "Batman" movies and you're confused by continuity, welcome to my world.  Try reading the comic books if you really want to be thrown for a loop.  Every few months there's a new writer, who has no problem ignoring or throwing out the work of the previous writers, if that helps him to tell the story he wants to tell.  Hello, who's in charge here?  Isn't the book's editor supposed to be able to tell a writer what he can or can't do, for the sake of the confused fans?  I strongly suspect that no one's minding the store.

As for this film, since the scope of reality-bending or universe-collapsing was well outside the scope of this story, it needed to find another way to bring Jason Todd back from the dead, which it did rather neatly.  Turns out there's a popular Batman villain who resurrects himself and others on a fairly regular basis, so that worked quite well.  The people who write the comic books could learn a lesson in simple storytelling from the writers of this film.  From there, the motivations are quite simple - Jason Todd acts as a crime lord, taking over the territory of the Black Mask, in order to reach his ultimate goal of taking down the man who killed him, the Joker.  

And this puts Batman in a tight spot - facing off against his old partner, who wants to kill his greatest villain.  Batman could just do nothing and let the Red Hood kill the Joker, but that's not what Batman's about.  Batman tries to save everyone, and he doesn't kill - but that means he has to live with the fact that if he doesn't kill the Joker, he's partly responsible for everyone that the Joker kills in the future.  Apparently whatever state that Gotham City is in doesn't believe in capital punishment, because the Joker would certain qualify for that.  

Also starring the voices of Bruce Greenwood (last seen in "Flight"), Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris (last seen in "Gone Girl"), John DiMaggio (last heard in "Epic"), Jason Isaacs (last seen in "The Patriot"), Wade Williams, Gary Cole (last seen in "Tammy"), Kelly Hu (last seen in "The Scorpion King"), Phil LaMarr, Kevin Michael Richardson (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Jim Piddock, Carlos Alazraqui (last heard in "The Book of Life"), Bruce Timm.

RATING: 6 out of 10 crowbars

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