By: Bob Marshall:
Since the release of Superman: Doomsday back in September 2007 DC Universe fans have been lucky enough to get 2 or 3 animated movies a year from the minds of some of the most talented writers, the superb voice work from some exceptional actors and great artwork from the most talented artists etc. Now with the 16th DCU animated film to hit, I feel the time is right to look at the best and worst of the DCU animated line-up. But instead of only looking at which film was the best, I’m going to look at which film had the best designs & overall look, which film had the best voice cast or individual cast member, who stood out from the rest and much more. So like Superman, lets fly faster than a speeding bullet and get to the first shall we say award:
*** warning this article does contain spoilers ***
Best Character Designs/Overall Look
There have been so many exceptional character designs and background templates etc but the one that had the best for me was Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam. Unfortunately this film was only a 25 minute short but maybe that’s why the character designs were so good.
It had a very anime look to the character designs and a very pale looking tone. Superman especially looks better here than ever before. He’s not overly bulky like in other features or too thin in the legs with a short cape, he has a leaner look but still muscular, he’s very tall and has a long flowing cape. Captain Marvels design is also very good; he has a child like face and a more sticky build that suits the character. Black Adam is very bulky and has very pointy ears like a Vulcan (I’m not a Trekkie so I could be off there) that makes him look more evil and menacing. All the designs were perfect be it the ones I’ve mentioned, the wizard Shazam and Billy Batson.
The backgrounds were beautiful especially when the characters were in flight over the City. The film had a very real world look that I loved. I think the pale tone of the film really added to that. Honestly I don’t think any of the animated films before or since have looked as beautiful as this one.
Worst Character Designs/Overall Look
I feel really bad listing this here as its one of the best animated films DCU have done but Superman vs. the Elite had some of the worst character designs I have ever seen. Now the DC Animated Universe (Timmverse to us geeks) that consisted of Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond and Justice League (Unlimited) animated series never had the greatest designs but that can be forgiven because they never had the biggest budgets, but for these animated films we know they had a greater budget and the designs in this film look worse than the lower budgeted animated shows. Now whilst Superman/Shazam gave us a great looking Superman, this film gave us the exact opposite he looks like a character from American Dad or Family Guy with that massive jaw and weirdly shaped body and I just didn’t think that was good enough. Other character designs like Manchester Black & Cold Cast to name a few just look too cartoony. The backgrounds mostly look fine but there are some shots where some of them look like something from a child’s cartoon. To be honest it’s mostly the character designs that let this one down purple lips for Manchester Black? I mean come on now. Luckily though, the film is good enough to make you forget how poor some if the characters look.
Best Voice Actor
This was a real tough choice and it got down to three in my mind, James Woods as Owlman (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths), Jensen Ackles as Red Hood (Batman: Under the Red Hood) and Mark Valley as Superman (The Dark Knight Returns part 2). But after careful consideration I went for James Woods as Owlman. He totally blew me away with his performance and was the saving grace of an unbalanced movie. After hearing him on Family Guy playing an outrageous version of himself, I wondered if he could get serious for an animated film and he did. I loved how he voiced the character, at first in the film he was quiet saying very little and seemed almost a background character but by the films end when it’s revealed how sinister he really is you see the scope of Woods amazing portrayal.
Worst Voice Actor
Again in my mind I had a little shortlist, I was never very keen on Adam Baldwin as Superman in Superman: Doomsday he just didn’t really sound like Superman to me, but over time I actually didn’t mind it as much. Another voice actor I didn’t care for was Andre Braugher as Darkseid in
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse he sounded more like Mongul to me but I think my main dislike for him was that he wasn’t Michael Ironside, so I felt it unfair to say he gave the worst performance.
The person whose voice I disliked most was another Baldwin (but no relation to Adam), that would be Billy Baldwin as Batman in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. I’ve heard people say before he was what a serious Adam West Batman would sound like but I don’t buy into that. He had no aggression in his voice at times when it was needed, it was like he tried to play it as too cool for school but he just came across sounding like he was bored with everything. So sorry Billy, but this razzie is yours.
This was a hard choice as I think most of the films didn’t have great endings, not that they were bad but they mostly weren’t as good as the overall film. Three endings really stood out: Batman’s epic confrontation with Owlman at the end of Justice League Crisis on Two Earths, Batman vs. Superman followed by a twist ending in the Dark Knight Returns Part 2 and Superman vs. the Elite in the film of the same name.
Whilst all three are great I decided not to go with Batman vs Owlman due to the fact that the title was Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, because in a team up film I feel the team should save the day not just one man. The other two are on par but with me giving this some stick for its poor character designs earlier I have to go with the ending of Superman vs. the Elite. The tension in the film builds and builds to this point and when Superman seems to have crossed a line you never thought he would, it hits you with a twist. Maybe a slightly expected twist but George Newberns finest performance as the Man of Steel really does convince you that Supes has finally lost his cool. Just an epic ending.
This was a really tough choice as I don’t feel any of the animated films endings are necessarily bad. However, the ending to Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is quite weak, the film has a perfect ending on the fiery pits of Apokolips where Superman has taken out Kara in order to bring her back home and Batman has played Darkseid by basically threatening to destroy Apokolips. So when Clark takes Kara to the Kent farm you’re led to believe we’ll have a nice ending. But Darkseid arrives and takes out Superman very quickly, so then Kara manages to hold her own against him even though he just took out her vastly more powerful cousin. Then she gets taken out and Superman returns to lay a brief butt kicking to Darkseid, Kara is then revealed as Supergirl, which was nice but it doesn’t make up for the fight on the Kent farm. I know the ending was similar to the book but I don’t remember Superman being out of the fight for so long. I guess it just bugs me that this ending drags the film out as it’s pretty unnecessary I mean couldn’t they have had that fight on Apokolips? Anyway rant over let’s move on.
There have been some magnificent scores but the best by far has to be Batman: The
Dark Knight Returns Part 1. It had a 80s vibe, that kind of reminded me of The Terminator but I expected nothing else of Christopher Drake, all his scores have been top notch. His All Star Superman score is a very close second.
I don’t think there is one, I’ve liked them all.
This was down to two and they have similar formula short stories in the form of a movie. Of course I’m talking about Batman: Gotham Knight and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. Neither film is awful but I do feel the formulas didn’t work for these two particularly well. I would say Emerald Knights was slightly better but Gotham Knight didn’t work for many reasons. I think the differences in style for each segment really put me off and I hate to say this but casting Kevin Conroy for this was a bad idea. While he is (and always will be) the definitive voice for Batman this was a Batman that should have sounded more like the Christian Bale as this films style tied into Nolan’s Batman. I also think that the films pace was quite slow but I know this is the case for a lot of anime. So all in all I don’t dislike it, but I don’t like it very much either.
I know I’ve switched my best and worst around for the finale but I wanted to end on a high. Without a doubt I think The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 has to be the best, it just has it all. I also (controversially) think it’s better than the source material which is rare for these films but that’s just me. I didn’t care for the way Superman was portrayed in the book, yet in the film he comes off a lot better, less a government lackey and more a servant for mankind. The intensity of this film is incredible and the film is simply relentless. This film (and its predecessor) really has set the bar high for future releases. Let’s hope Superman: Unbound is just as good.
As a huge DC Comics fan I feel very fortunate that we get these films every year. They really are like little bonuses and I love that each film is (usually) its own self contained story. I’m actually really looking forward to future releases not just being straight up adaptations (although I’m sure they’ll still do some). Here’s hoping the next lot are as good as the ones we’ve gotten so far and long may they continue.