Written by Fantasma el Rey
The Batman vs. Dracula and The Batman/Superman Movie are previously released gems now available together for the first time. They are from different television series with very different animation styles, and each has a different feel but both are equally well done. The dual-sided DVD actually presents them in reverse of the advertised billing, which makes sense because that is the way they were originally aired and released.
TBSM aired first in 1997 as a three-part episode entitled “World’s Finest” (a nod to the comic books) from Superman: The Animated Series which followed the classic Batman: The Animated Series, known for its dark, art deco style (dubbed “dark deco” by the animators) and adult appeal. Superman: TAS features much of the same crew from the Batman: TAS. Here, we have a new take on the heroes’ first get-together, making for great fun as they are almost literally different as day and night. Not only do they clash as costumed crime-fighters but also in their personnel lifestyles with the quiet, low-key Clark Kent (Tim Daly) versus the millionaire, international playboy, and businessman Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy).
As the initial animosity gets set aside and both use their skills/powers to figure out the secret identity of the other (very clever as Superman uses X-ray vision and Batman bugs Superman and follows him back to his apartment), the story gets rolling when we find out why the Bat has come to Metropolis. The Joker, short on funds, and his sidekick Harley Quinn plan to make a deal with Lex Luthor to kill his nemesis Superman. Yet, as always, the Dark Knight is not far behind and the two heroes team up to stop the mad threat of the insane Joker, backed by Lex’s latest robot monsters. More fun ensues as Lois Lane falls for the smooth charms of the mysterious Gothamite, Wayne.
Not a bad little film, running barely over an hour. With help from the voice work of Dana Delany (Lois Lane), Mark Hamill (Joker), Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor) and even Efrem Zimbalist Jr (Alfred), the story moves along well and holds the attention of all ages. Special features for TBSM include The Joker’s challenge game as the viewer is taken you through the movie’s highlights looking for clues, a “get the picture” segment showing how to draw both superheroes, and a quick conversation with producer Bruce Timm.
The Batman vs. Dracula takes a different turn in its animation and overall darkness, playing more like a feature-length chiller than part of a cartoon series. Released in 2005 as a direct-to-video DVD during the third season of The Batman, this 84-minute thrill ride is a dark pleasure to view at a late hour of the night with the lights turned low. Yes, it’s that creepy. The characters are much darker as well. Batman appears younger yet more brooding; Joker seriously insane and wild, far more than just his out-of-control hair and ragged appearance, which is a change from the more polished villain we’re used to seeing; and Penguin, the dark, not-so-fortunate opposite of Bruce Wayne.
Speaking of Bruce, for this series the production team decided to change up the dashing, handsome Bruce a bit and gave him a boxer’s flat nose that appears to have been broken a few times, which makes total sense as the young Bruce learning to fight and handle himself would have been beat to hell more than once.
And so the story goes that somehow Dracula (Peter Stormare) was brought to a Gotham cemetery where he would be far away from his native soil and in a place that no one would find him. Oops. After learning of a hidden fortune stashed in the cemetery, both Penguin (Tom Kenny) and Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson) manage to escape the confines of Arkham Asylum and make a run at the treasure. Joker gets sidetracked by The Batman (Rino Romano) while Penguin manages to stir up the undead granddaddy of all super villains and creatures of the night, the one and only Dracula. As he regains full strength Dracula begins to build an army of darkness to do his bidding, an army that now numbers Penguin and a vampire Joker among its ranks. Vampire Joker is much more scary and creepy as he now has super-strength and a Renfro-like lunacy and passion for blood.
True to previous Dracula tales, the Prince of Darkness walks and mingles among the city’s well-to-do citizens and in Gotham that includes Mr. Wayne. Once introduced to “Dr. Alucard,” who makes a great entrance via mist, Bruce begins to sense there is more to this cape-clad doctor than a mere air of darkness and that he may be connected to the rash of disappearances troubling the city. Now the hunt is on, not only to find a way to stop this super-beast but to cure those that he has turned into his servants which now include two of Batman’s greatest foes. As the two rulers of the night face off, they not only run through the streets of Gotham but the caves and catacombs that link together under the city, providing even more darkness and classic horror movie atmosphere.
Extras include closer looks at the voice work, a “science vs. superstition” featurette examining the fact and fiction of the Dracula legend and a “City of Knight” interactive map of Gotham that reveals making-of segments.
Both movies are entertaining and well done, the latter being darker and in some ways not so much intended for younger children. Each provided different takes on the Dark Knight and his world of villains and allies. The two styles of animation are great tributes to the comic book artists that created, envisioned, and painted Batman in many different ways through the years, from wearing blue to black to donning long ears and an extra-long flowing cape to short ears and bigger eyes and from square chin to a boxer’s nose. They all present wonderful portraits of a lasting and iconic figure of the American night and imagination.