For the past six years, Warner Premiere have been producing a steady stream of direct-to-video animated movies, featuring heroes of the DC Universe. Seventeen in all, to date. Building upon the firm foundations set by the Batman, Superman and Justice League Unlimited animated T.V. series, these films have made clear efforts to glean classic tales from actual comic books, either partially or wholeheartedly. These have been met with varying degrees of critical and commercial success.
It’s apparent that today, the direct-to-DVD market is not quite the cash cow it was perceived to be in 2007. Yet, the sales figures are not synonymous with the quality of output. My top six are by no means the best-sellers. Perhaps they’re not even the most critically acclaimed. I would say however, the standards of storytelling that have been achieved across the board enable DC Comics to claim this channel as one they truly own.
Before we boom-tube into the countdown, I must confess my guilty pleasure that didn’t quite make the cut: Superman vs. The Elite (2012). It has the most rip-roaringly hilarious portrayal of an Englishman,(and a northerner at that), since the mockney-isations of Dick van Dyke Esq. What’s more, this feat is upstaged in the same movie by the sheer joy of hearing Superman uttering a certain characteristically English swear-word. I cried with laughter for at least a week. Thank you, Joe Kelly!
6. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
This feature is based on Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness‘ original comic-book arc from Superman/Batman #1 – #6. The plot is that President Lex Luthor has declared this World’s Finest pair to be dangerous criminals. They are immediately fugitives on the run from the authorities and their ex-colleagues, whilst being hunted by the underworld fraternity keen on claiming their substantial bounties. Not only is this a solid interpretation of Loeb’s script, the effort made to emulate McGuinness’ art style is inspired and effective. This is a sleek adaptation that concentrates on delivering pace and action aplenty. It’s noteworthy that voice-actor stalwarts, Tim Daly (Superman) and Kevin Conroy (Batman) reprised their animated TV series roles in this production and the film is all the better for it. It’s also a fine example of how best to respect source material, without being a slave to it.
This feature goes on my list for being true to this character’s heritage, rather than being a primary coloured spandex-fest. Diana, Princess of Themyscira is an Amazon. The Amazons are warriors. First and foremost this presentation doesn’t let you ever forget that. Whilst not ridiculously bloodthirsty, there is much violence and the delivery is relatively mature. Essentially, it’s a retelling of Wonder Woman’s origin, including her initial encounters with Col. Steve Trevor, played with notable zest by fan-favourite Nathan Fillion. So, yes, there are admirable doses of fun, too. Their principal nemesis, the war-god, Ares, is also finely realised by Alfred Molina.
This film is a streamlined adaptation of the Flashpoint comic book mini-series of 2010. The Flash wakes up in a world that is a dark mirror to his own. Emperor Aquaman and Princess Diana are at loggerheads, fighting a global war. Bruce Wayne was gunned down as a child; still, there is a Dark Knight: Thomas Wayne, who doesn’t object to dropping criminals to their deaths or having a hip-flask in his utility belt. The anime-inspired visuals are vividly rendered, displaying levels of violence and bloodshed that I’d suggest are rather grown-up. This is perhaps the darkest interpretation of the DCU to date, but one can’t deny the drama. Or the entertainment.