REVIEW: Son of Batman
Way back in the 1970s, there was a fun little one-off story by Denny O’Neil where Batman was pitted once more against Ra’s al Ghul, but the unique element was that he was drugged and by the time he woke up, he had been married to Ra’s’ daughter Talia according to their customs. The Detective, as Ra’s called his son-in-law wanted to make his daughter happy but also entice the man to father an heir. By story’s end, it was clear Batman wasn’t interested and ignored the betrothal, which never really came up again.
In 1989, DC published its first original graphic novel featuring its heroes and here, Son of the Demon, saw the romance between Batman and Talia result in a night of passion which resulted, unknown to him, in a son, who were last saw left for others to care for. The comic books never acknowledged this turn of events and O’Neil, then editing the Batman line, let his writers pick up on this juicy thread.
It wasn’t until Grant Morrison came along and was given carte blanche to incorporate every Batman story ever told into his crazed mythos that positioned the Dark Knight for a new century. Talia was there at the outset of his stories so Morrison was planting seeds that resulted in the stunning arrival of ten year old Damian, his son. The story arc was interesting to read since this was a kid trained in everything and was apparently a genius at it all along with his self-entitled, obnoxious attitude, making him a far cry from the well-behaved parents (Talia by training, Bruce Wayne through love).
That initial story arc has been adapted by Warner Animation in the just-released Son of Batman animated feature that veers wildly and not entirely successfully from the source material. Despite the preceding film, Justice League: War being the first in a new internal continuity series of films, using the New 52 model, this one already is set beyond that world. We open with an extended look at Ra’s (Giancarlo Esposito) League of Assassins under attack from overwhelming forces resulting in his death just inches from the Lazarus Pit that revived him so many times before. Talia (Morena Baccarin) is left to spirit Damian way and bring him to Gotham City for a long overdue meeting with his father (Jason O’Mara).
Comic veteran James Robinson provided the story which was turned into a script by Joe R. Lansdale, solid choices that raised expectations only to be handed disappointment. They chose to graft Deathstroke into the story, making him the force behind the attack. As luck would have it, the next phase of the plan involved kidnapping scientist Kirk Langstrom with his unproven Man-Bat formula and then turning Deathstroke’s minions into the army of Man-Bats as cleverly introduced by Morrison in the comics.
While that’s going on, Bruce is struggling with the existence of his son. The movie’s best lines go to Alfred (David McCallum) who is delighted to have the acerbic, annoying Master Damian now underfoot. Of course, after mocking the Robin outfit, he accompanies Batman on the case leading to an all-too-brief encounter with Commissioner Gordon (Bruce Thomas). And just when he’s needed, Nightwing (Sean Maher), Damian’s predecessor (the film skips any mention of Jason Todd or Tim Drake) turns up. Here is where more should have been done between rival “sons” and how Bruce interacts with them, but the film hurries thigns along to get back to the action. At least they pause to have one poignant conversation between Damian’s parents which helps emotionally center the story.
One of the film’s faults is shared with the inspirational comics in that a ten year old’s skills cannot rival adults’ simply through size and the fact that Damian is still growing and learning. He should not be a rival to Batman, or even Nightwing, but still learning. His impetuousness and smart mouth are the only things that feel right with him.
The final fight with the Man-Bat army is over-long and the number of recruits impossibly large so is unconvincing.
Phil Bourassa’s character designs are good although he veers toward too-many people with pointy chins including Damian’s parents so Damian’s round-faced look makes little sense. His figures, notably Deathstroke, are too bulky and appear to have elongated torsos that look wrong. And I wish he captured Talia’s Middle Eastern exotic look that Neal Adams established and was reinforced by other artists including Jerry Bingham. Instead, she’s a generic-looking busty brunette. The budget-conscious animation also felt more limited than usual.
Overall, it’s entertaining if you buy Morrison’s take on Batman at all (I never did).
The 75-minute film is accompanied with some excellent bonus features. We start with “The Fan and the Demon Head: The League of Assassins” (10:00) with Morrison, historian Alan Kistler and others providing some context. “Strange Blood Ties: Damian Wayne” (15:00) looks at Ra’s, Talia, and Batman in the comics leading to Damian’s introduction. “Designing the Characters with Phil Bourassa” (10:00) is an interesting look at how the comic sources were adapted for the film’s specific look. Finally, there are episodes from the various television series including Batman Beyond’s “Out of the Past”; “The Knights of Tomorrow!” and “Sidekicks Assemble!” from Batman: The Brave and The Bold; and, finally “Showdown” from Batman The Animated Series. There is a sneak peek of the next offering, Batman: Assault on Arkham, featuring the Suicide Squad and based on the video game series not the New 52 animated universe.
The affordable combo pack comes with Blu-ray, DVD, and Ultraviolet copies.