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Batman: Bad Blood, though hardly the best release in WB Animation’s current line of DC Universe Original Movies, does hit its mark in terms of at least one of the new characters it introduces. The film’s treatment of Batwoman, a.k.a. Kate Kane, is as true to the character’s 2006 comic book origin as possible within the video line’s continuity, which should delight fans of the character and Batman comic fans in general.
Additionally, the feature delivers strong fight and action sequences, as well as bringing back other series regulars and allowing fan favorite “Firefly” alum Sean Maher to get some time in the spotlight, voice-acting Batman’s longest and most well-known ally, Dick Grayson/Nightwing, in a prominent role.
What’s it about?
While assisting Gotham City’s newest Bat symbol-sporting vigilante Batwoman (voiced by Yvonne Strahovski, “24: Live Another Day“, Mass Effect 2, 3) in clashing with some new super-powered baddies making noise in the city’s criminal underworld, the Caped Crusader (voiced once again by Jason O’Mara) goes missing. Weeks go by, with no word to Alfred, who does what he can to keep up appearances on the Bruce Wayne front. As crime in the city escalates without Batman on patrol, Alfred reaches out to Nightwing, making the case that Gotham needs a Batman sooner rather than later. Reluctantly, the one-time Boy Wonder steps up to the task he’d hoped never to have to undertake: putting on the cowl and succeeding his mentor, at least temporarily, as the Dark Knight.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the current Robin, Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan), learns of Batman’s disappearance while serving the monks at the monastery in the Himalayas to which he retreated at the end of Batman vs. Robin. Convinced that Gotham will need him in his father’s absence, he returns to the city just in time to help the “new” Batman wrap up his first night on the town in his new role. Damian insists that Dick is incapable of convincing anyone that he’s the real Batman without assistance and commits to helping, regardless of the fact that his help was not called for.
The new Dynamic Duo then set out to figure out what happened to Bruce, a mystery that leads them to ally with Batwoman, who was the last to see Batman alive. Together, the Bat “family” face off against a new foe calling himself “the Heretic” and the criminal mastermind behind him and the gang of super-villains seen at the start of the whole caper, who engineered Bruce’s disappearance as part of a much grander scheme. Along the way, the heroes are joined by another “bat” — Batwing, a.k.a. Luke Fox (Gaius Charles), son of Wayne Enterprises board chairman and engineering genius Lucius Fox (Ernie Hudson) — and find themselves pushed to their limits by a surprise enemy, one they never imagined they’d ever have to trade punches with: Batman himself.
All in the (Bat) Family
Batman: Bad Blood continues WB Animation’s marketing strategy of alternating Bat-centric titles with Justice League-centric ones, and remains firmly entrenched in the new Batman status quo first established in 2014’s Son of Batman. While that status quo doesn’t exactly match what the comic line established with “The New 52” a few years ago — no Tim Drake/Robin character, most prominently — it’s pretty close, so if you’re just coming to this series with this title and you know the comic continuity, you shouldn’t be too lost.
Stories focused on Dick Grayson reluctantly filling the role of Batman during a prolonged absence of Bruce Wayne are certainly nothing new to longtime Bat fans. It is a new story thread for this series, however, and it’s important to note for potential viewers that despite exclusive marketing from Best Buy that might lead you believe Batman: Bad Blood draws in some way from “Batman: Battle for the Cowl”, the 2009 comic story by Tony S. Daniel, that’s simply not the case.
That’s a good thing, for it allows this story of Nightwing taking that next step to feel far less forced than it might have otherwise. In previous appearances of Nightwing in Son of Batman and Batman vs. Robin, there have only been hints of the tension between Batman and his one-time ward that led to Grayson striking out on his own. Here, audiences get more about that, and just how Grayson feels about the unwanted legacy he’s forced to carry on. It’s also entertaining to watch Grayson as Batman paired with a Robin so highly dubious of his partner’s worth or worthiness, as Damian, while not nearly as obnoxious and combative as in the earlier releases, still considers himself the “true” heir of the Bat legacy.
The willingness of the creative team behind the DC Original Animated Films to introduce Batwoman into the “Bat Family” mix stands as strong evidence of their continuing commitment to more sophisticated and emotionally mature storytelling. The considerable amount of time spent in this release developing Kate Kane’s personality and backstory while not shying away at all from the character’s sexuality as established in the comic line — she’s openly gay, for those not in the know — represents more than just keeping fans of the character happy. It represents a faith in the emotional maturity of audiences potentially coming to the series for the first time.
That faith is validated in terms of how organically that character development unfolds within the context of the larger story in Batman: Bad Blood. The character’s quieter scenes with family, interacting with peers, and even a scene involving a potential romantic interest are all brought to life with sincerity and an emphasis on realism.
Batwoman is arguably one of the most interesting characters introduced in the Batman line in the past decade, not because of her sexuality, but because of her supporting cast, her reasons for putting on the costume, and how her methods and attitudes sometimes clash with Batman and his more well-known protegés. Thus, it’s not surprising that the choice was made to bring her in, from both a storytelling and marketing standpoint. What will be interesting is where they go with the character from here — screenwriter J.M. DeMatteis, director Jay Oliva, and actress Yvonne Strahovski have given Batwoman a strong start, so hopefully they follow up with prominent appearances in future releases, or perhaps even a title where she takes center stage.
… and Batwing, too!
Sadly, the same can’t be said about the treatment of the other new addition to the Bat-fold. The story elements drawing Luke Fox/Batwing into the plot feel precisely like contrivance, adding a convenient additional ally to bail the script out once it had written itself into a corner. It doesn’t help that the production utilizes the less interesting iteration of Batwing from the comic line — the original Batwing, as created by Grant Morrison and appearing in the first volume of “Batman, Incorporated” back in 2011, had a far more interesting backstory and reason for existence. Yes, incorporating David Zavimbe in a way faithful to his comic book origins would have been cumbersome for this film, but that’s just evidence to why the character shouldn’t have been here at all. Better to leave the introduction of Batwing, regardless of whether it is Zavimbe or Luke Fox, to a future “Batman, Inc.” feature release, where it could have been showcased, rather than getting the shorter end of the “new kid on the block” stick as it does here.
Oh, yeah — the action
As in the previous Bat-centric releases, the action in Batman: Bad Blood is capably choreographed and fun to watch, in particular the fight scenes. There’s one particular one-on-one during the film’s climax that’s not only well staged and animated, but also very capably conveys an emotional significance, as it takes one of the main emotional conflicts at the core of the film’s story and makes that conflict brutally physical. Is it the best in the line in terms of action-driven entertainment and thrills? No — that distinction, arguably, still belongs to Batman: Assault on Arkham. But it works, and the script even manages to get some humor worked in between the grunts and explosions:
Batwoman: “Nuns with M-60s and katanas?”
Batman: “That would make them ‘nunjas’.”
Oh, fine. This reviewer thought it was damn funny.
Batman: Bad Blood
Starring the voice talents of Jason O’Mara, Yvonne Strahovski, Morena Baccarin, Sean Maher, Gaius Charles, Ernie Hudson, and Stuart Allan. Directed by Jay Oliva.
Running Time: 72 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence throughout and some suggestive content.