DC Universe Animated Original Movies: Pre-DC Animated Movie Universe

Superman: Doomsday

I liked this a lot better than the first time I saw it!! The first time I was way too turned off by what a radical departure it was from the source material, and especially found the BDSM-adjacent relationship between Lex and the Superman clone off-putting. This time I just found it pretty hilarious (and slightly hot if divorced from its context). The first DC animated original movie involved Superman getting smacked around like a little bitch while Lex said “who’s your daddy.” Wild.

I have my obvious boring complaints about how this movie paints cops and America in general as the good guys, and Superman killing a child murderer who was absolutely going to escape and kill again (he escaped prison twice in just this movie, and murdered a child!!) as a horrifyingly immoral act.

But yeah. It’s a superhero movie. It’s gonna have totally fucked morals. But it had some great Supes/Lois stuff, some great character stuff for Supes in general, and some great action.

What really got me this time around, though, was when Lois showed up on Martha Kent’s (why did you say that name–sorry) doorstep and they had a tense at first exchange but then Lois finally lost it and started sobbing about how everyone else was mourning him for what he was to everyone, but he was theirs in a way the world could never understand, and that only they could understand the loss each other was feeling.

So, uh, yeah. Superman: Doomsday is Good, Actually. Who knew.

(B-Rank)

Justice League: The New Frontier

Moment to moment I mostly enjoyed this while I was watching it but there just isn’t a lot to it, and there is a whole lot wrong with it. I did especially love Robin’s very brief appearance, and Batman asking him if he did his homework yet. The enemy here is… beyond underwhelming, but that’s okay I guess. The idea is for this to be more about the Justice League forming, especially since it’s a period piece so a lot of it is about moving the pieces around in that context.

… unfortunately, you already probably know where I’m going next. This is some serious American propaganda. Like, it goes out of its way to be propaganda. It plays a speech from President Kennedy over the ending montage for crying out loud. It portrays the U.S. as the good guys in the Korean War. Then for good measure it creates this ridiculously contrived scenario where Wonder Woman rescues a bunch of Vietnamese women from Viet Cong soldiers because yeah it was definitely the Viet Cong soldiers menacing the women of their own country, not the foreign invaders who came to enforce imperialism on them. Sure. Sure. That’s totally real.

Honestly this movie’s politics are so distractingly bad, and get brought up so frequently, that it makes it hard to just settle in and enjoy it. And whatever it might have going for it just isn’t nearly enough to make up for that. It’s not completely unwatchable or anything, but it’s definitely not one I’m ever gonna feel compelled to revisit outside of rewatching the whole series like I am now.

(C-Rank)

Batman: Gotham Knight

Have I Got a Story for You

Have I got a significantly worse version of The New Batman Adventures’ episode “Legends of the Dark Knight” for you. With the worst art style in the collection.

(C-Rank)

Crossfire

Mostly copaganda with a large side helping of shitting on neurodivergent people, but the art style is acceptable and the part where Batman stands in flames while basically opera music blares seriously rules.

(C-Rank)

Field Test

Kevin Conroy’s voice coming out of an anime twink they tried to vaguely make look like Christian Bale’s Bruce is weeeeeird. But the art style in this one is pretty good overall and it’s a very character-driven story, which is always a plus in Batman.

(B-Rank)

In Darkness Dwells

This one owns. Batman gets to rescue someone and take on Killer Croc and the Scarecrow.

(A-Rank)

Working Through Pain

There’s some psychobabble about how pain works that ranges from unhelpful to genuinely harmful, especially the bit about how you can control pain that comes from inside of you. YIKES. NOT how that works. But it’s another character-driven one, and it has some great music and that sunset scene is the most gorgeous thing in the entire anthology.

(B-Rank)

Deadshot

Say, whatever happened with Batman’s parents? Are they still around or?

(C-Rank)

Wonder Woman (2009)

I wasn’t the biggest fan of this the first time I saw it, and rewatching it did not change that.

Steve is again centered way too much, and it’s honestly kind of even worse than in the live-action film. And the gender politics are just all over the place, but mostly fall into either superficial white feminism or just totally regressive.

There’s also frankly some hella “yikes” stuff with the depictions of the Amazons themselves. Like Artemis bullying Alexa for her liking to read and not being the best fighter. And can someone please explain to me why Hippolyta is so dang thirsty for a nuclear family? And “the Amazons are warriors, but we are women too” is actually the worst way to phrase that, just, yikes.

There is some good stuff, though! Like Wonder Woman teaching that little girl how to swordfight. That ruled. And her just totally drinking Steve under the table.

But mostly my favorite part of the movie was the ending. And I just wish the entire movie had been Wonder Woman being a superhero, and Steve being a boywife, rather than us getting nothing but her origin story. I just want to see her being Wonder Woman. Is that so much to ask for?

(C-Rank)

Green Lantern: First Flight

Pretty solid by-the-numbers Green Lantern origin flick. Green Lanterns are close enough to space cops that it’s hard for me to be as uncritically enthusiastic about them as I used to be, but there is still quite a bit appeal to a diverse team like this with cool superhero uniforms IN SPACE, so yeah. And all the different color-coded Lanterns having different powers based on different emotions. It’s kinda brilliant, honestly. Well, it would be if it weren’t for the assigning of some emotions as “good” and others as “bad” but y’know.

(B-Rank)

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Batman and Superman are written like they’re just blatantly dating here. And once you see it it’s impossible to unsee it. Pretty much everything the movie does between them just escalates it.

Other than that, this is a kinda weird but pretty okay Batman/Superman movie. Not a whole lot to write home about, but I enjoyed it well enough.

(C-Rank)

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

(CW: Discusses kink.)

Honestly? I would’ve liked this a lot better if the evil counterparts of the Justice League hadn’t been literally just mobsters. Hearing that kind of stereotypical diction and seeing them organized that way was just weird. I would rather they had just talked and acted like supervillains. Just my take, though.

It was undeniably satisfying seeing Batman fight Owlman, Wonder Woman fight Superwoman, Superman fight Ultraman, etc, though. I mean, that’s what we all came to see, right?

I have mixed feelings about the subplot where these animated features give us the vital information that Bruce Timm is kinky. But seeing Batman get smacked around by Superwoman and having it be pretty explicit that she was a sexual sadist… really didn’t suck, honestly. And when Wonder Woman finally wrangles her and demands, “Submit.,” I got all subby and thirsty, so.

Ultraman was probably the most boring one of the big three’s counterparts. And he was also the one whose personality was the most just “he’s literally a mob boss.” So. Probably not a coincidence there.

Owlman being a philosophy-obsessed nihilist was brilliant. 10/10. Loved his overwrought arguments with Batman. Loved how much he resembled angsty Batman fans who think they’re smarter than everyone. Seriously, this was brilliant.

(B-Rank)

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Red Hood: *Rips off his mask.* IT’S ME, BATMAN!!!
Batman: Aw, son of a bitch.
Nightwing: WHAT???
Red Hood: IT’S ME, BATMAN!! IT WAS ME ALL ALONG, BATMAN!!
Batman: Damn, I can not believe him.
Red Hood: YOU ALL BOUGHT IT! YOU ALL BOUGHT IT, HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER! YOU ALL BOUGHT IT!1

(CW: Brief description of some Nightwing/Robin slashfic I wrote back in the day.)

So, yeah, this is the movie that really got me into the DC Animated Universe Original Movies. (Wow that’s a mouthful.) I had seen Superman: Doomsday while I was visiting an ex-metamour (and still dear friend), and I didn’t really love it (my recent rewatch left me with a more positive opinion, you may recall), and I didn’t really give these direct-to-video animated movies another thought for a while.

Then I pretty distinctly remember seeing a commercial for this. It was when I worked at Target, I worked in the music, movies, and books section, putting all the new release CDs/DVDs/books/etc on the shelf, and there was this TV that played a commercial loop that wasn’t updated very often but for once it came in handy. This movie looked pretty awesome from the commercial and I bought it on DVD as soon as it came out and yeah that was the right decision. After that I looked into the rest of the series and caught up and for a time I was catching all the new ones as soon as they came out.

The things working in this one’s favor are that I freaking love Robin, Nightwing, and villains who are either corrupted good guys or evil versions of good guys or whatever. I just always find those kinds of conflicts compelling thematically and because they’re so evenly matched. We also get three other major villains in Black Mask, the Joker, and Ra’s al Ghul, and a brief recap of A Death in the Family, so yeah there’s kind of a lot here. Plus Christopher Drake’s soundtracks always slap, and there are some fantastic action scenes.

And while Jason Todd isn’t my favorite Robin by any stretch of the imagination, I uh did write some embarrassing crackship slash fiction of him and Nightwing when I was a teenager so clearly I found him at least somewhat compelling. (For the record:  I wrote Jason as an extremely bratty power bottom and Dick as a very befuddled service top and this is objectively correct I will not be accepting feedback at this time.)

Anyway yeah this movie rules. There are parts of it that are emotionally difficult like Jason’s death and his tirade at Bruce for not killing the Joker after he killed him, which really drives the overall drama of the piece. And I feel a lot of empathy for everyone involved even Bruce even though he’s a dumbass and should kill the Joker for so many reasons, but especially for what he did to Jason. There’s just no coming back from that, and he’s shown time and time again that locking him up isn’t going to do shit, he’s just going to escape and murder more people again and again.

(A-Rank)

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

“I’ve been chased, […] kidnapped, beaten up, had my mind controlled […]”

I mean, I’m hella subby, so that just sounds like a really nice date to me.

It was pretty novel this early in the DC Animated Universe Original Movies line to get a direct sequel! In fact I think this might be the first one? So that was pretty cool! And there were a lot of moments that worked really well in isolation but it felt kind of like there were more moments that were infuriating in isolation, and on the whole it just doesn’t cohere as something nearly as good as Public Enemies. But after looking into it a bit, it looks like it was exceptionally faithful to the source material, so those issues were likely present in the original.

Also, Batman gets vored (briefly), and goth Kara can absolutely step on me.

(C-Rank)

All Star Superman

“The work doesn’t stop just because I’m dying.”

I have complaints.

The entire premise of Superman overdosing on sunlight just seems completely ridiculous. Not telling his mother he’s dying is reprehensible. There are probably a bunch of other things I nitpicked while we were watching, but none of them are as egregious as the prison riot scene.

Superman is visiting Lex Luthor in prison as Clark Kent to interview him. He saves his life several times. When a full blown prison riot breaks out, he rescues all the guards. And he lets basically all the prisoners except Lex die.

What good is a “hero” who defends the blunt instruments of our oppression at the expense of their most immediate victims? Of course, this is consistent with Kal-El’s paradoxical commitment to “truth, justice, and the American way.” How he can even begin to think he can square the former two with the latter is anyone’s guess.

It’s not all bad, though. What saves this is largely its willingness to be dorky. And how episodic it is. And the Big Question at its core.

How does a god deal with the news of his impending death?

I don’t want to die, nor do I particularly want to grow old. I have never felt particularly sympathetic to the argument that life’s brevity is what gives it meaning. I don’t have enough time in the day, in the week, in the month, in the year, in the decade, in my entire godsdamned life to get my fill of holding my partners close, of learning new things, of bettering myself. I could live a thousand years and never get enough of any of these things. I don’t want the curtain to come down. It isn’t the end that gives meaning. It’s the end that takes that meaning away. And I will never be ready.

The writer of this movie died a few days before it was released, you know. He was 49. What kind of cruel joke is that.

So what the fuck does a god do when he finds out he’s dying? That his functionally immortal life has been cut shorter than the average human’s? That a fucking god is going to die young?

That cruel joke actually did get me to buy in a little. And while I think they could have done a better job of dramatizing it, I really like where they decided to go with this. The stereotypical Superman Problem is that he’s too powerful, too invincible, too hard to relate to. That’s always been bullshit because his vulnerability has always been the entirely too squishy humans around him that he cares about so much. I heard about a Superman game where instead of having a health gage for yourself, you have one for the city of Metropolis, and even though the game was apparently not that great that concept is just fucking perfect.

But what this movie does is take the ultimate vulnerability, the news of his own impending death… and instead of using it to humanize him, he becomes even more intensely himself. He tries to finish as much of his work as he can, work that only he can do. Work that makes him as remote from us as he can possibly be.

I mean, fuck, his last act as his body is starting to convert to pure, brilliant energy (he doesn’t even die like the rest of us) is flying to the fucking sun to fix it by becoming one with it, easily his most herculean feat yet.

A god doesn’t become one of us just because he takes on our most defining vulnerability.

The work doesn’t stop just because he’s dying.

(B-Rank)

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights

“Once again, the diversity of the corps has proven to be its greatest asset.”

I liked this a lot better before I started paying attention to the specifics of some of the stories.

I mean, the Corps is basically space cops, so I’m kinda always gonna have mixed feelings. But I think this kind of structure is kind of the perfect way to do a Green Lantern movie. Having all these different stories starring different Lanterns plus a framing narrative that is itself a pretty big deal with several action setpieces. Yeah! This structure kinda rules.

As for the individual stories themselves? The first one is about the origins of the Corps and I genuinely enjoyed it and don’t have any huge complaints about it. Kilowag’s is pretty much Whiplash but with Green Lanterns instead of jazz drums. The absolutely upfront abuse apologism is just hard to stomach, and it’s frustrating because I really want to like Kilowag. Laira’s story was actually pretty great right up until its ending which is a totally unnecessary suicide. Mogo’s story rules and I have zero complaints about it. And Abin Sur’s story isn’t much to write home about but is fine.

Anyway, yeah. Even if the specific content of some of the stories infuriated me, I still really loved the structure of this, and really enjoy it as a whole. Again, I think this is kind of the perfect way to make a Green Lantern movie, and wouldn’t mind seeing something similar in the future.

(B-Rank)

Batman: Year One

I… liked this a lot better than I remembered liking it!! I remember thinking it was the usual crypto-fashy Frank Miller bullshit plus it was very gun-heavy, and while the latter was true, the former… kinda wasn’t???

Like, the whole movie is kind of Batman punching cops. And yeah, ok, it’s the “these are bad cops” bullshit (I remember there being some kind of throwaway line about Gotham’s PD just being extraordinarily corrupt)… but it’s still like almost 100% of the cops that are bad?

Even Jim Gordon’s “I’m gonna fix it from the inside!” kind of story was kind of good? Even though it’s been shown over and over again that that isn’t a thing and we need abolition… there was still plenty of stuff in this story line that I highly approved of. Like the commissioner dismissively telling him “you kept the media away from it, that’s all that matters” when Gordon references a past mistake, and when Gordon vows that he won’t have to worry about dishonesty from him, the commissioner says it’s “the last thing on his mind.” Which makes even more sense when we later see the commissioner dining with literal mob bosses.

Gordon’s primary antagonist is even the perfect representation of the worst kind of cop, a white guy who peaked in high school. Dude’s off duty uniform was a letter jacket for the gods’ sake.

The only real Frank Miller bullshit on display here was his misogyny. Well, ok, and also his usual weird depictions of masculinity (like Gordon randomly using the barbell in Harvey’s office in the middle of a formal conversation where they’re both dressed in suits???), but those are surely related.

As far as misogyny, there’s especially a lot with how sex workers are portrayed here that’s just… ick. But probably the most frustrating thing is when Gordon’s hypercompetent coworker Detective Essen looks like she’s gonna be a great supportive friend for him but they end up having an affair because of course they do. It’s just so frustrating.

Also, on a very petty/whiney note: this needed more Catwoman!!!

But, yeah! For the most part I actually kinda grooved on this movie! It was a pleasant surprise.

(C-Rank)

Justice League: Doom

Alright we’re gonna talk about science for a second.

Justice League: Doom actually has a pretty cathartic science moment where adorable himbo Superman earnestly suggests, “Maybe I could move the earth out of the way,” and his broody smart boyfriend Batman says, “If we had a week, I couldn’t list all the reasons that won’t work.” The thing is, this awesome moment comes in the middle of some laughably bad science even for a superhero movie.

Vandal Savage’s plan involves sending a missile to the sun that will cause a massive solar flare and it will *squints at notes* “follow the missile’s magnetic trail back to the earth.”

… sure. The thing is, I’m going to allow this. And while half of the planet wouldn’t be “fried” like he said, given that the magnetic field is still a thing, in a worst case scenario (which this would presumably be) a planet-wide electromagnetic pulse could basically send us back to the stone age in a blink of an eye, and that’s functionally just as destructive to human civilization as his (wrong) description of what would happen, so I’m even going to let that slide.

But apparently something I missed when he was giving his big villain speech (my boyfriend caught it) was that he said the solar flare would be traveling at the speed of light. I didn’t figure that out until later, when Superman remarked that they “had 8 minutes” before it hit the earth. Because the earth is 8 light minutes from the sun.

I… what??? No!!! That’s not how this works!!! That’s not how any of this works!!!

Do you know the technical term for a solar flare? It’s a coronal mass ejection. A key word there being mass, which cannot travel at the speed of light! And unless whatever bullshit magnetic force they were talking about earlier is stronger than solar wind (which is doubtful) it’s gonna take around 12 hours for it to get to earth. That’s still not much time, and you could still very much sell the sense of urgency that way! Or you could just not specify a time at all. Just… literally almost anything other than what they actually did.

*Deep breath.* Anyway. Horrifically misguided science dialogue aside, this is actually a pretty great movie! This version of the Legion of Doom is pretty awesome aside from Metallo and Mirror Master being kind of weird choices when Supes and Flash have much more iconic nemeses, and the overall idea of Batman’s contingency plans being used against the Justice League and them feeling betrayed is pretty great! Not to mention all the awesome fights we get. Batman vs. Bane, Wonder Woman vs. Cheetah, Green Lantern vs. Star Sapphire. Oh, and while we’re here, wow I’m gay for Cheetah, help.

And to top it all off we have the rise of Cyborg to become a member of the Justice League! Heck yeah.

There’s also some very nice character moments between the Justice League’s two daddies. (Sidenote: Diana is obviously the mommy, even if she basically never gets an equal share of the story.) When Flash asks if Batman thinks Superman will stop the missile from triggering the solar flare, Batman confidently answers, “He’ll stop it.” He’s so confident in and proud of his superpowered himbo!! And later, after Batman walks out on the Justice League’s vote about whether to expel him due to his breach of trust, Superman gives him a tiny box that looks a hell of a lot like it could have an engagement ring in it but instead it has the Kryptonite bullet Metallo used, because he wants somebody he can trust to have it.

Anyway, yeah! The movie has a few other flaws that aren’t super worth getting into, but on the whole I’m a pretty huge fan, and it’s one of my favorite movies in this run of DC direct to video features.

(A-Rank)

Superman vs. The Elite

“I’m not an idiot. I know there are bad men in power.”

Then maybe your can stop having your whole thing be “truth, justice, and The American Way“?

Someone who literally brags about having a Union Jack tattooed on his chest is probably not the right guy to call out U.S. imperialism. I mean, he’s right, but come on.

Also “I killed a guy who has escaped from supermax prison twice in the first half of this movie and murdered multiple bystanders in the process both times” being treated as equally horrifying as “I murdered the governments of two sovereign nations” is… a choice. Oh and while we’re here, how’s that Definitely Not Imperialism going for you, Mr. Union Jack full chest tat.

Superman’s position is full of shit too, though. The embodiment of “the American Way” is the one lecturing about checking for innocent bystanders and not torturing? Please.

Superman pretending he went off the deep end was pretty cool, tbh. And in a movie where I didn’t find both sides’ positions completely infuriating it might’ve been pretty cathartic.

… ok, it was still kinda cathartic. Manchester Black is a little shit.

Anyway, I’m harshing on this a bit because Bad Politics in a Superhero Movie Details at 11, but overall it was pretty entertaining, and I especially loved the dynamic between Supes and Lois. Keep him in line, girl.

(C-Rank)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1

I remember thinking as I read The Dark Knight Returns that it would be pretty easy to adapt into a movie because a lot of its framing already had a very cinematic quality to it. I also hated it, and still do, but it’s Frank Miller writing a superhero who is frequently explicitly fashy. There wasn’t much chance I was ever gonna like it.

When you split this into two parts it’s kind of unfair to Part 1? All you get in Part 1 is Batman vs. Two-Face and Batman vs. Some Gang That Didn’t Exist Before This Comic And Will Never Be Heard From Again. Part 2 gets Batman vs. Joker AND Batman vs. Superman.

Honestly I don’t mind revisiting this as a curiosity/change of pace. If you don’t take it too seriously it’s kind of silly to see all this broody & gritty nonsense every now and then. But it’s still just very anathematic to what I want out of superhero stories, and stories in general.

(C-Rank)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2

Has more of the iconic moments of the graphic novel (Batman vs. Joker, Batman vs. Superman) and is all-around a slightly more fun watch, but still strains under the weight of Miller’s fashy bullshit.

Ronald Reagan wouldn’t hate Batman. He’s literally a billionaire who beats up poor people. They would play golf together. Superman might have a misguided belief that America is good but he would not be such a fucking lackey at the beck and call of the transparently slimey Reagan. The Soviet Union would not launch nuclear weapons because they lost a proxy war, they literally had a no-first strike policy for fuck’s sake!

The sequence where Batman chases Joker through a county fair is probably my favorite in either movie. The hall of mirrors chase rules, and I love the thematic implications of their last showdown happening in a tunnel of love type carnival ride.

But, you know… it’s still The Dark Knight Returns. It still has Miller’s godsawful politics. So there’s a limit to how much I can really enjoy it, no matter how well-made it is.

(C-Rank)

Superman: Unbound

This was way better than I remembered it being! Lois kicked all kinds of ass, Clark learned a valuable lesson and stopped being a dumbass (for now at least), Kara worked through some trauma and kicked all kinds of ass (her using a literal finger flick to down a bad guy made me 10 kinds of gay), and Brainiac was an awesome villain. Seriously, this one rules.

(B-Rank)

Notes

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kujo7V9m0gk

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