DC Universe Original Movies: The Pre-DCAMU Era Megareview

This replaces and abridges an earlier review I did of these movies. I decided to read all the comics these movies are based on to give me more context for understanding the movies. Some of these movies weren’t based on any comics, so in those cases I just lightly edited my original reviews. Oh, and I didn’t read the Death of Superman for Superman: Doomsday because I’ll save that for the more faithful recent adaptation.

The DC Universe Original Movies are a series of high-quality direct-to-video (with a few exceptions that received limited theatrical releases) animated features. I first discovered them when I was working at Target in the (probably-defunct) Music, Movies and Books department. I was basically the person in charge of putting all the new releases on the shelf every Tuesday. There were these TVs all over the department playing this endless loop of commercials for movies and albums and even books. I know, right? Commercials for books? Anyway, they barely ever updated it, and it was so repetitive you usually ended up tuning it out if you had to spend much time in that department, but every now and then a new trailer would be added to the loop.

That’s exactly what happened about a week before Batman: Under the Red Hood was released. The first time I heard it playing, it snapped my attention away from my boring work routine and I was immediately transfixed. I resolved to pick the movie up as soon as it came out, and my excitement was rewarded with a frankly pretty great animated superhero flick.

As soon as I found out that there was a whole series of one-shot movies of similar quality, I started watching them. I didn’t always like them as much as Under the Red Hood. In fact, it’s still at or near the top of my list for best movies from this series, but the overall model of releasing high-quality animated features two or three times a year is still a pretty exciting one, and I wish more franchises would follow suit.

The history of the DC Universe Original Movies (so far) can roughly be divided into three eras. The first era is characterized by a bunch of largely unrelated one-shot movies. There was a loose continuity between this era’s two Justice League movies (minus New Frontier which was its own thing), and we saw the last gasp of that continuity in the opening scenes of Flashpoint Paradox, which is when the second era began.

Now, I’ll defer more detailed discussion of those second and third eras to my eventual megareviews of them, but suffice it to say both of them are characterized by much tighter continuity than this first era. I actually kind of appreciate the directionless nature of this first clump of mostly unrelated movies, and in a lot of ways I miss it. So it was a lot of fun to revisit.

Superman: Doomsday (movie, 2007)

The first entry in the series emphatically benefitted from being revisited. I had only seen it once before, and at the time I was way too turned off by what a radical departure it was from the source material. I 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)

DC: The New Frontier (comic, 2004) & Justice League: The New Frontier (movie, 2008)

For a lot of these I will have seen the movie before I read the comic. That was the case for New Frontier, and I have to say when I got around to reading the comic (which I was not excited for) I found that it actually made a much better comic than it did a movie, and that somewhat improved my opinion about the story as a whole.

Even when I had only seen the movie, I noticed that The New Frontier felt somewhat Watchmen-adjacent. It lacks Watchmen’s genre deconstruction, and its politics aren’t nearly as forceful, but that’s hardly surprising. There’s a reason DC wouldn’t allow Moore to use canonical characters to tell the story he wanted to tell. But the parallels are even more obvious when enjoying the story in its intended form. Seeing it on the page, with its thick white borders around each panel and impressive full-page spreads and intertextual elements like newspaper articles and investigation notes makes it feel like a much more literary experience. Its narrative consequently feels less “boring”/slow and more… measured? Deliberate? There’s a pretty big difference with this kind of pacing when it feels on purpose, like it has a point.

I think probably the most important element of the plot that comes across better in print than on the screen is that the menacing threat of the Centre, which isn’t even fully revealed until towards the end of the penultimate issue of this six-issue miniseries, feels a heck of a lot more genuinely foreboding and threatening instead of just being a kind of boring and weird antagonist that doesn’t show up until the movie is almost over.

The print medium also does wonders for the clash of style between Golden Age and Silver Age heroes, an element that frankly didn’t even really come across in the movie? I do wonder if I would feel differently about the movie if I had read the comic first, but I guess that’s something I’ll never know. And while the comic is a huge improvement (anachronistically, given that it came first) over the movie, it does share many of its shortcomings.

You probably already guessed where I’m going here. This story, in either medium, is some serious American propaganda. Like, it goes out of its way to be propaganda. It ends with a speech from President Kennedy for crying out loud. It mostly portrays the U.S. as the good guys in the Cold War, the most egregious example probably being the ridiculously contrived scenario where Wonder Woman rescues a bunch of Vietnamese women from Viet Cong soldiers. Because yeah, sure! 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.

The comic, while still largely misguided, does have two pretty substantial advantages over its movie adaptations in this arena. For one thing, while the U.S. comes across pretty unambiguously as the good guys in the Korean War in the movie, the comic actually gives a lot more weight to Hal’s pacifism having a point to it, with him explicitly saying he doesn’t think what the U.S. was fighting for in Korea is worth killing anyone over. This is difficult to reconcile against the comic’s otherwise wholehearted endorsement of the U.S. labeling communism as “tyranny,” but it’s something, and the movie had a whole lot of nothing on this front.

But when it comes to politics, and storytelling in general, the beating heart of the comic is just totally missing. And that’s John Wilson, who took on the persona of John Henry. The tragic story of John Henry, and the iconic panel of a young John Henry Irons sitting by his grave, is probably the single most affecting thing in this entire comic. It’s the only time the comic’s politics have the vital force of truth behind them. And they just don’t include it in the movie at all.

It completely reframed my opinion of this story. Its politics are still deeply misguided, it still seems to buy that the U.S. is an essentially good but deeply flawed country that can Do Better, that while the government’s responses to communism threaten civil liberties communism is still Bad Actually. But in spite of that, John Henry’s story is something raw, something real. Something bigger than the supposedly larger text around him.

And they just didn’t include it at all. There’s like two blink and you miss it references to it. It would be like excising Valerie Page’s autobiography from V for Vendetta. It’s so much more important than the rest of the text around it, it’s just kind of nothing without it.

I mean, the comic would still be way better than the movie for all the reasons I already listed, but that just makes it unfair.

(Comic: B-Rank; Movie: C-Rank)

Batman: Gotham Knight (movie, 2008)

This one is just a series of shorts loosely set in Chris Nolan’s universe. I like anthologies in general, so I didn’t hate it, but it was pretty mediocre on the whole and there isn’t really much to dig into, so I’ll be brief.

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: Gods and Mortals (comic, 1987) & Wonder Woman (movie, 2008)

I wasn’t the biggest fan of this the first time I saw it, and rewatching it did not change that. Nor did I particularly care for the comic it was loosely based on. They were both frankly… kind of boring.

The best parts of the comic were probably the fights with Decay, Deimos, and Ares himself. And the first one wasn’t in the movie at all, while the latter two were substantially different to the point of not really being the same fights.

Another big advantage the comic enjoyed over the movie, despite being written over 20 years earlier, is that it didn’t center Steve nearly as much. Steve was basically the audience POV character of the animated movie, which is a mistake the live-action DCEU Wonder Woman movie also makes? It’s just a bizarre choice considering, you know, everything. Relatedly, while there’s an awkward moment or two here and there in the comic, in the animated movie the gender politics are just a fucking mess that’s superficial white feminism in its best moments and just totally regressive in its worst.

The movie also has 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 the worst way to phrase that, just, yikes.

There is some good stuff in the movie, 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 (movie, 2009)

As far as I’ve been able to determine, this one isn’t based on any specific comic story, just kind of a general stab at Hal Jordan’s early days as Green Lantern. It’s a 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, Vol. 1: Public Enemies (comic, 2003-2004) & Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (movie, 2009)

For the sake of context, this is another one where I saw the movie before I read the comic. After reading the comic, I can say that the movie is a super faithful adaptation, though it’s obviously trimmed quite a bit. The biggest change is that it totally removed the subplot where Angsty Future Superman tries to kill Superman and Batman to stop them from making the same mistakes they made in his timeline, which is a bold choice when he also could’ve just… told them what went wrong? So I kind of don’t mind that part being cut out.

There’s a few other tangents that get cut out, probably the most consequential of which are the Batkids and Superkids busting into the White House to try to break out Supes and Bats because they think they’ve been captured. It didn’t really add anything to the main story, so I don’t mind missing out on it in the movie, but I’m a huge Nightwing stan and big Robin fan and fan of all the other “hero, but kid” characters, so on a personal level obviously I missed them a little bit.

My favorite thing about the movie–which my boyfriend pointed out while we were watching it together–was that Bruce and Clark are just blatantly boyfriends in it. But that’s actually even more super obvious in the comics? So that rules.

Honestly, this whole offshoot universe where Lex is president and everything is a little Off is kinda weird and I don’t hate that it only got two movies, but I nevertheless actually kinda liked the comic kind of a lot? And can see myself reading more of it just for the heck of it. It just hits exactly the tone I’m looking for in DC stuff.

(B-Rank)

Justice League of America #29-30 (comic, 1964) & JLA: Earth 2 (comic, 2000) & Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (movie, 2010)

For the record, this is another one where I watched the movie before I read the comics it was based on.

Justice League of America #29-30 are from 1964, and they are… very from the 60s. Not that there’s necessarily a lot of outdated slang or anything, or at least it didn’t jump out at me much if there was. The plot is just extremely straightforward (and kinda repetitive despite this “arc” only lasting two issues?) and quite a bit of the dialogue is either exposition that a modern comic would likely use visuals to dramatize or the respective sides in the conflict boasting that they’re gonna win. Honestly if you’ve ever read the first appearance of the Reverse Universe in the Archie comic series, this is a dead ringer for that. I wouldn’t be shocked if this was that comic’s inspiration.

Before I talk about the JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel, I should say: GRANT MORRISON IS NONBINARY??? HOW DID I NOT KNOW THAT??? I really enjoyed their run on X-Men, so this wasn’t my first time enjoying their work! And knowing this kind of makes me want to check out more of their other work!

All that aside, JLA: Earth 2 is also just a drastically better comic. It has more complex and sophisticated storytelling, but it preserves the core aspect of the original story which is that it’s just really hecking cool to see all these heroes fighting evil versions of themselves. The idea that good is always fated to win in our universe and always fate to lose in the other universe felt a bit silly, but it was a nice homage to the original story’s “we have to lose to win!” strategy.

The movie has a lot in common with the comics, but is essentially a streamlined version of the story. One kind of weird change is that the evil counterparts of the Justice League were literally just mobsters. There are definitely some elements of that in JLA: Earth 2, but it’s really ramped up in the movie. Hearing that kind of stereotypical diction 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? I think it was the biggest thing from the movie that I was missing when I read JLA: Earth 2, where they’re just straightforwardly having an affair behind Ultraman’s back as far as we know. And when Wonder Woman finally wrangles Superwoman and demands, “Submit.,” I got all subby and thirsty, so.

Ultraman was fine in the comics, but was probably the most boring one of the big three’s counterparts in the movie. And he was also the one whose personality was the most just “he’s literally a mob boss.” So. Probably not a coincidence there. But aside from Superwoman’s explicit sexual sadism, Owlman being a philosophy-obsessed nihilist was probably my favorite change the movie made. A+. Epic. 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.

It’s probably pretty obvious that JLA: Earth 2 was my favorite version of this story (and my ratings reflect that), but all of them had their charm. The 60s comics are probably the only one that doesn’t have any specific, unique elements to recommend it, but it’s also the source the other two are drawing from, so you know. Something to be said for that.

(JLA #29-30: B-Rank; JLA: Earth 2: A-Rank; Movie: B-Rank)

Batman: Under the Hood (comic, 2005) & Batman Under the Red Hood (movie, 2010)

So, yeah, as previously mentioned this is the movie that really got me into this series. The obvious things working in its 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.

Jason Todd isn’t my favorite Robin by any stretch of the imagination, but uh, I did write some embarrassing crackship slash fiction of him and Nightwing as 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.

As has been the case for most of these I saw the movie before reading the comics, but yeah the comics kicked ass. The narration, the art, the action, and the dialogue were all top notch. There were a few diversions from the main plot that seemed kind of unnecessary (what was even going on with Mr. Freeze), but I still don’t have any real major complaints. And wow the fights kicked ass.

(A-Rank)

Superman/Batman, Vol. 2: Supergirl (comic, 2004) & Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (movie, 2010)

It was pretty novel this early in the DC Universe Original Movies line to get a direct sequel! In fact I think this might be the first one? So that was pretty cool! 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 still, Batman gets vored (briefly), and goth Kara can absolutely step on me.

The movie is also exceptionally faithful to the source material, so that’s pretty cool! Although, I was kind of hoping I’d like the comic better than the movie since I liked the first comic so much, but seeing as it turned out the movie was basically a panel for shot remake of the comic, I had many of the same problems with the comic that I did with the movie. Worse, instead of helping like it did with the first story, Bruce and Clark’s narration actually emphasized further that this story wasn’t really about Kara, it was about Clark. And I just think that’s such a waste. I know that’s kind of this series’ whole deal, but they probably should have reintroduced her to the DC canon in a different title.

(C-Rank)

All-Star Superman (comic, 2005-2008) & All-Star Superman (movie, 2011)

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

Again, I saw the movie before I read the comic.

I never quite knew what to make of Jimmy’s cross-dressing in the movie. Like, my gut reaction was that it was a positive/neutral portrayal, but I just didn’t trust it? Like, it was hard to imagine D.C. having someone just casually be genderfluid and not making a big deal of patting themselves on the back for it? But having now read the comic where it’s portrayed exactly the same way, and knowing now that Grant Morrison is nonbinary, it makes a lot more sense that it was so positive and chill.

I do have some complaints. Most of them are for the movie specifically, but one that crosses over to both is that the entire premise of Superman overdosing on sunlight just seems completely ridiculous to me? But I guess that’s ultimately a matter of personal taste? And, again, now that I know this was written by a queer person it does make hella sense that they wanted to tell a story where Superman knew he was dying of a terminal illness, and was running out of time to accomplish everything he wanted to accomplish.

As previously alluded to, I have additional complaints about the movie specifically. And these are much less a matter of personal taste. Not telling his mother he’s dying is reprehensible, for instance. But nothing is as egregious as the additional details added in the movie’s expansion of the prison riot scene.

In both the comic and movie, Superman visits Lex Luthor in prison as Clark Kent to interview him. In the comic, he saves his life several times when a full-blown prison riot breaks out. He also rescues all of 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.

To be fair, there are also actually a couple things I like better about the movie!

A few of the adventures from the comic had to be trimmed down, but I actually think that worked in the movie’s favor at times? The movie deleted the Bizarro world stuff entirely, and while I didn’t mind it exactly, the movie doesn’t really suffer from its absence. But that means the movie needed a different reason for Superman to be absent from earth when Bar-El and Lilo show up. They solved this by having Superman embark on a long, interstellar journey to find a suitable planet to release the bottle city of Kandor on instead of just anticlimactically plopping it on Mars. This streamlines the narrative and keeps things more on theme, so I think it worked super well.

This scene also streamlines the process of Lois finding out that he’s dying. Instead of her finding out from someone else and being mad that he didn’t tell her, he volunteers the information before heading out on his interstellar journey. It’s a pretty moving scene, and it also includes the line I opened this review with which is a line I really missed in the comic.

What I love about both the movie and the comic are their willingness to be dorky. And how episodic they are. And most importantly, the Big Question at their 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 the movie adaptation 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.

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 story 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.

(A-Rank)

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (movie, 2011)

“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 infuriates me, I still really love 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 (comic, 1987) & Batman: Year One (movie, 2011)

Another one where I saw the movie first, but it kind of didn’t really matter because the movie and comic were basically identical!

The nice thing is, the whole story 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! Regardless of which version (again, they’re virtually identical), I think this is the least bad Frank Miller story I’ve ever encountered.

(C-Rank)

JLA, Vol. 7: Tower of Babel (comic, 2000) & Justice League: Doom (movie, 2012)

Another one where I saw the movie multiple times way before I read the comic.

I actually super prefer the movie version of this? I knew going in to reading the comic version that instead of Cyborg I would be getting Plastic Man and Aquaman. This one is resoundingly in the minus column for the comic. Plastic Man is a C-Lister and I got my fill of him watching Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Under most circumstances I would keenly feel Aquaman’s absence, but he did basically nothing in this arc.

But the biggest difference, and one I didn’t know about, was that Tower of Babel didn’t involve the Legion of Doom at all. Ra’s al Ghul is a drastically better villain than Vandal Savage, don’t get me wrong, but the story felt so much smaller with it just being a League of Shadows thing instead of the Justice League clashing with some of their worst adversaries in a sort of anti-Justice League.

The movie’s 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. 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.

(Comic: B-Rank, Movie: A-Rank)

Action Comics #775 (comic, 2001) & Superman vs. The Elite (movie, 2012)

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

Then maybe you 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.

Saw the movie before reading the comic, yada yada. I like that the movie just has them fight on the moon rather than on Io (one of Jupiter’s moons)? Picking a specific Not The Moon moon like the comic did feels weird when the moon is such a huge part of Superman’s iconography. Just a silly thing I noticed. Wild that the comic was referencing Western saber rattling against Libya all the way back in 2008. Was that a thing in 2008 and I just don’t remember it? (In the movie it was two fictional countries at war with each other.)

I kinda hate the character designs in the comic, especially Manchester Black’s. I like the movie’s design way better. Apart from that, I’m kinda surprised by how similar the movie is to the comic, but the movie really doesn’t spread too thin despite being a 76-minute movie adapting a single, 32-page issue.

As far as things that were added to the movie, “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.

One of the things the movie did to add runtime to the movie was include way more Supes/Lois stuff, and I loved the dynamic between them. Keep him in line, girl.

As far as things that happened in both the comic and movie, Superman pretending he went off the deep end was pretty cool, tbh. And in a story 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 know I’m harshing on this a bit because Bad Politics in a Superhero Sotry Details at 11. Both the comic and movie were both alright. Extremely so-so. I know that’s kind of a hot take in the case of the comic, but it’s just how I feel.

(C-Rank)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (comic, 1986) & Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (movie, 2012) & Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 (movie, 2013)

Finally one I read before I watched the movie!! Whoa!!

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 even when Frank Miller isn’t writing him. There wasn’t much chance I was ever gonna like it.

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!

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)

Superman: Brainiac (comic, 2008) & Superman: Unbound (comic, 2013)

And for our last entry in this era of the DC Universe Original Movies, we reboard the Saw The Movie First train. And I did like the movie quite a bit! 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, and Brainiac was an awesome villain.

Only the latter two were also a part of the comic this was based on, but that’s okay because they were definitely the A-plot. I really loved how Matrix/Alieny all the stuff on Brainiac’s ship was, and obviously I did not have a lot of complaints about the frequency with which Supes ended up bound by metal tentacles.

It’s funny, of the things the movie changed I actually preferred the movie’s choices for pretty much everything? But on the whole, I actually think I liked the comic better in its entirety?

The biggest change was Clark/Lois were the movie’s B-plot instead of Clark’s parents. But there’s also a new opening scene where Lois volunteers to be a hostage because she knows she’s safer than anyone else. But instead of her anticipated savior, Supergirl shows up! And she just shows off how completely OP she is, at one point using a literal finger flick to down a bad guy. It made me 10 kinds of gay.

I think the biggest thing working in the comic’s favor is that even though Kara’s part in the A-plot was virtually identical, for whatever reason she came across as much more of a badass in the comic? Like, the part where she stopped the missile from hitting the sun felt less like her being sidelined and more like her being a Big Fucking Deal, probably because the art and page layouts were able to be more intentional about expressing emphasis, whereas in the movie it just kind of cuts away to her flying to the sun and you’re like “oh, okay, she’s flying to the sun I guess?” I just don’t think the intention of these pages really came across in how they chose to adapt them.

But yeah, either way both versions of this story totally rule. Just an exceptionally good Superman story.

(Comic: A-Rank; Movie: B-Rank)


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