DC Universe Original Movies: The DCAMU Era Megareview

The second (so far) era of the DC Universe Original Movies was introduced by Flashpoint Paradox, a pretty faithful adaptation of Flashpoint. This led to a continuity known as the DC Animated Movie Universe, which was basically a series of fairly faithful adaptations of the New 52 line of comics. I actually like most of these, but it was admittedly a little disappointing to see these direct-to-video animated features go from kind of all over the board to frequently being very predictable.

There were a few movies that didn’t follow the DCAMU continuity here and there, but the bulk of the team’s resources was clearly devoted to this new continuity. It’s not difficult to understand why. From a business standpoint, it’s probably easier to get people to come back over and over when they more or less know what they’re getting, and also harder for them to skip individual entries that might not otherwise capture their interest if it’s all part of a series. I mean, that’s basically the MCU’s entire business model, right?

What was pretty frustrating for me as a fan, and probably a big part of why I got disenchanted back when I was watching these as they came out, is that this was also when they decided that almost every movie needed to be either a Batman or Justice League movie. There was even a non-Batman movie that had “Batman” cynically slapped on the title just because he appeared in that movie for like… probably a grand total of five minutes if you add all his scenes up.

Flashpoint (comic, 2011) & Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (movie, 2013)

(CW: Thirst)

There’s only one thing I know about life. I know some things happen by chance, And some things happen because we make them happen.

Batman (Thomas Wayne)

You probably got used to hearing me say this in my review of the first batch of DC Universe Original Movies, so it’s only fitting that I start my first review by offering for context that I saw the movie long before I read the comic it’s based on. I’m pretty impressed, as I often am by these, by how closely this actually follows the comic it’s based on.

The story in both versions goes to some pretty grimdark places I’m not wild about but am a lot more forgiving about given that it’s an alternate future a la X-Men’s Days of Future Past. And the action was pretty great and it was a very satisfyingly pulpy storyline.

The movie followed the basic storyline of the comic, but it streamlined a few things, eliminated some minor characters, and expanded on the core scenes it kept. In the end I think the movie is, for the most part, actually noticeably better than the comic.

Also it… uh… well, there’s no way around this: there’s a lot of stuff in the movie I was extremely horny for. So. Uh. Yeah. Like. Yo-Yo almost murdering Batman with her thighs and choking him with one of her eponymous yo-yos. Or Wonder Woman choking and/or lassoing so many bitches with her lasso. And stepping on people. And so many people getting stepped on in general. And I think at one point Wonder Woman literally demanded, “Submit!” like that was the actual word she used and just… heccccccc.

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

Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (comic, 2011-12) & Justice League: War (movie, 2014)

My name is Bruce Wayne. When I was 10, I watched my parents get shot dead by a mugger, just like that. I’ve spent my life training to fight the same sort of criminals that took them from me. But this, this is different. […] Because this right here? It’s not about me, and it’s not about you. Get out of your own way, Jordan. Focus on what’s important. Everyone else.

Batman

Another one where I saw the movie before I read the comic, though I was more or less generally aware of what was going on with the New 52 since that was when I was following the nerd press. The comic is again virtually identical to the movie, with the exception that the movie switches in Captain Marvel for Aquaman. I don’t mind Captain Marvel, but I like Aquaman a lot better in general, and his part in the comic was pretty important.

The fight with Darkseid is definitely trying to take itself way too seriously and this is around when I started feeling like the movies were getting too monotone back when I was watching them as they came out. I think my feelings are a bit more forgiving now, but yeah, I see where past-me was coming from.

This is kind of way better if you just don’t take Darkseid seriously at all and don’t buy into the narrative’s attempt to tell you This Is Really Serious And Intense, Guys. But yeah. It’s kinda fine if that’s how you approach it.

A lot of my favorite parts of this story actually happen towards the beginning, when they’re setting everything up, moreso than in the actual main action. The bit with Wonder Woman trying ice cream for the first time is precious, and we get lots of flirting between the boys–Bats & GL, Bats & Supes, GL & Flash. And all of it culminates in Bats getting captured on purpose to save his future boyfriend! And he’s so extra about it, throwing on his disguise in the middle of explaining his plan, and then holding out his arms and whistling for one of Darkseid’s minions to scoop him up.

Big-picture wise when it comes to the movies, I do still kind of wish the looser, more lighthearted continuity from before Flashpoint Paradox had continued, but this thoroughly doesn’t suck. And when it comes to the comics, I really have enjoyed what I’ve read of the New 52 so far.

(B-Rank)

Son of Batman (movie, 2014)

The only thing [the Robin costume]’s missing is lace trim and a sun hat.

Robin (Damian Wayne)

(CW: Frank discussion of sexual assault and child abuse)

This is another one where I watched the movie first, which is a familiar refrain for these reviews. But what is much less familiar is that the comic and movie are actually drastically different. So different that I actually don’t think a combined review makes much sense in this case! We’ll arbitrarily start with the movie since it’s what I saw first!

So, I’m gonna say upfront that this one is actually extremely good, like maybe one of my favorites of the series. It also badly mishandles one of the two extremely sensitive issues it depicts. That might be disqualifying for you, and it’s totally fair if that’s the case.

So. First off, the “Son of Batman” in the film’s title is not in any way metaphorical. He’s Damian Wayne, Bruce’s biological son with his on-again/off-again enemy/lover Talia al Ghul. Bruce is surprised to learn of his existence, so Talia fills him in:

“If I remember correctly, I put a little something in your drink.”
“Same way I remember it.”
“It made you romantic.”
“It made me do what you wanted.”

So. We have a word for that kind of thing. It’s rape. That’s a rape they’re talking about there. But then it actually gets worse, because Talia asks, “Was it all bad, beloved?” And Bruce responds, “No. It wasn’t all bad.”

Put me down for a YIKES.

Like, look. I’m not innocent of any number of fantasies including rape fantasies, but this is a mainstream superhero movie. The standards for what you want your characters to communicate to large audiences are much, much different than the standards for what’s okay between consenting adults in private. Especially given the fact that male survivors of sexual assault are still not taken seriously by a lot of people, the least you should do in a mainstream story like this to be any kind of responsible is have Bruce at least say “it doesn’t matter if I enjoyed it, it wasn’t okay.”

Then there’s the child abuse.

This one actually sees Bruce pretty firmly on the right side. When Damian says his grandfather and mother “taught him how to fight,” he snaps back, “And I take it not much else.” And later, relating their childhood experiences to each other, he tells him, “I had my traumas, but I also had people around me to help. Alfred, Dick, others. I had friends. As far as I can tell, all you’ve had are trainers. There’s a difference, Damian.” I actually really like how this was handled!

As for why I love this movie so much, well. Part of it is just that it’s really tight and clean, and the action is very character-driven. And I love all the stuff Damian shakes loose just by going around being a snotty little brat. He brings out Alfred’s maximum amount of sass, he has a wonderfully antagonistic relationship with Dick that I think borrows heavily from Dick’s relationship with Jason Todd, and for all he’s fighting to rein him in, Bruce is just so damn proud of him and it’s so adorable.

And, y’know, there’s also some superficial reasons. I’m a notorious Nightwing simp, so seeing him so involved is always nice. And there’s a ton of bondage in this!! And I love all Damian’s cracks about how effeminate the Robin costume is (it is, that’s why I like it damn it).

And above all… I just love Robin-centric stories! Batman has never been my favorite thing about Batman. It’s always been Robin. And even though Robins like Dick Grayson or Tim Drake are more my speed, I still love anything that builds more Robin lore. So, yeah. This is really well-done, and it’s just completely up my alley.

(A-Rank)

Batman and Son (comic, 2006)

Father. I imagined you taller.

Robin (Damian Wayne)

The one thing this comic has in common with the movie is Talia being very blasé about her sexual assault of Bruce Wayne. Several lines of the movie’s version of that conversation are just lifted directly from the comic. There are things that are worse in the movie, and things that are worse in the comic, but in both cases just, y’know, ew.

Damian isn’t nearly as likable in the comic as he was in the movie, which I imagine is largely attributable to subsequent comics figuring out how to make him work, and the movie having the benefit of those experiments. It could also be because this story was originally in the pre-New 52 continuity and it’s being adapted into a continuity that is based on New 52, I honestly haven’t read enough of Damian in non-New 52 stories to know if there’s a significant difference in characterization. Though I guess that would arguably amount to the same thing?

Whereas the movie has a fight between Nightwing and Damian that’s somewhat reminiscent of one that Nightwing had with Jason Todd in the Nightwing: Year One comic, the comic has Damian feel threatened by Tim Drake (who doesn’t even appear in the movie) and beat the everloving shit out of him because he thinks he needs to beat up Batman’s surrogate son to claim his rightful place as his real son or whatever. And while Damian pretends he doesn’t want to be Robin in the movie, he tries to claim the role by force in the comic and Bruce never makes it official.

I liked the overall story in the movie better than the comic, clearly, but that isn’t to say there weren’t things about the comic that I liked. For one thing I, as usual, really enjoyed Morrison’s dialogue and narration. The stuff where Bruce is trying and failing to take a vacation before Talia shows up with Damian was also pretty cute. The stuff at the beginning with the Joker was super weird, though? Not really sure what was going on there.

(B-Rank)

Batman: Assault on Arkham (movie, 2014)

Anyone who throws boomerangs has some real issues letting go.

Harley Quinn

You know what? I liked this one a lot better this time around than the first time I saw it! It’s not amazing or anything, but it’s fine!

Yeah, it’s still annoying that they made a Suicide Squad movie but slapped “Batman” on it even though he’s in like three scenes to make it more marketable. Yeah, I have no idea why this has to be set in the Arkham games’ universe, or why you wouldn’t just do a more straightforward adaptation if you really wanted to do a movie in that universe, but whatever!

Honestly, the only point where I got truly annoyed with this is when all the Suicide Squad members just started betraying each other to get to the helicopter like it was some kind of race only one of them could win. Y’all coulda just gone together, folks! Plenty of room on those things, generally.

I also didn’t really love King Shark’s design or the fact that he died, but I realize that’s a me problem. And I did admittedly love the part where Killer Frost rode him like a horse. That is a crackship I can get behind!! What’d you go and kill them both off for???

But yeah. What I was mostly struck by upon revisiting this was that I was just thoroughly wrong about it being monotone and personalityless. It’s actually got all kinds of personality! It still isn’t my favorite version of any of these characters by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s fine! It’s fun. It’s fine.

(C-Rank)

Justice League, Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis (comic, 2012-13) & Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (movie, 2015)

I was born of two worlds. Atlantean by birth. Human by instinct. Join me and we will bridge those worlds in peace.

Aquaman

Much like Batman and Son, the DCAMU’s adaptation of Throne of Atlantis actually diverts quite a bit from the comic it’s based on, despite this one actually being a New 52 title. It does follow the broad strokes of the narrative, but the way it gets there is a lot different.

Both versions are certainly not my favorite version of Aquaman or his world, but given how little love he gets I’m pretty much always onboard for Aquaman-centric stuff even when it isn’t exactly my speed. And I did enjoy both versions moment-to-moment regardless of them not quite fitting my preferred Aquaman flavor. Speaking of not liking broad strokes, I hate Clark and Diana together but it’s done a bit better in the movie imo. They’re actually kinda adorable there.

The movie also has a lot of neat little stuff like a sloppily drunk Arthur saving a lobster from a tank and ending up in a barfight over it, and a John Henry Irons cameo!

I do wish these movies had eventually gotten back to the new Legion of Doom the post-credits scene seemed to be hinting at, but oh well.

(B-Rank)

Batman vs. Robin (movie, 2015)

Beware the Court of Owls, that watches all the time. Gazing in the shadows, behind cement and lime. They see you at the hearth, they see you in your bed. Take care, beware, or they will send a Talon for your head.

(CW: Child abuse)

Once again this movie has only a little in common with the storyline it was based on, and once again I will be reviewing the movie first because I saw it long before I read the comic. What the movie basically does is takes some of the broad strokes of the fan-favorite Night of the Owls storyline and uses them as a vehicle to continue the storyline with Damian that started in Son of Batman. It’s honestly not a bad direction to go!

If you find yourself siding with Bruce over Damian in this one, which a lot of people I’ve seen comment on this movie have, I genuinely do not think you should ever be left unsupervised with a child. You’re scary. Damian is an annoying little brat, but he’s doing his best, and Bruce is the worst father in this until he isn’t.

So, let’s get the bad shit out of the way first. The Dollmaker stuff at the beginning was just so unnecessarily grimdark. I’ve seen extremely creepy versions of this character where he’s victimizing adults instead of children, and this depiction added nothing to the movie other than “oooh look how edgy we are!” And giving him a line of throwaway dialogue indicating he himself had been victimized as a child did nothing. You weren’t trying to make this character three dimensional, it’s not like you were keeping him around long enough for that. So why the fuck even go there? This whole intro is just gross. And, for what it’s worth, is not featured in the comic in any way, shape or form.

I mostly like the rest of the movie? I’ve mentioned before that I’m always an easy mark for stuff involving Batman, Robin, and Nightwing. It’s understandable that they didn’t do a straight-up adaptation of the Court of Owls storyline, but I do like this simplified version and I’m really glad they brought it onto the screen in some fashion.

One thing that the movie adapted pretty straightforwardly was the flashbacks where Bruce was searching for the Court of Owls as a child. I was initially making fun of them for how heavy-handed they were but I actually ended up really liking where they went? They showed him actually learning how to be a detective, failing, and more importantly it set the Court of Owls up as a massively ominous big, bad threat when they turned out to be real. All of this ruled, honestly.

And I even liked Bruce and Damian’s story! … to a point. I appreciated that the point of it was that Bruce was in the wrong. I enjoyed Damian’s continued antagonism with Nightwing, and banter with Alfred. And I especially appreciated Alfred and Nightwing trying (and failing) several times to be the voice of reason. This entire conflict could’ve been avoided if Bruce had listened.

I hated how Bruce was interacting with Damian for 90% of the story, and when Damian and him came to blows I was rooting for Damian to beat the shit out of him, but that ended up being the point. And Bruce realized he was wrong. I would’ve appreciated a heartfelt onscreen apology between them instead of Bruce realizing he was wrong and apologizing to a hallucinatory avatar of Damian and never actually apologizing to the real him onscreen, but it’s reasonable to assume that that might have happened offscreen. I’m nitpicking here.

But what really saves this for me is that Damian had to save Bruce, not the other way around. Because for all its missteps, this movie is smart enough to realize that Damian is the hero of this story, not Bruce. Bruce fucked up. Bruce majorly fucked up. And he doesn’t get to be the hero. Not this time.

But at least he admitted he was wrong. A lot of fathers like him never do.

(B-Rank)

Batman: The Court of Owls (comic, 2012) & Batman: The City of Owls (comic, 2012) & Batman: The Night of the Owls (comic, 2012)

Sometimes all it takes is a few words to change your life. Sometimes they’re words spoken by someone else. But sometimes, like now, they’re words you tell yourself, in the dark. Words that you see in your head, lit up, like the grid on a good day.

Bluebird

I’ve heard that this storyline was incredible since all the way back when it was first coming out, so I was pretty excited to finally read it! And it honestly didn’t disappoint.

Regardless of whether Lincoln March was really Thomas Wayne Jr or not, his claim gave his confrontation with Bruce so much extra sizzle. And the battle for Gotham was already plenty epic even before that.

The biggest difference between the movie and the comics is that Damian’s role in the comics was super deemphasized. In fact, he mostly only appeared in a solo story in volume 3. The basic format of the volumes was that volume 1 set up the scenario as a whole, who the Court of Owls were and Bruce’s investigations into them. Volume 2 is the night the Owls tried to take Gotham, and some additional stuff which we’ll circle back to later. Volume 3 is all the tie-in stuff like Nightwing, Batwing, Batgirl, Robin, etc.

What made Volume 2 so special is not just that it was the epic confrontation between Batman and the Court (and possibly his long-lost brother). It also had two side stories, one that showed that the New 52 version of Mr. Freeze is kind of a unique twist on the character, but I’m actually way more interested in the last issue of the volume. This issue featured a pair of super gay siblings named Harper and Cullen Row. Harper will eventually become the hero Bluebird, but for now we just see her civilian life and how she first comes into contact with Batman. And honestly, just seeing these two low-income queer siblings existing and being extremely relatable was such a joy.

This whole storyline was aces, but The City of Owls is pretty easily one of my favorite Batman graphic novels ever now. It legitimately might be my favorite.

(Court: A-Rank; City: S-Rank; Night: B-Rank)

Justice League: Gods and Monsters (movie, 2015)

This coulda been much worse, but at the end of the day I’m just not that interested in the core concept so it just didn’t do much for me.

(C-Rank)

Batman: Bad Blood (movie, 2016)

You brought us all together because you understood our pain, our loneliness, better than anyone else could. We needed family. We needed you. You’re not just a mask. You’re a man. The best man I’ve ever known.

Nightwing

This ruled before it had nunjas, and then it had nunjas.

Ok, but let’s get my big complaint out of the way first. Talia is just uncomplicatedly, one-dimensionally evil in this one, so that’s… not great. It kinda ruins her entire dynamic with Bruce and with Damian. Not that I was a fan of either in the first place, but it feels like there’s so much connective tissue missing from where they left things to where they are in this movie. Even some kind of frank acknowledgement after the fact of like “look, she was a sexual predator and an abuser, it sucks but of course this is where she ended up” would’ve helped a lot.

Like, you kind of fucked up by not framing it this way all along? I know these movies aren’t typically willing to go into that kind of depth on these kinds of serious issues, which is fine. You get to decide what the scope of your story is. But if you’re not willing to really deal with this kind of stuff you can’t just halfway go there in order to be edgier or grittier or whatever. You either have to be willing to deal with it or you need to leave it out. What we end up with instead rushes to the mostly correct conclusion but doesn’t show your work at all, so it just ends up falling completely flat and not really saying anything, and that’s just kind of depressing.

Oh, petty complaints department: Batman telling Batwoman “using a gun makes you just like them” when she was trying to save a dude from being tortured demonstrably does not??? But that’s not even where I’m going with this. No, my issue is that in this continuity Batman has repeatedly used vehicle-mounted (likely high-caliber) guns and fucking missile launchers, so he can get all the way off his fucking high horse thank you ever so much.

Whew.

So, yeah. I actually liked this movie? But my review might end up a bit lopsided in favor of the one or two things I really, really didn’t like. And that’s largely because by the very nature of what the movie wanted to be and what I wanted out of it, the things I liked about it were pretty superficial.

The Heretic was a pretty interesting villain and figuring out his whole deal over the course of the movie only to have him carelessly tossed aside was actually a pretty effective way of establishing where Talia was at these days. And while I still have all my abovementioned issues with it in terms of what it’s saying thematically, it’s been a minute since we had a good “Talia is controlling everything from the shadows” story, so for pure entertainment value it really didn’t suck.

I’m a sucker for Bat Family stuff, as I’ve thoroughly demonstrated in these reviews. I’m less a fan of Bruce being as much of a dumbass as he often has to be in these Serious, Gritty ones, but at least he has to explicitly to outgrow it in this one! Getting to that final shot of the drastically expanded Bat Family gathering under the Bat-Signal ruled.

As for the members of said Bat Family, the guy calling the shots for a lot of this movie while Bruce was missing was Nightwing, and as the world’s foremost Robin I/Nightwing simp, hell yes I loved this. It’s always interesting when Dick has to temporarily take up the mantle of Batman, whether it’s in a more traditional portrayal where he really respects Bruce so filling his shoes weighs heavily on him for that reason, or in something like this where their relationship is more strained and Dick wants out of his shadow but gets pulled back in. There’s just always a lot of great character work. Add to that the fact that Nightwing is way better at playing with others, and I honestly just love this portrayal. They crushed it. I cannot say enough about how much I like him in this one. It’s probably the single biggest thing that elevates this movie for me.

I don’t have as much to say about Damian this time? He’s a nasty little brat, as usual. And it’s charming, as usual. And he’s doing his best, and he goes through a lot, and I’m so upset that a lot of people are so annoyed by him. Protecc the goblin sidekick!

Batwoman rules. I have no notes here. And her gayness is portrayed very frankly and just treated like as much a baked in part of her character as anyone else’s straightness. I fucking love her in this movie and we’d all be better off if her and Dick were in charge instead of Bruce.

Batwing is… fine. I got a good laugh out of how blatantly he’s just… he’s just Bat-Iron Man, guys. He has a suit-up scene that’s just straight out of Iron Man 1. He’s just… Bat-Iron Man. It’s hilarious.

Anyway, uh, yeah! A lot of this movie hinges on Dick deciding to trust people and Bruce being angy about it and Dick being right, so, yeah. It rules. Except the parts that don’t. But mostly it rules.

(A-Rank)

Justice League vs. Teen Titans (movie, 2016)

Ra’s al Ghul : You dare disobey me? Have you forgotten your heritage? You are an al Ghul.
Robin : No… I’m a Titan!

Yeah they knocked this one out of the fucking park. Just absolutely crushed it. I was actually a little sad to discover that this one wasn’t based on a comic, because I was really looking forward to reading whatever it was.

If one of these were going to get five stars, it would be this one. I still think the not-quite-movie length of these doesn’t give it quite enough time to breathe to really do everything it needs to do to get to that point (yes I am taking my stupid ratings that no one else cares about way too seriously I’m a nerd it’s kind of what we do and this movie would love me for it), but damn it does just kind of everything right.

Damian gets some sense knocked into him and stops being such a selfish little twerp without stopping being Damian, and it is such a joy to see because I am so protective of him and I am so over people just constantly hating on him. Hate on, haters! And I love how earned his developing relationships with the team feel.

Raven is the fucking best, and I need her civilian outfit omg. The choice to tie her story and trauma into the central villain/conflict of the movie is an inspired one and having that kind of character-driven conflict in a movie where you’re building a team dynamic from scratch is just such a huge asset, like usually this is the movie where you kind of throw an uninteresting villain in there because you need all the narrative space for the team but this movie is smart enough to understand that having the villain be actually meaningful to the characters helps create that space and I just wish storytellers would realize this rather obvious thing more often. And then tying Damian‘s relationship with his grandfather and personal growth back into it too to make it a double-whammy is just so inspired.

I love how lived-in the relationships between the already-established Titans feel. Jaime and Garfield channeling their gayness for each other into constantly trying to one-up each other obviously highlights, but the whole team really does feel like a family. I love how earned the relationships Damian forms with them feel. I love that he can actually play well with others now. I love, love, love Cyborg being unwilling to leave the Justice League but also just Boom Tubing in because it’s pizza night.

Dick checking in on Starfire because he’s the Daddy of the Titans and she’s the Mommy is the best thing and I’m kind of willing to concede at this point that my Dick/Barbara shipping has probably been too inflexible in the past, because these two are really good together.

Honestly, I kind of just want more of these movies forever. I know they rebooted the whole damn universe AGAIN after I stopped watching these, but please can you just give me like twelve of THESE? BEAST BOY KICKS A BAD GUY AS A KANGAROO AND LANDS ON HIM AS AN ELEPHANT, ARE YOU SURE YOU DON’T WANT TO MAKE MORE OF THESE?

THIS MOVIE HAS A DDR FIGHT BETWEEN ROBIN AND BEAST BOY THAT IS PLAYED COMPLETELY STRAIGHT, I NEED THIS TO HAVE HAD MORE THAN THE ONE SEQUEL IT GOT. PLEASE, I ASK FOR SO LITTLE.

(A-Rank)

Batman: The Killing Joke (comic, 1988) & Batman: The Killing Joke (movie, 2016)

Hello. I came to talk. I’ve been thinking lately. About you and me. About what’s going to happen to us, in the end. We’re going to kill each other, aren’t we? Perhaps you’ll kill me. Perhaps I’ll kill you. Perhaps sooner. Perhaps later. I just wanted to know that I’d made a genuine attempt to talk things over and avert that outcome. Just once.

Batman

Was it morally reprehensible? Yes. But was it bad? Also yes.

So, obviously I have my problems with the graphic novel. And obviously a lot of those problems are going to be baked into any adaptation of it. I’ll grant you that. But to recognize that one of the biggest complaints about the source material is that it treats Barbara like a prop rather than a character, and to say “don’t worry, we got this” and add an extended prologue where Batman and Batgirl are fucking and think you fixed it is … yeah. That’s… a thing you can do, I guess?

You guys understand that the reason we have a problem with fridging is that it sacrifices female characters for the sake of male characters’ angst, right? And giving Batman an additional reason to be upset about the attack on Barbara … is not an improvement in that regard … right…? Right…??? Guys…????

(C-Rank)

Justice League Dark (film, 2017)

More like Justice League DORK amirite?

The Good:

  • Batman recruiting spooky bois!!!! (And Zatanna.)
  • Lots of magic!!! I don’t always agree with how it’s depicted but I’m a slut for magic, and the imagery in this one at the very least is often cool and a nice change of pace at the very least. And Zatanna one-shots Supes AND Wonder Woman, which I’m HERE FOR, but I’m gonna need them to follow up on this by having her be canonically stronger than them or at least this being addressed in some form DO IT YOU COWARDS.
  • Swamp Thing is a good boy!!!

The Not So Good:

  • The beginning is ROUGH. Like, I’m pretty sure you coulda established the same stakes without showing a lady about to murder her baby or a dude about to murder his family etc. Seriously these movies go way edgier than they need to sometimes for the stories they’re telling.
  • Constantine is a HUGE dick which I don’t entirely mind because I have no particular attachment to the character, but the movie lets him get away with a few things I wish it hadn’t, especially mansplaining to Zantanna way, way more than anyone ever should.

Anyway, I mostly like it! Just feels like it wouldn’t take much to be one of the best in the catalog instead of just Another One.

(C-Rank)

The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (comic, 1984) & Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (movie, 2017)

Ooh, I’m gonna sign up for this thing called ‘Tweeter.’ You put up what you’re thinking like, ‘I love pizza,’ or ‘I’m having pizza now,’ or even ‘pizza is awesome!’

Beast Boy

(CW: Abuse, suicide.)

Another one where I saw the movie before I read the comic. When I finally read the comic it ended up feeling like a more bare-bones version of the comic with cornier dialogue. It was cool to see Dick’s debut as Nightwing, but that was actually kinda infuriatingly-written? Like, he decides he needs to sort out his whole superhero identity shit before he can go rescue his friends who are in mortal danger? Just… what the heck, Dick???

I liked the movie version a lot better, honestly. Mostly down to there being a lot more “there” there when it comes to characterization. The plot also feels quite a bit more coherent while still hitting a lot of the same landmarks. I also liked the team composition a lot more in the movie, which is basically just a continuation of the team and relationships from Justice League vs. Teen Titans. Having Damian there in particular really added a lot.

There’s also just… a lot in Terra’s characterization that I didn’t like in the comic, especially towards the end. Although it has its issues (which we’ll come back to shortly), having the general idea be that Slade was grooming her makes a lot more sense than going out of your way to say that she was evil the whole time and deserves no sympathy. People can do bad things and still be victims. You don’t need to be an angle to deserve the safety of not being preyed upon by gross older men.

I really could’ve done without the entire “pressure makes diamonds” bullshit in the movie, though. You are a movie that LITERALLY shows someone having PTSD flashbacks and having everyone else immediately get it because THEY’VE had PTSD flashbacks. Trauma doesn’t make people great. Trauma reveals the greatness that was already there, and which would have flourished in a nurturing, loving environment. And there are plenty of people who ARE destroyed by trauma, and that doesn’t mean they were weak or not special enough or whatever the fuck. It’s all circumstance. And there’s nothing good about it. I get that it’s tempting to see a silver lining in things that suck, but this kind of thinking can EASILY slide into abuse apologism, “I just wanted you to be the best you could be” etc and I think it’s really important to challenge it whenever it appears.

Showing Slade to be a grooming piece of shit is not necessarily automatically the wrong thing to do, but like a lot of these movies that get into edgier territory the movie just didn’t punish him enough if that’s where they were gonna go. His bullshit quip about there “not being a lot of grey” in Terra’s betrayal of the Titans applies pretty directly to him. Grooming is a kind of evil you just fucking don’t come back from. Taking someone vulnerable and knowingly manipulating and victimizing them… when you’re willing to do that kind of shit, you are the fucking worst kind of evil, and you need to be unambiguously ended, not buried in rubble and shuffled offscreen so you can probably come back in a few movies.

Having Terra kill herself after all that is just the icing on this Bad Idea cake. I fucking hate all of this.

… so here’s why I like the movie anyway.

Nightwing and Robin’s relationship has fucking ruled in all of these movies, but this movie takes it to a new level. Robin congratulating Nightwing on moving in with Starfire in a stiff, overly formal way was just so godsdamned precious. He’s trying so hard, he’s such a good boy! At this point I think I’m just the president of the Damian Wayne fanclub, at least in these movies.

Speaking of Damian being The Best, him bratting at Slade absolutely ruled.

Speaking of bratting, the movie basically confirmed multiple times that Nightwing is a bottom, and especially in the context of his relationship with Starfire. Like, she got him all flustered several times, and to top it all off at one point she literally tackled him onto a couch and called him a brat. Dick Grayson continues to be the most intensely relatable character for me.

I know she was basically the centerpiece of the last movie but the movie version didn’t have nearly enough Raven for my tastes? It did somewhat make up for that by having her deliver the final blow to Blood, but yeah. At least there was plenty of Beast Boy and Blue Beetle. They’re such good boys!

And, yeah, the fight scenes mostly ruled, especially Dick versus Slade. Which was lifted more or less directly from the comic in terms of scenario, but expanded upon and executed so well it was honestly one of the best fights of the entire movie series.

So like… as much as there are a few big picture things to complain about, I enjoyed probably 90% of the movie’s runtime? It’s just that the things I didn’t like were extremely deep tissue so it’s kind of always a little hard to figure out what to do with that.

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

Batman and Harley Quinn (movie, 2017)

Friends don’t let friends kill 7,000,000,000 people.

Harley Quinn

Actually, I quite liked this one this time!

Actually, I quite liked this one this time!

Like, I still agree with a lot of the problems I had with it. It still woulda been better if it had been a Harley & Ivy movie. I still hate that Harley wanted Ivy to turn herself in. Her argument shoulda been “this plan sucks, let’s ditch these dumb boys, live to fight another day and come up with a better one.” And I still hate that it doesn’t acknowledge Harley and Ivy’s EXTREMELY OBVIOUS gayness for each other.

I also still really wish it had marginalized Bats and Nightwing more (and I’m still not convinced it needed Bats at all, but Nightwing can definitely stay), but it was basically a Harley movie honestly. They probably just didn’t have the guts to let it fully be a Harley movie because they’re still convinced they need Bats’ name on it to put butts in seats.

I reeeeally didn’t like the way Usually Good Boy Nightwing approached Harley for help, he gets put in his place pretty thoroughly at least. And wow every version of this guy is just the bottomiest bottom ever, huh? I guess I was still a little defensive from what they did to Barbara in the prologue of A Killing Joke last time I saw this, which is understandable, but yeah. The sex scene rly didn’t bother me this time.

So, yeah! Idk. I was a lot more grumpy about this on the whole last time. This time, while there were still a few things that really rubbed me the wrong way, I felt like it was a pretty terrific movie on the whole. One of my favorites of this series, even.

(A-Rank)

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (comic, 1989) & Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (movie, 2018)

Listen carefully, kitten. I’m many things, but I’m nobody’s pet.

Catwoman

I saw the movie before I read the comic. It was way better than I expected it to be!! The entire idea of placing Batman in a different setting is a lot of fun, and “Batman vs. Jack the Ripper” is definitely an awesomely bananas direction to go with that.

The way most of the characters in the movie were integrated into the Victorian setting really added to the fun. Dick, Tim, and Jason as an orphan gang under the thumb of a criminal until Batman liberates and adopts them, Catwoman as a stage actress who moonlights as a masked avenger of women. I also love Ivy as a sex worker, but don’t love her being unceremoniously offed. I get that that’s kind of the entire thing with Jack the Ripper, but it feels like there are plenty of ways around that.

The comic, on the other hand, didn’t really have nearly as much going for it. I know the movie owes its overall idea to the movie, and it’s kind of the two stories from the comic smushed together into one story with more characters added, but I really liked how the movie fleshed things out. The comic just felt really lacking by comparison, and didn’t capture my interest in nearly the same way.

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

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (movie, 2018)

This was pretty good moment-to-moment, but also not really super memorable. Like, it kept me entertained while I was watching it, but I kind of don’t have anything to say about it? It was just kinda there.

Reverse Flash using the Speed Force to continue balling despite literally having a gaping hole in his head was badass, though. And Scandal Savage and Blockbuster are explicitly gay and are basically lesbian bullies and I kind of want them to lesbian bully me!!

(C-Rank)

Superman: The Death of Superman (comic, 1992-93) & Superman: Funeral for a Friend (comic, 1993) & Superman: Reign of the Supermen (comic, 1993) & Superman: The Return of Superman (comic, 1993) & The Death of Superman (movie, 2018) & Reign of the Superman (movie, 2019)

Your rampage ends here, Doomsday! Even if it kills me.

Superman

It was basically impossible to be a kid who liked superheroes in the 90s and not know about at least two storylines: Bane breaking Batman’s back, and Doomsday killing Superman. I was a much bigger Batman fan, so I read basically all of Knightfall and Knightsend, and bits and pieces of Knightquest. The Death and Return of Superman, though, I only really read the issue where Superman actually dies and a few issues of Reign of the Supermen. I also had a like… junior novelization of the whole arc? It glossed over a lot and streamlined the whole thing, but I got a general idea of the story as a whole from it.

So I finally read it, and… yeah, wow, it was rough at times. The actual fight between Supes and Doomsday is the only really good thing about The Death of Superman, and it was pretty good. Funeral for a Friend was just… kind of genuinely awful? Like, I frequently found myself bored and tempted to just skim through the issues just to get through them faster. Things got way better with Reign of the Supermen and The Return of Superman. Those were genuinely compelling, though I still found the Lex/Supergirl stuff extremely missable. I loved Superboy and Steel, though. I kind of want to go out of my way to read more stories about them in the future.

I still hadn’t read the comics when I sat down to watch the two newer adaptations for the first time, but I definitely enjoyed them. They were a much more faithful adaptation of this arc than Superman: Doomsday, though they still had their departures. I especially didn’t really like that they changed the fight between Superman and Doomsday to start in Metropolis rather than being an epic battle across America with Superman getting increasingly desperate to stop him the closer they got to his city.

Still, it was nice to see Superboy, Steel, Eradicator, and Cyborg, and a lot of other elements that were entirely absent in Superman: Doomsday. And I think they did a really good job of adapting the broad strokes of the story into a movie. I even like some of the changes they made, like replacing that weird Lex clone or whatever the heck was going on there with just the normal Lex, and kind of mushing Supergirl and Superboy’s stories into one story minus the sexual overtones.

I was a bit caught off guard by how bad the comics were considering how consistently great Knightfall and Knightsend were, but they had their moments. And I really did like the movies quite a bit. Even though I did miss some of the details from the comics that were left out, I’d go so far as to say the movies are probably the best way to experience this story.

(Death of Superman: C-Rank; Funeral for a Friend: D-Rank; Reign of the Supermen: B-Rank; Return of Superman: B-Rank; Movies: B-Rank)

Justice League vs. The Fatal Five (movie, 2019)

No offense to anyone here, but… Star Boy is my hero.

Green Lantern (Jessica Cruz)

I haven’t seen much of the Justice League cartoon series from back in the day, just the multi-part origin episode and a few other scattered episodes here and there. So this didn’t mean as much to me as any of the Batman: The Animated Series revivals they’ve done for a few of these. Heck, even if I had seen more of the series, I doubt it could’ve meant as much, but you know what I mean.

On that note, I do think the dream/memory sequence in this goes… way too edgy to be believably part of the same DCAU as the aforementioned series? If you’re going to do a revival of those, it just doesn’t make much sense to me to go so hard against the tone of the source material. And the movie had already done a perfectly fine job of establishing that Jessica was going through some shit. For as good as this movie is at times at showing characters struggling with mental health problems, it sure did fall into the trap that so often happens when shows/movies try to depict a character dealing with trauma. We don’t need to see the event that caused the trauma!

Still, I liked this a lot better than I thought I was going to! And I especially loved the characterization of the aforementioned Jessica Cruz/Green Lantern! It had a kind of depth I just don’t generally expect in stories like this. And while it is a bit surprising to see a DC animated movie like this do a good job of depicting a hero with PTSD, it was even more astounding to see it do a good job of depicting one with schizophrenia! I love Star Boy! And that is just… not a bridge I really usually expect these kinds of movies to be willing to cross? Even a lot of people who are very vocally supportive of neurodiverse people will often draw the line at “scarier”-sounding diagnoses like schizophrenia due to misunderstandings and the prevailing stigma surrounding them.

Before I get too carried away, I should say that I do hate that Star Boy had to sacrifice himself to save the day. It didn’t undo everything good about how his character was depicted or anything, but it sure did feel unnecessary.

But, yeah! I had basically 0 expectations for this one, and it’s probably one of my favorite Justice League movies! So that’s pretty cool.

(B-Rank)

Batman: Hush (comic, 2002-03) & Batman: Hush (movie, 2019)

We’ve done this dance for a long time. Too long. Aren’t you at all curious?

Catwoman

I’ve been a Batman/Catwoman shipper since before I knew that shipping was a thing, so obviously I loved this. The movie makes a few departures from the comic to fit it in with the DCAMU continuity, but I think it does a pretty great job of adapting the spirit of the comic. The only change I disagreed with pretty strongly was using Bane instead of Killer Croc, but it didn’t ruin the movie or anything. It just felt like a pretty unnecessary change.

Ivy being blatantly femdommy, and bisexual at that, was extremely, extremely, extremely my jam. Yes please. More of that, please.

(A-Rank)

Wonder Woman: Bloodlines (movie, 2019)

Everyone gets to decide what they want to do with their life. I might not succeed, but this is what I choose to try.

Wonder Woman

Omg a Wonder Woman movie about her, y’know, just being Wonder Woman and stuff! We do get an abbreviated origin story crammed in there because of course we do, but it’s used to establish the purple healing ray and her relationship with Vanessa, so I’ll allow it.

This one sees Diana take on quite a few members of her rogues gallery, I think a total of six unless I’m forgetting anyone? But it nevertheless has plenty of time for some awesome characterization for Diana and a lot of the other characters. So that’s awesome.

I mostly like this version of Etta. I was so excited that she was thirsty for Amazons and ended up hooking up with at least two of them from the look of things! Her characterization did veer a little closer to Sassy Black Friend than I think is strictly advisable, but it honestly gels pretty well with how she’s often characterizated lately even when she’s white? And fuck, man, I’m not gonna complain too hard about having confident black lesbians in something this mainstream.

Seriously, though, this was awesome. This is basically the Wonder Woman movie I’ve been begging for for years.

(A-Rank)

Superman: Red Son (comic, 2003) & Superman: Red Son (movie, 2020)

I don’t blame those among you that fear me, for you’ve been taught to fear all your lives. And if you learn nothing else today, learn this. We in the Soviet Union do not oppose the citizens of the United States. We only oppose the government that oppresses you. Our sole desire is for peace and equality among all men.

Superman

I mean, you knew I’d have stuff to say about this one. Let’s not kid ourselves.

To dispense with the obvious, no this isn’t a fair portrayal of the Soviet Union. Not that that’s necessarily ever going to be the point of a superhero story, but look at how your average Superman comic treats the United States. Clark’s entire deal is “truth, justice and the American way.” You don’t get a lot of pages devoted to imperialist aggression or mass incarceration. Also like, yeah I’m not about to pretend the Soviet Union was perfect, but the version of “history” on display here is like Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation-level propagandizing.

The movie inherits a lot of the same problems as the comic, and even at times portrays some of the more problematic distortions of history in even more vivid detail… but in a lot of ways it’s actually drastically better until it isn’t???

For one thing, Superman’s dedication to actual communist principles is demonstrated much more effectively through changes both small and massive. Like, his public appearance early in the story is just some random demonstration in the comic, but in the movie it’s the unveiling of a new hydroelectric dam that Superman helped build. And when he’s given what he considers an undue amount of credit for the project’s success, he actively pushes the credit back on to everyone who was working with him. And throughout the film, we see him earnestly expressing actual communist ideals.

Quite a bit is also done to humanize Superman in the film. We see flashbacks to his childhood, which is completely absent in the comic. And we also get quite a bit more fleshing out in his relationship with Wonder Woman, which is way better than the comic… until it isn’t. But we’ll get back to that. Supes and Wonder Woman meet, immediately form a bond, Supes assumes Wondie wants him to bed her and she’s like whoa hi no when he goes to kiss her, and he’s actually relieved??? And she says “I come from an island of all women. Work it out for yourself,” which is just an incredible line, thank you for that! And the two agree to become friends and their relationship becomes even warmer from that point on.

Honestly, if you look at Superman as an actual expression of the highest ideals of communism struggling against some of the internal contradictions that–combined with Western interference–ultimately doomed the Soviet Union, this would be a good movie up until that point. Yeah, there were some pretty wild distortions of history to set up that conflict, but it’s not completely wrong? It’s… also not completely clear to me how he got from there to having dissidents turned into cyborg slaves. That jumped out less as weird in the comic because everything was weird and wrong, but it was kind of funny that early in the movie I basically said out loud “I wonder how they’re going to get from here to the whole cyborg slave thing” and they just… there wasn’t a “getting there.” It was just like, “oh, okay, we’re doing this now.” I guess the writers of both the comic and movie think it’s just a natural thing to put in your warped communism metaphor and there’s no reason whatsoever to explain it. I don’t know. It’s just kind of hilariously bad.

Even at this point, Superman isn’t entirely demonized by the movie? He refuses Brainiac’s urging to invade the U.S., and it isn’t until the U.S. attacks with their reverse-engineered Green Lanterns that he responds. And after defeating the Lanterns, he goes right to the White House, right to Lex. Right to the heart of the problem.

Oh, let’s talk about this movie’s incredibly strange brand of, uh, “feminism”? When Superman announces his intentions after rescuing Metropolis from the falling satellite, Lois demands “what about women?” And like, hey Lois? I think if we applied a fine-tooth comb we might find one or two or ten thousand ways in which the U.S. was far behind the Soviet Union in that department at the time? It’s a totally fair thing to fight for within the revolution, but an absolutely ludicrous thing to try to use to discredit it from the outside. And like… Wonder Woman, like Superman, devolves into a total caricature of herself late in the movie and fully like 90% of her lines become about how men are evil and it’s just… it’s just weird. And uncomfortable. And not earned by the narrative at all.

Honestly, even though parts of it are just ridiculously bad, even the latter portions of the movie could be read as a metaphor for how decisionmaking in the Soviet Union became increasingly centralized and the average person became disengaged with the revolution, until eventually they could only watch helplessly as the Soviet Union was dissolved, the revolution ended, with no recourse but to try to live in a world that suddenly had one fewer beacon of hope.

Superman was right when he and his comrades built that dam. We don’t need a single hero we can look up to to solve all our problems, we need to solve them together. And that’s why no matter what, we will keep fighting.

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

Final Crisis (comic, 2008-09) & Justice League: The Darkseid War (comic, 2015-16) & The New 52: Futures End (comic, 2014-15)

All is one in Darkseid. The mighty body is my church. When I command your surrender, I speak with three billion voices.

Darkseid

I read all of these in preparation for Apokolips War because according to Wikipedia it was based in part on all of them, and it ended up having basically nothing to do with any of them? Like, I genuinely have no idea on what grounds they consider it to have been based on these comics? It wouldn’t have even gotten a “suggested by” credit in my book.

Let’s start with Final Crisis. Y’all know I love me some Grant Morrison, but this was definitely not my favorite of his that I’ve read so far. There was stuff I liked about it, like especially some of the Green Lantern stuff and the stuff with all the main Justice League members becoming dark gods or whatever, but this is largely a case of me really enjoying the setup a whole lot more than the payoff. It just ultimately got a bit too esoteric for my tastes.

Darkseid War was awesome. It wasn’t on the same level as some of the earlier New 52 stuff I’ve read recently, but it’s easily my favorite of these three stories. And Grail just walking through the Justice League repeatedly is uncomfortably hot. She gave me several gay crises. I also really enjoyed seeing the Justice League just… doing a murder investigation towards the beginning. That was a really cool hook into the story, though I did appreciate them calling out the fact that normally they wouldn’t have the entire Justice League doing something that mundane. Again, I loved all the Green Lantern stuff, especially Jessica becoming a Lantern. Out of all of these, I’d say this one had the most “there” there.

While the first two were at least interesting and short enough to be digestible, Futures End was a 48-issue… they call it a miniseries, but I categorically refuse to call an event that long a “mini” anything. On top of that it is just a slog of repetitive storytelling that doles out information in a torturous slow drip and never really gives me a single good reason to care. It was published weekly, and it shows.

So, uh, yeah! Again, not really sure how Apokolips War was “based on” these. Like, they had Batman sitting in the Mobius Chair like in Final Crisis, but it didn’t turn him into the God of Knowledge, he was just kinda Darkseid’s right hand minion? Hell, Darkseid wasn’t even in Futures End. Shrug!

(Final Crisis: C-Rank; Darkseid War: B-Rank; Futures End: D-Rank)

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (movie, 2020)

King Shark is a shark!

King Shark

When I was a more serious superhero fan, I considered the MCU the gold standard for live-action superhero movies, and the DC Universe Original Movies the same for animated superhero movies. It’s not difficult to see why. And I don’t think it’s out of line to say that the storytelling of the DCAMU was heavily inspired by the MCU. (If I wanted to be out of line I would say the DCAMU is drastically better, which it is, but that’s not my point right at this exact moment and also these are not the kinds of arguments I care about anymore.) Moreover, I think Apokolips War in particular is pretty blatantly inspired by Infinity War and Endgame, which makes sense with the latter having come out just a year beforehand.

Given that the DCEU has never really managed to get its feet under it the way the MCU did, it makes sense that their less well-known animated films which have consistently impressed both fans and critics is where they got to have their Infinity War/Endgame. It’s a massive crossover with a dizzying number of characters having at least an extended cameo, it has impossibly high stakes, and every single hero needs to throw their everything into it. People die, people are depowered, relationships are consummated or sundered. It is, in every sense of the word, climactic.

Obviously some of the more grimdark elements of it are not precisely my cup of tea, nor do I particularly care for its apparent “it’s complicated” stance on abusive parents. But this is still drastically more interesting than any of the comics it’s based on? (Aside from its lack of Grail. How can you do a New 52 cataclysm and not give me the steppy queer-looking Amazon who steps on everyone???) And in spite of its aforementioned grimdark elements, it mostly maintains a hopeful tone? This is a story about people who are going to go down fighting no matter what.

Oh, and like. Damian Wayne is ultimately one of the biggest damn heroes of this entire continuity, suck it nerds. And I love, love, love his relationship with Raven omg. It was such a slow burn but seeing it culminate and seeing them be there for each other is just… yes!!

On a much more superficial note, it has That Scene with Constantine and King Shark, and King Shark is looking hot af. And the Suicide Squad is so much better off without Waller.

Seriously, this was awesome. I’m glad the DCAMU got a definitive ending, and while there are definitely movies in the series I like a whole lot more than this one, I really do appreciate a lot of the choices it made.

(B-Rank)

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