The Batman / Superman Movie (1998)

It's a shame that Batman: Mask of the Phantasm wasn't a big hit, because it means that any subsequent 'feature-length' spin-offs from the excellent DC animated Batman and Superman series have either been two-episode pilots or barely hour-long efforts, overcrowded with characters. Following SubZero, which had to cram in all the characters from the fourth live-action Batman film, this is an overpopulated but somehow simplistic blend of the two franchises, bringing everyone together in relatively imaginative ways but without much snap. The Joker steals a supposedly cursed jade statue which is actually pure kryptonite, and asks Lex Luthor for a billion dollars to take out Superman. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne comes to Metropolis to conclude a deal with Luthor about some experimental robots he wants to use in space exploration rather than on the battlefield, and incidentally starts romancing Lois Lane out from under Clark Kent. Thrown away in all this are Superman and Batman discovering each other's secret identities, and even Lois learning Bruce Wayne's secret but for some reason not blowing the story for a headline (Perry White wouldn't approve).

The collision of franchises has some felicities, like the incidental catfight between Luthor's chauffeuse Mercy and the Joker's girlfriend Harley Quinn and a romantic triangle complicated by two-facedness - but the actual story strings together a plane hijacking, a sinking boat, rampaging killer robots, Joker gas and kryptonite death traps, falls from a great height, gadgets and powers, a runaway flying wing and a lot of punching-up without much sense of the momentous. The success of the animated shows is a mix of the striking design (in evidence here) with small, odd, human moments (which get squeezed out, rather). For, once Batman gets a good, sick joke as the Joker apparently goes down in the crashing wing and Harley steals her nickname for him 'Pudd'n' - 'By now, he probably is.' The villain characterisations remain good, with Mark Hamill and Clancy Brown voicing very different villains and Arleen Sorkin fun as Quinn, but of the good guys only Dana Delaney's Lois has much sparkle here, with heroes Tim Daly (Superman / Clark) and Kevin Conroy (Batman / Bruce) a bit lost. Pleasant, but it could have been a lot better. Still, that's true of most World's Finest comics too and at least the show doesn't try to shoehorn Robin into the plot. Released as a (short) feature), but also seen as two episodes of the Superman show.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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