Saturday, March 25, 2023

Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham

This is another example of how DC films have been much more rewarding than Marvel films. Most Marvel films build to an incomprehensible third act of whirling, swirling CGI, after foisting off meaningless character cameos, to establish films that won’t be released for months, if not years. In contrast, DC had The Batman, which is more like Se7en than a traditional superhero movie and Joker, which wore its Scorsese influences on its sleeve. DC animated films have been especially willing to break established molds and formats. Following in the tradition of Batman Ninja and Superman: Red Sun, Batman gets a Lovecraftian twist in Christopher Berkeley & Sam Liu’s Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham, adapted from Mike Mignola & Richard Pace’s limited comic series, which releases Tuesday on BluRay.

Prof. Oswald Cobblepot is not the Penguin in this universe, but his Wayne Foundation-funded arctic exploration turned out rather badly. By the time Bruce Wayne and his adopted orphans arrive to investigate, only Cobblepot and another crew member still survive, but they under the control of an ancient, cosmic demon. Wayne tries to bury the evil in the Arctic, but it remains hidden in the soul and body of his deranged prisoner.

Back in Gotham, Wayne receives a warning from Etrigan, the not-entirely evil demon, about the scope of the supernatural threat facing Gotham. It seems Ra’s al Ghul (the traditional occult supervillain of the Batman franchise) is trying to usher one of the elder gods into our world, via Gotham, of course. To stop him, Batman enlists the help of Oliver Queen, who is not the Green Arrow this time around, but he is a bow-hunter. He also shares a fateful connection to Bruce Wayne.

The way a lot of these alternate-world DC films reconceive their characters to fit a radically different context is often quite clever. In this case, it does not take much shoehorning to fit in Ra’s al Ghul, Jason Blood/Etrigan, and Kirk Langstrom/Man-Bat. Probably, nobody is more greatly reinvented than Queen, but it is hard to imagine many hardcore Green Arrow fans objecting, because he is the film’s best character.

Regardless, all the character tweaks serve the Lovecraftian storyline. Frankly, Jase Ricci’s adapted screenplay might be too faithful, because it rushes from monster to monster, rarely giving viewers proper time to soak up the dread. However, the Lovecraftian imagery and vibe are legit, even including the voice of Jeffrey Combs (the fan-favorite star of
Re-Animator and From Beyond) as Langstrom. The voice-cast also notably features the great Persian-American actor Navid Negahban (The Stoning of Soraya M. and Tehran) as Ra’s al Ghul and Christopher Gorham (Harper’s Island) as the flamboyant Queen.

Despite the overly brisk pacing (a weird thing to criticize), it is still a more successful attempt to marry Batman with the horror genre than
The Batman vs. Dracula. There is a lot of cool world-building here as well as an affection for the Lovecraftian subgenre. Honestly, they deserve credit for embracing Lovecraft’s trope, considering how determined the woke are to remove H.P. Lovecraft from the canon. Easily recommended for Batman and Lovecraft fans, Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham releases Tuesday (3/28) on BluRay.