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The Dark Knight Returns With Another Delightful DVD

Batman: The Animated Series is the best television adaptation any comic book superhero has ever received. A perfect blend of action, drama and character, all realized through beautiful animation, it is the gold standard against which all action adventure animation must be compared.

It was daring and bold, not just for its time but for all time. It didn’t talk down to its audience, but managed to cater to the kids as well as adults. It borrowed from the comics where it needed to, but didn’t follow them slavishly. Visually, it struck a consistent look even while crafting individual episodes that reflected the stories of their particular characters. The design work was ingenious. Many cartoons of the late eighties and early nineties were pretty to look at but looked like crap when they moved. Batman, with its radically streamlined designs, managed to be both striking and fluid. The backgrounds, drawn on black paper, created a dark mood, and the brilliant symphonic scores filled the silences that allowed Batman to become the strong-and-silent character we always knew he was.

Warner Bros. continues its release of Batman: The Animated Series to DVD with Volume 2, collecting twenty-eight episodes. As with any collection, it has a mix of highs and lows, of great episodes and real stinkers. Among the best of the best collected here: The critically acclaimed two-part episode “Robin’s Reckoning” dramatizes Dick Grayson’s origin story while also setting up his eventual break with the Dark Knight. “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” introduces the animated universe’s Riddler, a character the producers rethought from the ground up. “Perchance to Dream” is an intriguing exploration of Batman’s fears and desires in a Twilight Zone-like story. It also includes the extremely enjoyable “Almost Got ‘Im,” “Birds of a Feather,” and “Harley and Ivy,” the latter of which launched a very popular all-girl villain team.

On the other hand, admittedly, you also get “Moon of the Wolf,” “Cat Scratch Fever,” and “Tyger Tyger,” dire episodes that actually make you grateful that the disc hasn’t got chapter stops: Hit the forward button, and it sends you straight to the next story.

Extras are a real improvement from the first set. The best featurette on the discs is undoubtedly “Voices of the Knight,” in which cast members Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Adrienne Barbeau, as well as voice director Andrea Romano, discuss their approaches to the characters. (It includes a marvelous bit in which Hamill compares the Joker’s laugh to a musical instrument.) Also included: “Guardians of Gotham,” in which the supporting cast, from Jim Gordon to Dr. Leslie Thompkins, is analyzed by the creative crew, and a featurette on Robin in which the crew expresses their mixed feelings about the character and his evolution. This featurette, surprisingly, even goes past The Animated Series to feature clips from and discussions of The New Adventures, in which Dick Grayson became Nightwing and Tim Drake moved into the Batcave.

Where the first volume contained only two commentaries, the new set has four, for “Harley and Ivy,” “Almost Got ‘Im,” “Robin’s Reckoning (Part I)” and “Heart of Steel (Part II).” Producers Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski and Paul Dini are joined by directors Boyd Kirkland and Kevin Altieri on the latter two, respectively, and the crew has a lot of fun reacting to and discussing the episodes as they watch them.

ImageThe transfer isn’t as clean as the Superman set (also recently released), and there are a few bits of grain here and there. And yet that is curiously fitting: it’s a very retro-looking series and the retro-crud actually makes it feel more authentic, somehow. The sound is good, with voices that are clear and music that rings through nicely. The menus are cooler than the last set. Whilst not as pretty as Superman‘s, they’re nice and simple and don’t hinder my enjoyment of the set.

If you’re reading this, you’re already more than likely to buy it anyway. But it’s worth saying anyway: You must buy this set. The years of waiting have paid off. This is Batman the way he should be, in a set that truly does the show justice.

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