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"The Batman Vs. Dracula": Fang-Smackingly Delicious

The Batman has been a love/hate show for franchise fans since the very moment it was announced. A feeling that it could never top Batman: The Animated Series didn’t help, but some remained cautiously optimistic that it could prove a refreshing take on the Caped Crusader. Now I watch and enjoy the series, but it’s not nearly flawless. One of the main problems is simple. More often than not, the villains suck. They’re often one-dimensional gimmicks spouting puns and quips with little to no personality, designed to entertain strictly the younger audiences.

When I heard that a direct-to-video The Batman feature was coming, I was instantly excited. Ignoring Mystery Of The Batwoman, all of the DTVs have offered much entertainment, often surpassing the quality of the shows. The choice of villain also greatly intrigued me. The Batman Vs. Dracula? It’s so weird it just might work, especially in Matsuda’s world. We were also told that this would be violent and that Batman was actually in for a challenge, something that, honestly, the series lacked. In fact, in the series the one opponent who actually offered Batman a physical challenge was banned from appearing again! With the hype set in, I avoided as many spoilers as I could and patiently waited for the DVD to arrive.

And to put it bluntly, it is utterly awesome. The film was everything I expected it to be and more. Action packed, great fun and surprisingly disturbing in some instances, it absolutely annihilates everything else the show has ever done in terms of quality.

Dracula is by the far the greatest villain this show has ever seen. He has a genuine creepiness, and real motivation and characterization.
He adds to the traditional Dracula with some brutal physical strength. Make no mistake about it, Dracula outclasses even Batman on just about every level. The promised violence is here, and often left me cringing. Just try not to react as Dracula smacks Batman into the ground. The utterly fantastic visuals of the show are displayed here; with some of the best fights I’ve ever seen animated. They’re up there with some of MTV’s Spider-Man’s fights.

But how do the characters hold up? Batgirl, Gordon, Yin and Rojas aren’t featured here. This is Batman’s film, with no sidekicks to distract him. The writers deftly illuminate the similarities between Nosferatu and the Dark Knight. Batman’s origin is also depicted for the first time in this series. The scene is brief, yes, but it’s powerful enough, with camera work and storyboarding that are second to none. The segment really packs a punch, easily one of the most memorable aspects of the entire feature.

In addition to Dracula, the two most overexposed supervillians in all of history return, but don’t drag the film down too much. Though either of them could’ve been replaced with just about anybody, there was something immensely cool about The Joker becoming a vampire. The Clown Prince Of Crime sticking to walls made for some delightful fights, and his new vampire design was marvellous. The scene of him absolutely drenched in blood has already become infamous, one of the most shocking things I can honestly say I’ve witnessed in a cartoon before.

The Penguin doesn’t fare as well, but he’s had far worse appearances. These characters don’t particularly add or detract from the film. I did however; love Batman’s guilt over Joker’s apparent death.

The disc itself is a step up from Warner’s usual animated properties. The studio usually puts in a little more effort for these direct-to-DVD features, and the results show. The picture is practically flawless, with nice bright colours contrasting against the seas of black in the feature. The rain, a welcome atmospheric enhancement, causes no problems and looks great. The audio had no major issues. The score and voices came through fine and the sound effects had a great kick to them.

The special features themselves are a mixed bag. On one hand, what is here is pretty cool. On the other hand, there really should be a lot more. The big feature is part of a point-and-click menu-game hybrid. There’s a good 20 minutes of features, but you have to hunt for them a little too much. This would have worked better as a simple 20-minute featurette. We hear from the likes of Jeff Matsuda, Duane Capizzi, Micheal Goguen and a few others from the show’s production team. As much fun as hearing the show’s creative team talk to the camera, I really did miss an audio commentary here.

Science Vs. Superstition is a drastically overdone take on scientific facts and how they affect vampires. The Batman himself narrates the feature and shows little restraint in doing so. Not bad, but not something to show to your friends who think you’re a nerd. If they see this, chances are you’ll be forced to agree with them.

Next up is Voices In Close Up, which takes a look at the vocal performances of the show and features clips of Rino Romano, Kevin Michael Richardson and Tom Kenny voicing their respective characters. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s all good fun. I personally got a kick out of watching Richardson perform, you can tell he has great fun with the role as does Tom Kenny, who apparently refuses to sit down while performing. It’s a shame Peter Stormare couldn’t have been interviewed, as he was brilliant as Dracula.

Trailers round off the disc, most of which promote other DC titles. I personally got a big nostalgic kick out of seeing The Thundercats trailer. I haven’t seen the show in years and I couldn’t help but smile once I heard the theme music again.

In the film, a new love interest is introduced in Vicki Vale, a character from the comics who is better known for her appearance in the original Batman film in 1989. Unlike the aforementioned movie, this version of her doesn’t absolutely suck; Vicki is a charming, intelligent, wonderfully written supporting character. The Batman hasn’t had much a chance to delve into romance in the show, and given how great her chemistry with Bruce was in the few scenes they were together, I’m hoping to God she appears in the show at the soonest possible moment. With the possible exception of Andrea Beaumont, there’s not a single animated Batman/Bruce Wayne love interest in Vicki’s league.

I can only hope the show reaches this level of quality soon and more DTVs become available, I’d love to see The Batman receive a DTV annually, as this one proved they’re worth it. This films is genuinely one of the best I’ve seen this year. My brother, who is in the die-hard “The Batman will never be good” group, enjoyed it as much as I did. A great pace, some stunning visuals and a strong story make this one of the finest pieces of animated fiction I’ve ever seen. For those of you who aren’t sure if this is worth your time yet, hesitate no longer. Go pick up this DVD as soon as you possibly can. It comes highly recommended. A truly fantastic effort from all involved.

The images in this review appear courtesy of The World’s Finest.

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