Much like the comic book series it was based on, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox gave us a whole new continuity for the DC DTV films. The Batman corner of the universe is shaping up to be one of the strongest, and it’s pretty clear by its third outing that it’s a living, breathing entity. What can be considered the first movie, Son of Batman, raised the question of what would happen if Batman had a son he never knew about. The second, Batman vs. Robin asks if Batman can truly be a father. The latest edition, Batman: Bad Blood, asks what the kids do when Dad’s away (while also having the unfortunate luck of sharing its name with a Taylor Swift song). Turns out that the stakes are raised, new exciting characters are introduced, and the whole universe gets bigger.
After the events of the last movie, our characters are in different places, both physically and emotionally. Nightwing is doing fine operating out of Bludhaven, Damian is taking anger management classes at a monastery in the Himalayas, and Batman is alone keeping Gotham safe as only he can. After a possible fatal run-in with a hulking brute named the Heretic (who wears a suspiciously familiar batmask), Batman disappears with newcomer Batwoman as the only witness to his fate. Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne then return to Gotham to pick up the slack of Batman’s absence, with Dick donning an old Batman costume (complete with yellow oval symbol and blue tint), to give the city its hero back. With the threat of the Heretic along with a dozen or so super villains, Nightwing has to expand the family for help, recruiting newcomers Batwoman and Batwing.
The sense of continuity between movies really works to the story’s advantage. As great as Batman: Under the Red Hood was, a lot of the issues raised rang hollow knowing we wouldn’t see these versions of the characters again to tackle them. Here, however, we can see how the characters have grown through the experience of their past adventures. Damian in particular manages to demonstrate just how much of Batman’s philosophy he has taken to heart, all while acting like a little snot because Damian is still Damian. Dick’s relationship with Batman is given more focus in this movie as Dick reflects on the fact that he has always admired and looked up to Batman but never wanted to be him. This is very much Nightwing’s movie since he knows what Batman would do in a given situation but struggles to make his own calls, even when he is Batman. Sean Maher returns as Nightwing, and it’s great to hear him stretch his vocal muscles playing Dick Grayson playing Batman. Stuart Allan’s returning Damian Wayne/Robin is just as strong as ever. There’s less Jason O’Mara as Bruce Wayne/Batman than in previous movies, but a little from him does end up going a long way.
Adding two new heroes is an ambitious move, but establishing the strong core cast in the prior two movies allows them to execute it. Batwing is Luke Fox, the son of a very Nolan Trilogy-like Lucius Fox; Batwing’s powers come from a cybernetic Bat suit. Gaius Charles brings a likable charm to the role and he’s a natural fit with the rest of the cast. Then there’s Kate Kane, the gun-toting Batwoman who isn’t eager to be a part of the Bat Family but understands the importance of wearing that symbol in Gotham. She is played with intensity by Yvonne Strahovski. While there have been other animated versions of Batwoman, this is the first we see of the one that debuted after Infinite Crisis (circa 2006 for those keeping track) and the one currently in the comics. What could be considered the most controversial aspect of her character, her preference for women, isn’t shied away from in this movie. Both Batwing and Batwoman are new enough characters to the comics that no one’s preconceived notions are going to get in the way of their enjoyment of the film. That works to the film’s strength, but some longtime followers of the Bat-family may not like having their favorite characters left out. Fans of Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, Cassandra Cain, or even Helena Bertinelli may find themselves cheated out of not having an essential Bat-partner take part in this adventure. Some of these characters have proven popular over a longer period of time and deserve to be seen in an exciting action oriented movie such as this. But the continuity of these movies will continue, and the door to the Batcave is left wide open, so it may only be a matter of time until we see even more heroes.
Much like the last two movies, the plot of Batman: Bad Blood picks and chooses from comic book story arcs while also doing it’s own thing. The Heretic comes from a Batman Incorporated story, while the idea of Dick Grayson impersonating a missing Batman and training Damian as Robin is similar to the story arc “Battle for the Cowl” and the Batman and Robin series that launched from that. While it’s fun to have some background knowledge and see the story elements they chose to adapt, it’s certainly not necessarily. For the Heretic, the less you know about him the better because the movie constructs a mystery around him and his connection to Batman. The villains that join the Heretic end up being a mixed bag. Character designer Phil Bourassa gets to reimagine a lot of C-list villains for the 21st century, but if you’re familiar with the names, you may get distracted in the fight scenes trying to figure out which Batman rogue is which and what powers and abilities they now have. There’s about a dozen of them, but without much motivation, all they really seem to be there for is to give each hero their own individual fight.
But don’t get me wrong, there are some awesome fight sequences in this movie. Jay Oliva’s no stranger to directing animated Bat movies, and it seems like his challenge in this one is to give each character his or her own unique fighting style. Dick fights like an acrobat, when he’s either Nightwing or Batman, and Batwoman uses a mix of firearms and hand-to-hand combat. Batwing flies around with hi-tech weaponry, giving his fights a three-dimensional angle. It’s explained that both Kate and Luke have military training, so they’re more than capable of handling themselves in the field, and it’s also clearly different from Damian’s assassin training. You even get to see Alfred’s fighting style. The fight scenes are incredible, and there’s really nothing like it in animation. You can practically feel the force behind every hit and wince when a character gets really hurt. Provided you have high pain tolerance, every fight is worth a re-watch. Some of the match-ups are predictable (let’s have the flying hero fight the flying villain while the female hero fights the female villains), but others are more surprising, like when the smallest hero goes toe to toe with the largest villain.
The fights are satisfying on every level, but it’s the continuing theme of family that really makes Batman: Bad Blood a standout. Nightwing has one or two very poignant speeches that lay out the theme of the Bat Family. While a masked vigilante is born from tragedy seasoned with a dose of loneliness, it’s that pain that gives each of them the desire to reach out and create a unique bond with a kindred spirit. It’s kind of beautiful in a bizarre way.
Batman: Bad Blood opens up the universe in so many ways. Every hero (and some of the villains) scream for more screen time. There are also some references to the upcoming Justice League vs. Teen Titans DTV. While it seems unusual to have a Batman series that’s not quite weekly but not quite done in one, it’s really great to have a well-grounded universe with many stories to tell.