DC comics may be stumbling over their big screen incarnations of their iconic comic book superheroes but their far more modestly mounted the DC Universe Original Animated Movies are surprisingly good, especially given the limitations of their resources. These budget-minded direct-to-DVD films translate graphic novels and memorable comic-book runs into animated incarnations efficiently, at times stylishly and generally true to their source material.
Batman: Year One (Warner) is to date the best. It’s also based on one of the best “Batman” stories of the past twenty years: Frank Miller’s revision of the early days of Batman and Jim Gordon (before he became police commissioner), which was also a major influence on Christopher Nolan’s live action “Batman” movies.
Animation aside, this isn’t a Batman cartoon. Like the comic, the story is told in slivers of action marked by the passing dates of the calendar and framed by the diary-like voice-overs of the parallel protagonists. Emmy winner Bryan Cranston (of “Breaking Bad”) voices Gordon, the lone honest cop on the thoroughly corrupt Gotham City police force, and brings a world-weary, conflicted quality to the man risking not just his career but his family to follow his moral compass, which nonetheless spins askew under the pressure. Ben McKenzie, however, tries too hard to give Bruce Wayne/Batman, the fledgling hero learning his trade on the streets, a sense of gravitas through a pose of stoicism and ends up simply flat and one-dimensional. Eliza Dushku (“Dollhouse”) comes in as colorful support as Selena Kyle, aka Catwoman, born out of the same struggle out of the Gotham cesspool.