DC Showcase – Batman: Death in the Family
Studios: Warner Bros. Animation, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, DC
Release Date: Blu-ray, Digital – October 13, 2020
Press Release: Click here
Produced, directed and written by Brandon Vietti, DC Showcase – Batman: Death in the Family offers an inventive take on the long-demanded story. In the new animated presentation, the infamous murder of Batman protégé Jason Todd will be undone, and the destinies of Batman, Robin and The Joker will play out in shocking new ways as viewers make multiple choices to control the story. And while Batman: Under the Red Hood provides a baseline, the story also branches in new directions and features several characters previously unseen in the original film. Bruce Greenwood (The Resident, Star Trek, iRobot), Vincent Martella (Phineas and Ferb) and John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time) reprise their Batman: Under The Red Hood roles of Batman, young Jason Todd and The Joker, respectively. Other featured voices are Zehra Fazal (Young Justice) as Talia al Ghul and Gary Cole (Veep) as Two-Face and James Gordon.
The interactive Blu-ray presentation offers many different ways for viewers to tell the Batman: Death in the Family story, with numerous twists and turns in the middle, and several possible endings. The choices along the way put greater weight on the viewers’ decisions and result in even stronger stories. Viewers can also choose to allow the story to tell itself, as there is an option to let the Blu-ray decide its own path.
Packed with Easter Eggs, the centerpiece short’s story – with its foundation grounded in the original “Batman: A Death in the Family” comic run, and the acclaimed Batman: Under the Red Hood animated film – balances a number of integral themes within its entertainment, including fatherhood, mental health, death, rebirth, revenge and redemption. Along the route, viewers encounter new, surprising looks at some classic DC characters.
The Blu-ray release of DC Showcase – Batman: Death in the Family Special Features will also include the 2019-2020 DC Showcase titles Sgt. Rock, Adam Strange, Death and The Phantom Stranger, with commentary tracks on all those and on the per-arranged Batman: Death in the Family story path Batman: Under the Red Hood – Reloaded by DC Daily hosts Amy Dallen and Hector Navarro. The Digital release will include the same content as above, along with the per-arranged Batman: Death in the Family story path Batman: Under the Red Hood – Reloaded and three non-interactive versions of the Batman: Death in the Family – entitled Jason Todd’s Rebellion, Robin’s Revenge and Red Hood’s Reckoning.
For a complete rundown on the home media release of Batman: Death in the Family, please check out the press release.
By James Harvey
Is there some other outcome, some better future for Jason Todd than his fate in the top-notch, critically-acclaimed Batman: Under the Red Hood animated feature? That is, essentially, what the DC Showcase Batman: Death in the Family animated short posits. Taking us back to the opening minutes of 2010 fan-favorite DC Universe Movie title, viewers now have the chance to determine whether Batman will swoop in to save Robin, let him perish (sound familiar?), or allow the story to explore some surprising alternate avenues. Get comfy on that couch, because you’re about to find out how differently these events could’ve played out.
Produced, directed, and written by Brandon Vietti – who worked on Batman: Under the Red Hood with Judd Winick – Batman: Death in the Family doesn’t play it safe in the slightest. While it’s easy to offer up some negligibly different variants of Todd’s fate, Vietti instead creates a series of legitimately startling, unique outcomes that manage to keep the surprises rolling up to the very end. The trailer and promotional materials don’t even hint at just how shocking some of these differing outcomes are, and each are littered with guest appearances, great easter eggs and homages and references to the four-color source material.
Please note, in an effort to preserve many of Batman: Death in the Family‘s surprises, this review will be spoiler-free.
Inspired by the original Batman: A Death in the Family 1980s comic event where readers ultimately decided Jason Todd’s fate (hint: it does not end well), naturally, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment chose the perfect material to adapt for their first major interactive feature. The first major choice viewers will make in Batman: Death in the Family – and this is not a spoiler as this option screen has prominently appeared in promotional material for the animated short – is not only whether Robin will die, but also how he’ll survive. Does he cheat death or does Batman save him? This is the first of many choices where just the slightest of difference in choice results in Batman and Robin going down some pretty wild paths. To compare, Batman: Death in the Family plays out in a fashion similar to the recent Batman: The Telltale Series games, though understandably not as layered or complex
The new content in Batman: Death in the Family, for the most part, is compelling. Vietti’s writing remains, of course, top-notch, and his love of these characters and the DC Comics universe is evident. While the animated short’s promotional material offers a brief glimpse of how things could’ve gone for Jason Todd, there’s a lot more to discover than you might expect. For example, the short is littered with characters and moments that are pretty deep pulls from DC Comics history. For the most part, each outcome is different enough that things never really get stale or repetitive. Further, each path does a great job in keeping a sense of unpredictability that guarantees close attention until the end credits roll.
Story points for Batman: Death in the Family won’t be spoiled here because, frankly, the less revealed about each outcome, the better. There are twists and turns that viewers will never see coming (there’s at least one character that appears that completely threw me for a total loop, in a good way, for example), and part of what makes this interactive animated short so appealing to dig into it is uncovering every last one. And you’ll definitely want to. Vietti, clearly taking a lot of the lessons he’s learned from Young Justice to heart, is able to keep every outcome a guessing game, and isn’t above throwing in a few last-minute twists.
Not only does Vietti return to the world of Batman: Under the Red Hood, but so do a number of the film’s original cast and crew. Bruce Greenwood and John DiMaggio reprise their roles of Batman and The Joker, respectively, and Vincent Martella is back as Jason Todd (and steps in for Red Hood‘s Jensen Ackles to voice said character). New to the cast is Zehra Fazal, as Talia Al Ghul, and Gary Cole, voicing both Commissioner Gordon and Two-Face. Composer Christopher Drake also returns, revisiting and expanding upon his incredible work for Batman: Under the Red Hood, with his stirring, ominous, haunting score here helping to convincingly bind the new and old animated materials together in a thrillingly unexpected fashion.
Batman: Death in the Family provides a wealth of legitimately intriguing outcomes for Jason Todd, nearly all of them worthy of their own episode-length or movie-length feature. Vietti’s work here is that good. Unfortunately, the unique presentation for this animated short does impact how detailed and deep these stories can go, which is completely understandable given the generally short run-time for these DC Showcase titles. The assorted outcomes do differ substantially in length for the most part, though that said, some honestly don’t require as much fleshing out as others. Story-path lengths range from roughly 10 minutes to upwards of over 30 minutes, again all depending on the choices made.
Still, most outcomes tend to unfold more like a detailed summation of what happens to Jason Todd and the Bat-Family as opposed to being a full-fledged story. Given the limited running time, it’s totally reasonable, and keep in mind Batman: Death in the Family is still a longer-than-usual DC Showcase short (just like the Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam extended short from a decade ago). Here, there just happens to be a wealth of story material which maybe runs this animated short a little thin. But what’s here is absolutely top-notch. Vietti has such a strong grasp on what makes these characters tick, and really understands how they and this fictional world work. The substance, no matter how light it may feel at times since Batman: Death in the Family doesn’t really have the real estate to dive really, really deep into these characters (it uses our knowledge of Batman: Under the Red Hood to get some of the leg work done), remains just as engaging and engrossing as one would expect.
Animation quality for the most part is good, though occasionally bumpy. While Batman: Death in the Family stitches together the new animated material with scenes from Batman: Under the Red Hood quite impressively, there are times when the level of quality between the new and older content is jarring. A sizable portion of the new content blends seamlessly and, unless you know Batman: Under the Red Hood inside and out, is impossible to discern. Other times … not so much. Stilted character movements and less detailed design work are noticeable and stick out on occasion. Batman: Death in the Family also makes use of panning still shots with voice-over (these type of shots appeared semi-regularly in Young Justice: Outsiders) in some instances which, again, is understandable given the time restraints of the short, though can be deflating (that said, one of my favorite endings is done via those still pans). While uneven in parts, the overall final product is undeniably strong.
As good as the material itself is, the interactive presentation of this short will likely be a key deciding factor for many consumers. For those who want to watch Batman: Death in the Family without having to actively participate in the unfolding story, the Blu-ray release might not be the most attractive option. That said, the collaborative portions are not really all that burdensome. When presented with a choice, simply press the respective arrow on your remote, hit ‘enter,’ and that’s essentially it. It’s very fool proof and actually does become a fun, engaging aspect of the viewing experience. It evolves into something of a hunt the further you get into the story and the subsequent choices that come with. Upon finishing up my first viewing of the animated short, I immediately wanted to see what other outcomes awaited.
However, the interactive aspect of Batman: Death in the Family does hamper rewatchability somewhat. To revisit specific portions of the animated short, viewers are required to go through all the same choices again, which can feel a little tedious and repetitive. Unfortunately there are no pre-arranged story-paths to unlock or access after watching the entirety of Batman: Death in the Family, which seems like an oversight.
In terms of the Batman: Death in the Family‘s home media release, the interactive version of the animated short is available on Blu-ray only, along with the four previous DC Showcase animated shorts released over 2019 and 2020. For the digital edition, Batman – Death in the Family is presented as a non-interactive, pre-assembled version of the story, titled Under the Red Hood: Reloaded, along with the other four 2019-2020 DC Showcase shorts, and three other non-interactive versions of the Batman – Death in the Family which follow specific pre-assembled story-paths (titled Jason Todd’s Rebellion, Robin’s Revenge and Red Hood’s Reckoning) as bonus features. Batman: Death in the Family‘s Blu-ray also features roughly five minutes of additional story from the title short that’s not included in the Digital version. Basically, you’ll need both the physical and digital editions to get every version of Batman – Death in the Family.
Looking at the Blu-ray, Batman: Death in the Family is given a solid though slightly flawed presentation. The 1080p transfer looks fantastic, and helps to blend the old Batman: Under the Red Hood animation with the new material, but does succumb to color-banding and macroblocking on occasion, though it’s infrequent enough that it’s not incredibly noticeable. While disappointing, the lack of a physical 4K release makes sense given the short’s interactivity and multiple animation source usage. The audio delivers a strong, immersive presentation that’s as top-notch as can be expected. Dialogue is clear and never gets drowned out, with action beats or character heavy scenes suitably crisp and distinct. While dialogue is center-focused, every channel gets heavy usage here. It’s another commendable bit of work by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
Bonus content is light but still enjoyable. The special features include the aforementioned 2019-2020 DC Showcase animated shorts – Sgt. Rock, Adam Strange, The Phantom Stranger and Death – and commentaries for all of those shorts and the Batman: Under the Red Hood – Reloaded version of the Batman: Death in the Family. It’s worth noting that you can only watch Reloaded with a commentary and that’s it. To watch it without, you’ll need the digital version of Batman: Death in the Family. The commentaries, featuring former DC Daily contributors and geek culture personalities Amy Dallen and Hector Navarro, are lively and fun, giving off a vibe of fans just hanging out and enjoying some cartoons. While the commentaries do occasionally fall into the trap of narrating what we’re seeing on screens, for the most part Dallen and Navarro discuss the content of the shorts (or “gushing” about them, as Navarro occasionally quips), their respective comic book ties, all intermixed with personal anecdotes and an upbeat tone. While there’s no real deep dive into the production of these shorts, these are still entertaining tracks to listen to, but the lack of any appearance by the creatives involved with the DC Showcase shorts is disappointing.
The disc wraps up with trailers for Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, Superman: Red Son and Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge and a digital copy of Batman: Death in the Family. To reiterate, the digital copy included with the Blu-ray is the extended pre-arranged story-path titled Batman: Under the Red Hood – Reloaded and the four 2019-2020 DC Showcase animated shorts, while the purchasable digital edition will include those five animated shorts plus three more pre-arranged story-paths culled from Batman: Death in the Family.
The digital edition offers a slightly selection of content, as mentioned. The main Batman: Death in the Family animated short story path featured is Batman: Under the Red Hood – Reloaded, and three other non-interactive versions of the Batman: Death in the Family – entitled Jason Todd’s Rebellion, Robin’s Revenge and Red Hood’s Reckoning – are available as bonus content. These options allow for a more passive viewing experience, though keep in mind not all of the footage from the DC Showcase short’s Blu-ray release is included here. Each of these paths are clearly arranged from specific choices, leaving out content from the other choices as they would’ve appeared on the Blu-ray release, which accounts from between 5-6 minutes of removed material. All bonus content on the Blu-ray release, with the exception of trailers, are also included on the digital edition.
While incomplete, these digital editions are a serviceable way to revisit Batman: Death in the Family without having to actively participate in story decisions, but it won’t be the complete experience. It’s also worth noting most digital editions of Batman: Death in the Family are available in 4K streaming, though the quality of video and audio when compared to standard Blu-ray 1080p are actually roughly the same with the digital having a slight but negligible better quality. The Blu-ray release is still the most complete edition of the DC Showcase animated short.
A smart, novel take on the classic 1980s Batman storyline that inspired it, Batman: Death in the Family is a strong outing for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s first interactive feature. While the presentation does limit how detailed and in-depth these story paths can go, what’s here is still fascinating and intriguing. The DC Showcase animated short is an engaging and addictive experience, and a slick spin-off/companion piece to the fan-beloved Batman: Under the Red Hood. There’s something legitimately cool about seeing Vietti explore how different things could’ve played out for doomed Robin #2, Jason Todd, and the addictive nature of wanting to see every potential path makes it nearly impossible to put the remote down, especially during the first watch-through. While the interactive nature might not appeal to everyone, the solid execution of it here makes it well worth giving a chance. Batman: Death in the Family is ultimately a satisfying adventure that, despite a few shortcomings in the overall home media presentation, makes for a plenty enjoyable experience. Highly Recommended.
Please note a copy of the Batman: Death in the Family Blu-ray was provided by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, but the iTunes digital edition was purchased by the author for the sake of a complete and thorough review.
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