Son of Batman
Release Date: May 6, 2014 (DVD & Blu-ray); April 22, 2014 (Online)
Cast: Jason O’Mara, Stuart Allan, Morena Baccarin, Giancarlo Esposito, Xander Berkeley, Thomas Gibson, David McCallum
Director: Ethan Spaulding
Studio: Warner Premier, Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment
Distributor: Warner Home Video
Genre(s): Animated, Graphic Novel, Superheroes
Based On Grant Morrison’s Batman and Son arch
Review Spoilers: Medium
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Batman and Robin – with Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian as Robin – was probably one of my favorite DC series ever. Even when Bruce Wayne returned and took back the cowl I kept reading because I loved the dynamic. Damian was such a great character and, in my opinion, DC squandered his long term potential with their poor narrative choices. For the uninitiated, Damian Wayne is the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul and for a while there he was one of the only reasons I kept up with any of the current Batman series.
When I heard about the upcoming Son of Batman animated movie I was absolutely thrilled. I was even happier when WonderCon announced that they would be hosting the world premier of the movie the first night of the convention. I had been saying forever (okay, since like 2012) that Damian deserved at the very least a movie if not an older, grittier Cartoon Network series. Thankfully, DC delivered and WonderCon helped. They also brought along a good chunk of the cast and creative minds behind the film for a brief panel and Q&A afterward which was a lot of fun. (Well, it was fun when people weren’t asking awful, antagonistic questions.)
I dragged Jane along with me to the premier and we both really enjoyed it. She’s a more casual Batman fan while I’ve got a fair bit of Batman knowledge under my belt. The fact that we could both enjoy it says a lot about the movie. Inspired by and largely based on Grant Morrison’s Batman and Son story line, the film follows Bruce Wayne as he tried to bond and build some kind of relationship with his previously unknown child. It’s the kind of starting point for a story that anyone can get into and it’s the best way to really introduce Damian’s character.
First off, let’s be very clear that you don’t need to have read Batman and Son to enjoy Son of Batman. It is perfectly enjoyable on it’s own and the story isn’t nearly as dark and gritty as the original source material. Like all DC animated films it’s aimed at a wide audience and animated versions of Batman are always much more approachable to a general audience. So, if you have read the comic, expect a lot of things to be different. Except for Ra’s al Ghul being dead, Damian being pawned off on Bruce, and the Man-Bats there’s really not a whole lot of similarities and the ending alludes to a future possible series of tie-in films follow along with the feel of the Batman and Robin series more so than anything else.
In Son of Batman, we find a pre-teen Damian pawned off on his father after the League of Assassins is attacked and Talia leaves to try and sort things out after Ra’s al Ghul’s apparent death at the hands of Deathstroke. Damian is nothing like his father. He’s unruly, headstrong, and out of touch with the real world after being raised apart from it by the League. Looking for revenge for his grandfather’s death, Damian finds himself at odds with his father who has his own ways of doing things. Together, they have to stop Deathstroke from finalizing his plan to mobilize an army of Man-Bats juiced up by Kirk Langstrom and ultimately build a relationship with one another.
There are two main focuses in this film – the relationship between Bruce and Damian and their attempts to track down Deathstroke and rescue Kirk Langstrom’s family who are being held hostage while he works on on the Man-Bat serum. Alfred (as always) gets a few good quips in and Dick Grayson’s Nightwing sort of takes the place of Tim Drake’s Robin from the original comic storyline. But for the most part we focus on a Damian hellbent on revenge and Bruce as a mentor trying to give him some semblance of guidance. They do it so well, too. The differences in the two characters’ upbringings and mindsets are so plain and clear and yet so is that strained father/son relationship that underlies everything.
A lot of the strengths of the cast can be chalked up to the cast. Andrea Romano did a phenomenal job – as she always does – at putting together a pretty stellar cast for the film.
Jason O’Mara returns as Batman, reprising the role he played for the first time in Justice League: War. Sean Maher comes into the DCAU continuity for the first time as Nightwing in a wonderful – if limited – appearance that should make Firefly fans extra happy considering Morena Baccarin plays Talia. The real star, though, is obviously Stuart Allan as Damian. Talk about a kid who can nail his character outright. According to Romano there was never any question as to who was going to play Damian. When this kid walked in they just knew. And he shows that in his portrayal of the character. It was great.
Honestly, this may be one of my favorite DC animated movies. I’m biased – I think Damian is a great character. He also has some of the best lines in the entire film and the back and forth between Damian and Bruce is just a lot of fun. Son of Batman does the characters and story a lot of justice and there’s a lot of potential for Damian in future films if they decide to go that route.
After the premier, WonderCon held short brief Q&A session with some of the cast and production staff. Cast members Jason O’Mara, Stuart Allan, Sean Maher, and Xander Berkeley (who played Kirk Langstrom) were on the stage as were Andrea Romero, Ethan Spaulding, Phil Bourassa, and James Tucker. It was, for the most part, a really enjoyable panel and the number of people who credited Andrea Romero’s fantastic casting and vocal direction for their childhood memories of favorite cartoons was absolutely heartwarming. I, too, owe a lot of really great memories to her and it was great to hear people give her that recognition.
A number of the questions were directed at Romero including a question about whether they could someday get some of the old iconic DC voice actors to come back as cameos in the new movies. While they are definitely open to the idea, the actors aren’t always. They do their best when they can and she reminded people of the time they got Adam West to voice the Gray Ghost for Batman: The Animated Series. She also talked about how she often knows actors she wants to use and actively looks for parts for them. It’s no coincidence that Sean Maher and Morena Baccarin are in this film. Romano is a self-admitted Firefly fan and is still trying to find the right role for Jewel Strait.
It was also nice to see that people were really receptive of Jason O’Mara as Batman. I go back and forth on his voice but I like him. I like him as an actor in general and I respect the way he approaches the character. One of the questions he was asked is one that I’m sure he gets a lot: what’s it like taking on such an iconic character whose been played by so many other people? The fan wondered if maybe Jason O’Mara might be the new Kevin Conroy which neither O’Mara nor the creative minds behind the DCAU seemed opposed to at all. You have to respect a guy, though, who can respect the character and knows that he needs to really approach that character and make it his. With so many other portrayals out there O’Mara knew he had to sort of ‘un-learn’ all those preconceptions he – and everyone else – had and do things his own way.
Stuart Allan also really respected his character and he had a lot of the same precociousness you’d see in Damian. I mean, I was more than impressed by the way this kid handled the panel. He always had an answer and even though he maybe went on a bit (which, to be fair, is exactly what I would do because I ramble like none other) everything Allan said was pretty much on point. Apparently during the recording process O’Mara and Allan got to record together unlike most of the rest of the cast. That was great and it really showed on screen.
With Son of Batman having just finished it was obvious that there were a lot of changes from the original Batman and Son story line and James Tucker ultimately had to explain that you just can’t fit in everything you want. Sometimes you have to make choices that work better with the overall narrative. Cutting out Tim Drake – as much as they love Tim – was necessary and they got their Damian vs. Robin moment in with a few short bouts between Damian and Nightwing. Sadly, no one would give any straight answers when it came to upcoming films, the prospect of any other classic story lines being adapted for animated films (The Killing Joke anyone?), or even whether or not they’d continue on with Damian as Robin in any future films.
The cast and the staffers that were on stage were really just a great joy to have at WonderCon. They couldn’t always answer the questions that were answered but they did their best to be respectful and skirt around things graciously. Even when blatantly criticized and attacked by a couple of people in the question queue they maintained composure and tried to laugh it all off.
At the end of the day, these are the people I trust to make the DCAU great and I was really glad to get a chance to see them in action. These are people who really love this animated universe they are creating. I understand some fans’ frustrations but we have to remember that these are the same people who gave us so many of our favorite series and childhood memories. They really are doing their best to do right by the fans and the franchises.
The world premier itself was great. It was a lot of fun getting to see the film before anyone else and then getting to listen to the people who were behind the whole thing talk about it. Andrea Romano said she was seeing the film for the first time finalized and all put together for the first time that night, too, and there’s something really cool about that. All I can say about the movie itself is that if you’re thinking about seeing it then do it. You can get it online but I say just wait the extra couple of weeks and pick it up on blu ray. You won’t regret it. I hear there’s some pretty cool extra features, too, though I can’t speak on that right now having on seen the movie. If I get my hands on a review copy at some point or break down and buy it in the near future I’ll get back to you on that! But, basically, get this movie because Damian is awesome and it’s great to see him in his first, real foray into the DC animated universe. (It does, however, make me even madder at the comic continuity for killing him off so. There’s that.)