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There’s a little game I like to play called The Mark Hamill Game. It goes like this, you spend your entire life waiting for someone to say something like “Tch. Mark Hamill, what a has-been” or “Wow. Bet he thought Star Wars was going to be a career maker for him, more like a career breaker amirite?” and then, get this, you punch that person repeatedly in the face. It’s a fun game, and also it provides a useful service to society. Mark Hamill is not a has-been. Mark Hamill is one of the most talented, respected and lauded voice actors currently working in the industry, an actor who combines astonishing versatility and a real flair for mimicry with a wonderfully energetic and intense performance style. And by far his greatest role was his absolutely revolutionary turn as Batman’s arch nemesis the Joker in the seminal Batman: The Animated Series. Now…millenials like myself tend to gush about this show to the point that if you sat down to watch it based on our recommendation you might be expecting something like Saturday morning Miyazaki. And, at the risk of a storm of screeching Batfans descending from the stalactite studded cave roof of the internet…it wasn’t perfect. It was, no question, a very, very good cartoon. Possibly the best cartoon series until that point. But the quality varied wildly in terms of animation and writing. Partially this was because the animation was done by more than one animation studio, some vastly more adept than others. And also, the show took its time to decide whether it was just a cartoon for kids or something more mature. It’s great, I’m not disputing that, but…not every episode was Heart of Ice. Some of them were Batman’s in my Basement. You know what was perfect though? Mark Hamill’s Joker. Hilarious, crazed and utterly terrifying. To fans in the know, the greatest Joker was not Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson or even Heath Ledger. It was Mark Hamill.
He’s not in Batman: Under the Red Hood.
As well as Hamill, BTAS also had one of the all time great Batman/Bruce Wayne performances (admittedly that’s a slightly lower bar to clear). Kevin Conroy’s Batman for many fans (including me) was the absolute sweet spot for this character that has had an incredibly broad spectrum of portrayals over his nearly 75 year history.
Conroy’s Batman is grim but compassionate. Hyper competent but not infallible. Intimidating but not a monster. Often brutal but not a cop-killing, kidnapping, ableist, potty-mouthed psychopath.
Conroy’s not in this either.
So understand, when Warner Bros announced that they would be releasing a straight to DVD animated Batman film that would not star either Conroy or Hamill, long considered irreplaceable, expectations were not high. I remember reading one commenter who essentially said “What ever they want? Pay them. If they’re not free? Wait. And if they just don’t want to do it? Don’t make the movie.” You could say that the very positive response Under the Red Hood would finally receive was partially due to low expectations but I don’t think so. This, to me, personally, is the best Batman movie ever made. I don’t mean that it’s the best movie to feature Batman in it.
Logically I know that Dark Knight is an absolute masterpiece. But as a Batman story, as a story that actually tells us something new and interesting about Bruce Wayne, as a story that actually makes him the focus I think URH has the edge. Why is it so good? Let’s take a look. To the Mousemobile!