Batman: Death in the Family
Ten years ago, Jason Todd resurfaced in Gotham City and wrecked havoc in the lives of heroes and villains to prove a point in the highly lauded animated movie Batman: Under the Red Hood. It was influenced by the infamous A Death in the Family storyline by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo and the Under the Hood by Judd Winick who also penned the script for the movie. In the former storyline, comic book fans got to decide the fate of the second Robin Jason Todd by calling a 1-900 number. Suffice to say, Jason got killed off. Now, in the finale of the second wave of DC Showcase shorts, Batman: Death in the Family takes the interactive feature to the next level. Viewers are given the chance to make choices at important points of the short to experience unique divergent chapters that may or may not benefit Jason Todd and the other characters involved. It is produced, directed, and written by Brandon Vietti. Vietti is no stranger to revisiting a project that really means a lot to the DC animation fans and inject new stories into the canon but he takes it to a whole new level in Batman: Death in the Family.
Most of us has somewhere between a basic to full knowledge of the tragic end of Jason Todd but the shining feature of Death in the Family is all of our expectations get completely subverted with every choice that gets made and a brand new story plays out with endings and payoffs no one saw coming. Some of these are even easter eggs fans will recognize. There are new point of views getting to learn what Batman and Red Hood are thinking and new endings for both. Without spoiling things, a lot of these new endings put a new spin on Red Hood and perhaps makes Under the Red Hood even more tragic seeing what could have been. For those worried about having to do "work" watching this short or are more comfortable being a passive viewer, there are instructions displayed at the start and are pretty simple. Once a storyline is done, a row appears at the bottom of the screen that allows you to navigate backwards so you can make the other choice and see what happens and so you don't get lost. In addition, each outcome has its own uniqueness to the overall story, its own set of characters, some exclusive to one story branch, and easter eggs that all Batman and DC animation fans will recognize right away.
While it makes sense within the context of the short, the heavy recycling of footage from Under the Red Hood got unnerving over time. Sometimes, the animation blends seamlessly with Death in the Family. Sometimes, the shift in quality is too obvious such as dark lighting from Under the Red Hood and the same scene being brighter in Death in the Family. It's hard to say if it would any different if Answer Studio, the overseas animation studio who did Under the Red Hood, worked on this short rather than Studio Mir. Still, Mir did a modest job. There also some cringeworthy still shots with voice over. Also, I suspect the nature of multiple choice and going backwards to get all the choices might make it hard for some to get invested in the short.
Bruce Greenwood and John DiMaggio reprise their roles as Batman and Joker respectively and slip back into their roles like no time has passed. Vincent Martella returns as Jason Todd and also voices Red Hood in the new scenes rather than Jensen Ackles which naturally took some adjusting to at first. Still, very intriguing to see an actor who was a teenager and now comes back in his mid-20s to voice both versions of Jason Todd. Zehra Fazal and Gary Cole are also in the cast. Fazal voices Talia and Cole voices Two-Face and Commissioner Gordon primarily. Fazal's choice to do an English accent was an interesting choice and does so much with in the short amount of time but I could see her taking up the role again should Talia have any lines in the upcoming Young Justice: Phantoms. Christopher Drake likewise returns and his soundtrack feels like a natural outgrowth from his work on Under the Red Hood's dark and nuanced soundtrack.
Batman: Death In the Family releases on October 13, 2020 on Blu-ray for $24.98 and Digital for $19.99. For undisclosed reasons, there is no 4K version for sale at the time of release nor a Target exclusive Steelbook and Best Boy exclusive figure. Much like the Superman/Shazam! collection from a few years ago, Batman: Death in the Family collects the Showcase shorts Sgt. Rock, Death, Adam Strange, and The Phantom Stranger. The digital version does differ from the Blu-ray and is an extended length short in a non-interactive format called Under the Red Hood: Reloaded, a pre-assembled version of the story. And the digital's special feature is just the non-interactive versions of the choices in the interactive version: Jason Todd's Rebellion, Robin's Revenge, and Red Hood's Reckoning. The Blu-ray has nearly five extra minutes not in the digital version. The Blu-ray special features are trailers and commentary tracks. The trailers that appear before the menu are Superman: Man of Tomorrow and Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons: The Movie. The trailers are Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge, and Superman: Red Son. All five shorts have commentary tracks. The Death in the Family commentary is for the 30:53 Under the Red Hood: Reloaded linear version. Run times vary between 5 and 30 minutes depending on your choices but is 151 minutes total, counting all the interactive storylines and all five shorts.
The special features were bare bones. There weren't even any talking head featurettes. The commentary tracks only have the former DC Daily hosts, Hector Navarro and Amy Dallen. I don't dislike of either of them but the point of these commentary tracks are for the creatives who made the movie or short to talk about the making of and offer insights. This is really important with figures like Bruce Timm or Butch Lukic who have little to zero presence online to interact with fans. This was the rare chance to get in their heads. Especially with these Showcase shorts that have little press. These tracks are essentially fan reviews saying baseline information and trivia about characters we can find off Google ourselves along with a couple insights but chances are you already had those same thoughts. But if I wanted that, I'd go on YouTube or a podcast. Maybe the idea was to extend the fan interactive feature of the main short to the commentary and haves fans comment instead but sometimes ideas sound better on paper. Overall, the special features were a total disappointment.
"Batman: Death in the Family" is a recommended purchase. Death in the Family enriches the fall of Jason Todd and rise of Red Hood in Batman: Under the Red Hood in a new interactive manner unprecedented in the world of DC animation. A Batman story in name, Brandon Vietti crafted a Red Hood character piece that will make you see Jason Todd in another light.
Main Feature: 3 out of 5
Special Features: 3 out of 5
Average Rating: 3 out of 5