by Alex Castle
As the world prepares for what looks to be a game-changing new Superman movie, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, produced by Dark Knight mastermind Christopher Nolan, it’s worth remembering that while Marvel Comics may seem to have totally dominated the live-action movie arms race, DC Comics has more than held its own in the animated department, with a range of stellar adaptations of classic stories as well as all-new stories featuring DC’s iconic characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and more. So while DC is at least a few years behind Marvel in terms of the world-building that could eventually lead to a Justice League movie, the animated version of that world is up and running and only a click away on Blockbuster On Demand!
Note: ‘animated’ does not necessarily mean ‘for kids.’ Some of these films are decidedly less appropriate for younger viewers.
The classic ’90s storyline “The Death of Superman,” one of the biggest-selling comics runs ever, is the basis here, with Kal-El battling a powerful villain called Doomsday to the death. (Spoiler Alert: Superman does not stay dead.)
Based on a 12-issue limited comic series, this one has Superman exposed to a lethal dose of solar radiation that also affords him more superpowers, so he sets about checking off his Bucket List and battling — who else? — Lex Luthor.
DC’s two biggest stars team up when President Lex Luthor declares the Man of Steel an enemy of the state, as a giant meteor threatens to destroy the Earth, while a huge army of supervillains keeps them off-balance.
Picking up where Superman/Batman: Public Enemies left off, Superman and Batman deal with the arrival of Superman’s Kryptonian cousin Kara on Earth, which is not without complications. Despite his top billing, Batman is only a supporting player here, but Wonder Woman is also a main supporting character; the villains are Apokolips and Darkseid.
The first feature-length animation by the creators of the wildly successful Batman: The Animated Series has the Caped Crusader framed for a series of macabre crimes while romancing a woman who, we learn in flashback, helped push orphaned millionaire Bruce Wayne into the vigilante business.
A masked criminal called the Red Hood has taken over Gotham City’s drug trade, in part by eluding Batman with precise knowledge of his methods, and Batman and the first Robin, now called Nightwing, reteam to try and stop him.
Frank Miller’s classic 1987 reinvention of the Caped Crusader gets the animated treatment it deserves, keeping the Reagan-era setting and all of the moral ambiguity of an AARP-eligible Bruce Wayne’s return to crimefighting. Batman’s relationship with Superman, now a full government agent, is one of the most interesting dimensions of this enormously influential reimagining of the mythos.
After Frank Miller took on the end of Batman’s career, he went back to the beginning, reimagining Batman’s origin story in parallel with the police career of future Commissioner James Gordon, and this is a faithful adaptation of that excellent story.
The origin story of Hal Jordan, Earthling recruited to serve in the intergalactic peacekeeping Green Lantern Corps, is told in animated form and is actually better than the Ryan Reynolds live-action take on the same material. And, more kid-friendly than most other titles on this list.
The origin story of Diana, Amazon Warrior Princess from the island of Themyscira, and her arrival in civilization, makes for one of the best-reviewed DC animated films, loaded with great dialogue, strong feminist themes and great action scenes.
Superman, Batman and Robin, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, The Flash, and Aquaman each get surprisingly detailed origin stories set across the post-World War II/Cold War period, where superheroes are largely feared but are forced to come together, in various combinations, to battle a mysterious alien threat called “The Centre.” Nearly every character in the DC canon at least makes an appearance here, and if this should be the blueprint for the eventual live-action Justice League movie, it would be off to a good start.