A sequel to the animated film Batman: Under The Red Hood, which I previously reviewed, Batman: Death in the Family is an animated film based on 1988's Batman: A Death in the Family, the landmark comic book event that allowed fans to determine the fate of Jason Todd / Robin by calling one of two 1-900 phone numbers. Viewers of the Blu-ray are also given the ability to decide how the story proceeds.
The Joker (John DiMaggio) is beating Jason Todd / Robin (Vincent Martella) with a crowbar in a warehouse. Batman (Bruce Greenwood) is on his way to rescue him. Flashbacks help explain how the fracturing relationship between Jason and Bruce Wayne led to this point. Before Batman's arrival, Joker runs off, leaving behind a bomb set to explode in seconds.
Viewers are then given their first choice and not a lot of time to make it: Robin cheats death, Robin dies, or Batman saves him. Two of the options are the only choice one gets to make in those stories. The third storyline later offers the option to either catch or kill the Joker, but after encountering the Joker, the same question is asked, which seemed odd but maybe writer/director Brandon Vietti thought the viewer would change their mind further into the story.
The way the characters and storylines played out in response to the viewer choices were all believable, which shows how good Vietti's writing is. Although I'm not a fan of ultraviolent Joker, DiMaggio's work was better here than in Red Hood. Martella shows great range playing different versions of the character, as does Greenwood who portrays a more vulnerable Bruce Wayne than the character usually appears.
The video is presented in a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The animation evokes a comic book with vivid hues that pop and rich, inky blacks. The animators create depth. The focus is usually sharp but the flashbacks have a slight haziness as a visual cue for the audience.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The dialogue is clear and ambient effects augment the scenes. The bass offers strong support as evidence from the powerful explosions that ring out in the surrounds. It can get to be too much at times, which rattles the subwoofer.
This disc also includes four other DC Showcase shorts, which have all been previously released on other DC Animated Movies.
- Sgt. Rock - Available on Batman: Hush, Steve Geise wrote, “the grisly tale finds the good Sgt. battling a reanimated crew of his previous squad mates, along with the Nazis that created them.”
- Adam Strange - Available on Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. Shortly after discovering Thanagarians (Hawkman's race) have attacked the planet Rann, Adam is transported to a mining colony. While waiting for a Zeta Beam to return him, he becomes a drunk, but sobers up and springs into action when creatures attack the miners. While it appeared to be an interesting story about a soldier dealing with the trauma of loss and war quickly becomes a mindless action movie.
- Death - Available on Wonder Woman: Bloodlines, Steve Geise wrote, “It’s a fairly lightweight story, but set up with enough of a Twilight Zone approach that it functions well for its length and reveals that the concept could work as a recurring series if DC ever chooses to pursue it.”
- The Phantom Stranger - Available on Superman: Red Son, Steve Geise wrote, “The story feels like a lost episode of Scooby Doo, with a group of teens in a van investigating a spooky house in spite of Phantom Stranger’s warnings.”
Batman: Death in the Family offers good stories along with the added fun of the viewer deciding how it should play out like a choose-your-adventure novel. However, I wouldn't recommend it for young children as the action is violent. The high-def video and audio immerse the audience and the extra shorts are a welcome bonus especially for DC fans who know the obscure characters.