Posted March 24, 2016 by GP Manalo in Movies/TV

ROAD TO BATMAN v SUPERMAN Part 1: The Other Great Batman Movie

77609844Yes, in the dark times where Joel Schumacher was just about ready to hammer the last few nails to the coffin of the Batman film franchise, there was a hidden gem in the early 90s that people have overlooked, and that movie is Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, an animated film that had an unheard release in the year 1993.

The film is a smorgasbord of many things that surprisingly formed a cohesive film; on one hand it’s a suspenseful crime-thriller, a superhero origin on another, and a romantic-drama (Think of it this way – it’s like Godfather and Casablanca’s love child – with Batman and his comic book-y roots being the backbone of said love child).

Mask-Of-The-PhantasmAfter a booming operatic score accompanied by gothic visuals, it opens with a mysterious hooded figure arriving in Gotham City that starts to kill off the biggest mob bosses one-by-one. Batman was put to blame by the public eye and starts to deem him as an enemy. Now the Caped Crusader must find a way to clear his name by unmasking the hooded man known as the Phantasm, while also being chased by the GCPD. While all these took place, a specter from Bruce’s past reappears to haunt him of the life he would’ve had should he choose not to don the cape and cowl.

I was young back then when I caught the movie in Cartoon Network numerous times. I mostly caught on because of the action but growing up and revisiting this movie from time to time, I realized that there was actually more to it. It was surprisingly more complex than any other comic book film coming out at the time, as you fill the shoes of Batman trying to uncover the mystery behind the mask of the Phantasm (a scary yet refreshingly new villain that doesn’t come from the pages of the comic books – which does make you wish that he was afterwards).

Other than the mystery, the movie had a compelling human element. Before we even had somebody like Christopher Nolan flesh out the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins, Directors Radomski, Paul Dini and Writer Bruce Timm were probably the first ones to ever introduce to a wide movie-going audience a more human Bruce Wayne. Granted, we did see him do stuff like fall in love and gloss over his origin story in both Burton films but it wasn’t explored in a way that this film did.
23-1Half of the film was told through flashbacks, but it wasn’t as if it was the age old exercise of how the superhero came to be but instead show the struggles before he did don the cape and cowl. The way they explored his origin is still the same approach but with different ground. The film doesn’t actually make it a hook to see Batman do anything superhero-y, but they take the time to evoke its audience to the man behind the mask. The film acted as if it is a character study of Bruce Wayne, and how he is constantly at war within himself as he was starting out to be the hero we knew him to be. He had doubts about being a vigilante, we see him failingly living through his parents’ wishes, we see him be happy and go through an ill-fated romance, we see him constantly fail that would have him be emotionally and physically damaged in the process. However when an old flame resurfaces his life once again, you can see the old Bruce as depicted in the film return for just a little while and his self-doubt was once again augmented by this event alone. It baffles me how this is an animated film that took the source material and the characters seriously and has a sense of levity to it while the live-action one that was release 2 years later (Batman Forever) was an overly exaggerated Animaniacs-like cartoon.

screen-shot-2015-05-18-at-9-47-44-pmThe film is not exactly a style movie-going audiences are used to as it does harken to the tropes and style of the TV show. So I understand why the regular movie-goer in 1993 panned this movie, because they may have been a few steps behind because of his/her unfamiliarity of the animated series. More so, the animation may or may not be mind-blowing to most people (especially it being in a time Disney was spoiling the masses with their little renaissance). It follows the traditional sharp and streamlined drawn characters in a dark gothic 40s-serial setting. There were some amazing animated sequences such as the chase between Batman, the GCPD, and the Phantasm and also the fight between Batman and the Joker in the film’s final scene. But when the film delves into drier areas, it does show that the dramatic parts weren’t well animated and were read awkwardly too for some parts (maybe it’s just my slowly dying DVD copy of it), but who can blame the animators especially when the theatrical release was just a short notice.

The film does depict Batman and his relationships with his supporting cast and the voice cast is always a welcome return; Kevin Conroy proves that he is the voice of the Batman and also Mark Hammil’s Joker. Both of these voices are unlike any other being the definitive voices that you would hear even without watching any parts of the show, they would be there when you read their parts in the comic books. There’s some subtle drama to be had with Andrea Beaumont, and if you thought girls in the day were just used as a love interest or a damsel in distress, wait ‘till you get a load of her. When it was revealed that she is the mysterious hooded figure all this time, my younger self couldn’t believe it. And seeing as to how the flashbacks were more than just something to get the plot going but also pieces of the puzzle to solve a much larger mystery. Andrea and Bruce does share a well-constructed enough romance, and the dilemma between them that does beg the age old question of whether or not vengeance is a noble path worth following made it look at just about how not only they can be the same entities but also polar opposites at the same time.


Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was not only an excellent standalone Batman film but also a comic book film that is ahead of its time. This film humanizes its comic book characters and it had a refreshing way of re-introducing the said characters to the movie-going audience. Even if it was just a small animated film, it has explored things that we have yet to see in comic book movies for years to come. In its short 77 minute runtime, it is amazing how they covered so much in just little time.

Catch part 2 of our Road to Batman v Superman feature, as we revisit the 2006 superhero outing, Superman Returns.

GP Manalo

G.P. Manalo is a student by day, and a resident tortured writer by night. Writing to keep him sane from all the Business School papers and presentations piling up each week.