“Batman: Gotham Knight” – The Most Underrated Batman Stories
Batman is, of course, a staple of pop culture. Spanning 80 years, the Dark Knight has been in all manners of different media. However, it wasn’t until 2008 that Batman got the anime treatment when several different anime studios came together to work on an anthology movie, Batman: Gotham Knight. This follows the trend of creating anime anthology movies about popular American content, like the Animatrix; Gotham Knight would later be followed by Halo Legends in 2010. Four anime studios worked on the 6 shorts in this film: Studio 4°C, Madhouse, Bee Train and Production I.G. The film is actually set in continuity with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, just before The Dark Knight.
The first short, titled “Have I Got A Story For You” revolves around teenagers recalling their exaggerated run-ins with Batman. One teenager recounts Batman as a living shadow, disappearing and reappearing seemingly out of nowhere. Another one envisions Batman as a demonic bat-creature with large wings. One of the other teens sees Batman as an Android who’s bulletproof and shoots lasers. The teens realize that their sightings of Batman are all connected, just when Batman comes crashing into their skating rink. The last teen saves Batman from being stabbed in the back, and he sees Batman for who he really is.
Interestingly this short is loosely based on a 1970’s issue of Batman titled “The Batman Nobody Knows” written by Frank Robbins. The short was animated by Studio 4°C who also worked on The Animatrix and Berserk: Golden Age Arc. I personally enjoy this short because it gives an insight into how the people of Gotham view Batman differently.
The next short, “Crossfire,” revolves around Anna Ramirez and Crispus Allen taking the criminal from the previous short to Arkham Island. Crispus Allen is a transfer from Metropolis and doesn’t like that the GCPD is basically just running errands for Gotham’s resident vigilante. However, on their way back from Arkham, Allen and Ramirez are caught in the middle of a turf war between Sal Maroni and the Russians. Just in time, Batman shows up to save the two detectives. After being rescued by Batman, and seeing him save his partner, Crispus has a change of heart and begins to appreciate Batman and what he does for the city.
This short was animated by Production I.G, who has worked on Ghost In The Shell Arise, and Attack On Titan Junior High. As the last short showed how the normal people of Gotham view the Caped Crusader, this one shows the GCPD’s perspective on Batman. Some view him as unnecessary and against the law, while others see the good he does for the city and what’s changed since he first appeared. I think this one personally has really great animation and fresh perspective in the Nolan-verse.
“Field Test” sees Bruce Wayne obtaining a new magnetic shield for his Batsuit which will allow him to deflect gunfire. After an informative golf game with someone named Ronald Marshall, Batman shows up to a gunfight between Maroni and the Russians. However, a stray gunshot deflected from Batman’s new gadget injures a nearby Russian thug. As he bleeds out, Batman races to the hospital hoping to save his life. After bringing him to the hospital, Batman returns to Lucius Fox, saying the gadget “works too well.”
I like this short, as it elaborates on how Batman doesn’t want to put lives in danger, even those of his enemies. He could use all manner of gadgets but chooses not too. This short was animated by Bee Train, who have worked on Spider Riders and Halo Legends. This short looks the most like traditional action anime; it almost reminded me of Code Geass due to a darker color pallet and a little less gloss.
The next short, “In Darkness Dwells,” takes Batman to the grotesque and frightening sewers of Gotham. After a strange kidnapping at a Gotham church, Batman heads into the sewers to track down Killer Croc, who may be behind the kidnapping. After wandering through the sewers, he runs into Croc, who bites him and distorts his vision. After defeating Croc, Batman discovers Scarecrow, who is leading escaped Arkham inmates and homeless. Batman rescues the priest and escapes by flooding the sewer. He returns the priest to Gordon and retreats deeper into the sewers.
This short was animated by Madhouse, and the animation is gritty and grotesque. Killer Croc looks like a dead body covered in scales and has a terrifying design. Madhouse has done work on anime like Death Note and Hunter X Hunter. This short was written by David S. Goyer who, helped with the screenplay for Batman Begins, and later, Batman V Superman. This short is the most stylized and just feels like a day in the life of Batman, fighting criminals and saving lives.
“Working Through Pain” takes a slower, more introspective approach than the previous shorts. Batman is shot by a criminal in the sewers and begins to bleed out. In flashbacks, we see Bruce Wayne train in India in many physical and spiritual trials by a woman named Cassandra. Batman struggles to climb his way out of the sewers as he waits for Alfred to rescue him. In the flashbacks Bruce confronts a group of teenagers attacking Cassandra. This encounter shows Cassandra the true nature of Bruce’s pain and how it shapes him. Alfred tries to pull Bruce out of the gutter, but can’t because Batman is holding on to all these guns he found in the sewers.
This short might be my favorite. It takes a look into Batman’s psyche and how he deals with his pain. The short is very character focused and I appreciate that. “Working Through Pain” is of course focused on pain and how pain shapes Batman. His pain is a part of him and prevents him from achieving “enlightenment,” as the short puts it. This short was animated by Studio 4°C, and the final scene was an amazing use of visual storytelling. Batman holds on to these guns as Alfred tries to offer him his hand, but because Batman can’t let go of the guns—he can’t be helped. It’s an amazing scene and an amazing episode all together.
The final short is called “Deadshot” and of course features the titular villain. Deadshot is hired by the Russians for an assassination in Gotham. Batman uses the phone he stole from Ronald Marshall (from “Field Test”) to get evidence on Deadshot and his employers. Batman and the GCPD believe Jim Gordon to be Deadshot’s target, but it turns out the real target was Batman. After a fight on a moving train, Batman brings in Deadshot and comes to terms with how the gun has shaped Batman’s life.
This short is animated by Madhouse once again and it’s action packed. This one could’ve been just 12 minutes of mindless action, but they tie the theme to the previous short’s theme. The shorts draw parallels to Batman and Deadshot, both men shaped by the gun, but in different ways. Deadshot uses the gun to kill and terrorize, while Batman rejects the gun and fights against what it stands for.
Batman: Gotham Knight often flies under the radar of great animated Batman movies. Everyone praises Batman: Under The Red Hood, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and 2, and others (as they should). Hardly anyone brings this one up even though it’s beautifully stylized and very well written. I recommend everyone either watch or rewatch this. Maybe next time you rewatch the Nolan trilogy, you can add this to your binge.