Batman: Gotham Knight is a series of 6 short stories taking place between Batman Begins and the upcoming The Dark Knight. The stories are written by six American writers with the art and direction being led by six well known Japanese anime directors. While there may be an underlying theme to the film, the six stories are uniquely different. While the film is being touted as a bridge between the two Batman movies previously mentioned, it’s safe to say that these are standalone stories with no real connection to the movies.
The film opens with Have I Got A Story For You, which revolves around a group of four skaters who all tell differing stories about the time they each saw Batman. In each story Batman looks and behaves differently, from a shadowy beast, to a remote controlled robot. Each kid has their own version of Batman, that is until he shows up to the group and we see what Batman really looks like. Directed by Shojirou Nishimi, who did character design for the Tekkon Kinkreet movie and it’s clearly recognizable here, this is the most light-hearted of the six stories and in some ways the most Batman like.
Crossfire is the next story and it’s easily the weakest out of the six. Directed by Futoshi Higashide, it’s poorly written and possibly the worst looking of the stories. The dialogue is terrible and the story is too simple; two detectives, one a big Batman fan and the other who thinks he’s a dangerous vigilante, deliver a criminal to Arkham Asylum. They find themselves in the middle of a mob war between the Russians and the Italians, and Batman shows up to save them when they get caught in the crossfire. That’s all there is.
Field Test is perhaps one of the stronger stories. It finds Bruce Wayne testing out a new high-tech system for deflecting bullets, developed by Wayne Industries uber-inventor Lucius Fox. When he uses it in the middle of a heated battle between some mob bosses, the system accidentally deflects a bullet straight into a gangster’s chest, forcing Batman to take the criminal to a hospital for treatment. This really looks into the whole Batman doesn’t kill issue and how it impacts the way he fights crime.
In Darkness Dwells finds Batman skulking around in Gotham’s dangerous sewers, searching for Killer Croc, who’s been tainted by the hallucinogenic toxins employed by the Scarecrow. It’s all action and nicely animated, but the story can get a bit confusing. Directed by Yasuhiro Aoki, the animation is very distinctive, and the character designs are simple and fluid. It’s entertaining enough but, like all the other shorts in this collection, it lacks any weight. It’s your typical Batman finds bad guy and saves the day type story. What makes it more confusing is that Batman has yet to meet Killer Croc in the movies,
The penultimate story is Working Through Pain, having Bruce Wayne seek out the aid of an Indian guru to help him work through the pain. An outcast in her own village being declared a witch, the guru has a remarkable technique that negates the effects of physical pain. She mentors Wayne, who learns her spiritual message and eventually confronts a local gang of thugs using his new found abilities to easily dispose of the gang. Written by Brian Azzarello and directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka, Working Through Pain is easily the best written short and one of the most enjoyable from a storytelling standpoint.
Lastly there’s Deadshot, the story follows the assassin Deadshot as he tries to assassinate James Gordon in attempt to take out Batman. As usual, Batman manages to outsmart the assassin, and he realizes that there are some criminals he may never understand. The story was kind of silly with all of Batmans onliners, but the animation is excellent, with Yoshiaki Kawajiri style character designs. Unfortunately the story is too short, while attempting to tie up all the simplistic themes explored briefly in the other shorts it does so while being clunky and lame.
Ultimately Batman: Gotham Knight is nothing more than a series of short stories released to cash in on the upcoming The Dark Knight movie. Few of the stories are well-told and the underlying narrative throughout the shorts is never really explored. While it’s fun to see Batman told through the eyes of different anime directors, it’s nothing groundbreaking. This is definitely a rental.