Painting the Hood Red

Batman: Under the Red Hood

So here’s the deal: for the past few years now, DC Comics has been releasing a slew of direct-to-DVD animated films introducing their most iconic characters and storylines to general audience with the help of A-List voice acting. The results have been mixed at best, mostly because condensing years of comic book stories doesn’t always play well with a mainstream audience – until now.

In an example of the complexity of comic book storytelling, at least five different characters – and possibly more – have taken the iconic role of Robin at one time or another. Of course, the most popular of these characters is the first Robin, Dick Grayson. The same cannot be said for all of the Robins. In fact, his successor, Jason Todd, was so despised by comic book fans that some 5,000 voted the character be killed by the Joker, capping off the classic “Death in the Family” storyline familiar to many comic book fans.

Set five years after the events of “Death in the Family,” the animated feature “Under the Red Hood” finds a more somber Dark Knight (Bruce Greenwood) suddenly dogged by a highly-skilled anti-hero called the Red Hood (Jensen Ackles), out to stake a claim to the Gotham underworld. When reigning crime lord Black Mask (Wade Williams) enlists the aid of the Joker (John Di Maggio) in response, Batman must stop the hauntingly-familiar Red Hood from executing a vengeful master plan.

Often times, the best Batman stories work when they can be boiled down to one key ingredient: a mystery. That’s why “Batman: Under the Red Hood” works so well – especially since it’s been written by comic book scribe Judd Winick. Sure, there are plenty of comic book plots on display, including super-powered hitmen, an immortal mastermind (voiced by Jason Issacs) and a rejuvenating pit of liquid resembling Mountain Dew. However, the core of the 75-minute film hinges on the identity of the Red Hood – with ramifications which cut to the heart of the Caped Crusader.

Stellar voice acting really sets this movie apart. Almost every DC Animated movie has included A-List voice actors, but this movie hits the nail on the head. Greenwood is dead-on as an age-appropriate Batman who is both rigid and emotionally vulnerable. Ackles similarly mixes the emotional resonance of the Red Hood with enough longevity to make a potentially angst-ridden character fun to watch. Recognizable as Bender on Futurama, Di Maggio is more restrained than other Joker voice actors (notably Mark Hamill), but it’s a restraint which keeps the Joker entertaining without stealing the spotlight. Lastly, Neil Patrick Harris has a far-too-short – and far-too-enjoyable – role as Dick Grayson, the original Robin, who has become a solo superhero known as Nightwing.

Despite a backdrop of comic book continuity and a direct-to-DVD release, a seriously good time lies “Under the Red Hood.” With twists, turns and one-liners galore, “Batman: Under the Red Hood” is the rare movie which appeals to fanboys and fangirls as well as Average Joes and Janes – and all points in between.

Peer inside “Batman: Under the Red Hood” for $7.89 shipped at

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