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Batman: Dead End
Reviewed by Mark Finn, © 2003

Format: Movie
By:   Sandy Collera
Review Date:   August 04, 2003
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

Warning: Spoilers. Lots of Spoilers. It's only an 8-minute movie, so there are nothing but Spoilers.

The buzz broke out about Batman: Dead End before ComicCon International was even over with. Someone, a professional movie maker, had made a Batman 'Fan Film' and had put it in the hands of some of the comic industry's best and brightest . . . and also Frank Miller.

It's a good thing director Sandy Collera gave a copy to Alex Ross, because visually, that was the creator he swiped from the most. To be sure, there are some Neal Adams and some Berni Wrightson bits thrown in, but the initial suiting-up scene is a terrific homage to the comic industry's resident 1,000-pound gorilla. Yeah, I just called Alex Ross a gorilla.

All things considered, the film is fine. If you have not seen it by now, just do a Google Search for Batman: Dead End, and watch the download sites magically appear. It's a huge file, and I had to update my Quicktime Player, but ultimately it was worth it.

But is it the best Batman ever put on film? Sort of.

Comics and Crossovers

It's certainly the most true to the comics, right down to the costume, which, for me, kinda stuck out. More on this later. Batman acted and sounded like Batman. The Joker acted and sounded like the Joker (meaning he was skinny and insane, not fat and Nicholson-esque). Visually, the film works just fine, and occasionally, blows through some of Burton's ham-fisted visuals in the first Batman movie. In particular, the scene when Batman stands up in the alley and his cape pools up from the ground . . . well, frankly, that's about as good as it gets. Neal Adams would be so proud.

Motivation was also there. In thirty seconds, Joker and Batman played out their entire relationship, and while it came as no surprise to any old-school comic fans, it was strangely satisfying to see and hear those points brought up on film, even by actors. It's the scene that we should have seen in the first Batman movie, but again, Tim Burton was doing his thing, so there you go. In the fight scene with the Predator (hey, I told you there would be spoilers), when Batman is initially clocked by the dreadlocked giant, his first response is to strike at both knees and the groin. It's as if he's saying, through his punches, 'That hurt. I'd better put this thing down quick.' It's a nice, if vicious, touch.

As for the Fox/Dark Horse intrusion, well, hey, it's a fan film. And moreover, it's the guy's audition reel. If YOU had access to Stan Winston Studios, I'll bet you a million dollars you'd have put the same things in your magnum opus.

Jack Whocholson?

Men in Tights

The only place where the film lost me was Batman's costume. Sure, it looked spiffy, and the actor underneath it had the chops to pull off wearing tights, and good for him, too. Costumed heroes do work, but within certain boundaries. Namely, does the public (forget us, we don't count, we're already converted) actually KNOW who the hero is? Do they "get" the character? If you're talking about Batman and Superman and Spider-Man, then the answer is yes. These things transcend the Comic book Ghetto. They aren't pop culture, they are American culture.

In the case of Dead End, there was an obvious style choice made here, and it's a pro-comics, not pro-realism choice. The thing is, from a rational standpoint you understand that thin, clingy spandex is no protection against bullets and knives. Batman, it has been widely written about in innumerable comics, wears a kind of light armor. A micro-mesh Kelvar weave blahdeeblah. It was certainly apparent in the 1989 movie. Miller made a point about it in Dark Knight Returns: "Why do you think I wear a yellow target on my chest? I can't armor up my head."

Now, with all that established, do comic book artists draw Batman in armor? No, they don't. It's become a convention, that is, an accepted stylistic shortcut, to depict Batman, Superman, and all of the heroes, in their old-school circus strongman skivvys, with the muscles bulging out from beneath the sheer fabric. We, the educated reader, know that Batman is armored up in his suit and cape, but it's NEVER drawn that way.

Now, when you watch Dead End, the costume looks great . . . until the Predator opens up Batman's belly with his big knife. All of a sudden, I'm thrown out of the movie and thinking, 'Hey, what about his micro-weave mesh blahdeeblah? Batman would be a retard to go out crime-fighting in clingy tights.' You think I'm being dorky? What do you think the average movie-goer is going to think, especially after seeing four other Batman movies where the character is wearing armor?

Why do you think he wears
a target on his chest?

A $30,000 Egg

While all of this is moot and academic (because we're really just discussing a fan film, after all, right? Right.), what we're really looking at here is a big ol' egg on Warner Brothers stupid face. Hey, look, here's what a fan did with 30 grand and four days. How's your current Batman film shaping up? What's that? You don't have one? Huh.

I mean, I don't want to knock efforts like Smallville, because while it's not my personal cup of tea, a lot of other people really like it. But for every Smallville, there's a corresponding Birds of Prey. Or Batman & Robin.

Warner Brothers SHOULD be embarrassed. They were a movie-making empire when Marvel was pushing comic book cutouts in front of an animation camera and singing dorkwad theme songs. Batman and Superman have a rich history of film and television projects, from the old serials (which I like a lot) to the animation, to the boob tube, to the big screen. What's the hold up? How hard does it have to be? Please remove your egos and your marketing directors from the project and give it to someone who gives a shit. Why is this hard to do? There are people clamoring to make Batman movies. A short, ten-minute interview should determine if they are right for the project or not. I'll be happy to conduct those interviews myself, lest any of you studio execs not want to risk your parking space on the lot if you mess up and accidentally hire someone competent.

One of the most successful movies of all time was coincidentally one of the films that NO ONE in the industry thought could be made because how on Earth do you explain the X-Men to a group of real people? It's not like you have to re-explain Batman. Everyone gets it. Start from scratch. Pick up the series continuity. Cross Bats and Supes into a World's Finest movie. I don't care.

But do something, anything. Otherwise, Dead End, unfinished at 8 minutes long, will be the best Batman film of all time.

Mark Finn is the Games Editor for RevolutionSF and the author of two books of fiction: Gods New and Used and Year of the Hare.

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