Animation isn’t limited to comic book elements
Launched on June 30, the HBO Max streaming service arrives with the promise to unify all of Warner Media’s properties such as the Warner Bros. movies. ; the productions of the Cartoon network; Adult Swimming and DC Comics. More specifically linked to the comic book giant, the new service appears to be a spiritual successor to DC Universe (an initiative that brought together all of the company’s audiovisual and comedy products).
Although the Brazilian catalog is in development, the range of productions with the DC label is quite wide; ranging from Superman movies with Christopher Reeve to Nolan’s Batman. However, in the midst of this interesting set of options, the animated feature A Máscara do Phantom (1993) is present, for many the best feature film adaptation of the hero.
The ’90s were confusing for anyone going to do an adaptation of Batman. At the start of the decade, Tim Burton’s Gothic aesthetic was the norm, and Adam West’s camp scene looked like a hallucination a long time ago. However, from the middle of the period, the director’s dark style was quickly replaced by the full color look of Joel Schumacher and a return to the extravagant style of the past.
On television, the Batman: The Animated Series continued firmly into its first season, which debuted in September 1992, delivering a product that skillfully blends an overall narrative line fairly faithful to the character’s best stories in the comics ( especially the Denny O’Neil phase) with the humor and action that were then the rules of children’s entertainment.
Despite an atmosphere similar to Burton’s films, the animated series was never intended to be a serialized sequel to this universe. It was with this personality that in 1993 Warner gave the green light to the first animated feature film with characters from DC Comics.
Formed mainly by the same team that was in charge of the aforementioned animated series, A Máscara do Phantom was born as a TV project. The original idea was to make a work with a format a little larger than the standard episodes of the series, but still budgeted as a production made for television. Having a little more freedom, the writers were able to focus more on the human aspects of Bruce Wayne that otherwise had no place in the main program.
This ambition is evident in the plot where the city of Gotham is terrorized by the arrival of a new vigilante known as the Phantom who continues to assassinate local mob bosses. Because they have similar looks, Batman is viewed by police and media as responsible for the homicides, and a manhunt begins for him. At the same time, in his private life, Bruce Wayne has to deal with the return of an old love from the past.
From the outset, the film is clearly inspired by two works of the hero: Year One and Year Two. The first was a reboot released in 1987 and signed by Frank Miller; Divided into three issues, the story revisits Batman’s first year of career and works on how he meets iconic characters such as James Gordon and Selina Kyle. In A Mascara do Phantom, the plot unfolds with two timelines, one in the present and one in the past.
While Batman today grapples with the aftermath of ghost crimes, it is in the past that Bruce and Andrea’s romance and the billionaire’s first attempts to act as a vigilante thrive; with him making rookie mistakes, learning from them and then becoming the figure of Batman. The inspiration for the second year occurs mainly in the relationship between Batman and Phantom.
The ideological clash between the vigilantes and the mystery surrounding the new character has obvious similarities to the conflict proposed in the aforementioned story between Batman and the Reaper. Yet it wasn’t just the comics the team responsible for relied on; Citizen Kane is consistently cited as an obvious influence on the unfolding of the narrative, primarily through the use of one-off flashbacks that connect the present moment of the story to a past event.
The use of shadow in the lines is also notable, although this technical characteristic has been present since the conception of the animated series. The long shadows in closed sets or the completely darkened skyscrapers of Gotham in the open air can be attributed to the use of this same element in many films; whether in German expressionism, in the aforementioned Citizen Kane or in the films Noir which greatly inspired Bruce Timm and company during the development of the series.
A final curiosity is the 3D opening of the film which was originally intended for the animated series, but which was used in this case. As in the following animation (but not a sequel) Batman & Mr. Freeze – Below Zero, here the tech team flirts with the use of a full shot made entirely in CG, which was unusual in 1993.
The Ghost’s Mask has had a theatrical release, consistently elevating it to the rank of the best Batman adaptation to date. Not only because it was the first movie to really focus on Bruce Wayne as an individual, meaning not as a technical element that simply connects the scenes of Batman in action, but also because ‘he offers a supporting female role that was not present only for love interest. .
In fact, Batman – Return had done similar work with Catwoman before. However, the character of Andrea Beaumont in Mask of the Phantom, unpublished in the mythology of Batman, is not eclipsed by Bruce Wayne or is only present according to him. She has her own plot goals and even a character arc that complements that of the protagonist.
Without a doubt, it’s an important presence in the DC catalog on HBO Max, not only for its movie quality but also for its history as a pioneering work of Warner Animation, and it also serves as an appetizer for an upcoming one. addition to the animated series.
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