20 years ago (last Christmas) Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski and Paul Dini constructed another great story for the Dark Knight, Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm, which was most definitely ahead of its time. Not familiar with those names? Well, they were the team in the 90’s responsible for Batman: The Animated Series, but do not be fooled by the word ‘animated’. Because although the show was aimed at children, it had a dark tone and dealt with issues that were more mature than the intended demographic.
When a masked murderer known as the Phantasm targets mob bosses in Gotham City, Batman finds himself a step behind and the prime suspect of the GCPD’s investigation. Further complications arise when the only woman Bruce ever loved comes back to Gotham, and they quickly pick up where their relationship left off leaving Bruce wondering whether or not he will continue to don the cape and cowl. But his decision will have to wait until he takes down The Phantasm, finds the link to these murders, and clears his name. Although with the Joker involved, this might be the biggest case the greatest detective will ever solve… and it also may be his last.
This is where it all started, and the animation is considered to be the ‘golden age’ of DC animation, and considering this is a movie with a bigger budget it is a pleasant surprise that the animation does not stray too far from what was established on the television series, so nothing is lost in the transition to the big screen. The opening credit sequence can only be described in one word. Epic. The camera tracks across a CGI Gotham City accompanied by an orchestral and choir arrangement of the Batman theme, which encompasses both the ominous tone and sheer size and scope of the city that gives the story life and weight.
If DC entertainment holds on to Andrea Romano as their Casting Director, the voice acting will never be a problem. Kevin Conroy has always been the fan favorite when it comes to voicing the Caped Crusader; he even came up with two distinct voices for both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Dana Delany also joins the cast as Andrea Beaumont, Bruce’s love interest. Stacy Keach lends his voice talents as the mysterious Phantasm and gives the character a truly menacing presence. The rest of the supporting cast does a outstanding job, but Mark Hamill has always been the star in this series.
Before Heath Ledger’s iconic performance, it was Mark Hamill’s voice that was synonymous with the Joker. Like Conroy, people to this day still want him to continue voicing the character, but unfortunately, he has since retired; however he has gone on record saying he would reprise his role as the clown prince if an adaptation of The Killing Joke is ever made. So there is still hope.
Looking back ,this movie stands as a classic, which more or less brought us to the most recent incarnation of Batman’s story. It still holds up even after 20 years, and is just as relevant to the character as anything out there today.
While there are a few plot holes, the story was not only revolutionary, but paved the way for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, whether by dealing with a practical origin story for Batman, or a relationship that would allow Bruce to have a regular life outside of the cave. Or even a story that focused on Bruce outside of his alter ego. Before Batman Year One, this film gave us a glimpse of a young Bruce Wayne on one of his earlier patrols before becoming the legendary character. It also handles the depiction of murder without the need for graphic and the sometimes over-the-top violence found in Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox.
There are no plans for a 20th anniversary edition at this point, but if you are in or around the Austin, Texas area the on January 7, 2014 the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz will be presenting a special screening of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm on 35mm. The event is sponsored by Mondo, the group known for their amazing posters. They will also have two variants of the same poster (pictured below) in limited edition available for purchase in the lobby.