When it comes to live-action movies or TV shows based on comic books, adaptations are usually loose. Movies like The Dark Knight Rises and Avengers: Infinity War take inspiration from classic storylines like No Man’s Land or The Infinity Gauntlet, but are not direct translations from the page to the screen. But Warner Bros. Animation has built an entire animated universe on doing straightforward adaptations of comics.
Some of the best known and most acclaimed comics in DC’s history have been made into comics-accurate animated movies, including a two-part The Dark Knight Returns film, Batman: Under the Red Hood, and All-Star Superman — all stand-alone stories with no continuity. Warner Bros. and DC have figured out how to do adaptations that stay true to comic books while firmly establishing the new continuity they’ve been building for the past seven years.
After 2013’s Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox and 2014’s Justice League: War, the DC Comics animated film slate started building its own continuity, following that of DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch. After these two movies came a series of looser adaptations and a few wholly original movies. And when The Death of Superman came out last year, initial reactions were quick to point out how unnecessary it was to have yet another movie about Superman’s fall to Doomsday (the third one since 2007).
But the final movie, written by comics writer Peter J. Tomasi, was a pleasant surprise. It showed that you can still do a good Superman-fighting-Doomsday story. Familiar faces like John Henry Irons, Hank Henshaw, and even Bibbo Bibbowski show up; the fight remains pretty much the same; Superman’s relationship with the citizens of Metropolis and Bibbowski remains the same; and the death of the Man of Steel is still as heartbreaking as it was decades ago.
Of course, because of the setting’s already established Justice League, a few things had to change. At the time the original Death of Superman arc was published, the League was comprised of mostly B- and C-list characters like guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, Blue Beetle, and Booster Gold — whose battle with Superman’s murderer was barely a blip against Doomsday.
The movie version chose to give the Big 7 those roles, and it is a vast improvement over the original comic. Though we haven’t seen them together in many movies since Justice League: War, The Death of Superman shows that in that time, their relationships have grown. The Justice League discusses their personal lives at a team meeting, and Superman realizes he’s been keeping a distance between himself and those he loves. Batman even mentions he has a parent-teacher conference with his son Damian, who also gets an emotional scene after he hears about Superman’s death.
And, of course, the use of the big guns during the fight with Doomsday is much more satisfying than B- and C-listers, with each of them having a great moment during the fight. The comic book was mostly just a Superman story with very quick cameos by other heroes, so by expanding the roles of those who know and work with Superman, The Death of Superman became a story about how much Superman matters to everyone around him.
This results in a movie that still follows the top-selling comic of 1992, while expanding on the story to fit the weight of the previous animated movies. Though the iconic “Funeral for a Friend” section was shortened, the film version managed to have the same everlasting impact as the Dan Jurgens’ Superman #75 did all those years ago.
That brings us to the latest DC Animated movie, Batman: Hush, based on Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb’s story of the same name. Like The Death of Superman, Hush is a mostly straightforward adaptation that makes a few changes to fit the story to the larger continuity. It deals with the appearance of a mysterious new villain who is controlling members of Batman’s rogues gallery in order to sabotage Batman from afar, while exploring the romantic potential between Batman and Catwoman.
Right out of the gate, Batman: Hush makes a bold choice to skip the flashbacks to Bruce Wayne’s childhood friendship with the now-renowned brain surgeon Thomas Elliot — and instead focuses on a plot twist from the arc’s epilogue -- dealing with the true mastermind behind the conspiracy. Though it eliminates most of Hush’s role, it streamlines the story for the screen version to make for a more blockbuster-style Batman movie that emphasizes the superhero action and the appearance of so many fan-favorite heroes and villains.
The biggest positive change is that Batman: Hush vastly expands on the romantic aspect of the story. The original “Hush” might be the Batman story that most focuses on his romance with Catwoman — at least until their much-publicized wedding issue last year. The movie goes a step further than the comic book, exploring exactly what a Bruce Wayne/Selina Kyle relationship would look like, when Selina moves in with him.
A big part of the movie deals with the two acting as the new Dynamic Duo, fighting crime together. Seeing the Bat-family react to this new relationship is worth every change to the source material, however. Though he hadn’t yet been introduced in the comics by the time “Hush” came out, Damian Wayne was already established in this animated universe, which resulted in a great scene wherein Bruce Wayne’s own son gives him dating advice.
Likewise, the movie makes some significant changes to the story in order to fit the established continuity. Barbara Gordon is active as Batgirl rather than her Oracle persona, as in the original. On the same vein, the movie eliminates all references to Jason Todd, the second Robin, who, in the comics, was posthumously impersonated by Clayface in an attempt to throw Batman off balance. Because DC has already introduced Jason’s resurrection arc, Under the Red Hood, the character is currently alive in the wider movie universe. Lastly, there’s the addition of a brief Lex Luthor cameo when Batman goes to Metropolis to investigate the mysterious Hush, as the villain became an unofficial Justice League member following the events of Reign of the Supermen.
Because of the added history that the established continuity gives the new movies, the DC Animated Universe has found a middle ground between doing loose adaptations and shot-for-shot remakes. They can keep doing original ideas and adaptations of Elseworlds stories, like the upcoming Wonder Woman: Bloodlines or Superman: Red Son, and also do faithful adaptations of renowned storylines made to fit the established continuity.
Seeing your favorite comic book story brought to life is perfect way to capitalize on nostalgia. But it can also introduce a new audience to comic book stories themselves, not just characters. And who wouldn’t want that to happen?
Batman: Hush is already available digitally and will be released on 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD on Aug. 6 and on the DC Universe streaming service on Aug. 13.