Animated straight-to-video films are a relatively new way for comic companies to expand their brand. In 2006, Marvel released their first animated film, a watered down version of the acclaimed Ultimates volume one. Then, in 2007, DC released Superman: Doomsday. It built off the Superman animated series, but was a bit more mature.
Marvel has released a handful of animated films since, but the quality of these movies suffers because of Marvel’s indecision. They stand in the middle of the road between kid-friendly and artistic.
This is less of a concern for DC. Marvel has had more luck in live-action films, but DC is unrivaled in its animated features. While some of the films have diluted stories for wider appeal, most keep the sometimes-gory details. DC utilizes the medium to its full potential.
Live action movies are limited by technology and various other factors. Some things that work on the printed page don’t on the silver screen. Animation is the medium between movie and comic. Through this medium, beloved comic stories can be adapted into films without straying from the source material.
The very words and panels from classic comics such as Batman: Year One and Justice League: The New Frontier leaps onto screen with dazzling results. Comics will never be adapted so accurately in Hollywood. It wouldn’t be possible.
The nature of animated films also allows for multiple features in a year without compromising quality. They’re more economical. There’s no need to pay millions for a leading actor, or special effects. Animation is simpler. The budgets for these films are small, so it takes much less revenue to be profitable.
It’s a shame other companies have yet to take advantage of these conditions. Marvel is gearing up to release another shallow action feature, Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United. DC, however, is releasing its crowning achievement thus far.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II concludes an adaptation of one of the most influential, acclaimed, and thoughtful graphic novels ever. It’s the best Batman story I’ve read, and the animated film keeps all the grit and violence from the original work. Besides being a must-watch for comic/Batman fans, it’s a shining example of how to adapt a graphic novel.
The other companies haven’t even dabbled in the market. Dark Horse comics character Hellboy has had two animated movies, but that’s it. As DC continue to develop excellent features, their competitors will hopefully take notice.
There’s no shortage of classic stories that fans are begging to see translated in animation. As the DC films gain more attention and critical success, it’s likely others will try and take it from them.