The Phibes Philes: God Rest Ye Merry Supermen – Thoughts On Merry Little Batman

The Phibes Philes: God Rest Ye Merry Supermen – Thoughts On Merry Little Batman

Of all the major superheroes, Batman is the one most closely associated with the holiday season. That may seem odd to say about a figure often referred to as “The Dark Knight,” but Batman is surprisingly festive. Starting with Batman #27 (“A Christmas Peril”) in 1945, Bruce Wayne has starred in a number of Christmas crime capers. He stopped the mob from stealing Christmas with the help of Plastic Man in an issue of The Brave and The Bold, spent “Christmas with The Joker” in “Batman: The Animated Series,” and even battled vile villains in the oddly Yule-ish “Batman Returns.” Heck, the Caped Crusader is the only comic book icon with a popular Christmas carol: “Jingle bells! Batman smells! Robin laid an egg! The Batmobile lost a wheel, and The Joker got away!”

There are even more examples of Batman’s propensity for good cheer, but the most blatant may be “Merry Little Batman.” Released on December 8th of this year (That’s right, I’m talking about something new!), “Merry Little Batman” is the first Batman Christmas movie advertised as such. I’m generally not a big fan of the direct-to-video DC animated films. That’s not to say that they’re bad; they’re just not particularly exciting to me. However, “Merry Little Batman” is an entirely different beast altogether. While most of these pictures strive for pseudo-realism, “Merry…” embraces the fact that it’s a cartoon. For the first time in years, the Dark Knight lightens up.

A key clue to the direction in which “Merry Little Batman” goes is that Batman is voiced by Luke Wilson of all person. And this isn’t a Michael Keaton situation in which the actor plays against type. You are hearing the Luke Wilson you watched in all those kooky Wes Anderson pictures. Here, Batman is a single father who isn’t quite ready for his son Damien (wonderfully voiced by Yonas Kibreab) to become a crime fighter. When the elder Bat goes on a Christmas Eve mission, the hero-in-training is forced to face evil on his own, hoping to prove to his famous father that he’s ready to become a full-time superhero.

Essentially, “Merry Little Batman” is a quirky father-and-son story that deals with a gentler Bruce Wayne and Damien. This Batman is an overprotective parent, and his Damien is an over-exuberant child who wants nothing more than to join his dad in his crusade. Their dynamic is genuinely heart-warming in a manner uncommon in a Batman story. While the bangs and pows are present, “Merry Little Batman” is more concerned with humor and heart, both of which it excels at.

In this version of Gotham, Batman has basically wiped out crime. The rogues are resting in Arkham Asylum. Since this takes place later in the timeline than we are accustomed to, all the regular players are much older. This gives us fun designs, like a wizened Penguin on a Rascal and a pot-bellied Mr. Freeze sporting a nifty Hawaiian shirt. It’s refreshing to see these characters depicted in a way that honors the classic designs while giving them a pleasing grotesque upgrade.

“Merry Little Batman” is just filled to the brim with fun designs, visual gags, and crackling style. I was constantly reminded of Don Martin’s delightful MAD Magazine work. However, the filmmakers drew inspiration primarily from satirical cartoonist Ronald Searle, known for his caricature style. Others have likened the art to that from ’90s Nickelodeon shows (especially the ones animated by Klasky-Csupo). No matter what the style of “Merry…” brings to mind, I think we can all agree that its surreal look is a departure from what we’ve come to expect from The Dark Knight.

To be honest, that’s precisely why I love “Merry Little Batman.” The World’s Greatest Detective fits just about every tone, but the last decade or so have been mostly dedicated to grim Batman stories that emphasize his brooding nature. Bat-stories are almost always “dark” now, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, with the sheer volume of Batman adventures being produced and the tone remaining grim, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a Batman picture that isn’t afraid to be a little silly. Not only that, but it’s a silliness all its own. This isn’t just another homage to the Adam West series.

I’ve been a Bat-fan for most of my life, so it brings me much joy to say that this is the most fun I’ve had with a Batman movie in a long time. Sometimes, I just want a Batman who trims trees and villains who make the worst puns imaginable. And even though “Merry Little Batman” is a goofy little outing, it never ignores the depth that makes Batman a timeless character. It’s a slightly nutty Batman movie, but it’s still a Batman movie.

Best of all, it gives us a Batman Christmas special that’s just as merry as the title suggests. “Batman Returns” is a holiday staple in my household, but it’s lovely to have an option that doesn’t involve Penguin bile and a plot to murder every first-born child in Gotham. To those of us who feel jolly and enjoy cape-and-cowl action, it doesn’t get better than this. It’s “The Grinch” and “Home Alone” filtered through the DC Universe. Destined to become a tradition for Bat-fans, “Merry Little Batman” is the perfect Dark Knight for a silent night.

ANTON PHIBES

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