On Comic-Con Eve, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation made it official that 2014's first direct-to-home release DC animated feature will be <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/18378-justice-league-war-brings-new-52-to-dc-animation-in-2014.html><i>Justice League: War</i></a>, based on the first arc of The New 52 <i>Justice League</i> comic book, by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. <p>Also in 2014, albeit late in the year? <i>Big Hero 6</i>, the first Disney animated feature based on a Marvel concept, getting a theatrical release starting on Nov. 7. <p>With those on the horizon, we're once again taking a look at some of the very best comic book-based animated features. So, not series (we <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/tv/10-best-comic-book-animated-series-ever-111018.html>did that one already</a>), but feature-length productions; which have become more numerous in recent years. <p>Note: For the purpose of this list, we're counting animated features based on American comic books — the considerable history of manga and anime deserves its own list.
Every once in a while, someone involved with comics decides that a product involving the superheroes we love as adults can be both intelligent <i>and</i> geared towards an all-ages audience. <b>Next Avengers</b> saw the children of the Avengers come together to fight Ultron, rescue Tony Stark, and figure out what kind of heroes they can be on their own. <p>It's a fun and lighthearted movie that has its drama, and Brian Michael Bendis liked it so much he actually put this team of heroes into the Heroic Age's <i>Avengers #1</i>, bringing them officially into the Marvel multiverse. Refreshing and exciting, the movie is also notable as director Jay Oliva's last with Marvel (having directed <i>Doctor Strange</i> and <i>Invincible Iron Man</i>, as well as being in the art department on several other Marvel features and animated series), who switched gears to Warner Bros, directing the two-part <i>Dark Knight Returns</i> and the upcoming <i>Flashpoint</i> feature.
Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's DC universe did more than just exist in the "present day," it also went about 40 years into the future, where Bruce Wayne had retired and a new kid, Terry McGinnis had taken up the mantle under Wayne's tutelage. The TV series <b>Batman Beyond</b> was a fan favorite, with a comic book series still in production today, but the high point was the feature length film that showed how the Joker returned despite dying at the hands of well, we won't tell you here. <p>This movie had Tim Drake, Nightwing, Harley Quinn, Barbara Gordon. It had crazy plot twists, amazing action, scenes set in the past and future. it had Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin as just the start of a voice cast that reads as a who's who. And of course, the plot to the movie itself is just incredible. It's a testament not just to how cool Batman is, but how enduring his greatest foe is, as well.
Marvel may not have as many entries on this list, but the ones they have are heavy hitters — and there's no heavier hitter than the strongest one there is. <p>In <b>Hulk Vs</b>, the green goliath (he has a lot of nicknames) goes up against two of Marvel's greatest heroes, who he also happens to have quite the history with. <p>In the Thor half, Hulk, under the spells of Loki and Enchantress, rampages through Asgard. Bruce Banner dies, Hulk and Thor fight a lot, and there's even some nice romance. <p>But the real fun comes from the Wolverine half of the feature. Hulk smashes Wolverine, Deadpool, Omega Red, Lady Deathstrike, and Sabretooth the fights here are vicious and exciting, and some of the best animated action Marvel has ever seen. While Hulk and Wolverine do team up for much of the feature, the segment ends with the two back at each other's throats.
The film adaptation of Darwyn Cooke's six-issue epic bringing the DC heroes back into the Golden Age is something special. Not only was this the second in Warner's DC Universe Animated Original Movies, but it bucked all expectations by keeping the 1950s setting, and managing to successfully animate Cooke's artwork in a way that made it seem to jump off the page. <p>The 75 minute limit to Warner's DC movies reared its ugly head here, cutting some of the subplots out and leaving many fans wishing it could have been split in two (a complaint also heard with <i>All-Star Superman</i>, which narrowly missed this list). The story is a familiar one — the heroes of DC Comics come together to defeat an alien threat — but the process of getting there is unique. <p><b>New Frontier</b> is also notable for one of the best Wonder Woman scenes ever put to screen, with Lucy Lawless voicing the original Warrior princess.
<b>Sword of Storms</b>, and its sequel <b>Blood and Iron</b> are notable not just for their faithful adaptations of existing Hellboy comic stories, but also for their use of the same cast as the feature films. <p>While that lent the movies a certain weight, it was the slick animation and the combination of mystics, Japanese mythology, modern action, and a touch of humor that make this movie feel like you're doing nothing more than reading a Hellboy comic and seeing it play out in your mind. While the second was reviewed slightly better, we include <b>Sword of Storms</b> for not being just a great film, but also a groundbreaking one.
The only thing that stands out as bad about this movie is the title — it really should've been called <b>Supergirl: Apocalypse</b> or something similar, but then, frankly, it wouldn't have sold as well. Luckily, the awesomeness of the movie far outweighs any naming issues. <p>Having Tim Daly as Superman, Kevin Conroy as Batman, and Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman is never going to hurt your cause having Ed Asner return as Granny Goodness and sci-fi darling Summer Glau along for the ride as Supergirl was just icing on the cake. <p>The amount of nuance in Supergirl's development and relationship with the DC Trinity shown in just 78 minutes is incredible, and the animated version of deceased superstar artist Michael Turner's images sings. <p>But nothing <i>nothing</i> beats the big final battle where Superman and Supergirl take on Darkseid in Smallville. If <i>Man of Steel</i> can do a small fraction of what that scene did to make Superman seem just outright <i>cool</i>, it will have no problems in the box office. Supergirl gets her moment, too, using a combination of Amazon training and Kryptonian superpowers to actually hold her own against Darkseid (for a bit, at least).
This is the most recent movie on our list, and it comes with a couple of small caveats first, yes, as part 2 of a larger story, this movie is better when watched in conjunction or at least very soon after part 1. The second caveat is that limitation is the only thing knocking it so far <i>down</i> on the list, and keeping it out of the top 3 because this film has two of the best Batman fight sequences ever seen in motion. <p>Based of course off the famous comic book of the same name by Frank Miller, part 1 had a lot of set up to do in service of the crazy action in part 2. Director Jay Oliva knew that, cramming a bit more of the story into part 1 than initially planned, so that the second chapter could focus on the knock-down drag-outs between Batman and Joker then Batman and Superman — and oh are they ever worth the wait. <p>We should warn you, the final battle with the Joker is tough to watch. It is brutal and violent and raw and it feels more like you're really watching the Batman break down because of it. The fight with Superman is similarly brutal, but gives the viewer a stronger sense of triumph though the final twist that fans who haven't read the series should stop a few hearts from beating at least for a little bit. <p>It's impressive just to see this series made into film at all, but to do it oh-so-right means so much more.
If and when the long-planned Justice League live-action movie comes to fruition, it'll have a tough time living up to <b>Justice League: Doom</b> in terms of the amount of heroes, villains and action this 2012 animated feature was able to deliver. <p>Reuniting much of the <i>Justice League</i> animated series cast along with the returns of Tim Daly as Superman and Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan, <b>Justice League: Doom</b> was a loose adaptation of the acclaimed Mark Waid-written "Tower of Babel" story arc in <i>JLA</i>. Not only did the movie include Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Cyborg, it also incorporated an A-list Legion of Doom consisting of Vandal Savage, Metallo, Bane, Cheetah, Star Sapphire and Mirror Master. <p><b>Justice League Doom</b> was written by late animation and comic book veteran Dwayne McDuffie and released posthumously. Despite fitting all that action and all those characters into just a 77-minute running time, it kept the exploration of Batman's role in the Justice League that made the original "Tower of Babel" an intriguing tale.
In one of the quickest turnarounds from comic books to animation, 2010's <b>Batman: Under the Red Hood</b> took its cues from the 2005-2006 Judd Winick-written "Under the Hood" story which detailed former Robin Jason Todd's return to life as a dangerous antihero, following his newsworthy demise at the hands of the Joker in "A Death in the Family." <p>That's some heavy (and complicated) material to handle in a single animated feature, and it helped that Winick himself wrote the screenplay (a pattern that continued in 2012's <i>Superman vs. The Elite</i>, written by Joe Kelly). <p>The work of renowned casting/vocal director Andrea Romano yielded some unconventional yet effective choices for <b>Under the Red Hood</b>, including Bruce Greenwood as Batman, Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing, <i>Supernatural</i>'s Jensen Ackles as Jason Todd, and John "Bender" DiMaggio as the Joker.
Sandwiched between live-action films <i>Batman Returns</i> and <i>Batman Forever</i>, 1993's <b>Batman: Mask of the Phantasm</b> was an extension of the celebrated <i>Batman: The Animated Series</i>, and offered a take on the Dark Knight very different from Tim Burton's or Joel Schumacher's. <p><b>Mask of the Phantasm</b> was a 76-minute testament to the stylish storytelling power of <i>B:TAS</i>, encapsulating much of what was so great about that show in a slightly different form. Though there was Batman and the Joker, it introduced a wholly new element to the mythos in the form of Andrew Beaumont/The Phantasm, who later appeared in animated series tie-in comics and <i>Justice League Unlimited</i>. <p>The fact that <b>Batman: Mask of the Phantasm</b> was the only film on the list to be released theatrically doesn't give it prestige by itself, but it is certainly notable, and a testament to the quality and appeal of this take on Batman, even if its box office impact was small. <p><b>Mask of the Phantasm</b> helped inspire just about all of the films on this list, and especially subsequent Batman animated features like <i>SubZero</i>. For many, it's never been topped not even by live-action Batman films and its legacy and influence lands it the top spot on our list.