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Heroes in Motion
by Adam Hakari

Last year, the popularity of superhero movies reached an all-time high with the smash success of Marvel's The Avengers. Audiences are into costumed crusaders more than ever, with this summer alone seeing the returns of Superman, Wolverine, and Iron Man to the silver screen. Crowds will cheer and haul home merchandise by the truckload, but if your crimefighting media tastes skew from what's at a theater near you, Warner Premiere's Motion Comics line has you covered. A trio of DC's acclaimed storylines has been conveniently spread across two discs; one features a pair of bouncy and energetic escapades, while the other is a sprawling saga that hoists an alternate history upon the grand-daddy of all super-dudes.

Batgirl: Year One / The Batman Adventures: Mad Love

Two of DC's leading ladies headline this dynamic double act. Batgirl: Year One charts the course of Barbara Gordon (voice of Kate Higgins) as she rises from bookworm to the titular caped avenger. The story is a bit of a mess, switching between flashbacks at whiplash-inducing speed, but at least you're always in Barbara's court, rooting on her efforts to prove herself as a legit crimebuster. Villains like Killer Moth and Firefly test her meddle as much as a stubborn Batman does, and her exploits are edited with a snappiness that makes a great match for the cowled cutie's spunky attitude.

Mad Love, on the other hand, casts a spotlight on the vexing villainess Harley Quinn (voice of Cindy Airey). This tale, based on a comic book one-shot by "Batman: The Animated Series" masterminds Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, details how not-so-unsuspecting psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel fell for the clown prince of crime himself, the Joker. Harley's efforts to do in the Dark Knight to please her puddin' fill this brief but highly engaging short. It only scratches the surface in regard to one of the most notoriously abusive relationships in all of comics, but it's not without substance or dark humor to secure your interest. The voice work is fitting, the visuals are bright, and, most of all, Mad Love shows that there's more to ol' Harley than that cheshire grin.

Superman: Red Son

Drawn from Mark Millar's epic mini-series, Superman: Red Son poses a whopper of a "what if..." -- what if the Man of Steel touched down in Communist Russia? In this story's estimation, having a nigh-invincible god on its side turned the Cold War's tide in the Soviet Union's favor, eventually leading to Supes taking office in his adopted homeland. But forces are working fast to remove Superman from power, including a certain obsessed scientist by the name of Lex Luthor and a Soviet version of Batman inspired to bring down the regime. Superman: Red Son is heavy stuff, far from the flights of fantasy that saw Kal-El selflessly clobbering a neverending stream of purse-snatchers. But while this material is more on the mature, thematically-stimulating side, it is truly fascinating and not just dark for dark's sake. The most important thing about Red Son is how it drastically alters Superman's origins, yet we still see signs of the Kryptonian we all know and love, in addition to its extra moral complexity. The orchestra booms with importance, the imagery is bold, and the final revelation is an ironic doozy. Red Son's structure is its only real issue; split into a number of chapters running only a few minutes apiece, the stop-and-go pacing really wears on you. This is a story that really could have used the feature film treatment, if only to give its many concepts (Luthor's marriage to Lois Lane, Wonder Woman's defection to the Soviets) some added polish and punch. But Superman: Red Son stirs nevertheless, an effective demonstration of how different things might have turned out if the blue boy scout had set up shop elsewhere on the globe instead.

These titles and more can be purchased online from the Warner Archive Collection:

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