Batman: Mask of the Phantasm released while Batman: The Animated Series was still on air in 1993. Kevin Conroy voiced Batman, while Mark Hamill continued his run on voicing the Joker. Considering I didn’t even get around to watching the show until last year, it’s no surprise that this took me a while to get to, as well. In this film, we get our first look at Phantasm in the animated universe. The character never appears in the show and that makes this movie all the more interesting.
As the movie begins, you don’t see Batman right away, but he makes a big entrance. It’s one of those where no words are needed and all that matters is that he’s arrived. He’s always been one of those characters that’s meant to inspire fear in the bad guys, but that translates into an air of excitement in those watching and the animators capture that well. During the movie, they even take things back to before Bruce ever dons the legendary batsuit. It just doesn’t have the same effect; instead of being feared, he’s laughed at. It’s a great moment that shows this wasn’t always something so second nature for him.
The villains of the movie are Phantasm and Joker, although the latter didn’t show up until the second half. It’s a smart move because you don’t need (or want) the Joker to take over every time he makes an appearance. Stacy Keach voices Phantasm and Carl Beaumont, who is a great choice for the both roles. He’s in deep with the Valestra Mob as their money man and that’s ultimately what leads him to his death. Beaumont’s daughter, Andrea (Dana Delany) meets Bruce while they are both visiting the cemetery. How romantic, right? As it turns out, her and Bruce do end up together and they even had plans to get married. So for him, this is a very personal story when she reappears in Gotham.
The design of the Phantasm costume is simple but intimidating. At first, people think Phantasm is Batman, but then they slowly start to realize it’s someone else altogether. Batman puts it together that Phantasm is going after Carl’s old business partner, but he’s supposedly dead, too. It was a bit surprising that it did take him so long to realize it was Andrea under the costume. He is supposed to be a great detective after all. It was a nice touch to have the Joker be an old friend of Carl’s from before he became the Joker. That allows for it to make a bit more sense when he shows up.
This movie is one of the few times you get a glimpse at Bruce having the chance to be truly happy. And while it doesn’t work out, it’s still an interesting take. Plus, it really did fit the same tone that Batman: The Animated Series had going for it. Since that show tends to be considered the standard for animated Batman stories, I’d say this movie holds up nicely like the show does today. It didn’t feel like I was watching something from the early 90s even if animation has changed a bit over the years. Even better, it wasn’t a regurgitation of a story already covered in the show, and that originality is what makes it a memorable bit of animation history.