Welcome back to another episode of Trailer Park. Today’s feature promises to be a bizarre fusion, a significant departure and a grindhouse homage all at the same time. Let me explain.
Bizarre fusion: Batman, Richard Dragon, Ben Turner and the Lady Shiva will all fight together against a ruthless terrorist organization known as Kobra… (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Normally, in the mainstream DC Universe, these four rarely fight together, let alone remain friendly under most circumstances. Batman has fought all of them and ranks fourth out of the group. Gasp. Batman ranks fourth. Yes, I said it. The generic villain is the insidious Kobra Cult, a group of mercenary assassins with more money than sense. Led by an insane genius, the group’s sole purpose is to usher in the Kali Yuga (the Age of Chaos). They are doing bad things because they can. The agency boasts lots of operatives who are willing to give their lives for their ultimate goal. Simple motivation. Great dental plan. What else could a villainous organization offer?
A significant departure: In this story, the timeline shifts and we are on another Earth (of no particular designation – making it an Elseworld’s story) and is part of the new departure of DC Comics, from its previous concepts of rigorous continuity. The DC new mantra is supposed to give writers the opportunity to place stories outside of the mainstream timeline. This is part of their new DC Omniverse in an effort to woe new readers and viewers.
Grindhouse homage: Batman’s origin has been adjusted allowing him to train with three of DC’s greatest martial artists, Richard Dragon (codename: Dragon) Ben Turner (codename: Bronze Tiger) and the deadliest martial artist in the world is still the woman known only as Shiva (who in this timeline is considered by their mutual master as ‘very dedicated.’) In the mainstream DC Universe, she is the martial artist most feared by anyone who fancies themselves capable. It is considered an honor to be visited by her; likely to be your last.
I have only one question: Is Richard Dragon supposed to be Bruce Lee? I do not know if DC can officially represent the man, the myth, the legend, per se, but it is clear the Asian-appearing martial artist who is none other than the master of Jeet Kune Do, student of the legendary Ip Man, and cinema superstar, Bruce Lee! I make this assumption on a split second clip of Bruce’s famous One-Inch-Punch shown in the video. (You may Squeeee until the enthusiasm wanes…) I haven’t been this excited since Kato and the Green Hornet appeared in the 1966 Batman television series.
With this eclectic cast, the throwback Batcave, (Love that reel-to-reel Bat-computer and proto-Batmobile) we are back in the early age of martial arts movies, complete with an afro for Ben Turner, (giving us that Jim Kelly vibe) from Enter the Dragon, surely an homage to the last filmed appearance of Bruce Lee in 1972. The musical score resembles the funky beats of the blaxploitation era and musical stylings of the seventies; there are so many homages and so little time.
I am excited about this project because DC has managed to wrangle one of the only people whose history of working with their animation products has resulted in a ‘Flawless Victory’ through nearly every iteration of its legendary heroes, superhero maestro, Bruce Timm. His DC animation pedigree includes a litany of outstanding series and films. With the exception of Freakazoid, I have watched every single one of them and they are over a decade of the best American animation series featuring DC’s heroes.
Batman: The Animated Series (1992–1995)
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Superman: The Animated Series (1996–2000)
Batman Beyond (1999–2001)
Justice League (2001–2004)
Justice League Unlimited (2004–2006)
Green Lantern: The Animated Series (2012–2013)
All Star Superman (2011)
Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015)
Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles (2015)
Bruce Timm’s history means I will watch this movie, no matter what I think of the sliding timeline, grindhouse music, throwback seventies vibe, and its new Justice League of martial artists. I actually hope it’s going to be good. DC needs to shake up its Multiverse a bit, giving new readers and movie-goers a chance to see these legends in a different light. Their latest initiative which I have codenamed DC Omniverse appears to echo my sentiment. DC is working toward making their product more approachable, allowing writers to tell stories which can introduce a new generation of fans to these hoary Golden Age heroes and villains by removing them from the mainstream continuity and playing fast and loose with them. Yes, there will still be continuity, but now the toolbox will also allow for tales outside the mainstream reality, enticing readers and writers alike.
Batman: Soul of the Dragon features one of my favorite martial artists, Michael Jai White reprising the role he played in live-action on ‘Arrow’ as Bronze Tiger. I am happy to see the brother continuing to pursue his career and venturing into animation voice over is a nice option for him, though he is a dedicated and amazing martial artist.
Other voice talents include: David Giuntoli (Grimm’s Detective Nick Burkhardt) as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Mark Dacascos (John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Brotherhood of the Wolf) as Richard Dragon, Kelly Hu (Arrow, X2: X-Men United) as Lady Shiva, and James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China) voices their mentor O-Sensei, who in the comics, was a master martial artist, teacher and mentor of Ben Turner and Richard Dragon.
With Bruce Timm at the helm, how can this movie miss?
Sorry Richard Dragon, your animated debut is going to take a bit of a detour. The real “Little Dragon” is filling in for you. I know you’re honored. Now, hit me with one of those funky baselines on the way out.
Batman: Soul of the Dragon will be released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on Digital starting January 12, 2021, and on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack and Blu-ray on January 26, 2021.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.