The Dark Knight is a terrible dad, generally way too busy brooding and fighting crime to utter “I love you.” In his newest animated movie, his family has to save his life. Does he say thank you? C’mon, of course not.
Batman: Bad Blood is the finale of a trilogy loosely based off of story arcs centered on Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia, daughter of criminal mastermind Ra’s Al Ghul. Over the course of a number of years, various intertwined arcs written by Grant Morrison introduced Damian, killed off Bruce Wayne and had Dick Grayson step into his mentor’s cowl. The basic structure of this extended story remains in the movie adaptation but the story surrounding them is radically different, with some plot beats thrown out or majorly re-worked.
One of the best parts of the Bat-mythos is the idea of the Batman family. Over the course of 75-plus years of publishing history, the character who started off as a grim loner became father figure and inspiration for a whole crew of crusaders. The prevailing current-day understanding of the Dark Knight is that he’s ultra-obsessed and emotionally unavailable. Given how closed off he is, there’s a dark irony to the fact that he’s got adoptive and biological offspring who came of age in his shadow.
The previous two movies, Son of Batman and Batman vs. Robin, cast Deathstroke as a would-be successor to Ra’s Al Ghul, killed off that near-immortal Bat-villain and incorporated elements of the Court of Owls storyline. Bad Blood opens with a high-octane confrontation between Tusk, Killer Moth, Firefly, Executioner and a bunch of other mid-level villains. Batman and Batwoman jaw at each other while taking out the super-thugs, only to be interrupted by a big bruiser wearing a gimp-mask version of Batman’s cowl. Things escalate and a massive explosion flings Batwoman away from the site of battle. Caught in the huge conflagration, Batman goes missing for two weeks.
In that time, the Heretic (the overly muscled Bat-wannabe from the first fight) has been amassing ill-gotten gains and tech with his super-powered crew. Nightwing, Batwoman, Damian Wayne, Lucius Fox all spin their wheels with worry in the Dark Knight’s absence until Dick Grayson decides to step into his mentor’s boots.
As the plot unfolds, some of the best moments from Morrison’s Damian opus get trotted out. We see the first Boy Wonder masquerading as Batman and verbally sparring with the newest kid to wear the red tunic. Beats like that sit alongside newer exchanges, like the fractious partnership between the Grayson Batman and Batwoman. Voiced by Yvonne Strahoski, the Batwoman in Bad Blood uses guns in her war on crime, a big no-no for most members of the Bat-family. That nod to the character’s military service is nestled into a stripped-down version of Kate Kane’s backstory. Batwoman comes off a great foil to the new Dynamic Duo, a character who diverges from the Bruce Wayne school of punching bad guys. She’s not emotionally connected to Batman and disses Dick Grayson for being wrapped around the Bat’s finger. “Just because I wear this [touches Bat-symbol] doesn’t mean I’m part of your little cult,” she says.
Luke Fox—son of Wayne Tech head honcho Lucius Fox—isn’t part of that cult either. But Bad Blood sees him donning technologically advanced armor to become Batwing after his dad gets hurt by the Heretic’s gang. He gets a handful of cool action sequences but nothing about his dialogue stands out. Along with Batwoman’s chip-on-the-shoulder standoffishness, the characterization of Nightwing is a high point in Bad Blood. He’s got the same fetching combo of filial Bat-angst, devil-may-care breeziness and compassionate empathy that’s made him a fan favorite.
Usually, when Batman shares adventures various members of his family, the dynamic is about who needs whom more. Does Batman need Nightwing as a tether to humanity more than Nightwing needs acceptance from his mentor? Here, the answer is a gruffly conceded draw. Bruce is in super-asshole form after he gets rescued but acknowledges by the movie’s end that he does in fact have a family around him. Bad Blood ends with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it teaser of another member of the Bat-family, which suggests that we might see more of Batman being the unlikeliest paterfamilias of all.