Batman: The Animated Series is arguably the best Batman adaptation, and it’s so good that The Mask of Phantasm, the movie that capped off the series, even got a theatrical run. The movie is beloved for being a gothic ode to classic Hollywood movies and having a mature narrative that not even Pixar would dare tackle, and it’s the gold standard of animated Batman movies.
However, one movie that arguably reaches the heights Mask of Phantasm’s quality is Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Similar to Phantasm, Return of the Joker caps off the Batman Beyond series, and with Mark Hamill reprising his role as the Joker, many fans even think it’s better.
Paul Dini, the creator of Batman: The Animated Series, created a few key characters in Batman’s gallery of rogues that weren’t previously in the comics, including Harley Quinn. But the best of them all is the titular villain in Mask of Phantasm.
As new Batman movies rely so heavily on well-known villains that have been used tirelessly, it was refreshing to see a brand new villain and having it land so well, even if the Joker does show up at the end of the movie. Though the reveal of who was behind the mask of the Phantasm was spoiled by a toy before the release of the film, which is one of the interesting facts about the movie, it’s still one of the most iconic Batman villains ever.
Being set decades in the future, in Return of the Joker, everybody in Gotham City who remembers the Joker fears him. And as people worry that Terry is so young and not up to the challenge of going up against Batman’s biggest rival, it leaves the safety of Gotham up in the air. On top of that, Joker plots his biggest scheme yet, as he seizes control of a military satellite and uses it to destroy the whole of the city. It’s a much broader narrative than that of Phantasm, which was always more of a reflective look on Bruce Wayne’s personal life.
Mask of Phantasm is set both before and after The Animated Series takes place, as it shows what made Bruce Wayne decide to become Batman in the first place. And though this has been done to death, whether it’s in the comics or movies, it has never been done so tastefully than in the animated movie.
It’s full of heartbreak, mystery, and most of the movie is set in a graveyard. The writers of the movie were clearly inspired by classic Hollywood movies like Citizen Kane, and it shows not just in the way the story is told, but in how it looks too.