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Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm was the only film based on Batman: The Animated Series to be shown in theatres and, despite receiving critical appraise back in 1993, its rushed release meant it was a flop. It would eventually gain a cult following on home video, though.

The film sees Batman (Kevin Conroy, as ever) encounter a mysterious new vigilante called The Phantasm who has been settling scores with various mobsters around Gotham City. It's also something of a prequel as we learn more about how Bruce Wayne became Batman, his relationship with old flame Andrea Beaumont (voiced by Dana Delany) and The Joker's (Mark Hamill) involvement in The Phantasm's revenge mission. This is a tense, melodramatic, layered Batman story every bit as dark and stylish as the best episodes of The Animated Series. The look of Gotham keeps that retro, Tim Burton-esque feel and the whole thing is like a 1940's film noir romance with lots of action and a fascinating mystery thrown in.

The Phantasm is an interesting, cool-looking new villain who acts like a dark mirrored version of Batman and the big reveal at the end of the film is thankfully far less gimmicky than the one in Batman: Mystery Of The Batwoman, which mostly just came off as forced. This is a better film than the latter altogether as familiar characters are fleshed out and new ones are made three-dimensional effortlessly. The film packs an unexpected emotional punch at times when you see Bruce Wayne genuinely struggle with wanting to live a normal life and becoming Gotham City's saviour but the film is also a lot of fun thanks to Hamill's excellent Joker and the really well put-together action scenes. Also look out for Abe Vigoda's shady turn as ageing mobster Salvatore Valestra.

Mask Of The Phantasm may not be too flashy or particularly cinematic but it's further proof that The Animated Series were a masterpiece: moody visuals, first class writing, iconic characters, classy score. This feature is easily the best of the three that were released based on the show and Batman fans should enjoy every minute of it.


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