Batman is not relatable. At least, that’s what I used to think. Bruce Wayne is a rich guy who instead of getting the therapy he so desperately needs, throws on a cape and punches the crap out of murder clowns. Hardly relatable. However, I saw Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and now I can safely say that I relate to Bruce Wayne, especially during the past two years.
(WARNING: Spoilers for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm beyond this point.)
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which spins out of the beloved Batman: The Animated Series, finds the Dark Knight at a crossroads. A wraith-like figure has been tracking down members of Gotham’s criminal underworld and killing them and the blame is placed squarely on Batman’s shoulders. Meanwhile, Andrea Beaumont, an old flame of Bruce Wayne’s, returns to Gotham, stirring up long lost feelings in the process.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was released to very little fanfare in theaters, and by all rights was a box office bomb. The film grossed $5,617,391 in the domestic total box office but had a budget of $6 million. However, the film has developed a cult following over the years, with many fans, myself included, proclaiming that it is the greatest Batman film of all time. Part of this is due to the insane amount of talent involved.
Batman: The Animated Series creators Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski were given a great deal of creative control by Warner Bros and proceeded to push things to the limit. The animation is striking, fluid, and above all else haunting; particularly when the Phantasm, wreathed in smoke, first appears and makes the chilling announcement, “Your Angel of Death awaits.” Bear in mind, this was spinning out of a children’s cartoon that was known for not pulling its punches.
Additionally, the talented rooster extends to the voice cast. I’m sure they don’t need any more praise or accolades heaped upon them, but Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill deliver their best performances as Batman and the Joker here. Conroy digs far deeper into the role than ever previously; you feel Bruce’s pain, his loss, and you see what eventually drives him down the path to become Batman. The performance makes your heartache. Hamill still manages to be a magnetic force of chaos but does not upstage the main story-a feat that in the hands of a lesser performer, would have been impossible.
But the standout performance belongs to Dana Delany as Andrea Beaumont, aka the Phantasm. Throughout the story, penned masterfully by the animated series scribes Michael Reaves, Martin Pasko, Alan Burnett, and Paul Dini, we see flashbacks to the relationship between Andrea and Bruce. The two fall deeply, hopelessly in love to the point where Bruce considers abandoning his plans for vigilantism to marry her. But Andrea up and absconds to Europe with her father to Europe, which serves as the tipping point for his rebirth as Batman. In the present, Andrea has taken up the mantle of the Phantasm to exact vengeance on her father’s killers. She and Bruce are alike in so many ways-yet while he seeks justice, she is consumed by vengeance. Their love cannot survive those base desires.
As I said before, this struck a chord with me, especially in the past year or two. Like Bruce, I fell for someone. Like Andrea, she wasn’t who I thought she was. And even though I didn’t put on a cape and beat criminals to a pulp with my bare fists, the scars are still there on my heart.
At the tail end of 2015, a former friend of mine invited me to join his Facebook group. However, I begin to notice that two-thirds of the members were toxic. As noted by a fellow contributor, this is a dangerous combination, especially with the advent of social media.
But I didn’t care because I had met a girl there. She was just as big of a nerd as me, she was gifted in terms of art, and she was insanely gorgeous. We talked back and forth a few times, and she and a majority of my friends knew I had a crush on her. Which is why in May 2016, it took me for a loop when she announced she had a boyfriend. I’m not going to lie, that hit me hard.
I grew depressed, went to therapy, and in 2017 resolved to let it go and start fresh. However, a friend within the group dropped a bombshell on me. The girl I was speaking to had been less than honest with me. She and her boyfriend Derek were separated at the time, and she was using me to try and feel wanted. I could handle being told “no.” I could get over “I have a boyfriend.” But to be used like I was a prop? Unacceptable.
There is a scene in Phantasm that resonates with me more than any other because it sums up my struggle perfectly. After a climactic battle involving Andrea and the Joker, Bruce sits in the Batcave and laments to his butler/father figure, Alfred, that he couldn’t save the woman he loved. Alfred responds:
I don’t think she wanted to be saved, sir. Vengeance blackens the soul, Bruce. I’ve always feared that you would become that which you fought against. You walk the edge of that abyss every night, but you haven’t fallen in, and I thank heaven for that.
Alfred was right, though Bruce initially formed Batman as an avatar of rage and vengeance, in the end, he seeks justice above all else. Otherwise, he would be no better than the criminals he fights. I walked on the edge of the abyss too, and I thank God that I didn’t fall in. Because if Batman can survive a broken heart, so can I.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.