Ink & Pixel: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I’m always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. If you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature animated films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

Deep within the heart of a tortured city skulks one of the greatest heroes ever to hit the printed page. With pointy ears, targeting eyes, and a thirst for vengeance, The Dark Knight of Gotham City, Batman, becomes one with the shadows, and waits for criminals to make their move. Plagued by the memory of his parent’s death, Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, and vows to protect the night and as he explodes onto the big screen for the first time in a full-length animated feature film in BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM.

The year was 1993. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was at the height of its popularity and Warner Bros. was looking to take the caped crusader to the next level by tasking the studio responsible for the popular after school television show to produce a feature-length animated Batman film. With Eric Radomski (co-producer and co-creator of Batman: The Animated Series) and Bruce Timm (long standing Batman contributor, producer, artist, and writer) set to direct, these two men were ready to seize the opportunity to tell a very personal, very romance-driven tale about Bruce Wayne and his struggle to uphold his promise to a crime ridden Gotham City.

BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM at its core is a love story. Rather than simply focusing on the smash and crash that is typical for a Batman outing, writers Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Michael Reaves, and Efrem Zimbalist wanted to give the fans a much more Bruce Wayne-centric look at the character. So when an old flame, Andrea Beumont (Dana Delany), returns to Gotham- emotions begin to cloud the boy billionaire’s judgment, and the safety of Gotham is the first to pay the price for his negligence. With the arrival of Beumont also comes the birth of a new villain, Phantasm, who is systematically knocking off the biggest known crime bosses of Gotham City, particularly one Salvatore Valestra (Abe Vigoda).

If a dangerous new villain was not enough, Batman (Kevin Conroy) must also contend with his old friend The Joker (Mark Hamill) who shows his painted face inside the city once again. Batman and Bruce Wayne must now take swift action against this double threat to his city and the citizens that reside within it. And still the questions remain. Who is this mysterious Phantasm? Why has The Joker chosen this time to return to Gotham? And will Bruce Wayne ever have a chance at true love? This is BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM.

Originally planned as a direct-to-video feature film, BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM was then upgraded to be released on the big screen In theaters around the world. This put quite the strain on the creative team as it left them with only an 8 month window to complete the film from start to finish. Also, due to the change from direct-to-video to the big screen, each and every scene in the film now had to be reworked in order to accommodate the wide-screen aspect ratio of a standard motion picture. Luckily the studio had given Team Batman almost complete and total control over the film, trusting in their abilities due to the success of the popular television show. This allowed for the team to make the adjustments without the big wigs from upstairs breathing down their cowls.

While the film focuses much on the mystery of the Phantasm villain, it was necessary to give the relationship of Beaumont and Wayne as much depth and weight as possible in order for the audience to emotionally connect with their longing for one another. A series of flashback sequences lent to the mythos of the Beaumont and Wayne romance throughout the film, each one of them focusing on themes built around the loss and passing of time between the two lovers. Each of these scenes were said to be directly influences by the 1941 Drama CITIZEN KANE directed by Orson Welles.

Many people believe that it was the death of Wayne’s parents that triggered him to become the Dark Knight. However, in BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM we were given another reason for what sparked the creation of the caped crusader: a failed marriage proposal. In the film, Bruce comes to terms that he and Batman cannot and should not coexist in a crime ravaged Gotham. This inner struggle, along with Andrea’s own personal demons and vendetta against the mob assassin responsible for her father’s death, ultimately leads to the relationship’s end and the birth of a dark, brooding hero of the night.

Thankfully, somewhere along the creative process and rush to get the film finished within an unprecedented production schedule, Warner Bros. granted the studio an additional $6 million to the film’s budget to allow for a bigger than life finale to bring the film to its epic end. In order to take full advantage of this new budget, the filmmakers produced a rather engaging “flight” sequence over a computer-generated Gotham City at the start of the film. It was one of the few and only times that any CGI work was included in a work derived from BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. This opening sequence captured the attention of Batman fans everywhere.

What’s more is that during the finale, when Batman and The Joker square off against one another inside of an automated model of Gotham City, making the two iconic characters appear as giants, it was actually a send off to the Dick Sprang (heh) era of Batman comics that began in 1948. Purists and historians of the character all let out a collective squeal of glee as one of their favorite Bat-fights was finally a part of the character’s big screen romps.

Sadly, though the film is hailed as being the absolute best Batman related animated film, BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM did not fair well inside of theaters during its theatrical release. Pulling in only $5,617,391 Warner Bros. did not make their money back on the film until much later. Thankfully, when the film was released on VHS and DVD later on, it raked in Bat-tons of cash and became the crowning jewel of any collector’s Batman film collection. Rabid fans are still waiting feverishly for a Blu-Ray re-release. Seriously. We’re waiting. Get on it, Warner Bros.

So the next time someone suggests that you watch a Batman film outside of the hyper-stylized Nolan films, why don’t you show off your Bat-savy and bust out a copy of BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM. Think about it, it’s almost Christmas, so why not give your friends another piece of the puzzle in what helped to shape one of the greatest characters of our time? They’ll thank you. You’ll be hailed as bat-tastic for the rest of your days, I guarantee it.


About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.