Batman: Under the Red Hood -- Special Edition is drawn from Judd Winick's "Under the Hood" storyline, so it's only natural Winick would serve as screenwriter for the animated feature. However, it also brings in a few plot threads from 1988's "Death in the Family" arc. Though deeply rooted in the Batman mythos, the straight-to-DVD film does a great job of supplying all the backstory you could ever need, or want.
Both stories focus on the relationship between Batman and Robin. It all begins with the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd (Jensen Ackles), at the hands of the Joker (John DiMaggio). Right from the start, Under the Red Hood shows its not your typical "kid friendly" animated film. Combine Batman: The Animated Series with Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight, and you've got a great idea of what Under the Red Hood brings to the table. As in the comics, Joker savagely beats Robin with a crowbar, leaving just enough life in him to watch as a bomb ticks down to its last few seconds.
Five years later, Batman (Bruce Greenwood) patrols the streets alone, while the original Robin, Dick Greyson (Neil Patrick Harris), has made a name for himself as Nightwing. Though not inclined to team up often, the duo manages to foil a robbery, only to have the thugs killed by a sniper before they can get answers. Meanwhile, a new vigilante, The Red Hood, shows up in Gotham and quickly takes over the city's drug trade. This enrages Gotham's current kingpin, Black Mask (Wade Williams), igniting a gang war.
As Black Mask and Red Hood continue their turf war, Batman sets out to uncover Red Hood's identity, which may or may not have something to do with Joker, who previously worked under the Red Hood name.
Winick does the best job he can at cramming close to 20 years of guilt, storylines and other Bat-related antics into an hour and a half. Obvious concessions are made (Superboy Prime/ Infinite Crisis; Joker's stint as Iran's U.N. ambassador) and the lack of the third Robin, Tim Drake. These changes are understandable and are brilliantly executed. It still manages to get to the heart of Batman's guilt, as well as why he doesn't cross the line and kill. This proves to be the dividing line between Batman and Red Hood, leading to a cliché, yet tense confrontation.
The only "lost" plotline is the tale of two Robins. Greyson is the "good son" while Jason Todd is the prodigal son. This was one of the arc's more fascinating aspects. Seeing Greyson is cool, but he's really just there as a sounding board for Batman (which, as one of the featurettes explains, was the whole reason for Robin in the first place). He shows up, helps Batman chase down Red Hood, and unceremoniously exits Batcave left.
The art direction is fantastic and captures the story's mood perfectly. Though probably not a "must buy on Blu-ray" sort of purchase, the transfer is sharp and crisp. Voicework, as well as most of the audio, is top notch all the way. Long time fans are going to wish Kevin Conroy was providing Batman's voice, but Greenwood does a good enough job. John DiMaggio's Joker finds the perfect mix of psychopath and clown.
Under the Red Hood is loaded with extras, mainly focusing on Robin. There are two short documentaries, one detailing the origin of Robin and why the character was introduced into the Batman mythos. The second involves the original "Death in the Family" storyline, where fans voted to kill off Jason Todd. It's fun seeing DC's reaction to the fan's request. Let's just say fans called DC's bluff.
Also included are four Robin-centric episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. If that's not enough, there's a Jonah Hex animated short and preview of the next DC Animated release, Batman/ Superman: Apocalypse.
Batman: Under the Red Hood is a must see for any Batman fan, or really any comic book fan. The story is great and the production values are through the roof. Fans should go for the Special Edition, but even if you opt for the DVD, consider this a must buy.