Reviews: Beware The Batman
Strong New Take on Batman
Beware the Batman might intimidate many by its lack of Robin, the characterization of Alfred, and unusual villains, but many of the other innovations it brings, like character and story arcs and a strong continuity, makes it an entertaining series on its own. This series features a novice, flawed Batman, and it actually shows. We see him make mistakes and learning from them, as well as establishing a few relationships. The character development and dynamics between the characters are ever-growing, and the plots increasingly up the stakes and reach climatic showdowns. The Deathstroke arc, in particular, ends in an exciting three-parter. Many of the twists and turns in both the narrative and Batman mythos make the series unpredictable and different from other Batman shows. There's also clever foreshadowing here and there, such as the use of the news ticker to preview upcoming characters. Despite the deviation from Batman lore, there are still some great nods to it as well as the larger DC universe, culminating in the creation of the Outsiders. The voice acting is also well done, with Anthony Ruivivar giving us a more intellectual, analytic detective. Highlights include Kurtwood Smith as the cranky, but rational, James Gordon, Grey Delisle as the unstable Magpie, Wallace Langham hamming it up as Anarky, and Wade Williams giving an affable edge to Killer Croc. Even Christopher Mc Donald shows some notable range when his stock jerk take on Harvey Dent becomes a deranged maniac as Two-Face. The series' biggest weakness is the background art style, which does tend to look bland and lifeless. Also, some unexplained plot points, like the fate of Jason Burr and Lady Shiva could've been better handled. Anarky's role in the series is bizarre, considering he didn't affect the plot in a major way despite his status as the Big Bad. Beware the Batman is an excellent, fresh take on the Dark Knight that, like it's contemporaries Young Justice and Green Lantern, was cut too short in its life-span and had the potential to be truly extraordinary in future seasons.
Even Better Than B:TAS?
I'm about to blaspheme: at a per episode level, Beware the Batman is the best Batman cartoon, including B:TAS. Let me explain. B:TAS is great, usually, but inconsistent; for every Mad Love, there was a Tyger, Tyger. Now, the best Beware the Batman episodes can more-or-less hang with the top tier, in part because in many ways they seem to be descended from them ("Attraction" is probably the show's strongest episode, and has a strong Mad Love influence. "Toxic" borrows heavily from B:TAS' treatment of Clayface).But unlike B:TAS, BTB's worst episode are merely good, instead of excellent; certainly not terrible. This isn't to say that BTB is derivative; it's wholly its own beast. We've never before seen such a solidly arc-and-character driven Batman show, and based on the ratings, it'll be a while before we do again. It's very continuity driven, with plots and characterizations evolving logically and implacably as the show progresses. That they manage to bring new life to the umpteenth incarnation of Batman is impressive; that they manage to do it with so much humanity doubly so. There's very "new canvas" feel to the show, as it refuses to be its predecessors. Gordon hates Bats, Katana instead of Robin, 00Alfred, agile/slender Batman: all departures from the traditional, and it's an enormous credit to the writers that every one of them works. The biggest departure (besides the animation, which I'll summarize here: it's really good, and we've never seen such expressive faces in a Batman show before) is the choice of villains. Gone are Joker, Ivy, and Catwoman; in their place there's Anarky, Professor Pyg, and Magpie. Those names may still be familiar to comic fans, but the treatments won't be. Anarky has evolved into a teenage, emotionally unstable Ledger-wannabe, and it's great. Pyg is no longer a pervert; he's an unfailingly polite surgeon turned environmental extremist who hits people with defribulators, and it's great. And Magpie? Magpie's all the best facets of Catwoman, Harley, and Rose & Thorn all rolled into one, with enough fresh pathos to make the whole thing work better than any animated female Bat-villain before her. Doesn't hurt that she's voiced by the excellent Grey DeLisle. Wordcount Motivated Quickies: Inventive fight scenes. Strong women. Fallibly but still awesome Batman. Go watch it now.
Ten episode review.
In a word: bland. At least that was my opinion of the first nine episodes. I guess it's a case of a slow-starter because episode 10 picked things up a bit. This version of Batman pales in comparison to many others, being "toned down" from the epic Large Ham he was in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I think the word "realistic" was thrown around at some point, but if it was, the writers didn't get the memo because this Batman is just as absurd in the physical department as BATB Bats. Over all he gets a 6. Maybe a 7. The would-be Big Bad of the series Anarky appears in the third episode (the first two being Villain of the Week) and brings basically nothing of note to the table other than such an incredible level of smugness that you just wanna reach through the screen and punch him in the face. Repeatedly. Batman defeats him and he "dies", but it turns out he wasn't really dead or something. 3 for him. After that, Tatsu Yamashiro shows up, here reimagined as a friend of Paul Moses, I mean Alfred and bodyguard for Bruce Wayne. Wacky hijinks ensue as her past with the League of Assassins as Katana catches up with her. The League, led by one Lady Shiva, basically outdoes Anarky in every way. They're after a magic sword that Katana stole because she was secretly CIA or something. Idunno. She joins Bats in his crime fighting as Katana. Then episode 10. While far from perfect, this is a much more interesting episode than the previous ones. Anarky returns, still bringing the smug, but also a new-found bit of competence as he manipulates Batman and Lady Shiva into unleashing a mutating virus thingy into Gotham. But they stop it in time and Shiva escapes and Anarky walks away saying "JUST AS PLANNED! MWAHAHA!" (well, not really, but he kinda seems like he's thinking it. Then again, who can tell behind all that smug), and we get a look at the true ruler of the League, a fellow named Ra's al Ghul (who even while unconscious still manages to be more impressive than Anarky). The episode gets 7, maybe 8. Anarky gets a 5. Maybe six. Overall this series has its ups and downs, but so far it hasn't failed in any spectacular way and may even be improving after episode 10. I look forward to seeing where it's heading. Twenty-five words left. Why was Green Lantern: The Animated Series cancelled for this?!?!?
Pretty good so far
I was more optimistic about the show than most people were. While some of their ideas were risky, I liked that they were making an effort to make the show different from it's predecessors. So far, the action sequences are good and the plot and characters are developing nicely. With that said, there are a few aspects of the show that I have concerns about. I approved of their idea to use more obscure Batman villains. As great as his rogue's gallery is, they have gotten a bit familiar. And hey, it was the original Animated Series that turned Mr. Freeze into a real villain, maybe this show will be able to do the same for some of his other bad guys. However, some of their choices are so violent and psychotic that I didn't see how they could incoporate any of their notable aspects into the show. They don't have to be exactly the same as their comic versions, but if they have nothing in common, what's the point? (I admit that I liked their version of Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad, despite having little to do with their original selves). My biggest problem is that Anarky turned out exactly as I was afraid he would: as a straight out villain without any of the nuance of his comic book counterpart. Hopefully they'll add more depth to him later, but since they seemed to have missed the point of him I'm not hopeful. Speaking of character portrayls, while their version of Alfred is a good character in his own right, he doesn't really feel much like Alfred. He looks nothing like Alfred usually does, and the show focuses more on his phsyical attributes than his snark. As for Katana, given that she's a relatively unknown character, I thought promoting her to Batman's sidekick was questionable, and I wondered why they chose her specifically. While she's yet to become his sidekick, I do like how they're building her up. Batman himself, I like how he's not as infalliable as he often is, but I don't really feel an emotional connection to him yet. That may just be because the show has so far focused more on his phsyical struggles than his emotional ones, but that'll probably change eventually. The animation is good, my only problem is that the environments can sometimes look a little empty. I'm running out of room, so I'll end by saying that the show went beyond people's expectations, and it has a bright future ahead of it.
A rather nice surprise
I admit, when the show was announced, I had mixed opinion. The fact it seemed dark pleased me, but I wasn't a fan of the CGI, nor of the fact they'd use Katana rather than Robin. The design for Alfred and the choice to use lesser-known villains while completely ignoring the classic ones seemed almost blasphemy to me. To add to this, I was a big fan of Green Lantern The Animated Series, and I was rather frustrated they cancelled such a great show and replaced it by this. To be honest I am kinda sick of Batman and the attention he gets; sure he is awesome, but seriously, he got like four shows on him, whereas Superman and Green Lantern only got one (which in GL's case didn't even last more than one season) and none of the other DC Super-heroes got a show focusing on them. I don't care if Batman is the greatest, that's still ridiculously disproportionate. But I was still curious, and decided to give the show a chance. And I have to admit... I was gladly surprised. For all his weird choices, Beware the Batman still manages to do the most important for a Batman show, which was lacking since Batman TAS. The tone is dark, with a focus on detective story, the criminals' insanity, and Batman's Crazy Prepared tendencies are portrayed at their best. While the Joker is missing, Anarchy does feel like a great villain even after one episode, thanks to his focus on Chaos and obsession with opposing Batman. Katana isn't an annoying sidekick like I feared, but a competent character with her own interesting backstory. Even Alfred, despite not sharing much with his classic incarnation, still manage to act like you'd expect from Alfred. I know it's a bit soon to judge, but this show might be the most pleasant surprised I had in comic book cartoons since Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes. And in a time where new series like Ultimate Spider-Man or Teen Titans Go are getting made, this is a nice change. I am still mad it's another Batman, show, but at least, it's a really good one, and I'm glad they did it.
For a show thats gotten bashed everywhere I've gone, it started off phenomenally. The first few minutes demonstrate how competent Batman is at his job, as well as showing his inexperience by not being as Crazy Prepared as he is portrayed sometimes, as well as getting injured. This is followed up in the next scene where Alfred comments how sloppy he is, and is shown again when he almost gets knocked out later in the episode. However he still puts up a fight and is able to hold his own against multiple opponents. Another plus is the designs. I know some were skeptical of the CG, but here it looks amazing where it manages to avoid making the faces look plastic and expressionless. The Batcave looks nice too, with the computer having a variety of button and knobs with a big screen that reminds me of the animated series. My favorite design is the Batmobile, which looks sleek and nice, especially in the opening. As for the plot, I think it has a great set up. Alfred is getting old, yet still wants to protect Bruce, so he brings in Katana as his replacement. I think this was a nice way of adding in Katana without forcing it. Gordon is still Lieutenant and doesn't seem to be working with Batman, which means there is room for that relationship to develop as both of them become more experienced. However I have a few nit picks with the pilot. The first is that Alfred doesn't seem to look very old, lacking wrinkles or any gray hair (or any hair at all for that matter). I know he's supposed to be more active in this show, but it still seems weird. Next is that Batman communicates with Alfred over video chat where he's listed as BRUCE WAYNE. This almost bites him in the ass when Alfred is knocked out from behind mid-convo. There's a difference between inexperience and foolishness. My final problem (and this is really nit picky and a personal complaint) is that the Bat insignia on the Batsuit is dark and there is nothing to highlight it. It seems to blend in with the suit sometimes, especially since most of the fight scenes take place at night. But once again really nit picky. Overall this episode is great and I have high hopes for the show.