Its important to mention that like many others my age who's passion for comics has lead them to still watch cartoons into their 20's, I love Batman. In my opinion he shines above all other comic book characters in terms of depth, flexibility and supporting cast. I could go on but that's not what this review is about. I do however believe its a strong reason as to why I enjoyed this first episode of yet another batman animated television series as much as i did.
Leading up to the premier of Beware the Batman (which, considering all the other names that have already been used for Batman series, isn't too bad) I was skeptical. The animation style combined with the emphasis on little known villains like Professor Pyg and Anarchy (for the record I actually think Anarchy is a very interesting character if used correctly) didn't mesh with what I like most about Batman. But what really made me nervous was the new approach they wanted to take for Alfred. Beware the Batman features a young Bruce Wayne teaming up with Alfred, an ex MI6 agent and Katana, a sword wielding ninja. Now admittedly I didn't know much about Katana at the time and we've yet to see if she talks to her sword in show like she does in the comics (my bet is on she doesn't) but you might understand where my initial skepticism came from. Especially when you consider that Beware the Batman, along with Teen Titans Go!, are replacements for 2 of my favorite animated series in recent memory, Green Lantern the Animated Series and Young Justice. Both of which were unceremoniously canceled. So when you add it all up. Replacement show + unorthodox approach to sidekicks (why gun toting Alfreds and ninjas? Wheres Robin?) + new animation style = nervousness galore, if not a little resentment. I was, and still am, apart of a movement to get GL and YJ back on television so when a new Batman series is touted as their replacement its a hard sell. Especially because the best animated Batman already happened. (I'm talking about Batman the Animated Series if you didn't know. Thanks for the great childhood Bruce Timm and Kevin Conroy!)
Fortunately, as I said earlier, one of the things that makes Batman so great is his flexibility as a character. You can make him campy like Adam West, stylized like the Burton films or play it straight like Nolan and it all works. So this take although admittedly a bit... different from the Batman we've been seeing on film for the past few years, isn't a bad thing. Especially when talking about the animation. I liked it. Especially Batman himself, looking more stylized with smaller eye slits and longer ears but still keeping the iconic Batman look. Its possible that if I had not enjoyed 2 seasons of the Green Lantern series, which is in the same animation style but not quite as detailed, I might have had more of problem with it than I do. But as it is, the few visual complaints I do have are minor.
The story jumps right into Batman's war on crime. He's already fairly established in Gotham as a vigilante but its not so far into his career that Gordon has taken over as police chief. I really enjoy this period of time, it allows for interesting story telling that doesn't need to conform to certain Bat-standards that apply later in his career, like Robin and Nightwing for example. In this time period he's still experimenting with different crime fighting techniques and partners. His main rogues gallery hasn't established themselves and you can play with relationships in different ways. In this case its Alfred. They have taken him out of the kitchen and broom closet and into a more rough and tumble role. We learn early on that in this incarnation he's an ex MI6 agent charged with protecting Bruce Wayne. But he's also considerably younger than usual, probably to allow for the more hands on approach he's taking this time. I'm still on the fence about this decision. I normally really enjoy the classic Bruce and Alfred relationship. It can be very complex and interesting. This has that feeling of being different for the sake of being different and I'm never a fan of that. As they say, If ain't broke don't fix it. Their relationship this time around seems more strained. Alfred wants to not only protect Bruce Wayne, but Batman as well. Of course this leads to the classic "Batman works alone" line which in every incarnation never really made sense since he's almost always had a partner.
As the story moves forward we learn that the villains of the day are Professor Pyg and Mr Toad. An odd pair but they actually kind of work in this universe.They had a very creepy air to them and didn't come off nearly as silly as they looked. Now they have said that they intend to concentrate on the lesser known villains but I have to admit that seeing some of the more well known villains make their way into this series would be interesting. Also, it'll be quite that test of wills for the show runners here not to at least dip their toes into the main rogues gallery. It'll be fun to watch who else they bring out as villains.
From the shows promotional materials we know that Katana will be playing a significant part of the show as well but we're only introduced to her here in this episode so I have little to say about her as of yet. Her connection with Alfred and his MI6 days will be something to keep an eye on however.
As a whole I enjoyed the premier of Beware the Batman and it will be interesting to see the show grow. The voice acting and visuals are top notch and I'm excited to see what they do with these new/old villains. If this is even half as good as GL I think we'll be in for a fun ride.
As an aside, I'm actually in a weird place that I've never really been before with a show. I almost don't want it to get better so I cant get attached. After what happened with GL and YJ my trust in Cartoon Network has been severely damaged. With any luck I'll start really liking the show in time for Cartoon Network to cancel it in favor of another show I'll be even more wary of. But hopefully that doesn't happen and this becomes another bright spot in DC's animated portfolio.
Keep an eye out for more of my reviews of Beware the Batman and TMNT
A Few Side Notes:
- I really loved the homage to the Batman: TAS in the opening shot of the bank.
- How awesome was that when Batman punched his shoulder back in against the truck?
- The guy voicing Batman/Bruce Wayne isn't terrible but will take a little while to get used to.
- Alfred is bald!