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Beware the Batman: “Hunted”

bewarethebatmantitlescreenIt’s hard to imagine a world where Batman isn’t a pop culture force to reckoned with.  He’s arguably the most popular comic book originated character today and easily has had more success than any other comic character in transitioning from one medium to another.  His popularity is not absent of peaks and valleys.  Batman is currently coming off one such peak following the conclusion of his most successful endeavor yet, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and DC Comics is looking to keep the fire going with a new animated series:  Beware the Batman.

Batman is, first and foremost, a comic book superhero.  His overall popularity though, is tied more to his forays outside comics.  Batman’s television and film works have a chance at reaching the comic book audience and non alike.  His first exposure of merit was the television show in the 1960’s.  It’s easy to dismiss the campy program today as being inauthentic, but the Batman of the comics at that time wasn’t far removed from Adam West’s portrayal.  It wasn’t until the 70’s that Batman would rediscover his edge, completing the transformation in the 80’s which helped influence his next cultural milestone, Tim Burton’s Batman.  Batman:  The Animated Series would follow, and despite it being a cartoon aimed at younger audiences, it too managed to attract a wide audience and even spawned the theatrically released Batman:  Mask of the Phantasm.  Of course, a cartoon is unlikely to reach the same audience as a film and that has held mostly true, but the cartoons to follow have been even more obvious in their target audience, so much so as to alienate the comic book fans.

Beware the Batman, in response to series such as The Batman and The Brave and the Bold, feels like an attempt to keep comic fans and attract more than just the Saturday morning crowd.  Time will tell if it can duplicate the success of TAS, but it’s nice to see DC give it a shot.  With no clear plans for where Batman is headed on the big screen, it makes sense to try to build a bridge between the two.  The only complication is where do the creators of Beware the Batman take the series that TAS didn’t?  Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, the masterminds behind TAS, piggy-backed off of Burton to establish the look of Gotham, and then created a tone to suit the show.  Visually, it was unique and thematically it was too when compared with its peers.  The show was not afraid to make broad use of Batman’s rogue’s gallery and took chances on lesser villains Killer Croc and Scarface, while also not being afraid to introduce villains like Roland Dagget and Ruper Thorne, gangsters with no sexy gimmick to speak of.  Beware the Batman has been developed by Glen Murakami, a veteran of TAS spin-off Batman Beyond, and is being produced in tandem with Mitch Watson.  Greg Weisman is on board as a writer and he’s done extensive work with other comics and comic TV shows but is probably best known as the creator for Disney’s Gargoyles.

Anarky is expected to play a large role in Beware the Batman.

Anarky is expected to play a large role in Beware the Batman.

The talent appears to be in place to make BTB a success, and the show’s creators have come up with a vision for the program to help differentiate it from its predecessors.  For starters, the show is animated entirely in CG in a style similar to the Green Lantern series already airing.  In terms of color palette, it actually looks similar to TAS as there’s a lot of black and gray.  Batman, himself, is sporting a black and gray costume similar to the one he wore in the final season of TAS (often referred to as The New Animated Series) but with a more triangular head.  Alfred is said to have a larger role in this program, with his past exploits as a secret agent being a central part of the show’s plot.  Batman also has a new sidekick, Katana, a character first conceived in the 80’s who just this year received her own limited series.  Her design is unique to the show and seems to be, in part, due to wanting her to resemble Batman to some degree.  No word on how her presence will affect Robin.  The show’s brain-trust made the decision to avoid The Joker early on, and as a result, Batman’s primary antagonist appears to be Anarky.  Anarky is another 80’s character and in tone he’s similar to Allen Moore’s V from V for Vendetta, though Anarky has been forced to change to mirror whatever the current political climate of the world is.  There’s been little said on how he’ll be portrayed in the show, but it’s definitely a bold choice for what is a “kid’s show.”  If the character appears dumbed-down for television it will likely disappoint the comic book fans who tune in and could turn them off.

Beware the Batman seems to have a solid groundwork to start.  In addition to Anarky, the creators want to continue to use villains not previously seen on television to help further differentiate the show from the ones that came before.  This direction should be commended, as it’s certainly the bravest route, though I do expect some of Batman’s more popular villains will eventually show up if the program is allowed to continue for multiple seasons.  In order for that to happen though, season one needs to be a success.

Batman's look comes across as a mix of old and new.

Batman’s look comes across as a mix of old and new.

The first episode aired today and is titled “Hunted.”  As is the case with most series premieres, the episode is concerned with introducing the main cast of the show to viewers while also giving us a taste for the action and spectacles we can expect going forward. Right off the bat (no pun intended), we’re shown Batman taking down some small-time thugs.  Disappointingly, the firearms used by the enemies look like toy squirt guns and fire lasers.  Beware the Batman is not the first cartoon to eschew realistic firearms, but it looks especially ridiculous here given the otherwise realistic look of the setting (the guns initially were going to look realistic following in the footsteps of TAS, but after the Aurora shooting the show was changed).  Realism does seem like it may be in short supply with this show.  While no one would expect a Batman show to possess a high degree of realism, it does seem like this one will at least be less so than TAS.  The villains in this first episode are Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad.  Professor Pyg is just a fellow with a pig mask, while Mr. Toad is some kind of mutant toad man (that looks more like a frog) with a super-sonic breath attack of some kind.  Professor Pyg arms himself with a saw that can apparently cut through anything except Batman’s gauntlets, and Mr. Toad likes wielding bombs that look like they were taken straight from a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

I’ll never prefer CG animation to traditional hand drawn animation, but the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon did leave me pleasantly surprised with how it turned out.  That show is not without faults, and those same faults are shared by BTB plus a few more.  It must consume too many resources to create an authentic looking city, because the streets of Gotham are empty aside from the main characters of a scene.  This means during the debut episode’s car chase sequence, the only cars on the road appear to be Batman, his enemy, and the enemy’s target.  The characters also do not animate as well as those on TMNT as they seem stiff.  When Batman runs, his body doesn’t look in sync with itself and he resembles a wind-up toy that’s supposed to mimic running.

Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad add a dash of comic relief while still retaining an element of danger.

Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad add a dash of comic relief while still retaining an element of danger.

Design wise, I already mentioned Batman.  The Batmobile is present in this debut episode and it resembles a Lamborghini and apparently it’s dual flame spouts on the back are meant to distinguish it from its predecessors.  Alfred is a mountain of a man who towers over Bruce Wayne.  His role as a bodyguard is emphasized in this episode with part of the plot revolving around his wanting to protect both Bruce Wayne and Batman, with Batman preferring he only concern himself with Bruce Wayne.  The individual who will become Katana is also shown.  Her design of a small asian woman is unremarkable, though she’s seen driving a red and yellow motorcycle which had me wondering if that was a Robin reference.

The voice work seemed more than capable, though getting used to the new Batman (Anthony Ruivivar) and Alfred (J.B. Blanc) will take some getting used to.  Professor Pyg (Brian George) was the stand-out from a voice acting perspective, his tone adding a layer of menace to an already unsettling looking character.  Simon Stagg was present, and I wonder what role he’ll play going forward.  The previously mentioned Anarky is not seen so apparently they’re holding off on his debut for a later episode.

The plot for this first episode revolves around Pyg and Toad kidnapping billionaires who are not eco-friendly.  Batman has to use some of his detective skills to determine who their targets are before the villains strike next.  There’s also the previously mentioned Alfred conflict, with him also wanting to find his own successor for when he can no longer protect Bruce/Batman.  Batman is shown to be somewhat sloppy, though we’re given no indication of how long he’s been at this whole crime-fighting vigilante business.  The creators of the show in all of the pre-release press boasted about how this show was going to show off Batman’s detective skills, but this episode mostly followed the same formula as TAS with Batman turning to his trusty super-computer to do most of the work for him.  Since much of the plot of this first episode is devoted to setting the series up for future episodes, there’s very little resolution to the Batman conflict with Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad.  We’re also only given a snippet of what drives the villains with hopefully more to come.

Expect Katana's full debut to occur in the coming episodes.

Expect Katana’s full debut to occur in the coming episodes.

Overall, I appreciate the direction the show’s creators are pushing it in, but I’m less in favor of the execution.  Pyg and Toad have potential as villains, though I would have preferred something more grounded for Mr. Toad.  The animation is what it is and unfortunately this is the most cost-effective way to do most shows these days.  I’ll reserve final judgement on the show until more episodes have aired though this debut was more of a C effort.  It’s probably unfair of me to compare this to The Animated Series, but if it can’t approach that level of quality, then what’s the point of it existing?  Hopefully the show is able to carve out its own niche that can be enjoyed by Batman fans of all ages.

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