Rating the new Batman
I wasn’t too sure about “Beware The Batman.” I was reared on “Batman: The Animated Series,” so that’s my measuring stick for every Post-90s television adaptation.
The initial trailers looked too gimmicky and reminiscent of “The Batman,” a show buried by its lousy writing and lackluster character designs.
From the outset I had low expectations that were reinforced by poor marketing. The other night, out of boredom, I watched a couple of clips from the new show.
The CGI animation looked more refined and textured than I expected. The action sequences flowed beautifully and the intriguingly complex character interactions had me hooked.
Here’s the clip that convinced me to spend the $3 to download the HD version of Episode 1 on my Amazon account.
The strength of the writing in individual episodes of “The Animated Series” varied. I was drawn to the sharp dialogue and interpersonal conflicts depicted in “Beware The Batman.”
The action sequences also really shine.
Recognize the villain? Neither did I, but that’s another one of the things about the show that is so darned interesting.
“Beware The Batman” makes a strong case that it’s a worthy successor to “Batman: TAS.” How does it stack up with its predecessor? Let’s compare and contrast.
Characteristics: Affable, affluent, fondness for brown suits.
Private Persona: Batman without the suit who confides in Aflred and plays mentor to sidekicks.
Personal relationships with other characters: Mostly friendly, save for Batman’s rivalry with detective Harvey Bullock and occasional blow-ups with Alfred and Dick Grayson.
Characteristics: Affable, affluent, fondness for black turtlenecks and gray sport coats.
Private Persona: Kind of a tool who manages conflicts more than he resolves them.
Personal relationships with other characters: Suspicious of Alfred and Katana, his two closest confidantes. He has an icy relationship with Commissioner Gordon who tolerates Batman’s actions but does not condone them.
Winner? “Beware The Batman” Bruce Wayne might not be as likable as his animated counterpart, but it makes for a more interesting story. Nod goes to “Beware The Batman.”
Characteristics: Sparing with dialogue, moody and intense. On good terms with Commissioner Gordon and other key players. Some assistance from Alfred and the Batcomputer, but otherwise he is self sufficient. He often works alone.
Combat: Mixed martial arts, favors subterfuge and deception.
Suit: Gray on black cloth, yellow bat-emblem (later changed to all black).
Characteristics: Chattier and prone to make wisecracks. On shaky terms with James Gordon. More of a detective with secret agent qualities.
Combat: Martial arts, more likely to engage directly with the enemy as opposed to using stealth.
Suit: All black rubber-latex material, yellow utility belt.
Winner? “Beware The Batman” is an interesting take, but TAS Batman still rules. Nod goes to “Batman: TAS”
A fatherly figure for Bruce Wayne and a supportive voice, but not afraid to push back when necessary. A secret badass and former British agent, as revealed in the episode “The Lion and the Unicorn.”
On older, wiser partner for Bruce Wayne and a sworn protector of the Wayne legacy. An explicit badass with secret agent training. He plays a much more integral role in Batman’s missions, but his strong personality also leads to conflicts with Bruce Wayne.
Winner? TAS introduced the idea of a secret-agent back story, but the new Alfred can stand-to-toe with Batman. The ensuing clashes give the show a lot of its appeal. Nod goes to “Beware The Batman.”
Robin (both Dick Grayson and Tim Drake), Nightwing (Dick Grayson) and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon).
Katana, former member of the League of Assassins and Alfred’s goddaughter. Alfred also takes on more of a sidekick role in this series.
Winner? The new show has an interesting take on this concept, but the supporting cast in TAS often stole the show. Nod goes to “Batman: TAS.”
Father figure and willing partner in Batman’s activities. He begins the series as Commissioner and doesn’t often quarrel with his caped accomplice.
A reluctant ally who views Batman as a vigilante. When the series begins, he’s a lieutenant who vows to arrest Batman, but circumstances force them into an uneasy partnership.
Winner? I really can’t decide on this. I like the “Batman: Year One” tone of the new James Gordon but I like the established lawman of “Batman: TAS.” I rule this one a tie.
THE ROGUES GALLERY
“The Animated Series” relied heavily on the traditional roster of villains from the comics. Joker, Penguin and Two-Face all shared a generous amount of screen time with the Dark Knight. This show also redefined many of the villains for the mainstream Batman continuity. The creation of Joker sidekick Harley Quinn and the rewriting of Mr. Freeze’s origin story both became part of the official Batman lore. TAS also used the mob in many of its plot lines, particularly in the early seasons. The show’s handling of Batman’s rogues gallery proved to be its lasting contribution to the Batman Franchise.
Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad? Anarky? Humpty Dumpty? Magpie? If you’ve never heard of these characters, it’s OK. The creators reached way, way down into the villains roster and pulled out one of the quirkier collections of bad guys Batman has faced to date. The shows also deals with organized crime in the form of the League of Assassins. I suspect this was a strategic move as much as a stylistic one. Fans of the series have high expectations for Batman’s villains and he arguably has the best enemies list of any comic book character. With the new look and emphasis on conflicts between the show’s protagonists, introducing a character like the Joker could force the show to go in directions it’s not quite ready to travel. I’ve read on some forums that you can bet good money the Joker will never show up. I don’t buy that for a second. I think the creators want time to build their audience and establish their own tone for the show. Give them credit, too. These villains are pretty interesting, and a lot more super-powered than their animated counterparts. (What the hell is that sonar crap Mr. Toad does anyway? Weird.)
Winner? I get why the new show went with lesser-known villains and think it’s an inspired choice in a lot of ways. But you just can’t beat the Joker. Sorry. Nod goes to “Batman: TAS.”
Visuals and tone
This show utilized a floating timeline, a malleable world where black and white television coexists with giant robots. While the first season involves the transformation of District Attorney Harvey Dent into Two-Face, most of the episodes are self-contained adventures presented in no particular order. The show utilized a style known as Dark Deco, where the animators would start with a black background and paint over it. This led to a lot of really cool effects, like Batman blending in with the scenery.
The new Batman show exists in the here and now. Weapons have a slightly futuristic look to them. The skyscrapers look distinct and immovable. The episodes are in a serial format, with each episode building upon the previous one. Unlike TAS, the atmosphere is not as big of a factor. While the Gotham City of TAS was its own character, here it’s window dressing. Corrupt cops, mobsters, Gothic architecture and other staples of Batman’s hometown are underutilized and taken for granted. It’s probably the new show’s greatest weakness, but one that’s understandable given the shift in emphasis from scenery to scenes.
Winner? This one wasn’t hard for me. The second-fiddle Gotham is the new show’s most obvious flaw. Nod goes to “Batman: TAS.”
Bold, soaring, iconic and knock-out awesome.
“Beware The Batman”
A derp dee doo red and black silhouette too reminiscent of the godawful “The Batman” show.
Winner? No contest. Nod goes to “Batman: TAS.”
While “Beware The Batman” benefits from stronger writing and more interesting protagonists, “Batman: TAS” continues to reign supreme not only as the best animated Batman ever, but one of the best animated shows period. If “Beware The Batman” aspires to match the quality of “Batman: TAS” it doesn’t have very far to go. But it’s not there yet, and that makes it more of a worthy successor than heir apparent.
I’m not going to lie, though. I’m interested to see more.