The Batman: The Complete First Season (DVD)

Cape, meet cowl.

Joker: “The Batman? What if I wasn’t decent?”
The Batman: “You’re never decent.”

The Batman offers yet another version of everyone’s favorite dark knight detective. Warner Brothers has decided to treat patient consumers with a complete season one two-disc set. But is this lighthearted take on the antihero and his rogue’s gallery too different for some viewers?

Crime has run amok in Gotham City. Various gangsters and psychopaths lurk in dark alleys at night, preying on the innocent citizens, who long for a better life in their city someday. But now, the crooks have something to fear. Batman, um, I mean The Batman also prowls the shadows, always one step ahead of the evildoers. The Batman is actually billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. When his parents were killed by a mugger at an early age, Bruce swore to rid his hometown of crime.

The Batman doesn’t have it easy, though, because a slew of new baddies keep showing up, like the Joker, an insane martial artist; the Penguin, a sinister member of the wealthy elite; Mr. Freeze, a burglar wearing a suit of armor made partially of ice; and many more. Rather than beat himself up about it, though, it’s all in a day’s work for The Batman.

I’ve got an episode list here in my utility belt:

• “The Bat in the Belfy”—The Joker!
• “Traction”—Bane!
• “Call of the Cobblepot”—The Penguin!
• “The Man Who Would Be Bat”—ManBat!
• “The Big Chill”—Mr. Freeze!
• “The Cat and the Bat”—Catwoman!
• “The Big Heat”—Firefly!
• “Q & A”—The Cluemaster!
• “The Big Dummy”—The Ventriloquist!
• “Topsy Turvy”—The Joker…again!
• “Bird of Prey”—The Penguin…again!
• “The Rubber Face of Comedy”—The Joker…once more!
• “The Clay Face of Tragedy”—Clayface (obviously)!

Yes, this Batman is completely different from other Batmen. But in the case of this character, it is hard to nit-pick this, because whenever a new writer, artist, or actor takes over the character, each one approaches him with his or her own unique spin. So, although many have their favorites, there’s really no one definitive Batman. He’s less of a character and more a collection of themes and visuals that creative types of all kinds can use to tell their own stories.

This Batman is young, just starting his superheroic career. He’s got a positive outlook on life, listens to rock music on his headphones while at the symphony, and isn’t above making some wisecracks when facing off with villains. Those used to a dark, brooding Bat might not like this, but those familiar with the campy Batman from the ’60s might enjoy the humor. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the show is old-fashioned, though; I thought it was pretty damn funny when online dating spam showed up on the Batcave computer.

The lighter tone is nice, but this is still an action cartoon at its core. The Batman dishes out all kinds of cool moves when duking it out with a villain or her henchmen. The numerous high-tech gadgets on display are a big selling point for the series. In any given episode, there’s some of giant mecha or over-designed gizmo figuring into the plot. The animation really shines during the car chase scenes, enhanced by computer graphics. It’s always a thrill to see the Batmobile zip around the city streets in pursuit of one crook or another, and some of the car chases are the series finest moments. (I doubt there’s any way the Batmobile could ever not be cool.)

Like a lot of recently-created animated series, Japanese anime is a huge influence here. Some have even argued that Bruce Wayne looks slightly Asian here. Likewise, the over-the-top action and outrageous technology also seem to be inspired by various anime works. A major creative force behind the series is comic book artist turned TV producer Jeff Matsuda, whose comic work was similarly anime-influenced. But rather than a full-on Batman anime, there are other kinds of visual touches, seen in the strange new designs of the villains and in the odd colors, such as the sky always being green or red.

Don’t think that the series is all action and no story, though. Scripts can be thin sometimes but occasionally the writers do good work. An early episode examines the friendship between Bruce and Alfred, his butler/sidekick/father figure. The Catwoman episode introduces plenty of sexual tension between the cat and the bat. The Batman’s run-in with a demented ventriloquist causes him to question which side of his personality is the dominant one—Bruce or the Batman?

As the season progresses into its later episodes, it is possible that the creators were already rethinking their attitudes about such drastic change to the Batman’s character. There are hints of returning the series to more “classic” Batman stories—if such a thing could ever be defined. This is most evident in the episode “Q & A,” which could easily have fit in among Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series of the mid-’90s. It combines a darkly comic villain with a deadly serious Batman, both against a retro, art deco setting. An effort is made, it seems, to combine the new with the old. This continues in later episodes, in which the Joker loses the long sleeves and adopts a more familiar look. (This back-to-the future approach continues in later seasons with the introduction of Commissioner Gordon.) With this combo of styles, fans can have plenty of Batman moments they expect, along with the anime action the creators are shooting for.

Picture and audio here are both excellent, with bright vibrant colors and full use of all speakers, making for an atmospheric experience. The main extra here is a featurette, “New Look, New Design, New Bat,” in which the creators discuss why they’ve changed what they’ve changed. Although it’s brief, it covers a lot of ground, and shows that the animators have real enthusiasm for the series. All the other extras have been brought over from previous The Batman DVDs (see below), and are geared toward younger viewers, with set-top games and a fleeting glimpse of the toy line based on the series.

Prior to this release, there were two others, a Season One Volume One disc and a Season One Volume Two disc. These featured three episodes each, and some substance-free extras that are repeated here. If you purchased one or both of these releases, well, I hate to break the bad news to you, but you got ripped off. This release is the one to buy or rent if you want to experience The Batman. Here, you get everything on those two discs, plus seven more episodes and a much better featurette. Warner Brothers really should have held off and made this the only release. But, oh well.

Okay, I just can’t keep quiet on this one any more: Just why is it so important that in this series, Batman must always be referred to The Batman? To differentiate this series from Batman: The Animated Series? Perhaps, but it still strikes me as unnecessary. The constant repetition of “the” whenever someone mentions the title character gets to be too much after a while.

It’s not the Batman that you might be used to, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. All The Batman sets out to do is provide a light, action-packed superhero adventure series, and it does just that.

The Verdict

In this case, change might not be such a bad thing. Not guilty.

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