“Let’s just say, I’m no longer the only bat in town.”
The anime-inspired reinvention of the hugely popular DC Comics hero continues with three more episodes’ worth of high-flying, butt-kicking superhero action, but is this Batman too different from the one viewers are used to?
By day, Bruce Wayne is a young millionaire playboy. At night, though, he dons a cape and cowl and prowls the dark city streets as Batman. Um, I mean The Batman. With a high-tech arsenal at his disposal, The Batman has sworn to rid his hometown, Gotham City, of crime. That’s tough to do, though, considering the outrageous psychos and monsters he keeps running into—not to mention to very persistent detectives who believe he’s one of the bad guys he takes down.
What’s this coming over the Batwave? Why, it’s an episode list:
• “The Man Who Would Be Bat”
Strange bat sightings around a Wayne Enterprises building lead the police to investigate Dr. Langstrom, a screwy scientist under Bruce Wayne’s employ. This also sheds some suspicions onto Bruce himself. It turns out that the cops have every reason to fear Langstrom, because one sip of his glowing green formula turns him into Man Bat, a hideous winged monstrosity bent on destroying everything in sight. While Man Bat takes the Batman on a dangerous flight over the skyscrapers of Gotham, the detectives try to figure out just what Bruce Wayne might be hiding.
• “The Big Chill”
No, the Batman isn’t fighting Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, and William Hurt in this episode. Instead, he’s taking on Mr. Freeze, who’s using his icy powers to steal diamonds from all of Gotham’s wealthy. When the Batman learns he might be the one responsible for Freeze’s frigid condition, he starts to question himself. Is he no better than the crooks he fights?
• “The Cat and the Bat”
A series of burglaries catches the Batman’s attention, but not so much as the burglar: Catwoman. She’s such a sneaky thief she manages to make off with the Batman’s precious utility belt, and the technical wonders it contains. But when she ticks off a corrupt Japanese businessman and his army of ninjas, Catwoman’s going to need the Batman’s help to survive. And did I just notice a flirtatious look between the two of them?
Unlike many comic fans, I don’t mind so much the sweeping changes made to this character and his world. Only Count Dracula and maybe Madonna have been reinvented more times than Batman. In the comics, we’ve seen it all, from the smiling Batman of the silver age to Frank Miller’s twisted and violent “Dark Knight.” And on screen, there’s been the tongue-in-cheek deadpan of Adam West, the art deco look of Tim Burton’s films, the cartoony-yet-serious animated series of the ’90s, and Christian Bale’s recent down-to-Earth take on the character. So, with all these various Batmen running around, I’m not that turned off by the young, upbeat Bruce Wayne of this cartoon. He’s still got the slick moves, the stylish cape, and the always-cool Batmobile. I noticed Jeff Matsuda’s name in the credits as a producer. Matsuda’s comic book artwork—seen in Marvel’s X-Men, Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer adaptations, and his own Kaboom!—features the same sort of exaggerated physicality and weird technology seen in The Batman, leading me to believe he was a driving force in the cartoon’s new design.
Of course, all the great villains are one of the biggest draws to a Batman story. They get an even bigger redesign in this series than the hero does. Mr. Freeze’s new look includes changing his large see-through helmet into a big chunk of ice. Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? I’m not sure how I feel about Catwoman’s new look, though. The yellow eyes aren’t bad, but what’s with those huge ears?
Not quite as forgivable, though, are changes that involve more than just a character’s looks. Mr. Freeze loses his tragic back story in this series. Instead, he’s nothing but a lowly thief who stumbled onto his powers in an accident. This makes him far less of an interesting character than the one we’ve seen in previous versions. Dr. Langstrom, who turns himself into Man Bat, is already quite the nutcase when we first meet him, leaving the viewer to wonder as to what could have pushed him over the edge into mad scientist territory.
Although the creators do manage a few character moments here and there, the emphasis of the series is action, action, and more action. The highlight here is the Batman and Catwoman fighting all the ninjas. The choreography is just as exciting as the kind coming out of Hong Kong’s finest. It also moves the story forward, though, as the cat and the bat start out as enemies, but eventually realize their only hope in surviving overwhelming odds is by working together.
Everything’s been redesigned. Everybody has a whole new look. Robin’s nowhere to found, and neither is Commissioner Gordon. Some viewers are bound to look at this series and say, “That’s not my Batman.”
Also, this is real “cut to the chase” storytelling. Character and plot are present only in their simplest form so that animators can have every opportunity to cut loose with as much eye-popping action as possible. The action is great, but is it too much of a good thing? Batman and company have been around for so many decades because people really respond to the characters. The Batman could be greatly improved if it just slowed down a little.
The disc’s audio and visuals are excellent. Colors are bright and vibrant (although I still don’t know why the sky in Gotham is always either green or red) and the CGI-enhanced Batmobile chase scenes look almost 3-D. The sound fills the room, especially during the action, and at one moment when Catwoman sneaks up on our hero, her voice comes out of just one of the rear speakers, adding just an extra bit of suspense to that scene. Unfortunately, the extras are all kid-based, with two interactive games you can play with your remote, and a simplistic rundown of all the villains seen on the series so far. These are cute, but animation junkies would like to hear from the creators about how the show is made, and why certain decisions were made in the redesigns.
What we’ve got here are three episodes of a fun, action-packed cartoon. Anyone expecting anything else should pass.