The Batman: Training for Power (Season One, Volume One) (DVD)

DVD reviews are a superstitious and cowardly lot.

“And the number one Batman pet peeve: When people call him ‘The Batman.’ It’s just ‘Batman,’ dammit.”
—David Letterman

The surge in popularity of Japanese animation, or “anime,” as those of us who are cool call it, has not gone unnoticed by American TV producers. As a result, recent kids’ cartoons have attempted to mimic anime’s style and sensibilities, with mixed results at best. Shows such as Megas LXR, Winx Club, and Totally Spies all try to marry what makes anime popular with their artists’ own styles. Whether or not these programs succeed at this is a debate for another time, but one other series has stood out more than the rest: Teen Titans. This effort found success by taking popular DC Comics characters and placing them in an overly-stylized world filled with hyper-kinetic action and outrageous slapstick. With Titans a bona fide hit, the world of television set its sights on one of DC’s most adaptable properties: The Batman.

When he was a child, Bruce Wayne’s millionaire parents were murdered right in front of him. Years later, he has sworn to rid Gotham City of crime. By day, he plays the role of the wealthy socialite, but at night he dons a mask and cape, prowling the streets as Batman. Uh, make that The Batman. With some high-tech gadgets, a cool car, and a very British butler, The Batman solves mysteries, battles eccentric villains, and stays a step ahead of the two detectives assigned to track him down.

This volume features the first three episodes of the series:

• “The Bat in the Belfry”
After crime boss Rupert Thorne is taken down by a mysterious vigilante, rumors spread throughout the city about the shadowy figure called the Batman. This sets the stage for a new menace to arrive and threaten all of Gotham. The Joker might act insane, but this wily killer has a plan, one only the Batman can stop.

• “Traction”
A run-in with mega-thug Bane leaves the Batman beaten and broken. Alfred must nurse Bruce back to health, while Bane seizes the opportunity for a massive crime spree. Can Bruce figure out a way to stop an unstoppable foe when he can barely get out of bed?

• “Call of the Cobblepot”
The upper class gets a taste of the lowbrow when Oswald Cobblepot shows up on the scene, offending everyone with his wild and disgusting behavior. But the Batman’s investigation of a series of heists eventually reveals just how deep Cobblepot’s madness goes.

How many times has Batman been reinvented by now? I’ve lost track. A better question is: How is this version different from the previous ones? First of all, this is a much younger Bruce Wayne, who listens to rock music while testing new weapons in the Batcave. He’s also got a more positive attitude than some of the darker, grim Batmen of the past. He’s not above making a clever quip while punching out crooks, or trading some barbs with Alfred. But he hasn’t quite devolved into 1960s camp, either. Although this is an anime-inspired Batman, the series takes itself fairly seriously, instead of recreating the over-the-top hysterics of Teen Titans.

Some traditionalists might balk at changes made to the Dark Knight, including Bruce Wayne’s more carefree and less brooding attitude, or the “Batbot” mecha he dons in one episode. The well-known villains are even more redesigned. The Joker, for example, is now an acrobatic martial artist, able to hold his own against Batman in a fight. The Penguin is more of a raving lunatic than he’s ever been, and muscle boy Bane has a groovy new mask that only reveals his face after he bulks up on super serum. But for newcomers, or those only slightly familiar with these characters, this is a breezy, engaging action cartoon.

But for everything they’ve changed, the creators have also filled the series with plenty of “classic” Batman moments. Our hero’s cape flows in the breeze as he stands on the edge of rooftops, he makes quick exits out of windows, and the famous utility belt comes with all manner of deus ex machinas. Batarangs spin through the air with amazing accuracy, capes convert to hang gliders with surprising ease, and the Batmobile is still cool.

On a more serious note, the episodes on this DVD are at their best when showing the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred. During a flashback scene, Alfred tells young Bruce that he can never replace Bruce’s parents. And yet Alfred is very much the father figure here, always on hand to act as the voice of reason and impart valuable lessons to our young hero.

Just what pollutants are in the air in Gotham City so that the sky is always either green or red?

As expected for a recently-made series, the full screen picture is clean, with bright vivid colors and deep black levels. The sound is excellent, and your system will get a good workout from both the outrageous action scenes and the combined orchestral and electric guitar score. There is also a Spanish language track, and English, Spanish, and French subtitles.

A featurette, “Building the Batman,” has nothing to do with the series, and everything to do with the accompanying toy line. Shameless promotion aside, even if this were about the making of the toys it would be interesting. But instead, the interviews with toymakers are too jokey and self-referential. All we’re left with is an overly-long commercial. Other extras include a non-interactive trivia quiz which reveals answers before you’ve even had a chance to think about them, and previews for other kid-related Warner Brothers releases.

A young, hip, wisecracking Batman? One who goes into a fight wearing a giant mechanized suit of armor? No Commissioner Gordon, Detective Bullock, or even Robin? How much you enjoy this series will depend on just how many changes to the character you can take. Traditionalists will walk away frustrated, while those with a more open mind will find some lighthearted fun here.

The Verdict

For newcomers, this is a nice “test drive” for the series. Die hard fans will want to keep their ears to the ground in case a complete season set—hopefully with better extras—is released in the future. Court is adjourned.

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