The Batman Review

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by Chris McEneany Feb 1, 2006 at 12:00 AM

  • The Batman Complete First Season is presented on two discs with all thirteen 21-minute episodes, including the 2-part finale.

    “If I did not break the Batman's bones, I guarantee I broke his spirit.”

    As a life-long Bat-fan (and there's a good few reviews here to prove it) it's always a pleasure to chew the fat with the Dark Knight, especially when he's a successful new incarnation like Producer Jeff Matsuda's re-tooled crime-fighter. Even in a multi-media universe in which superheroes begin, return and are reborn time and time again, Batman surely holds the record for the most rejuvenation this side of the Time Lords. But, like the ever-evolving James Bond, it doesn't really matter who's beneath the cowl (although Bale's been the best so far), as the character is so much stronger than the player, the writer or the artist. And this is just as relevant to his newest interpretation in DC's hot new show, The Batman. The word “the” being strangely important to differentiate this particular next generation Bat from Bruce Timm's Emmy Award-winning classic Animated Series.

    “There's so much more to me than meets the eye.”

    But despite carrying on with the same violent, dark-edged psycho-rampage of that celebrated show, The Batman has, indeed, undergone a fresh and decidedly more vibrant spin. For one thing, the Caped Crusader is younger, and with acrobatic skills matched only by his impetuosity and eagerness to get into the action. Bruce Wayne now resembles a young Robert Mitchum and his crime-fighting alter-ego is now battling through Year Three of his bruising, crime-busting career. Jim Gordon has yet to appear on the scene and the Bat is still regarded as a dangerous vigilante by the Gotham PD, who are out to take him down, in the guise of detective duo Ethan Bennet (also a high-school chum of Bruce's, and quite sympathetic to the Bat's cause) and dogged babe Ellen Yin. Alfred is every bit the butler, though his sarcasm and penchant for reluctant heroics make him a more rounded, and much more involved character than we have been used to. He also finds time to remark about his hitherto secretive military background - although he likes to maintain that he was just a field medic. Bruce's love-life is still a mess however, with gorgeous girls flitting in and out of the rich bachelor's social obligations and getting short-thrift with cancelled or curtailed dates and frequent no-shows from the chiselled playboy. Which is just as well, considering the formidable roster of villainy plaguing the town that Batman has sworn to protect. Oh yes, the bad guys we all know and love (or love to loathe) are all here, too. Well, most of the regulars are, anyway. And the following seasons will hurl more familiar ugly faces into the freshly-stirred mix.

    “The masked look must really be catching on.”

    But, for Season One, we get a riotously wild new Joker, an infinitely more aggressive Penguin, a frightening Man-Bat and an altogether more chilling version of Mr. Freeze. It's funny, and unique to the Batman mythology, that alongside himself, the Rogues' Gallery can be re-imagined so often and yet never become stale regurgitation. The show's new writers inject plenty of raw menace, madcap motive and snarling skulduggery for each villain, and their insane introductions feel just as ripe and as exciting as they have in previous origins. In fact, it's arguable that some improvement has even been made. Visually, at any rate. The Joker is now a hideous demon, his hair sprouting like a wild green palm tree, his eyes blazing a Satanic red and his grin not unlike that of a Great White Shark. His loquacious lunacy is still dished up with relished deviance, his zany schemes still a comedy of terrors. The accursed crooning of “Oh, Batsy!” from the shadows of an Arkham cell still send the shivers up and down the spine. Mind you, I still missed his adorable moll, Harley Quinn, though. The Penguin is a delight, too. This time around, he knows martial arts and is keenly vicious, his hatred for Bruce Wayne's wealth and celebrity running as deep as that which he holds for Batman. He sports jagged piranha teeth, a devilish throaty cackle and has two pink-garbed, Wolverine-clawed ninja-babes (like Kabuki dolls on steroids) on the payroll. Bane is no less terrifying a foe, even if he does use a super-enhanced battle-suit to bust up the Bat. But just wait until you see the awesome Clayface when he eventually pops up for the pulverising season finale!

    “Hello, good looking. Nice cowl.”

    And then, of course, there's a gorgeous new Catwoman to get acquainted with. Remarkably, the only time the light-fingered feline has ever been done a disservice is when she had her own movie - and the less said about that, the better. Her costume now has the goggle-eyed, big-eared look she adopted in the amazing Hush comic series, and her moves are spellbindingly provocative. There's even a cool image of the Cat and the Bat facially linked in a front-page press identikit, that cleverly hints at the personal and professional connection between the two. The sexual banter is fast 'n' frothy and their rooftop catfights are deliciously seductive and deadly. As she pouts so teasingly, “Catch a cat - get scratched!”

    “You gambled, Joker. You lost.”

    The Batman (it actually gets a little annoying with everyone placing “the” before his title, in my opionion) is far more gadget-laden this time out. He's younger, so perhaps he's more into the latest “wonderful toys” and gizmos. But where does he find the space to hide all those batarangs on his utility belt? God, he flings dozens and dozens of them in each episode. The costume is a lot sleeker, in keeping with his more athletic build, and maintains the vintage grey/black look with the yellow logo and belt. And it looks mighty fine, although I'm not too fussed on the oddly-shaped cowl - those eye-slits are way too long. But the star of the ensemble is most definitely the cape. Check out how it moves ... it's a character in its own right. Whether streaming behind Batman in full flight, or draped majestically over rooftops or around his feet like a snare of black spikes, it is fantastically depicted and full of sinuous life.

    “Do you really think I'd send a flunkie to eliminate my favourite sparring partner? I reserve that pleasure for me alone!”

    The animation is utterly awesome and leagues apart from the gothic-noir of Bruce Timm's and Paul Dini's show. The look is glossy, slick and deliriously colourful, the prime influence of anime adding a gloriously new vitality to the Bat's visual canon. The action is wonderfully realised - fast, furious and fabulously detailed. Batman really shows off some incredible moves, his acrobatics marvellously depicted with his fighting style very definitely flavoured with Tae Kwon Do - emphasising feet over fists in most of his close-quarter skirmishes. I practice Tae Kwon Do, myself, and it is nice to see the moves so clearly drawn and choreographed. Every episode features several confrontations that are packed with meaty, bone-crushing violence. Personally, I love that high-flying roundhouse kick that the Bat employs. The car-chases are pretty nifty, too. I'm not a fan of the new Batmobile (looks just like a little Hot Wheels car) but I truly adore its electric blue/white slipstream, and the way the animators show its speed with the zipping effect of the streetlights whizzing past. And what about those stylish blood-red or Poison-Ivy-green skies above Gotham? Wow, that's a bold design, very reminiscent of the gaudy clouds in the 60's Spider-Man cartoon show. Check out that huge, bloated full moon poised just over the rooftop battlegrounds. The camerawork is electric, too - forever on the move and alive with all manner of filmic tricks and intricate compositions. And there's a great swoop of bats in flight used to herald a scene-change that looks so cool every time. Pure class.

    “Makeup? The Joker don't wear no steenkin' makeup!”

    But there are a few minor moans. I'm not too sure about the Batwave device that acts as an early warning system to crimes-in-progress, alerting Batman to the cause. It also features a pretty naff-looking Bat-flash siren and pager that are pure cheese. And whilst Arkham Asylum still looks grandly gothic and forboding - as, of course, it should - do we really need to have surfer-dudes on guard duty? And, although I admit that it does kind of grow on you the more you hear it, the title theme written and performed by U2's The Edge is a guitar-heavy strum-fest that is so completely un-Batman-like that it literally makes me cringe. And then there's that appalling, halitosis-riddled serenade of “The Baaat-Maaann!” at the end of it. Oh, dear God, where did that come from? Thing is, my five year old Bat-son really loves it, and has me play the bit over and over again.

    “And what manner of mucky-muck might this be, Master Bruce?”

    But, overall, this is a great show. It's Batman, all over again. Sorry, The Batman. Each episode is exciting, cleverly written eye-candy that, once again, pushes the boundaries of what many still refer to as kid's cartoons. I love it and totally recommend it. The story-arc is only just beginning, but it ends with a terrific and poignant twist that really gets the juices going for Season 2. And, for me, it can't come soon enough.

    As a footnote, if you enjoy this, why not check out the feature-length adventure from this show entitled Dracula Vs Batman, available as a separate release with full 5.1 surround. Despite its goofy smackdown title, it's a brilliant addition.

    Disc 1 contains the episodes The Bat In The Belfry, Traction, Call Of The Cobblepot, The Man Who Would Be Bat, The Big Chill, The Cat And The Bat, The Big Heat and Q & A.

    Disc2 contains the episodes The Big Dummy, Topsy Turvy, Bird Of Prey, The Rubber Face Of Comedy and The Clay Face Of Tragedy. It also contains the special features.

    The Rundown

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