Monday, July 15, 2013
Beware the Batman Debuts on Cartoon Network
Last weekend was the premiere of Beware the Batman, the latest animated series about Batman that airs as part of Cartoon Network's DC Nation hour. It's the second DC superhero series to exclusively use CG animation, with the first being the recently cancelled Green Lantern.
When Beware the Batman was first announced by Cartoon Network, two details were emphasized: 1) that the supporting cast would include DC C-list heroine Katana and a revamped version of Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne's butler; and 2) that the villains in the series would consist of newer and more obscure members of Batman's rogues gallery instead of classic and familiar foes such as the Joker, Mr. Freeze and Two-Face.
So, how does Beware the Batman fare with its interpretation of the Caped Crusader? The premiere episode is a mixed bag, with some signs of potential and a few nagging problems. Read on for my complete review.
The best thing that Beware the Batman has in its favor is the CG animation. In terms of visuals, this series has style to spare, and the CG format allows for spectacular action scenes. If this series delivers nothing else in the long run, it'll at least provide many sleek and well-choreographed adventures for die-hard DC fans. I also noticed that Batman's suit has a dull shimmer to it, which reminded me of the sculpted foam rubber suits used in the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman movies.
The changes the series makes to Batman's supporting characters come off much better than many fans had originally feared. The Alfred in Beware the Batman is the burliest Alfred I've ever seen in a Batman story: with his imposing figure, square jaw and seasoned fighting skills, it seems like this Alfred could easily don the Bat cape and cowl in situations when Bruce can't do it himself. The pilot episode also emphasizes Alfred's connections to Britain's MI-6 agency, which is how Katana enters the narrative and it sets up a theme of international intrigue to contrast Batman's Gotham-based activities.
Where the pilot episode falters is in its characterizations of key characters. The villains in the pilot consist of Professor Pyg and his henchman Mr. Toad, characters who were created by Grant Morrison during his recent run on the Batman comic book series. Essentially, Pyg is a much more psychotic version of the classic Batman villain Mad Hatter. However, because Beware the Batman is on the Cartoon Network, Pyg's character has been toned down considerably and his more deranged attributes have been replaced with personality traits similar to those of the Riddler and Poison Ivy. The end result makes Pyg feel like just another unexceptional Gotham villain who has animal and literature fetishes, and Toad is even less defined than Pyg. If all of the villains in this series are going to be as diluted as Pyg and Toad, then Beware the Batman could become just as forgettable as they are.
Another drawback to the pilot is that the main character of Bruce Wayne is as stiff as a plank of wood. Once he takes off the Bat suit, his personality disappears with it. I'm hoping that Bruce grows as a character as the series progresses, and I suspect that the creators of the series brought in Katana as a way of developing Bruce--namely, by pairing him with a fighter who is just as skilled as he is so he has someone to whom he can directly relate.
It's hard to gauge how Beware the Batman will fare as a series based only on its first episode, but I think that the pilot provides clear indicators as to how it will succeed or fail as a whole. Right now, I’m not sure if it will have compelling multi-episode story arcs that made its DC Nation predecessors Green Lantern and Young Justice stand out from other superhero cartoons. I also don't understand the logic of pairing it in the same hour with Teen Titans Go!, another DC Nation cartoon that's aimed at a much younger audience.
Cartoon criticisms aside, I'm beginning to wonder if Batman is reaching a point of oversaturation. The DC universe consists of so many characters and settings, and yet DC's parent company Time Warner keeps going back to Batman as if he's the only worthwhile character that DC has to offer. From 1989 to the present, Batman has been the subject of seven live-action movies, the main character in four animated TV series and a supporting character in three, and has dozens of video games and straight-to-video cartoons with his name on them. Sure, Beware the Batman could turn out to be one of the best Batman cartoons ever made, but there's no reason why an equally impressive CG series couldn't be made for Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, or Martian Manhunter. We've already been through Batman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman Begins; if Time Warner doesn't devise a better strategy of what to do with the DC universe, then all we're going to left with is stuff like Batman Again, Batman One More Time, and Nothing But Batman.