Beware The Batman

Initially, I was ambivalent about Beware The Batman, the newest endeavor from Warner Bros. Animation for a couple of reasons. One was that I couldn’t bear with something replacing my beloved Young Justice. The other was that I just didn’t see the need for another Batman cartoon.

I mean, we’ve had four in my lifetime alone: the transcendent Batman The Animated Series, the stellar Batman Beyond, The Batman which I never watched and don’t know anyone who did but it won Emmys, and the better than anyone gives it credit for Batman: The Brave and The Bold. So why bring another along, especially when replacing one of the best superhero shows ever?

But ever curious and optimistic, I watched the first episode on demand and now having seen all six episodes out so far, I can tell you that Beware The Batman is a solid show, taking risks while sticking true to the mythos we all know and love.

There’s quite a few things to talk about here and, since this is the Internet, let’s do that in list form!

Number 1: The Hero

This is a young Batman, probably right around the start of his career, so no Robin, Batgirl, etc. Instead, he’s got Alfred, who here is recast as a bowler hat-clad older Jason Statham look-alike who used to be in MI6 (and has no mustache!) and Katana, a.k.a. Tatsu Yamashiro, who here is Alfred’s goddaughter, a highly trained martial artist and Bruce Wayne’s driver and bodyguard.

Katana is obviously someone most people don’t know, but she does have ties to Batman in comics as part of the superhero team the Outsiders, who are basically Batman’s black ops Justice League. As of this writing, Tatsu hasn’t even donned the costume of Katana yet, but it’s a gradual arc and I’m looking forward to how it plays out. The action-heavy Alfred is jarring at first, but you do get used to it, and it’s handled very well; Alfred is basically like Mr. Steed from The Avengers if he had become a mentor figure.

As for Batman himself? Well, his costume is rather bizarre at first glance, but it really does have appeal. The design of it is basically a visual blend of the Golden Age Batman, the long-eared Batman drawn by people like Doug Moench, and the Batman of the Nolan trilogy. It captures that blend rather successfully, I feel. The gadgets are really cool; I’m partial to a sequence where Batman leaps off his Batcycle as his cape turns into a hang glider. And for the most part, this is what a young Batman would be like: confident, but nervous and prone to the occasional slip-up and maybe being a little more eager to intimidate. So for our hero and his team, we’ve got a good start.

Number 2: The Villains

This is easily the most noticeable aspect of the show: at least up front (although the creators have said they’ll get to bigger villains), the villains are deliberately obscure. We have people like Professor Pyg, Mr. Toad, Magpie and Anarky as the Big Bad.

Obviously, some of these guys have to be changed; Professor Pyg, for example, had a penchant for cutting people’s faces off and replacing them with other faces in his comics appearances. But minor things happen too.  Anarky’s costume has been changed from his Hourman-ish color scheme to a pure white–meant to subvert the  whole White Knight/Dark Knight dichotomy.

So we have an interesting group here and honestly, I think they’re done really well. I’m interested to see how this all works and how this creative team deals with people like Scarecrow or Catwoman.

Number 3: The Animation

This is the first-ever all CGI Batman cartoon and the second CGI cartoon done by Warner Bros. Animation.  The first was Green Lantern: The Animated Series and while I saw less than half of it, it did a very good job of taking the cosmic vastness of the Green Lantern universe and rendering it to modern-day animation. Unlike this show, GL was produced by animation god Bruce Timm; while he’s not around here, many other WB veterans are on board, like Mitch Watson (who created the underrated Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated) and Glen Murakami (who created that Teen Titans cartoon everyone loved so much; everyone but me) to directors like Curt Geda and Sam Liu. So a solid, experienced group of creators that couldn’t be more suited to this task.

This ain’t without its problems, though.  The first episode has some very, very stiff animation, and my biggest problem with the series is that, for the most part, it seems like Gotham City is an abandoned place. That’s annoying as heck and creates no tension if there’s no civilians to be saved. The most recent episode sidestepped this by having pedestrians and honestly, I chalk this problem up to budget. But the atmosphere and lighting of the show is terrific, although it can be a bit dark at times, and I really look forward to seeing how this works going forward.

The stylized theme song is also terrific. Over a tight, rocking theme by New York band The Dum Dum Girls, we get an excellent cool intro that’s worthy of Golden Age James Bond. It’s a treasure.

Number 4: The Supporting Cast

Besides Alfred and Katana, our main supporting character is Lt. (not Commissioner) Gordon. Much like in other early visions, Gordon doesn’t trust Batman and is committed to the law above all else. Barbara Gordon has also made some appearances; she’s a teenager and hasn’t had much depth, but introducing her so early, you know something will pay off.

Number 5: The Stories

The stories are all stand-alone, but we also have pieces of an arc stretched out that will involve the League of Assassins (not the League of Shadows, as the Nolan films have you believe) and Katana becoming Batman’s sidekick. They’re all competently written and even in six episodes, we’re seeing things circle in on one another. Hopefully, this sort of pacing will continue.

Number 6: The Voice Cast

For me, this is the most important factor for any animated show. For the most part, we have a talented, tight cast. WIth Andrea Romano handling casting and voice direction, you know you’re gonna get great performances. Anthony Ruvivar is no Kevin Conroy, but no one can be. To try and claim to do so is ridiculous. Although he stumbles a bit in the pilot episode, he gets better at differentiating between the two roles and brings life to both in a confident, assured way.

Sumalee Montano is Katana and she is great. Taking the battle weariness and warrior’s edge from her role on Transformers: Prime, she blends it with a Japanese accent and gives us an action hero. As Katana’s journey continues, I’m excited to see what’s to come.

j.B. Blanc is Alfred and he sells this new version. He’s wizened, gruff but loyal and steady. He does nice work and it’s a good way to get this new version of the character behind you.

Kurtwood “Red Foreman” Smith is Gordon and, after him hanging around the edges of WB cartoons for so long, it’s nice to hear him in a lead role. His Gordon is a competent investigator who wants to uphold the law and despises anyone who rises above it.

The rest of the cast–which includes folks like Adam Baldwin and Matthew Lilliard–are good in their roles and help bring life to these character models. Again, we have a winning cast.

And that’s it really. If you like Batman but were tired of the Nolan films’ somberness and dourness but still want something serious, this is for you. This is also a great show for kids, so show it to them. There’s a tie-in comic coming from DC in October and I’ll let you know how that is too.

Now I’d go into this whole Ben Affleck thing, but that’ll have to wait for a little while.