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“Beware the Batman” Review: Half-Season SpectacularIt’s been 7 episodes and almost 2 months since Beware the Batman, the newest iteration of Batman animation, was born. In honor of the first season’s renewal after a two-week hiatus, we’re going to take a quick retrospective at the impressions the first 6 episodes have built up that comprised season 0.5. It won’t so much be a review of each episode but a review of the image that Beware the Batman has left and the roadmap for the future that it seems to be hinting at. So, let’s get down and dirty with this half-season review!
The introduction to this new Batman was something fans are accustomed to seeing: Batsy beating the crime-loving snot out of some would-be thieves. The choreography was decent and ended with a bang (literally) but when the adrenaline rush faded, we were allowed to see the CG animation for what it really was. The world and characters in night-time Gotham ran into the problem of seeming both sterilized and plastic or dark and dusty, at turns. Even now, I can’t get a good read on what material the Batsuit is supposed to be made of as it sometimes shines like laminated armor while other times it has a matte finish like cloth or Kevlar. This is an issue more with computer-generated animation than any particular fault on the part of the show and, after two or three episodes, the novelty and annoyance of it wear off and you’re left with quality Bat-manning.
[If it was not obvious, minor spoilers for episodes 1 through 6 are ahead.]
Episode 1 introduces us to quite a few interesting things. To Professor Pyg (shown above) and Mister Toad, a deranged, animal-themed eco-terrorism duo that is kidnapping wealthy Gotham businessmen. And to the new (to television) relationship between Bruce and Alfred Pennyworth, his butler. The former is grabbing businessmen that took part in a deal that claimed and ended up polluting a large section of wilderness near Gotham. The latter shows a much more capable Alfred who wakes Wayne up with a simulated attack on his life and an admonishment that he is getting slow. This new Alfred is a retired member of the British MI6 and while starting to creak about the hinges is still able to put Bruce through his paces. Both scenes are fun but, strangely, enough the greatest fun came in morning when we strolled around with the billionaire philanthropist, rather than the caped crusader. I may be too uniquely opinionated but few animated series have spent as much screen time with the Man as Beware the Batman is. While a couple of shows have had some extended scenes with Bruce, the focus has always been on the “Bat” side. It’s a shame because Bruce is a charmer with a wit that’s capable of loosening any belt he desired. The show offers the stories of Bruce Wayne, Batman, and those strange times where one leaks into the other. Where other shows might have tried to balance Mr. Wayne and Batman’s screentime, Beware the Batman takes advantage of the fact that both aspects are a part of his life and shows how Bruce and Batsy give and take to strike whatever balance might be possible. It’s a cool and I have yet to feel impatient during one of these moments to get back to the other side of the coin.
Episode 2 introduces the world to Magpie and we start to get a feel for the B-list Rogue’s Gallery, the Knave’s Museum if you will, that Beware the Batman is aiming to build. It has been known for some time that Beware the Batman does not want to utilize the same villains that everyone knows like the Joker, Bane, and other prominent members of the Rogue’s Gallery. While at first glance the idea might seem gimmicky, Batman does have treasure trove of villains that is hardly ever touched because names like the Joker are sure to bring in more people. It actually turned into a weekly meta-game for me to look up quickly that episode’s villain before comparing what I read to what I saw.
What was also interesting about this episode is that we are introduced to Lieutenant Jim Gordon of Gotham Police, only to learn that he is not so big a fan of the Dark Knight. It makes sense, since this is supposed to be relatively early in Bruce’s career as Batman but most iterations have Gordon as indirectly complicit to Batman’s vigilantism, if not a staunch ally of it. It’s both refreshing and aggravating to see Gordon consider apprehending the real villain and Batman to be tasks of equal importance. I’m fairly certain Gordon will come around but it makes room for a nice character arc, especially since his daughter, Barbara Gordon, seems a fan of the Caped Crusader.
Things start to fall off at episode 3, not because the episode was extraordinarily sub-par but because of what it portends for the rest of the season. The series creators have passed around the idea that Anarky, the white king to Batman’s black, will be the main villain for season 1 but he didn’t make a very strong showing. The challenge he presented was rudimentary at best and there was never a moment that really felt “tense”. Compare that to later episodes where Batman is introduced to the League of Assassins and the deadly fighter, Silver Monkey, through his bodyguard Tatsu Yamashiro and it seems like a shame to leave the burgeoning storyline for the sake of a much weaker thread. Like every villain so far, Anarky escapes justice at the last moment so his reappearance is basically a foregone conclusion.
Episodes 5 and 6 give us Humpty Dumpty, the insane egghead, and Metamorpho, the elemental shapeshifter. And they are also a marker for the approximate times where the show catches its stride. The ideas that were sketched and hidden in concepts, have been filled in and are starting to take noticeable shape. We get to see in episode 6, “Toxic”, a little bit more of the balance between Batman and Bruce when we watch Alfred and Bruce discuss how his special bovine glands will allow him to further cut down on the number of hours he needs in order to function. They have nothing though on episode 4 “Safe”. Since the end of episode 1 when she was introduced by Alfred to be Mr. Wayne’s bodyguard and chauffeur, Bruce (and Batman) have been testing Tatsu Yamashiro to see if she’s capable of assisting Bruce in everything he does. And that includes the bat-related bits too.
Although we were treated on occasion to casual displays of her physical and mental abilities, episode 4 focuses hard on Tatsu and reveals a bit of her back-story. I mean, it’s necessary to competently explore the back-story of any and all sidekicks to see what makes them tick. She is an astounding fighter almost on par with Batman but fans are used to seeing the Dynamic Duo, so it will be interesting to see how the two of them work together. Robin always adopted Batman’s method to crime-fighting: staying in the shadows and such. But Tatsu has already developed her own more confrontational style; the way is ripe for crossed wires and lots of fumbled plans as the two get used to working together.
This brings me to the last thing I’d like to say: the pacing on this show, so far, seems nearly spot-on. I know, I know. With only 6 episodes and a good number of them being self-contained, how can you be so sure how the overall plot is paced? And the answer is that “I cannot” but, even in each episode, there is never an unnecessary lull. Some moments may make viewers impatient to see what happens next but the plot unfurls at an even pace that leaves enough of a lure that there’s never a moment where you contemplate stopping.
All in all, Beware the Batman is shaping up nicely. Many of the annoyances that were seen in the earlier episodes have started to or have completely been stamped out as the growing pains of a new show. It’s truly coming into its own. And *knock on wood* unless CN decides to cancel this series too, I see a long and illustrious path set out for Beware the Batman. While more than a few detractors level complaints whose main argument is essentially a comparison against Batman: The Animated Series, this show is showing that it’s more than “Batman” enough to put on the cape and cowl for a new generation.