REVIEW: Beware the Batman Season 1 Part 1
As much as there has been a fascination with Batman since his debut 75 years ago, lately, the trend has been to examine those vital origins. This began back with the Christopher Nolan Batman Begins and will most likely be on display next fall on Fox’s Gotham. In the comics, Scott Snyder is wrapping up his own take on that first pivotal year in the cape and even Cartoon Network took a stab at it with Beware the Batman: Shadows of Gotham. The latter debuted last July only to be unceremoniously yanked off the air in October after 11 episodes. A total of 17 are known to exist out of the 26 ordered but despite promises the show remains off the schedule.
Meantime, Warner Archive recently collected the first 13 stories onto a two disc Blu-ray set billing it as Season One, Part One. From a content standpoint, the idea of looking at those early days is ripe for exploration in any form. Interestingly, under Executive Producer Sam Register, the production team led by Glen Mirakmai, Mitch Watson, and Butch Lukic proclaim this is Batman (Anthony Ruivivar) after being in action five years. He’s no novice by then and depending upon which continuity you follow, he’s clearly a veteran hero. That length of experience puts him at odds with how he’s portrayed, somewhat unsure of himself, somewhat error-prone.
And unlike his one-man crusade as seen in the superior Year One animated film and graphic novel, he was on his own. Alfred was reluctantly aiding him but here, he’s a willing and very active participant as his one-0time experience as a secret agent handily comes into play. James Gordon (Kurtwood Smith) is still a lieutenant at the outset, graduating to commissioner during this season. What doesn’t work at all, for me, is the adding on of Katana (Sumalee Montano) as Alfred’s goddaughter and Robin surrogate. Batman should remain a loner if you’re exploring those first days and years and if he gets a sidekick, it should certainly not be someone from another culture with her own baggage but someone more organic to the story, such as Barbara Gordon, who merely crushes on the Caped Crusader here.
That said, the series gets kudos for avoiding the tried and true villains in favor of a wide assortment of lesser lights starting with Grant Morrison’s silly Professor Pyg (Brian George) and Mister Toad (Udo Kier). The second episode introduces a darker, more malevolent Anarky (Wallace Langham) who is the meta villain for the arc and has eschewed his comic book-based philosophy in favor of being a criminal mastermind. We also get a deadlier and less silly Magpie (Grey DeLisle-Griffin). On the other hand, we get Ra’s al Ghul (Lance Reddick), Lady Shiva (Finola Hughes), and the League of Assassins so the Dark Knight certainly has his hands full.
The series is also rich with other elements of the DC Universe such as Michael Holt and Simon Stagg; and if Stagg is on hand, you can bet Rex Mason (Adam Baldwin) is here, too. In fact, “Toxic” is one of the stronger stories as Mason becomes Metamorpho and is first seen as a threat dubbed the “Golem of Old Gotham”. There’s also Jason Burr, introduced in “Safe” but who recurs and sharp-eyed readers know he is destined to become Kobra.
The series looks different, with the figure work being more angular and distorted than one expects. The CGI-animation is somewhat off-putting but better than the last straight Batman series but nowhere near as good as the original Animated Series or The Brave and the Bold. The strong writing makes you overlook the odd visuals which is a benefit.
The Blu-ray disc looks and sounds just fine, as one has come to expect. And being from the cut-rate Archive arm, there are no extras.