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"The Batman" Vol. 2 Shows Promise, But Still Stumbles

A few years back, Warner Bros. decided to reinvent the animated Batman. They called it The Batman. It started slow, but now it’s hit its stride, and WB is releasing the first few episodes on DVD. Unfortunately, most of these are better left forgotten.

For three years, Gotham has been protected by an angel of the night known only as the Batman, but now the crazies are starting to come out. First there’s Dr. Langstorm, who mutates into a gigantic bat creature. After that, an old enemy of the Batman’s returns with a new power, putting Gotham on ice. Feeling guilty for playing a part in Freeze’s transformation, Bruce decides to hang up the cape, but for how long? Finally, a mysterious feline femme fatale has been spotted around Gotham, so of course the police think she’s working with the Batman. When will the coppers trust the Caped Crusader?

This show stumbled before getting awesome in season two. Still, these episodes aren’t quite as bad as I once thought. I’ve started to get used to Rino Romano’s Batman, while Gina Gershon’s Catwoman is near perfect. Unfortunately, the low point of the voice cast is Peter MacNicol’s Dr. Langstrom, but it might be more the horrid script than his voice.

Even though The Batman‘s Mr. Freeze is less tragic than his B:TAS counterpart, he is still pretty cool, and much more menacing. (I don’t remember B:TAS Mr. Freeze creating an ice storm.) While the ice helmet is kind of goofy, it works. Plus, the fights between Freeze and The Batman are fast, hard-hitting, and really fun to watch. True, it’s not as realistic as in previous series, but it’s obvious the show isn’t going for true-to-life realism and the exaggerated fights turn out an advantage.

Plus, Catwoman is back and as awesome as ever. You’d think her character wouldn’t take much effort to get right (it can’t be that hard to write about a sexy seductress with a whip), but after the horrible movie, it’s nice to see Catwoman done right. While I’m not a big fan of the goggles or the giant ears, I like pretty much everything else about this character. In fact, I like her almost as much as I do the B:TAS Catwoman, which is saying a lot.

In general, the fight scenes rock, and a lot of the credit goes to the excellent animation. Some of it goes by a bit too fast, and the CG isn’t perfect, but the 2D work is fluid and traditional and computerized elements integrate better than in the majority of Justice League. The effects are simply beautiful, especially when The Batman is bathed in light. Even if it’s not as majestic as its predecessor, the music of The Batman also fits very well and does a good job of enhancing the action. It doesn’t beat orchestral music, but it still rocks.

But there are still problems. The biggest is the writing and hence the pacing. Though the scripts do a decent job of moving the plot along, they don’t jump out and grab hold of the viewer like previous Batman series have. In addition, the episodes lack a satisfying denouement. The thought is probably, “OK, bad guy defeated. Roll credits.” This is particularly evident in “The Big Chill.”

But at least that episode was moderately entertaining. “The Man Who Would Be Bat” is simply dreadful. The villain scientist has no real motive, the fighting isn’t as good as in the other episodes, and some scenes are truly painful, such as when Ethan and Ellen visit Bruce in his mansion and when we first meet Langstrom. This episode is easily the most forgettable episode on this disc (and ironically, the volume’s titular one as well).

Unfortunately, the transfer is also substandard, with lots of jagged lines and interlacing errors plaguing almost each and every scene. I know this is a kids’ DVD and most kids don’t have plasma screens, but still. I know Warner can do better, but it seems that these single-disc releases aren’t worth it in their eyes.

But the biggest irritant is the constant use of “The Batman.” A couple of times the characters say “Batman,” but the vast majority of the time everyone keeps putting “the” in front, and after a while it gets nerve-wracking. I imagine this is something forced upon the writing staff by the WB execs to differentiate the new version, but it still doesn’t work.

Unfortunately, since this is part of the DC Comics Kids Collection, the extras are targeted to the younger age bracket. The Batman Junior Detective Exam is a video quiz where The Batman asks seven questions about the episodes. Win on the DVD-ROM version and you will be able to print out a badge that you can put up on your fridge or something. Then Bruce goes over Ellen’s case files in Gotham City PD Case Files, which is basically a bio of all the villains The Batman has faced at this point in the series, including those not appearing on this disc.

Finally, there’s the obligatory (and tedious) DVD game entitled The Batman Big Chill Challenge, where you use your remote to dodge Mr. Freeze’s iceballs and throw Batarangs at icicles on the ceiling so they drop and bust Freeze’s head open. It’s different, I’ll give it that, but do kids really like these things?

All that aside, The Batman certainly shows a lot of promise, even at this early stage. Most of that will be fulfilled later on. But potential buyers should carefully gauge whether they can ignore the problems on this disc in favor of enjoying what’s left.

Episodes on The Batman Season 1, Volume 2: The Man Who Would Be Bat:
Episode #04: “The Man Who Would Be Bat”
Episode #05: “The Big Chill”
Episode #06: “The Cat and the Bat”

Images courtesy of Bird Boy.

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