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"The New Batman Adventures": Just Like Old Times

After many years of fan prayers, Warner Bros has finally reached the final set in its acclaimed run of Batman: The Animated Series DVD sets, with the release of The New Batman Adventures in all its streamlined glory.

Set two years after the previous series, The New Batman Adventures sees Batman continuing his quest to rid Gotham City of crime. Things have changed since the last time we saw Batman. Batgirl has joined him full time, Dick Grayson hasn’t been seen in two years and Tim Drake is an all-new Robin in the making. The series quickly sees the return of Dick Grayson, finally bringing fan favorite Nightwing to the small screen and giving us the Gotham Knights.

Whilst this upset many fans that preferred the lone Dark Knight, most of the controversy surrounding the show came from the complete visual revamp that ushered the new show in. New streamlined, angular designs replaced the often baggy, lumpy originals, the dark pitch black sky was replaced with blood red and, for the first time ever, the Scarecrow looked really, really cool.

Scarecrow isn’t the only character with a vastly improved design. Robin is now devoid of green, instead boasting a sharp contrast of red and black. Batgirl ditches her dull grey and blue design for a sleek new black and yellow costume. Bane leaves the wrestling tights at home and becomes a black leather-clad bad ass. On the other end of the spectrum, The Riddler loses the intelligent, sophisticated look that made him stand out and becomes just another moron in spandex, Baby Doll loses the Tiny Toons design becoming really, really ugly in the process and Killer Croc gets the most generic design that one could possibly think of. Some characters remain virtually unchanged, such as Alfred, Harley Quinn and Two-Face. In the end, it’s just about even, and the fan base has been divided since the show began. Some prefer the original designs and some prefer the revamps, but it’s never been too much of a factor with me.

Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t often live up to the superior animation that comes with the new designs. It’s not too great a difference from the original show, but for only 24 episodes, the percentage of mediocre episodes is still too high. To be fair, compared to the first 24 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, this set is practically gold, but there’s still something missing from a lot of the episodes. “Cult of the Cat,” “Torch Song” and “Chemistry” are among those that lack a certain spark. There are a few episodes that are barely worth your time, the critically panned “Critters” and “Love is a Croc” are probably the worst Batman episodes you could hope to find. However, there are some spectacular episodes to be found, no doubt. “Over the Edge” rivals “Heart of Ice” as best episode ever, and the likes of “Never Fear,” “Legends of the Dark Knight,” “Mad Love” and “Growing Pains” surely can’t be too far behind.

The main problem with the series is that it was cancelled too early, and cut off in its prime. With the vast number of characters needing introduction/revamps, as well as a whole new team to develop, I feel the series never really got going in its 24 episodes.

Fortunately, the DVD lives up to the improved, cleaner visuals. The transfer isn’t perfect, but it’s acceptable, considering its age. It also seems significantly superior to the previous three volumes. The sound is also pretty good. I don’t claim to be an expert in this area, but I’ve no complaints.

The features are actually a little disappointing. Considering the wealth of topics to discuss, it’s no doubt we were shortchanged. The reason behind the show revamp goes unexamined, as does why Tim replaced Dick as Robin and why Batgirl was featured prominently in the series. Considering that every aspect of the show was changed, this is a disappointment.

The only real feature besides the commentaries is a bio of the villains. I found this to be filled with all sorts of fun goodies, but was a little annoyed at its presentation. I’ll never understand why features, supposedly directed at the adult fans of the show, are placed inside a kiddie’s computer. A Play All feature would’ve been appreciated too, but polish has never been WB’s forte.

As always, the highlights of the features come from the commentary. Shockingly, only three are presented here, for the fan favorite “Over the Edge;” the show the creators loved but the fans love to hate, “Critters,” and “Legends of the Dark Knight,” the Dick Sprang/Bill Finger/Frank Miller tribute episode. They’re basically the same as those before them, give or take, but James Tucker’s comments on “Legends of the Dark Knight” proved to be most interesting to me, especially as I didn’t notice a lot of the little nods in there. They’re all great but, as with all these sets, I just wish there were more.

The set comes highly recommended, as always. Though the features may come off as somewhat disappointing, there is great satisfaction in finally owning every episode of Batman on DVD. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

The images in this review are courtesy of The World’s Finest

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