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"The Batman" Should be Retitled "The Joker"

by on December 10, 2006

After a mediocre at best first season, The Batman needed to do a lot in order to convert the fanbase and convince them to stick around. Luckily, the second season manages to do that pretty well.

Crime is again king in Gotham City, and the city’s greatest weapon is The Batman. Eligible millionaire bachelor Bruce Wayne prowls the streets, looking for and correcting all the wrongdoings in the city. And with the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze and Firefly still loose, his job won’t get any easier. Plus, newcomers Riddler, Spellbinder and Solomon Grundy get on the Dark Knight’s case as well, and all the while he must try and stop Bennet, whose Clayface personality has firmly taken hold. However, The Batman is not alone, as he always has his trustworthy butler Alfred to fall back on, and he has a new partnership with Detective Ellen Yin. That should ease the burden of outrunning the police department, as Chief Rojas is continuing his purge of flying rodents. Good thing there’s a new commish in town…

OK, as if you couldn’t tell by the splash or the title, the majority of the second season revolves around the Joker. With five episodes this season (three of them being spotlights), the Clown Prince of Crime dominates this season, and that’s actually a good thing. While this interpretation may not be the same Joker we’re used to, I don’t really mind the change. One thing I didn’t like about the Batman: The Animated Series or The New Batman Adventures Joker was that he literally was comic relief more than he was a dangerous threat. Here, though, the Joker is actually a dangerous psychopath, and the fact that he can actually put up a fight just adds to his character. If I were walking around the streets, I’d be scared stiff by this Joker just by looking at him, whereas other versions of the Joker needed actions to portray his craziness. All five of the Joker’s episodes this season rock, and they almost make me wish he had appeared more in the season. His character may not be complex, but he’s still great fun to watch.

Luckily, he’s not the only villain to showcase his good side this season, as both newcomer Riddler and returning mental case Clayface put in some great performances this season. Riddler may not have any motivation right now, but his debut episode is just an episode of great fun and again, makes the Riddler more dangerous than in other interpretations of the same man. Clayface is essentially this series’ Two-Face, and both of his episodes are written well (no surprise when the legendary Greg Weisman is involved). It was interesting to see just how much Bennett loved his powers and didn’t want to return to a normal life, so much so that his evil persona takes over. Unfortunately, not all the villains in this show get the best treatment. Penguin continues to work more as a side villain (like in “The Laughing Bat”) than as a main villain, Catwoman can border on annoying, Spellbinder just gets overshadowed by everything else in the season, and Killer Croc is just forgettable, though I will admit that this Croc is better than the Croc in The New Batman Adventures.

As for the good guys, the biggest problem is The Batman himself. It may just be how its written, or it could be the voice acting, but The Batman himself isn’t really all that interesting. The various predicaments he gets into are solved rather quickly, and his gadgets are just too convenient (the auto-targeting Batarang in “Riddled” was just awful). It almost seems like The Batman himself is just a plot device, especially since Bruce Wayne doesn’t get to do much besides make a couple jokes. Alfred has thankfully gotten better since Season 1, but he’s still rather annoying, and along with The Batman, he seems to be able to solve mysteries way too easily and put two random threads together for no real reason. Though she gets more focus this season, Yin, despite almost being Elisa Maza’s (from Gargoyles) twin, doesn’t really do a whole lot. The most she does this season is have brief talks with The Batman while The Batman himself does all the work. Still, she does do more in this season than Rojas, which says something. Gordon’s inclusion was pretty good, but I wish it had at least been hinted at in earlier episodes.

One thing The Batman does right is the visuals. The animation is smooth and fluid, helping the excellent fight scenes to stand out even more. While it is rather strange to see the Joker and Penguin using karate moves on The Batman, I can forgive it as long as it looks this good. The designs range from the good to the poor, with Joker, Riddler, Gordon, Yin and Dr. Hugo Strange being on the good side, Catwoman, Spellbinder, Clayface and Solomon Grundy being on the bad side, and the rest in the “boring” category. I don’t really know where to rank The Batman himself. On one hand, I’ve always liked the blue-and-grey color scheme on the character, so that instantly puts it above The New Batman Adventures version. Unfortunately, one of my greatest pet peeves resurfaces on this Bat, and that’s the short ears. I know they’re an homage to the Adam West show, and most of the references work really, really well. But I hated the short ears on West’s Batman, and I hate them just as much here. I’m also not a fan of the bat emblem used (nor the one used in TNBA or Justice League), but I can ignore that one rather easily.

As for the audio, that’s a mixed bag as well. Kevin Michael Richardson works really well as the Joker, and while I like Mark Hammil (especially during the later half of his Joker career) more, this Joker works really well too. Tom Kenny’s Penguin plays the character as more of a joke character than distinguished, but for this Penguin, it works really well, and I really like the Penguin’s laugh. For the most part, the villains are well-voiced, except for Catwoman and Croc. As for the Bat himself, Rino Romano has settled in as The Batman, but he lacks that spark that makes him memorable, producing a rather standard Batman voice compared to Adam West or Kevin Conroy. Even when the acting is good, the voice itself just seems so plain and vanilla. Unfortunately, the creative staff also went for the usual “barely any difference between Bruce and Batman” route for the two alter-egos, so they sound almost the same. One thing I always liked about Batman: The Animated Series was that Bruce Wayne’s voice was significantly different from Batman’s, and I wish another series would do that. I would have liked to hear Romano use a higher-pitched voice (maybe his Darien voice from Sailor Moon) as Wayne instead.

Usually, when you see an extra called “Catching Up With… The Batman: Inside Season 2,” you’d expect a brief featurette going over the basics of Season 2 and going behind-the-scenes, complete with short interviews with the producers, writers, directors, voice cast, etc. Well, Warner Home Video apparently had a different definition in mind, because this is nothing more than a crappy music video that just seems there. And except for the same trailers on all the recent WHV releases, that’s the only special feature. I know this is the DC Comics Kids Collection instead of the DC Comics Classic Collection, but still. When you have a complete season set that doesn’t even compare in the way of extras with any random Pokémon movie (especially the Advanced Generation releases, which have about 10 minutes of extras), you know something’s not right. A little effort here, Warner!

Overall, if you slightly enjoyed the first season of The Batman, you’ll like this season. If you already hate it because it’s not done by Bruce Timm, this won’t change your mind. But hey, this was fun to watch, and that’s good enough for me.

Episodes on The Batman: The Complete Second Season:
Episode #14: The Cat, the Bat, and the Ugly
Episode #15: Riddled
Episode #16: JTV
Episode #17: Swamped
Episode #18: Pets
Episode #19: Meltdown
Episode #20: The Butler Did It
Episode #21: Fire and Ice
Episode #22: Ragdolls to Riches
Episode #23: Strange Minds
Episode #24: Solomon Grundy
Episode #25: The Laughing Bat
Episode #26: Night and the City

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