Upon hearing about the Cartoon Network’s development of the new animated series BEWARE THE BATMAN, a few people (myself included) were wondering the same thing: do we really need another version of Batman so soon? It feels as though it was just yesterday that programs such as YOUNG JUSTICE, THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, JUSTICE LEAGUE, BATMAN BEYOND and BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES graced our television screens with their differing takes on the Caped Crusader. And we said “farewell” to Christopher Nolan’s quasi-realistic Dark Knight just last summer. When dealing with such an iconic character that has a 70+ year history of stories that range from dark tales of vengeance to light-hearted adventures to team-ups with other DC superhero powerhouses, the challenge in producing a new Batman product lies in making the new vision wholly unique unto itself while also being able pay a degree of respect for what has come before without having a case of “been there, done that” looming over the production. With that in mind the show will, without a doubt, have its fair share of nay-sayers (most likely people so devoted to a previous incarnation that comparisons in quality won’t help but be drawn-up). But as a fresh look at an all too familiar hero, BEWARE THE BATMAN is off to a promising start.
The premiere episode, “Hunted,” sets up some of the series’ status quo without giving away too many of its secrets. Billionaire Bruce Wayne/Batman has been doing his crime-fighting thing for a while in Gotham City when a pair of eco-terrorists named Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad blow into town, kidnapping various business moguls (including DC superhero Mr. Terrific in his civilian identity of Michael Holt) for their own nefarious purposes. It’s up to Bruce and his faithful butler Alfred to solve the mystery behind these kidnappings and bring the culprits to justice. Meanwhile, Alfred seeks out young Tatsu Yamashiro to be his replacement as Wayne’s driver and bodyguard, setting her in place to don the identity of superheroine Katana.
There are a lot of interesting ideas at work for this series to build on. I like that the showrunners are planning to avoid using the regular stable of Bat-villains and instead are opting to initially focus on lesser-known opponents and develop them a little more as characters. Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad, though not as sadistic or as disturbing as they were in Grant Morrison’s run on the BATMAN & ROBIN comic, appear to be interesting and intimidating enough to garner focus as the antagonists for this new Batman. They’re whimsically demented and cruel, forcing their captives to participate as the prey in a hunt straight out of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. Though the show may eventually get around to new versions of the Joker or Two-Face, it’ll be interesting to see a new set of bad guys get some attention (including one of my favorites, Anarky, who is apparently the main bad guy of the series).
It’s also fun to see the World’s Greatest Detective do some actual detective work as opposed to just hitting thugs non-stop. The Batcomputer isn’t just the literal Deus Ex Machina that it has been presented as being in other interpretations. Both Bruce Wayne and Alfred are shown to be highly intelligent, bouncing ideas off of each other with regards to the villains’ motives and utilizing their keen intellects on clues to determine where the duo will strike next. In fact, the relationship between Bruce and Alfred seems to be the emotional anchor of the episode, if not the series itself. Alfred is quite different than in previous shows. He is tougher and given the background of being an ex-MI6 agent, putting him more in the position of taskmaster for Batman than confidant by challenging him to hone both his physical and mental skills. He pushes Bruce to be at his best and, even more so, wishes he himself could take a more active role in Batman’s war on crime. The inclusion of Katana, who will eventually inherit Alfred’s responsibilities, forces both he and Bruce to acknowledge that he won’t be around forever as the faithful assistant. The dynamic between the two men isn’t as warm as it has been portrayed in previous media, but the sense of loyalty is nevertheless present.
The cast does a commendable job in their roles. Anthony Ruivivar (THIRD WATCH) has a cool and dark tone in his voice for Batman, making him sound probably a little more emotionally-detached than earlier versions but still a very intimidating vocal presence. J.B. Blanc (THE AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES), in keeping with Alfred’s new look and attitude, plays him with more gruff and bluntness. Brian George (Babu Bhatt from SEINFELD) delivers on both the qualities of refinement and insanity needed to play Professor Pyg. Udo Kier (MELANCHOLIA) is deservedly over-the-top as the unsettling and maniacal Mr. Toad. And though we do not hear much from them in this episode, both Sumalee Montano (TRANSFORMERS: PRIME) and Kurtwood Smith (THAT 70’S SHOW) sound comfortable in their roles as Katana and Lt. James Gordon respectively.
Although the CG animation took a bit for me to warm up to, the action was indeed slick and fast-paced. By no means is this show playing with the kid gloves on. Massive explosions, car crashes and bloodthirsty baddies with murder on their mind abound in this show. Hell, Batman dislocates his shoulder and forces it back into the socket within the first five minutes of the episode! BEWARE is not necessarily as grim and gritty as its predecessors, but it is definitely not soft-soaping the violence or what’s at stake for our heroes. I think another demonstration of this tone of lighter themes mixed with gritty noir action can be seen pretty clearly in the show’s brief opening which plays more like an opening to a James Bond film:
Overall, there seems to be a sense of enthusiasm and energy behind what could have easily been a soulless rehash of previous Batman programs. What will hopefully help BEWARE THE BATMAN carve out its own unique identity in the Dark Knight’s timeline is the utilization of the lesser-known villains to present fresh challenges and compelling stories, the further incorporation of Batman’s methodical detective skills as a means to drive the plots forward and a new dynamic set up between Batman and Alfred that we have rarely seen before in the comics, TV shows or movies. This premiere provides a pretty solid foundation to build off of for the rest of the series. Let’s hope that our investment is worth it.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
BEWARE THE BATMAN airs Saturday mornings 10/9c on Cartoon Network!