Gotham After Dark
Summer of 2013 saw the debut of Beware the Batman, the Dark Knight's new foray into animated television. It was every bit the antithesis to the comic book icon's last show, Batman: The Brave and the Bold; where that program was colorful, snarky, and self-aware, this latest contender is darker, takes greater liberties with certain characters, and employs stylized CG to fight crime in the third dimension. Because it aims to capture in a more serious light some over-the-top aspects of the Caped Crusader's mythos, Beware the Batman leaves itself wide open for comparisons to its game-changing predecessor series from the 1990s. That's a pair of shoes this newcomer doesn't come close to filling, for while it has its moments, the show's chunky visual scheme and unimaginative plotlines make for a rather dull excursion into superhero antics.
While it's not an origin story, Beware the Batman does follow Bruce Wayne (voice of Anthony Ruivivar) in his early days of busting up bad guys as his becowled alter ego. Though considered a vigilante menace by the likes of Lt. James Gordon (voice of Kurtwood Smith), Batman keeps a constant watch over Gotham City, risking his neck night after night to protect innocents from the villains who prey upon them. Luckily, Bruce isn't alone in this enterprise, as his loyal butler Alfred (voice of J.B. Blanc) uses his training as a former MI6 agent to strengthen him in his fight against the scum of the streets. A new ally soon arrives in the form of Katana (voice of Sumalee Montano), Alfred's goddaughter and former CIA operative who's on the run from a troubled past herself. But even with back-up this good, Batman still has his hands full taking on Gotham's strangest baddies, ranging from the hellraising Anarky (voice of Wallace Langham) to the sultry assassin Lady Shiva (voice of Finola Hughes).
Beware the Batman: Shadows of Gotham collects the first thirteen episodes of the property's inaugural season -- although with the show currently unfinished and on hiatus, its ultimate fate is stuck in limbo. At first, it seems to have a good thing going for it; like The Brave and the Bold, the series concentrates on the Dark Knight's campaign against more obscure selections from his infamous rogues gallery. Don't expect to see the Joker or Catwoman here, for Batman goes toe to toe with the likes of Mr. Toad (voice of Udo Kier), Silver Monkey (voice of James Remar), and Magpie (voice of Grey DeLisle-Griffin) instead. Also absent is Robin, whose sidekick role has been assumed by Katana, a sleek, sword-wielding warrior who still has some things to learn about battling supervillains. These changes are minor, and the focus remains on Batman above all, but it's change of pace that's enough to get fans to turn their heads and check out what's up. I also enjoyed how the show carries on the gritty vibe popularized by Christopher Nolan's bat-flicks, while staying true to its comic book roots, keeping the Caped Crusader relatively down to earth and exaggerating his foes to kingdom come.
Sadly, that's about as much positivity I can muster for Beware the Batman, which, despite a promising start, soon devolves into a mess of ho-hum theatrics. What separates this from other Batman shows is a continuing story that builds over the course of each episode, though it never really starts cooking until around seven installments in. The preceding time is occupied with one basic superhero scenario after another, none of which strike any particularly suspenseful chords, due to the mediocre world-building at work. For a teeming metropolis, there never seem to be more than a couple people walking the streets of Gotham at any time, and wouldn't you know it, they just happen to play a part in the scene at hand. I'm also not a big fan of the animation style employed here; like the Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon, all the characters feel like they're made out of trapezoids, everyone's appearance unappealingly rigid to some degree. To be fair, Batman's costume is pretty cool, looking appropriately leathery, but even then, we still have to put up with Ruivivar's vocal performance barely exhibiting any distinction between how he and Bruce Wayne sound.
I could nitpick forever about Beware the Batman, but because there's only so much room on the internet, let's just say it's not my favorite incarnation of the Dark Knight. Although youngsters may get a kick out of all the action, and, to be fair, those later episodes do get better, it's a fairly shallow series that doesn't offer much for seasoned fans to sink their batarangs into. Whether the powers that be decide to improve this show or set to work on a brand new one, I can only wish the Caped Crusader's next adventures are more riveting than those Beware the Batman: Shadows of Gotham has to relate.
(Beware the Batman: Shadows of Gotham is available on DVD everywhere and on Blu-ray through the Warner Archive Collection -- http://www.warnerarchive.com)