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The Batman – Batman Month on CartoonClack

Batman Month is in full swing with 'The Batman,' the first Batman cartoon outside the DCAU canon since the DCAU started. But how does the black sheep of the Batman cartoon family hold up?

When we last left Batman Month, we saw the end of DCAU’s Batman. In 2004 (after Batman Beyond had finished but while Justice League Unlimited was still on the air), Warner Bros. Animation decided to reboot Batsy without Bruce Timm as the showrunner. They turned to Duane Capizzi and Michael Goguen (who had both recently been producers on Men in Black: The Series)  to head The Batman.

There are a couple reasons why I didn’t keep up with The Batman during it’s initial run. A small part of it was because I was a fan of B:TAS and while I hadn’t been as devoted to Justice League or Batman Beyond, I still loved that those shows were a part of the same continuity and shared cast members. Seeing a new take on my favorite superhero and without the B:TAS voice actors wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. But the main reason I didn’t watch more than a few episodes was honestly because I was in college and I didn’t get DVR  for another five years — there was no way I was waking up early every Saturday morning to see it live. I did catch a couple season 2 episodes on a chance Saturday and while I thought it was watchable, my boyfriend dismissed it as “not as good as the old one.” Cut to 2011. I happened across some clips on YouTube from the later seasons and … I found myself really enjoying it. But I’ll get to why later. First, let’s talk about the first couple seasons of the show.

The first season focuses on a younger Bruce Wayne. He’s only in his third year as Batman during the first season, but he’s also only 26, which happens to be my age. It’s very easy to watch this and feel like I’m not living up to my potential since at the same age Bruce Wayne has been protecting Gotham as the goddamn Batman for three years while also a millionaire playboy philanthropist. His only real confidant in the first two seasons is Alfred and during these two seasons he goes head to head with quite a few of his main menagerie of Gotham villains including the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Bane and Clayface. Other notable antagonists like Poison Ivy and Black Mask didn’t show up until later in the series.

What seemed to turn fans off from the show from the get-go was the marketing. The advertisements screamed blatantly “edgy” and “buy all our playsets and toys.”  While the name didn’t really help (the “The” is edgy, right?), it was less about flaws in the writing and more in the character designs. They gave Joker dreadlocks. They made the Riddler look like Marilyn Mansion. Bane looks like a ninja. Hugo Strange just reminds me of Hans Moleman. And even some of the more successful designs have something off about them — case in point, Catwoman’s costume is actually cool except that her cat ears look like mice ears. And the Batmobile itself looks really odd — it just looks like a Lamborghini more than the Batmobile.

I’d like to think I’m open minded about a show trying to go for a certain look in their design choices, but there’s another reason so many of these character designs just don’t work … Batman is almost identical to the B:TAS version. Honestly, except for the cowl’s shape and an extra long cape, both the color scheme and overall design of the batsuit is really close to the classid B:TAS design. If you’re going to go for a bold design style, then make the world consistent. Having Batman look so standard while the other characters are so out there just makes the other characters look off.

Speaking of being off, I found it a little odd that they had a non-white female cop working in Gotham who struggles with her trust in Batman and didn’t have her be Renee Montoya. No, The Batman has Detective Ellen Yin, who is essentially in the same role as Montoya but Asian-American instead of Hispanic-American. She’s not a bad character and is certainly someone necessary as a foil for the Dark Knight in his first few years — she’s a good person with strong convictions who she doesn’t see Batman as an ally because he works outside the law yet ultimately teams up with him — but I don’t understand why they didn’t just put Montoya into the show.

It would be very easy to complain about the writing because it isn’t in the DCAU, but the truth is that even in the first season, the writing was far from weak. These were solid stories told by some really strong writers including Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman, who went on to helm Young Justice (one of my favorite cartoons on TV right now). Paul Dini was even brought in to write the Harley Quinn episode. The art might have been off-putting but the actual stories and dialogue weren’t bad at all.

I even liked most of the voice work, especially for the villains. Tom Kenny is impeccable as a very uncouth, Danny Devito-esque Penguin. Dan Castellenella is great as Scarface the marionette (you can almost hear Krusty the Clown in there). Kevin Michael Richardson’s Joker voice is a little off, but I give the guy props for being the first voice actor to do the character after Mark Hamill … that’s not easy. You also had some great cameos like Batman alum Adam West as the Mayor and Patrick Warburton as an overconfident detective trying to protect Bruce Wayne from the Toymaker while Bruce needs to go stop the Toymaker.

And many of the villains were given new versions of their back stories, which is good. It shows the writers really weren’t just trying to rehash all the older stories. Poison Ivy is made younger and less seductive (her hair and costume design is one of the most successful redesigns of the show), Clayface is now a cop friend of Bruce’s who struggles to keep his sanity after the accident and Harley Quinn is a TV love psychologist who the Joker ends up manipulating after her show gets cancelled. I liked these new takes on the characters.

Unfortunately, the weak link of the show was ultimately Batman himself. He’s not awful, he doesn’t ruin the show, but this Bruce Wayne is bland and doesn’t command the same presence as Kevin Conroy’s billionaire charmer. The problem is he’s pretty cheerful as Bruce (even just talking to Alfred) and he’s utterly moody as Batman and while Kevin Conroy was able to transition effortlessly and balance between the two aspects of the character, there’s just too big a divide for this show’s protagonist. It got better in the later seasons but that could be because we didn’t see him as much as Bruce — as time went on we saw more of his intimidating Batman persona, which was ultimately the more interesting part of the character in this rendition.

The best parts with Bruce in the first two seasons were when he interacted with Alfred, who was really funny and just overall enjoyable thanks to Alastar Duncan’s voice work and the writers really getting the relationship between the two characters. The episode after the pilot has a really lovely subplot involving Alfred seriously worried about Bruce destroying his body for this cause — the flashback to Alfred consoling him after his parents’ murders was especially touching. I think the writers realized what was working for the first couple seasons and what didn’t because season 3 came with some changes.

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Animation

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