Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: The Batman "The Bat in the Belfry"

As a nifty bit of trivia before I review, there are a surprising number of (usually outdated) sources online that state that this series in in continuity with Batman Begins. Quite simply, no, not at all, for many obvious reasons. More than I can bring up.

Animation
Jeff Matsuda's character designs aren't for everybody. That's the important thing to get out of the way.

Batman: The Animated Series had hit-and-miss animation. In the continued quest to differ itself from that show, this episode presents us with phenomenal animation. The fluidity in the Joker-vs.-Batman fight looks really good. It's almost anime-esque. Not necessarily in its character designs, like Teen Titans, but in the same way that Avatar has that certain fluidity of movement. You know what I'm talking about. Although, admittedly, some of that animation goodness is lost in subsequent episodes. But they made sure episode one looked amazing.

Plot/Themes
So the start of Joker's plan was to break into an asylum, lock himself in a cell, and wait to be let out. You may ask where the logic is in that plan, but I would ask you why you're expecting logic from the clown in a tie-dye straitjacket. And as I said in the Recap, Joker's plan to pop a big balloon was a classic Joker-type plan to begin the series.

This episode really shows why Gotham needs Batman. The cops are there to protect and serve. When the bridge to Arkham blows up, they coordinate a clean up effort and coordinate a general investigation. Batman lets them take care of civilians and goes ahead to find what caused the explosion in the first place. The cops' ineptitude at super-crime makes more sense when you remember that Gotham City is supposed to have a nationwide crime low.

Characters
Bruce Wayne/Batman (Rino Romano)
When Bruce speaks, I hear Spider-Man talking, thanks to a certain PS1 game. A lot of people didn't like Rino Romano as Batman, mainly because of Kevin Conroy being widely considered the Batman voice, but Rino's performance is something that you can get used to. In time. Though I must say, it's a little weird to see Batman generally well-adjusted and making puns in a show that isn't going for a Silver Age tone.

And I think he's going to put someone's eye out with that chin.
Actually, as a reviewer of comic book media, I must say that it's an odd feeling to not be psychoanalyzing Bruce Wayne. In that way, it kind of feels like Bruce is either burying his pain or his crusade as Batman is actually good for his psyche.

Usually he just wants to get nuts.
Alfred (Alastair Duncan)
He's Alfred. British, a bit stuffy, a diligent butler, etc. Not much more to say quite yet.

Ellen Yin (Ming-Na Wen)
The yin to Ethan's yang. Pun intended. But since he's the down-to-earth pro-Batman teammate, she will obviously be the stubborn anti-Batman one. For now. If you've read my later Recaps, you'll know that she later becomes Batman's secret police ally. Like Elisa Maza from Gargoyles. Not only do they have similar roles in their respective shows, they're even dressed the same.

Long-lost twins, perhaps?
Ethan Bennett (Steve Harris)
Oh, early 2000's. You were sort of the last hurrah of the non-self-aware token black character.

Ethan seems to exist as two separate characters at once. At work, he sort of has Commissioner Gordon's role as someone who sort of trusts the Batman, despite the official police stance. In his personal life, he's nothing more than Bruce Wayne's black best friend. But despite this, he actually gets a few moments of character depth. It's clear that this character is being set on a path, wherever that may take him.

As an aside, Ethan Bennett was created because the creative team wasn't allowed to use Bruce Wayne's typically-canonical law-enforcement friend Harvey Dent. I'm absolutely certain that this is in no way foreshadowing Ethan's eventual fate.

Ethan Bennett and Ellen Yin are a bit of a "Circle of Life" thing, from a production standpoint. If you can bear with me, Detective Renee Montoya was a police officer created specifically for Batman: TAS. She later ended up in the Batman comics, and would often partner up with Crispus Allen. You may recognize them from Gotham.

After all, they're pretty much the only non-white cast members.
Ethan Bennett and Ellen Yin are this show's replacements for Allen and Montoya. And I don't mind these original characters at all. The new characters open up more room for storytelling possibilities and are interesting in their own right. And besides, Renee Montoya, Harley Quinn, and Agent Phil Coulson all started off the same way. I honestly think it's a shame that Bennett and Yin didn't get to make the jump to the comics, but what're you gonna do?

Chief Rojaz (Edward James Olmos)
Because there needs to be a jerk leading the charge for Batman. The character's unlikable, but that's kind of the point. James Gordon, he ain't.

Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson)
This Joker's a vast departure from the standard versions of the character, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Joker comes off as legitimately creepy in how unhinged he actually is and his plan is simple enough to work. And let's face it, even if you dislike the design, you probably don't think it's Joker worst design ever.

Unless you actually like this design, of course.
But in the same way that Doomsday went from killing Superman to having dozens of Doomsday clones being taken out by Batman, Joker will slowly become less of a threat over time. But here, he's phenomenal.

This beginning to The Batman might not be epic, but it's very good. Just simply very good. And that's not bad. I recommend this episode to anyone who's on the fence about this show.

Next time, we get the first major misstep of the series. See you then.

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