Saturday, October 18, 2014

Review: Beware the Batman "Hunted"

Before I can fairly review the first episode, I need to give you a quick and dirty history of Batman adaptations.

They adapted Batman into a bunch of TV shows and movies.

Hmm. I may need to go into a tad more detail.

As I've said before, there are a lot of ways to adapt Batman. In the 60's, Adam West's Batman was the definitive Batman. Then it was Tim Burton's vision in the 80's, Batman: the Animated Series in the 90's, and the Nolan Trilogy in whatever we're calling the 00's. (The double-O's?) You may like some of these versions, you may hate them. You may prefer a film version (Batman Forever? Anyone?) or a TV version (Where my TBATB fans at?) that I didn't mention, but in terms of the mainstream average Joe, it's West, Burton, Animated Series (maybe), Nolan. Soon to add Affleck, but that's neither here nor there.

The point is that each "mainstream" version of Batman owes a lot to what came before it. Tim Burton's Batman blended the Adam West flamboyancy with his own gothic stylings. The Animated Series is a lighter and softer take on the Burton aesthetic. The Nolan Trilogy took the darkness of the 80's, shook out all the Tim Burton and Adam West, and added psychological thriller elements.

Beware the Batman came to us in late 2013, right after the end of the Nolan era. But like Batman: TAS, Beware the Batman is taking what came before and blending it back in with the original comic elements a bit. We get a blend of Nolan's tale of a broken man putting inhuman strain on his mind and body to fight a war, and we also get to see a crusade against a city full of super-powered maniacs. A blend of both worlds.

With that in mind, let's review the first episode of Beware the Batman.

The first thing that stood out to me about this Batman was something that happened at the end of the episode. He talks to Alfred about his mistakes, but refers to both Bruce Wayne and Batman in the third person. This moment absolutely sums up this character.

I've always felt that Superman is the mask for Clark Kent, but Bruce Wayne is the mask for Batman. Here, we see something a bit different. They're both masks. Let's face it, this Bruce Wayne is moody, serious, and obsessive. He's not the laid back playboy he pretends to be in public. But at the same time, it seems like he's still resisting fully embracing his mantle as Batman. Heck, he doesn't even want Alfred to get involved with his Batmanning around Gotham. Because Batman isn't who he is, it's who he must become for the sake of Gotham. As we'll see down the road, this will absolutely take its toll on him.

Okay, I love what DC has been doing with Alfred in general lately.

"Cup o' tea, before I punch you in the face, sir?"
I loved the grumpy former soldier of Batman: Earth One. Sean Pertwee's Alfred yelling at young Bruce Wayne to get off the damn roof in Gotham was the best part of the second episode. I even like Mai-coh Caine talking about ow deh ben dit ad been frowin deh dai munz ah wai. (The bandit had been throwing the diamonds away, for those of you who don't speak Michael Caine.)

But what all these versions have in common is that Alfred has become more than a stuffy butler who washes the capes and teaches Batman how to growl when he talks. Alfred's time in the RAF had been canon for a while, and I like the idea of making that a main part of his character. This version is no exception. I don't even mind the fact that they took away Alfred's hair and mustache. He looks like a former soldier. He looks like the guy who would raise Batman. This Alfred is a tough old guy. Chuck Norris is the American Alfred. (Also, JB Blanc has quite the manly voice on him.)

He didn't shave his mustache off. He scared it off his face.
There's a sense of love, caring, loyalty, and utter frustration. These are all the traits that the person raising Batman would have. But as we'll see down the road, they'll be put to the test. Even his injury in this episode shows that he may have raised Bruce, but he's getting hard to keep up with. This brings us to....

But she has no characterization in this episode. Next time, though, we'll see what makes her tick.

Lieutenant James Gordon
Cameo. Moving on.

Professor Pyg & Mr. Toad
I. Freakin'. Love. These guys.

In the comics, Toad works for a criminal circus of various mutant freaks, and Professor Pyg is a genuinely disturbed individual who hears voices and wants to surgically alter people into his view of perfection. No wonder they changed it for the cartoon, huh?

While their motivation as defenders of animal rights may seem odd, it works for these versions. They're like evil Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they're just... those two guys. I love it.

I love how absolutely polite they are before they kipnap people with the intention of hunting them down and murdering them. It gives them a real charm and really cements them as memorable adversaries for Batman. The creators of Beware the Batman wanted to focus on more obscure villains, and I've got to say that they've done an excellent job with Pyg and Toad. While they might not be completely authentic to the source material, they've proven themselves worthy adversaries of the Bat in a Jokerless world.

Kidnapping millionaires and hunting them? Standard stuff I'd expect from a Batman cartoon, and the reason why the episode's called "Hunted." But the subplots? That's what's important.

We're truly seeing, for the first time since Batman and Robin, Alfred being confronted with his own demise, and how it would affect Bruce. This is what motivates Alfred to bring in Tatsu, the impact of which will be seen in the rest of the series.

A lot of the previous Batman shows focused on the Bat. This one focuses on the Man.

Not bad. DC had earlier made the move into CGI with Green Lantern: the Animated Series to a warm reception. The beautiful, colorful alien planetscapes and such were part of what made that show worth watching. Here, though?

The show is inundated with blues and greys, and there's a very drab feel to most of it. Though the 3-D modeling is excellent, the color palette isn't as visually interesting as it could be.

Seen here: Several colors as-of-yet undiscovered by Beware the Batman.
A common criticism is that the designs are too angular. I will disregard this criticism, because those people have clearly never seen any other Batman cartoon. He's angular in all of them! Another common criticism is that Gotham is too empty; there's no random pedestrians or cars. That... is perfectly valid. Green Lantern got away with it because it takes place in space, where no one can hear you scream because there's almost no one there. Here? It's a bit jarring.

While it's not the best animation overall, it has its moments where a nice texture or special effect catches the eye. Hit and miss, but with enough hits in my opinion.

Final Thoughts
Overall, this is a good start to the series. But you know who didn't care? Cartoon Network! How dare they... Sorry, I've been over that issue already.

Next time, we'll see how Tatsu and Bruce get on. Should be interesting, considering that they both have deep, dark secrets. See you then.

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