Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review: The Batman "The Man Who Would Be Bat"

According to the book that forms the basis for this episode's title, the wheel of the world swings through the same phases again and again. Indeed, each and every Batman cartoon finds itself using the same characters over and over and over.

The creators of Beware the Batman, quite aware of this, opted to focus on lesser-known characters to combat this. Man-Bat, incidentally, was one of them.

But years before Beware the Batman attempted to turn Man-Bat into a sympathetic, tragic character, The Batman stuck to his classic depiction as a mad scientist-turned-monster, for better and for worse. But mostly for "meh."

A mad scientist, driven over the edge by a lack of funding, drinks an experimental formula to become a freakish monster. Welcome to every third mad scientist story ever.

Sure, there's some additional depth in the fact that the monster in question is a giant bat, leading the police to jump to some conclusions regarding the guy who dresses up as one, but there's very little depth to this story. Very little in the way of allegory, metaphors, or much else. Many episodes of this show like to add in a B-plot that symbolically matches up with the A-plot, but... nope. There's really not even a B-plot to the episode. The closest thing, I guess, would be the subplot regarding Langstrom's deaf niece, but that's quickly abandoned as it's revealed that he was lying.

But there's not really any reason why a lack of plot-related depth should make an episode bad. That just gives the writers an opportunity to focus on the characters involved. And a villainous introduction like this is a perfect opportunity to examine the twisted mind of a man who lusts for Batman's power.

He really drives him bats, drives him bats.
Unfortunately, today's villain has little depth to him beyond "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs." Or rather, batty for bats.

Dr. Kirk Langstrom (Peter MacNicol)
Man-Bat is a consistent, if underused, member of Batman's rogues gallery. The character idea was an obvious one, since it takes the idea of a "Batman" as literally as possible to provide a counterpoint to Batman's humanity and lack of powers. But very few adaptations have used this character as more than just another physical threat for the Caped Crusader, possibly because the character is so... well, for lack of a better term, basic.

He's yet another mad scientist who became a monster. Nearly every superhero fights somebody like that. He's basically DC's version of the Lizard, with a smattering of Venom, being a monstrous version of the hero he fights against.

I keep saying that where Batman: TAS zigs, this show zags. Seriously, I think I've said "zig" and "zag" in nearly every Recap or Review up to this point. And yet, there's really no meaningful difference between the Batman: TAS version of Man-Bat and this one. Sure, there are some superficial differences in their exact motivations, their appearances, and their personalities... but each character, at their core, is a mad scientist who's willing to become a giant bat monster.

For this version, rather than trying to replicate anything specific like a bat's long lifespan, Kirk Langstrom is simply jealous of the Batman and wants to become him. And since nobody knows exactly who or what the Batman is, Langstrom has decided to accomplish this goal by becoming a giant bat monster.

It's a bit disappointing that The Batman hasn't put a signature spin on the character, quite honestly. At the very least, the Penguin and Bane look visually interesting. Though I suppose there's not much you can tweak with Man-Bat to have him still be recognizably "Man-Bat"-ish. Although I guess they did make Langstrom an albino.

Which, I will admit, ended up making Man-Bat's coloration pretty cool.
Dr. Langstom will continue to be underused in this show with only a handful of appearances from this point on. And the subplot regarding the third dose to make the transformation permanent will be all but forgotten.

Have you noticed that I haven't mentioned the performance yet? Well, that's not because it's a bad performance... but there's really nothing that elevates it past general "mad scientist."

Peter MacNicol, a talented actor, is pretty much wasted here. The script doesn't allow him to use his immense talent at portraying quirky or sympathetic villains, resulting in a performance that is unfortunately far below his excellent Dr. Octopus or Mad Hatter. Compared to this, at least he was interesting to watch in Ghostbusters 2. Heck, he had better opportunities to be a supervillain in Numb3rs.

Nothing to write home about, save for a couple dynamic shots that were good enough to include in the show's opening titles. Man-Bat's sonar-vision can look pretty neat at times, but is mostly just a monochromatic rendering of the normal animation with limited detail.

Final Thoughts
Not a bad episode, but there's really nothing to elevate it past just being "good," especially since the previous episode featured flashy henchwomen, a colorful villain, and some very personal stakes for both Bruce and Alfred.

While this episode isn't bad, it is a step down with how forgettable it is.

Next time, a petty criminal who Batman accidentally forced into a chemical bath returns to get revenge. Oddly enough, the Joker doesn't show up. See you then!

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