Friday, September 21, 2012

DVD Review: The Batman: The Complete First Season. Part Two: Episodes and Overview.

Previously at TIAH Blog, we discussed my initial impressions of THE BATMAN.  Read it HERE!  ...Or, you can just page up!  

Now, it’s time to review the episodes of the First Season (Rated by Number of Stars):

“The Bat in the Belfry”  ****

 Three years into his career as “The Batman”, a younger Bruce Wayne (voiced by Rino Romano almost as a “younger Kevin Conroy”) has virtually wiped Gotham clean of thieves and gangsters – exemplified by his taking down of Rupert Thorne in the teaser. 

Then a NEW type of evil appears in the person of an insane costumed clown calling himself “The Joker”!  Batman must learn how to cope with this new and unpredictable type of foe.  This tale nicely parallels how the original comics developed, with costumed “shtick villains” later coming to the fore.  Special props to Kevin Michael Richardson (THE CLEVELAND SHOW and much more) for giving The Joker a unique quality to his voice – making him sound almost as if he were done by Paul Frees – yet quite scary! 
Meet Bennett and Yin.
Also, Detectives Ethan Bennett and Ellen Yin are introduced as newly paired partners, ordered by Police Chief Rojas to apprehend the vigilante known as “The Batman”.  Bennett is actually sympathetic to “The Batman’s” cause, realizing the amount of good he’s done.  Yin is more hard-nosed and dedicated to the mission.  A really well-done set-up episode. 

“Traction”  ****

A trio of crime bosses, driven underground, hire the mercenary known only as “Bane” to vanquish “The Batman”.  A particularly violent episode, especially when one considers it was produced for SatAM.  Again, Bane assumes MONSTROUS proportions when powered by his Venom steroid, in what may be his best appearance outside of the original comic books of the early ‘90s.  We also see just how vital the support of Alfred is to the mission of “The Batman”. 

“Call of the Cobblepot”  ***

If you liked Tim Burton’s version of The Penguin, you will love this episode.  If you disliked the Burton version (as I did) you will still enjoy this one.  The Penguin is a ghastly, malformed, little man who has trained birds to commit “swoop and steal” robberies (like THIS STORY?) and to attack violently – bordering on “Hitchcockian” bird attacks.  Again, unexpected for SatAM, and the colors (particularly Red) utilized for The Penguin’s aviary are magnificent.  Tom Kenny, voice of SpongeBob and Plastic Man, is particularly effective as The Penguin. 

“The Man Who Would Be Bat”  ****

Dr. Kirk Langstrom (voice of Peter Mc Nichol), now working for Wayne Industries, develops his “Man-Bat transformation serum” ostensibly as a cure for deafness.  (Bats hear quite well, you know!) But now, depicted as older and more of a malcontent than in previous incarnations, he envies the power of “The Batman” and wants to do him one better by becoming a monstrous Bat-Creature!  Detectives Bennett and Yin learn that there IS something much worse than their usual quarry “The Batman”!  This is quite a scary story, (again, especially for SatAM consumption) and actually supersedes Bruce Timm’s earlier Man-Bat animated origin “On Leather Wings” (which was pretty damned awesome for 1992) in many ways!   

“The Big Chill”  ****

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured this to be a new origin of Mr. Freeze – and it is.  As with every other villain on the series, his design is more fearsome than previous comics and animated incarnations – and he benefits immensely from being voiced by Clancy Brown (“Lex Luthor” on SUPERMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES).  He is still “Victor Fries”, per the Paul Dini / Bruce Timm 1992 origin, but he’s no longer a put-upon research scientist, victimized by unscrupulous corporate masters. 

Freeze’s origin takes a half-step back by having him revert to being a thief who becomes a cryonic mutant as a result of a confrontation with Batman.  Though typically “dark”, as THE BATMAN tends to be, there are many lighter moments such as parody characters of Gilligan, The Skipper, The Howells, and Ginger (…and if I have to explain who THEY are, I might as well pack it in), and numerous “ice”, “snow”, and “cold” puns and references by both The Batman and Mr. Freeze. 

“The Cat and the Bat”  ***   (Um, care to guess who’s up next?) 

Slinky thief Selina Kyle gets both herself and Batman in deep, when she steals from The Yakuza.  Keone Young voices the head of the Japanese crime family.  (…And ya gotta believe that if it wasn’t him, it would be Robert Ito!  Those two guys have a virtual monopoly on their corner of animation voicing!).  I never cared for stories concerning The Yakuza, or ninjas, or martial arts techniques when they appeared in the Batman comic books, but this one is raised considerably by a sequence where Catwoman makes off with Batman’s Utility Belt – and, while poking around its electronic components, unknowingly wreaks havoc by activating everything from an armored “Bat-Bot” to setting the Batmobile on a wild and uncontrolled ride through Gotham.  Oh, and a TV reporter, seen throughout the series, is given the name “Robinson Sprang”. 

Dude!  Where's my Batmobile!
 “The Big Heat”  ***

Two episodes after “The Big Chill” comes “The Big Heat”! …Natch!   …So what WERE ya expectin’, “The Big Lebowski”?  It’s Batman vs. the incendiary arsonist and corporate saboteur known as “Firefly” – in the employ of Wayne Industries’ rival, “GothCorp”.  The character of “Mayor Marion Grange” is introduced – and is voiced by none other than Adam (‘60s Batman) West.  West has appeared in each “Modern Era” animated series to star the character of Batman: BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES (1992), THE BATMAN (2004), and BATMAN THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (2008). 

“Q and A”  **** 

By now, I figured any episode titled “Q and A” would have to be about The Riddler, right?  …Right?  No… Wrong.  Instead we get a bizarre alternate version of Cluemaster!  Little “Artie Brown”, obnoxious boy genius-nerd, is defeated by a brainy Russian girl, after his long reign as the champion of a kids’ quiz TV show, 30 years ago. 

In the intervening decades, Artie refuses to let go and “grow-up”, seething for revenge while assuming Jabba the Hut-like physical proportions. He fashions a cheap costume for his obese bod, and calls himself “Cluemaster”.  Reenacting the day of his defeat, he kidnaps the show’s host, producer, and the “girl” who beat him, and recreates the show with deadly results for the three if he does not win this time.  Oh, and he does this all in (…wait for it) his mother’s basement!  A great change of pace episode, from the usual reimagining of classic Batman lore. 
Must be a BIIIG basement!

“Big Dummy”  ***  (Again, can ya guess who’s comin’?) 

It’s The Batman vs. psychotic Arnold Wesker (The Ventriloquist) and his gangster dummy Scarface – with faithful muscleman “Rhino” and skeptical brute “Muggsy” in tow.  Wesker’s appearance is consistent with past comic book and animation appearances, but Scarface is another story.  He’s not only given a more (all together now) fearsome look (as seems to be this series’ mission) but is pretty much given the HEAD of Batman villain Black Mask!  (…Look at it above and tell me otherwise!) 

For once, Detectives Bennett and Yin are not on the trail of The Batman.  Bruce Wayne has to deal with a computer match date set up for him by Alfred.  And the episode title is applied in the most literal sense, as you’ll see!  There aren’t very many enduring aspects to the Batman legend that originated in the ‘80s, but the creation of Arnold Wesker and Scarface is certainly one. 

VOICING NOTES for Matt Groening fans:  Rhino and Muggsy are done by John DiMaggio of Futurama (…and future Aquaman on BRAVE AND THE BOLD).  Arnold and Scarface are by Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons), with Scarface sounding all the world like an evil version of Krusty the Clown! 

PRICELESS LINE:  (When Bruce is asked by Alfred to describe his interests, when creating Bruce’s “dating profile”): “Dispensing justice to the evildoers of Gotham!”

“Topsy Turvey” *

The Joker becomes our first “repeat offender” in a scheme with a component so weird; it results in an overall low episode rating.  Joker bursts into a judge’s chamber and zaps him with a ray… that leaves its victim frozen and encased within a large playing card!  Huh?  The judge is ALIVE, as his horrified expression and “moving eyes” indicate – but a ray/spray has just encased him in a perfect 3D replica of a playing card – that materialized from nowhere.  How? 

Sorry, but that doesn’t work for a show that tries to set itself up as a serious representation of the Batman mythos.  This isn’t a strange Silver Age transformation offshoot, as you might find in BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, or a camp device such as the flat cardboard cut-outs of Batman, Robin, and Batgirl, resorted to on the ‘60s TV show.  This oddity undermines the episode as a whole. 
Is it THEE, or ME?

It’s also one of those “get revenge in front of a captive audience things” that Bruce Timm did much better in 1992’s “Christmas with The Joker” – and even the fat, nerdy, and pathetic Cluemaster surpassed a mere two episodes ago!  Better luck next time! 
I'll be back... SOON!

“Bird of Prey”  **1/2

If there’s anyone I despise more than The Batman, it’s [Bruce] Wayne!  He’s got looks and money!”

Not surprisingly, it’s now Penguin’s turn to repeat and, judging by the number of rating stars, he achieves only slightly more success than The Joker – at least with this reviewer.  Still, it’s stuff we’ve seen before, as “Pengy” turns his attentions toward Bruce Wayne, whose life is complicated by being the subject of a personal interview TV show.  Penguin threatens to unmask Batman for the TV cameras, as we’ve seen The Joker do as far back as prime time 1966.  Same result, too.

Party like it's 1966!  Gwak! Gwak! Gwak!

…And the best for last!  A two part season finale!

“The Rubber Face of Comedy”  ****
SEE?  I'm back ALREADY!

The Joker’s back again!  It would seem you can’t keep a good clown down!  This time, he’s wielding “Joker-Putty” a liquefied substance that “rubberizes / plasticizes” any substance it comes in contact with.  In the six months since Joker’s emergence, Gotham has gone from one of America’s safest cities (ironically, thanks to The Batman quashing its rampant gangsterism) to America’s Scariest City!  Chief Rojas will have no more of this, and announced a “Zero Tolerance” policy against all freaks – including The Batman! 
"Zero" means ZERO, Bennett!  ...Got that?

“The Clay Face of Tragedy”  **** (PLUS!)

You know what separates the Freaks from the Normals?  …Just ONE rotten day!  Ever had a REALLY ROTTEN DAY, Batman?” 

…Oh!  Oh!  OH!  I *CANNOT* tell you what happens here – because, if you’ve not yet seen it, I want you to be as surprised as I was!   Something unexpected occurs, and the entire dynamic of the series to-date CHANGES!  Oh, and keeping with series tradition, we a meet a new version of Clayface! 

No sooner than the series sets itself into a comfortable (but decidedly innovative) level of predictability – and directly on the heels of two poor to mediocre episodes – the rug is pulled out from under us!  THIS is why I try to be Spoiler-Free in these posts – and I ask you to do your best to remain so when commenting. 

Click to ENLARGE -- If you dare!

“New Look, New Direction, New Knight”:  (05:44)

The production staff discusses the show.  Participants: Duane Capizzi – Supervising Producer / Story Editor, Jeff Matsuda – Producer / Art Director (the man who designed the bizarre looking new Joker and the general look of the series), Sander Schwartz – President of Warner Bros. Animation, and Michael Goguen – Supervising Producer.

Capizzi: “…Very difficult.  Very daunting to follow in the footsteps of the great BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES.”

On the revised origin of Mister Freeze, Capizzi adds: “[ Paul Dini’s 1992] ‘Heart of Ice’ was such a CLASSIC, why touch that!”   

Goguen states the show’s mission simply as: “…New ways of presenting classic elements. 

Schwartz describes the concept as “Batman: Year Three”, and further declares that the first 13 episodes were intended as an “arc”, to introduce the villains. 

This is EXACTLY the type of feature that SHOULD BE, but is not, included with every such series.  That there is no such thing for subsequent series such as BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD or YOUNG JUSTICE is a shame.

I bet we’d get Extra Features if we were OLDER…Sniff!  Sniff!
“Building The Batman”:  (06:42)

A tour of Mattel Toys, showcasing its line based on THE BATMAN. Ordinarily, I would hate this sort of commercial puff-piece, but it’s done with enough “style” to make it enjoyable.  Detective Yin (in animation) interacts with the live action Mattel staffers in order to get a lead on her quarry, The Batman.  But, The Batman is, as you might expect, several steps ahead of her! 

If I learn how they make it all work, I might just discover the true identity of The Batman in the process!  Someone there MUST know who he is!” 

Other features consist of needless and nonsensical trivia and video games to amuse the kiddies.


In this reviewer’s opinion, THE BATMAN is far better than I ever imagined a Post-Nineties SatAM series could be!  My expectations were that of a younger, lighter, and maybe less interesting Batman.  I was only right about the “younger” part.  But, even there, the show is successful in that we get to see the Batman Mythos unfold before our eyes. 

Relatively little new ground is covered, as the series spends most of its time reimagining many of the old classic foes.  But, don’t get too comfortable because it sets something up over its early episodes – only to knock it all down at the end! 

I can’t wait to see where THE BATMAN goes next.  Fortunately, thanks to DVD, I don’t have to!  No spoilers, folks!  I want to enjoy THE BATMAN’s unfolding over four more seasons! 

Stay Tuned!


scarecrow33 said...

Great review, Joe! Almost everything you review goes on my "to watch" list. Like you, I did not follow this series when it first came along. Initially, I thought it was the same as Batman: The Animated Series, just repackaged differently, so I thought "Already seen that." Then one day I found Season Five of The Batman on sale for a very low price, so I bought it, and realized at once it was an entirely different series. (Don't worry, no spoilers here.) I remember liking it, but when I looked for the other seasons, I either couldn't find them or they were more than I cared to spend at the moment. I do remember being quite impressed with this series, just from that one season. Now, having read your review, I am inspired to look for the earlier seasons and watch from the beginning.

Amazing how versatile Batman has been over the years--sometimes lighter, sometimes darker, sometimes with Robin or Nightwing, sometimes solo--and every version has been popular with a new generation. I guess you can't keep a good bat down!

Joe Torcivia said...


You write: “Almost everything you review goes on my "to watch" list.”

Consider me honored! The main reason I write these things IS to share the word on a thing I like and, whenever someone decides to “follow me into something”, I feel very good about that! Thank you!

Oddly, we differed in our reasons for this late discovery! To me it looked too DIFFERENT from the great BATMAN: TAS – and, as stated, I no longer had any faith (or INTEREST, for that matter) in anything emanating from what was once “Kids WB”!

As it was with nearly ALL animation in the ‘70s and ‘80s (pretty much from the end of “Scooby-Doo Where Are You”, until “DuckTales”), I no longer believed that anything worth my time would ever be produced again! …And away I walked, with back permanently turned.

In direct contrast, the “Kids WB” Block of the ‘90s was one of the all-time highpoints of television animation, in terms of the quality of the shows presented. It was All-Ages entertainment at its best, both comedy and adventure, week-after-week, year-after-year… and then it began to shift its focus away from that into things of considerably less interest to an adult viewer.

But, at the time, Cartoon Network was picking up that particular slack – producing new All-Ages animated series, in addition to the existing “All-Ages Classics” like LOONEY TUNES and THE FLINTSTONES etc. … and now it was beginning to showcase series based on DC Comics characters as well.

That’s pretty much gone now too… and the adult animation enthusiast has fewer options these days (FOX Sunday evenings, and a few other “straggler” series). And, that’s where DVD collections become important. Until the format goes the way of VHS and 8-Track, I no longer care “who runs what” anymore! What I have is commercial and promo-bug free, and I can watch it on a large TV at times of my choosing (…spouse’s viewing habits notwithstanding, of course!)

…And, bringing these ramblings full circle, that’s why I write these DVD reviews – because they are reviews of things I like (…even if there are “CONS” to note) – and why I am particularly gratified, when someone responds positively!

If you have BJ’s Wholesale Club where you live – and if you are a member – you might be able to find all five volumes of THE BATMAN for less than 10 bucks each! That’s what I did. Or, you can regularly scan Amazon for periodic sale prices, as I do for series that interest me. That’s how I’ve gone about amassing the various later STAR TREK series and the great western series WAGON TRAIN… hope to write about that one someday.

Glad to hear (And thank you for being spoiler-free!) that THE BATMAN holds up well in Season Five. It’ll be a while before I get there!

Finally, as to the “versatility” of Batman that you mention: Consider that THE BATMAN has literally run back-to-back seasons and years with BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (You’ll find DVD reviews of that series throughout this Blog)… and that they BOTH work extremely well! If that doesn’t illustrate your point, nothing will!