Friday, September 21, 2012

DVD Review: The Batman: The Complete First Season. Part One: Background and General Information.

The Batman: The Complete First Season

(Released February 07, 2006 by Warner Home Video) 

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

 Once upon a time, to see Batman and other DC Comics characters featured in television animation meant you had to view the productions of Filmation (inexpensively animated, but nicely designed and reasonably well-written for both their time and the content constraints imposed on short TV cartoons) or ‘70s–‘80s Hanna-Barbera (simply dreadful all around). 
Filmation Batman (1968).  Not bad at all!

It was not until 1992 that Warner Bros., Bruce Timm, and his talented associates would bring us BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES and, at last, give us exactly the type of DC heroic storytelling (with a unique sense of design and animation that became the standard for such programming) that we’d been longing for ‘lo these many years. 
Does it GET more classic than THIS?

In the two decades (and counting!) that followed, there has almost always been a DC Animated series or direct to video project in production – and (nearly) every one of them has maintained, and sometimes even surpassed, the standards set by The Original! 
I don't LIKE being surpassed!

Nestled air date-wise somewhere between JUSTICE LEAGUE / JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED and BATMAN THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD resides THE BATMAN, a distinctly odd looking series, seemingly out of step with both its predecessor and successor.

While the series that “bracketed” it were produced for Cartoon Network, THE BATMAN was created for (and ran for five seasons on) the last vestige of what was once the great SatAM zone known as “Kids WB”.  I’m not sure what they even CALLED the entity by 2004 (when THE BATMAN came along), but it was long past its unparalleled glories of the ‘90s. 

Remember me?
I must confess that, after seeing “Kids WB” (…I’d say it was more “All Ages WB”, than just for “Kids”!) succumb to the slow-growing cancer that was Pokemon, and completely subsume its identity (which once meant Animaniacs, Freakazoid!, Pinky and The Brain, Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond, and Men In Black) to this and other similar series that followed in its wake, that I purposely paid no attention to this new thing called THE BATMAN. 

Looking at the stuff on the right side, I’d SCOWL too!

How worthwhile, thought I, could it possibly be, when the “good stuff” had wisely abandoned the childish confines of SatAM for prime time on Cartoon Network?  which also now sucks, but that’s another story.

Left Side: GOOD!  Right Side: SUCKS!

And, so it was that THE BATMAN, though it ran from 2004-2008 on “The Entity Formerly Known as Kids WB”, and I would not cross paths until some 2011 late night broadcasts on Boomerang. 

I was impressed (though also somewhat dumbfounded) enough with what I saw to seize upon the opportunity of a huge retail sale and snap up all five season sets.  Yes, that means I’m REALLY SEEING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME… so no spoilers please, beyond anything I discuss in this post – and also please allow for any initial misconceptions that a more comprehensive viewing of the series as a whole will correct. 

The most striking thing about THE BATMAN is how “dark” it is – in both storytelling and design.  Batman is visualized as GRIM, more so than in Bruce Timm’s prior series.  Gotham City is a stark ‘n’ dark, angular, foreboding place aided and abetted by a magnificently effective “limited palate” color scheme similar to that used in certain modern comics. 

…And the VILLAINS?  Oh, dear! Oh, dear me! 

I didn’t much care for the live action film visuals of Tim Burton – but does animation inspired by them ever work?!  YES, IT DOES!

The Joker is hardly recognizable.  He is fierce, nimble, with a sinister grin, red glowering eyes, and green dreadlocks!  Bane may possess the most effective design the character has ever had outside of those original comics.  He assumes MONSTROUS proportions when pumped-up on Venom.  Visually, The Penguin might as well BE Tim Burton’s version, which I found repulsive in live action film, but somehow works to a level of acceptability in animation. 

It is precisely ALL OF THIS that surprises me to think that such a series was ever possible in the more bland and restrictive realm of SatAM TV of 2004-2008.

Moreover, in its initial episodes, THE BATMAN presents little or nothing that we haven’t seen before in comics or prior animation – such as the coming of The Joker, Bane, Penguin, Man-Bat, Mister Freeze, Catwoman, etc. – but does so in a differently skewed way… almost becoming the “Elseworlds” of DC TV animation. 

To save some time, we’ll dispense with our regular CONS and PROS and get right into what we’re all waiting for… Characters depicted and the Episodes themselves:

Featured Characters (in order of appearance):  Rupert Thorne, The Batman, Alfred Pennyworth, Police Chief Rojas, Detective Ethan Bennett, Detective Ellen Yin, The Joker, Bane, The Penguin, James Gordon (cameo as a police officer), Dr. Kirk Langstrom / Man-Bat, Mr. Freeze, Thomas and Martha Wayne (in flashback), Catwoman, Firefly, Mayor Grange, a bizarre alternate version of Cluemaster, Arnold Wesker (The Ventriloquist) and Scarface, Rhino, and Clayface.

…And, the reason we’re all here: THE EPISODES!   

Which we will see in our NEXT POST!  Click on the link, or just page down for more! 


Comicbookrehab said...

The character designs were done by Jeff Matsuda, who is best known for a short stint on the Wolverine comic illustrating stories written by Eric Larsen. He did a lot of the designs for "Jackie Chan Adventures" - "The Batman" was produced by the same team.

You're looking at this with a much more fair and balanced mind than the folks at worldsfinestonline ever did, Joe! I'll look forward to these reviews!

Joe Torcivia said...

That’s very interesting, ‘Rehab.

Exactly what did these folks not like about THE BATMAN?

Was it simply because it was different from the Bruce Timm version?

No matter how many Batman animated series there may be, Timm’s will likely always be the best – and this comes from someone who has heaped tons of praise on BRAVE AND THE BOLD.

And, oddly, in many ways it reminded me more of the modern Batman comics of the last 15-20 years than Timm’s version did.

But, as you can see, I’ve enjoyed this one for what it is… and it’s pretty damned good! I’ll probably do reviews of other sets, as I have done with BRAVE AND THE BOLD – time and life’s other obligations permitting, of course.