I grew up with Batman: The Animated Series, so for me, and most Batman fans, the bar is set very high for any new Batman cartoon that comes out. Ever since this series left the air waves I’ve only been completely satisfied with one TV reincarnation of my favorite hero. The New Adventures of Batman and Justice League continued with beloved Kevin Conroy as the Dark Knight, but traded in the art-deco style of BTAS for that of a coloring book. Justice League Unlimited gave fanboys inspiration for Batman/Wonder Woman make-out fan art. The Batman gave us a homeless, Rastafarian Joker. Batman: the Brave and the Bold gave us 70s retro, slightly campy, fun-filled team-ups and it’s been my favorite since, mostly because it took a dramatic departure from the rest.
Enter: Beware the Batman. This CGI animated version is in the style of the recently canceled Green Lantern: The Animated Series, which earned my initial skepticism as I found it to be average at best in both style and story. But after watching its first three episodes, I am optimistic that Beware the Batman might find its own niche in its portrayal of the Caped Crusader. Beware returns to the dark and gritty version of Batman but with some unique changes. Batman is in the early years of his crime fighting and this series focuses on his detective skills and his struggle with the duality of Bruce and Batman.
The character who is there to help resolve this duality is the steadfast Alfred Pennyworth. But I’m not sure what to make of this Alfred. Instead of the wise, sophisticated advisor and father figure, Beware portrays him as a gruff mentor who would rather be fighting at Batman’s side than analyzing goo scraped off the Batmobile. Another liberty taken is the impending introduction of Katana as Batman’s sidekick. Thus far Tatsu Yamashiro has been hired as driver and bodyguard to Bruce Wayne, but her appearance as Katana is sure to follow. While there may be no Robin in sight, the talented Tara Strong has returned to voice Barbara Gordon and so many fans are hoping Batgirl will join the Batfamily. Batgirl and Katana would provide some serious girl power!
Beware has taken a page from Brave and the Bold in introducing viewers to more obscure villains. The first three episodes include Professor Pyg, Mister Toad, Magpie, and Anarky. While talking to members of the press during SDDC, writer Mitch Watson explained that the villains are meant to reflect elements of Batman’s duality:
“So all the villains we chose, we wanted to highlight certain emotional stuff that’s going on with the characters. [. . . .] So we said, okay, basically we’ll retrofit. We took the Magpie character and said, ‘Let’s make her a woman who suffers from the same sort of thing, except that she chose to deal with it a different way.’ She tried to get rid of the bad, and the bad became so strong it overtook her. So Batman meets her and goes up against her and sees her. He sees his own duality in his own nature. And it tells him that he can’t hide one side from the other. And that’s a struggle that’s going to come up again later in the show.”
I like the inclusion of these lesser known villains for two reasons. One, this focus on Batman’s development as a character is unique for an animated incarnation, as is the thematic intent to highlight Batman as a detective. Two, it educates my nine-year-old son who overlooked members of the rogue’s gallery. Had you even heard of Professor Pyg or Magpie? Probably only if you’re a die-hard fan of the comics. If you are hardcore, then you’ll also appreciate all the DC character cameos like Simon Stagg and Michael Holt (Mr. Terrific).
But don’t fret. Watson tells us that a “top five” villain will appear soon, but only because he is perfect for the story that the writers want to tell. That’s the way it should be. Story and character development should supersede toy sales. I’m intrigued to see how this series will fill a unique niche in DC animation.
You can catch Beware the Batman on Cartoon Network Saturday mornings at 10/9 central.