Monday, May 15, 2017

'Beware the Batman' is well worth your time

"Beware the Batman" may be the least seen version of the Dark Knight. But it's worth tracking down.

The completely CGI animated series lasted only 26 episodes, airing from 2013 through 2014 with a several-month break between half of its single season.

I've always wondered why "Beware" didn't last longer and/or wasn't renewed. There are the usual suspects: Ratings, critical response, premise or even the expense.

While I admittedly haven't done any research on this, my fanboy instinct tells me that "Beware the Batman" simply may have been too expensive for Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment to continue producing. It's equally possible the Powers That May Be may not have been invested in the premise enough to keep the experimental series going. (My guess is those are the same reasons the equally enjoyable CGI "Green Lantern: The Animated Series," which came out about the same time, didn't get, um, green-lit for a second season.)

My assumption is that creating episodes completely using CGI not only is more time consuming than traditional animation or even a combination of the two.

The premise is one of DCE's more original ways to tackle the Dark Knight — even while parts of it are extremely conventional. There are three main characters: Batman/Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth and Tatsu Yamashiro/Katana.

It's the Alfred and Tatsu dynamic that makes this series premise so fascinating.

The incarnation of Alfred seems to be loosely based on Geoff Johns' BATMAN: EARTH ONE graphic novel. As a young man, he was a British spy with Mi6 and was a partner with Tatsu's father, who died in the line of duty.

Much to Wayne's astonishment, it's learned that Alfred is the woman's godfather. After Alfred breaks his ankle while escaping a kidnapping situation, he hires Tatsu to be Wayne's driver and bodyguard.

"Beware the Batman" was one of  the first times DC Comics fans had seen Tatsu's Katana onscreen. In a few short years, the character not only had made her animation debut, but also on live-action TV in "Arrow" and most recently in the "Suicide Squad" movie.

The "Beware" version is a slightly different take on Katana. While working as CIA operative who had infiltrated the League of Assassins, Tatsu stole the Soul Stealer sword. (In the comics and "Suicide Squad," it's connected to Katana through the spirit of her late husband.)

Needless to say, as Katana, Tatsu becomes Batman's crime fighting partner. In what's become typical of Batman's various Robins after Dick Grayson, he drives a hard bargain with what he expects from Tatsu. By the time Wayne meets her, she's a master martial artist and given her history with the CIA and training with the League of Assassins, Tatsu is more than competent in a fight. While it makes sense for Batman to have certain expectations for being his partner, there's no reason for him to treat her as if she's completely new to facing danger — as he sometimes does by mildly chastising her.

During an early showdown with League ninjas, Batman makes it clear to Katana that taking a life isn't an option. "Once you cross that line, you can't go back. … You can either take lives or save them."

This is clearly my preferred take on Batman, the humane Dark Knight who is just as dedicated to saving lives or in the case of Magpie, rehabilitating them as he is to stopping crime.

"Beware the Batman" also experiments with the villains Batman and Katana face. There are no A-list members of the Rogue Gallery of Villains. Batman's foes are B-listers at best (Anarky, Lady Shiva and the League of Assassins), but mostly are comprised of little-seen villains from the mid-1980s (Magpie), 1990s (Silver Monkey, Tobias Whale) and the Grant Morrison-Frank Quitely creepy creations, Professor Pyg and Mister Frog.

Since I only own the first half of the series on DVD, titled "Shadows of Gotham," I don't know if they face anyone more well known than Ra's al Ghul (who is the big baddie in the mid-season finale), but I doubt it.

Putting an additional twist on the conventional Batman universe, Jim Gordon is a lieutenant. For the first several episodes, he is intent on arresting the Dark Knight and bringing him to justice.

It's not until his teenage daughter Barbara is kidnapped in Episode 8 that Gordon and Batman come to some sort of understanding on working together.

In that same episode, the Batsignal gets introduced. "I like it … We need to work together," Batman tells Gordon, who remains weary of the Dark Knight, but slowly comes around to trusting him.

In another interesting creative decision, very few members of the voice cast are well known. And many of those are character-actors and not exactly household names. But you'd recognize their faces, such as the gorgeous Finola Hughes, a "General Hospital" veteran who voices Lady Shiva.
Tara Strong reprises Barbara Gordon in the "Beware the Batman" animated series.
She also reclaimed her most well-known role in the recent, animated movie adaptation of "Batman: The Killing Joke."
The absolutely adorable Tara Strong is back as Barbara Gordon, having voiced Babs and Batgirl in the last part of "Batman: The Animated Series" when it was known as "The New Batman Adventures." Wallace Langham (best known as lab technician David Hodges in the original "CSI") plays a very creepy Anarky. Kurtwood Smith, the grumpy father on "That '70s Show," does a fantastic job voicing Jim Gordon.

Grade: A-

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