It hasn’t aired yet at its new 3AM time slot at Cartoon Network, but you can currently find all 13 episodes of the first season including “Fall” on the Beware the Batman: Season 1 Part 1: Shadows of Gotham Blu-ray/DVD or, if you’re in the UK you can watch all 26 episodes of the full series on Amazon Prime. I’ll talk more about the Blu-ray and the series in general when I review “Shadows of Gotham” but for now I’m just going to treat this article like all the episode reviews before it. And, if you’re interested, I’ll come back again to talk more Beware the Batman once Cartoon Network airs the 2nd half of the first season on the Toonami block later this year.
A manipulated Jason Burr steals the Ion Cortex and hands it over to the League of Assassins and their newly resurrected leader, Ra’s al Ghul. Directed by Sam Liu. Written by Mark Banker.
Be grateful that the 13 episodes that follow “Fall” are finally seeing the light of day because out of the first 13 episodes of Beware the Batman, “The Fall” is not only the best, but it ends on a colossal cliffhanger! What makes “The Fall” so great? It’s 100% pay-off. One thing that has set Beware the Batman apart from any other Batman animated series before it is its serialized nature and tight continuity. The events of one episode directly influenced the one that followed and the “Ion Cortex” and “Soultaker Sword” subplots that have cut their way through the entire season converge with this mid-season finale that finally unveils a classic member of the Batman rogues gallery.
Big things happen in this episode and I’m not just talking about the fact that we’re finally getting an A-lister from the Batman rogues gallery. It’s an episode with a grand scale and a strong emotional core. Plot-wise, it’s so big that it’s spread out across 3 episodes, 2 of which are sadly not a part of the Season 1 Part 1 Blu-ray. You’ll remember that Tatsu’s love-interest, Jason Burr was working on the Ion Cortex, a new energy-saving technology for Wayne Enterprises, when his mind was poisoned by the villain known as Cypher. Cypher’s orders were to steal the Ion Cortex and bring it to Ra’s al Ghul and even though Cypher has disconnected, the programming remains in Burr’s grey matter and compels him to fulfill The Demon’s Head’s wishes. This of course brings in The League of Shadows, who have typically only committed clandestine operations in the city so far, but with Ra’s al Ghul revived and back in the seat of power what we see in “Fall” is the early stages of a villainous act on par with what we saw in the film The Dark Knight Rises. There simply isn’t a dull moment throughout the entire episode. It’s incredibly suspenseful and you truly get the sense that this Year One Batman is indeed outmatched. The A-list villain fans have been clamoring for ever since Beware the Batman began is finally here and he does not disappoint. This is a brilliant portrayal of Ra’s al Ghul and actor Lance Reddick (The Wire) was perfectly cast. He might be my new favorite voice actor for Ra’s al Ghul. It’s something about how cold he sounds and the way he rolls those Rs.
Stepping away from the ever-growing action of “Fall” we look at its emotional center, the character who ties all the events together, Alfred Pennyworth. The episode begins in a way we haven’t seen before with a young Alfred, still in his secret agent days, in a desert tent and alone against the might of The League of Assassins and his turncoat partner, Tatsu’s father. Talk about at an opening scene that immediately grabs your attention! Alfred, Ra’s al Ghul, a sandstorm, and a magic sword is enough to make anyone do a double-take, but it’s what Alfred does in the next minute– or at least what we think he does (it happens off-screen so who’s to say until we see parts 2 and 3?)– that will definitely hook you for the remainder of the episode. Tatsu’s father must prove his loyalty to Ra’s al Ghul by killing Alfred, but we all know who made it out of the tent alive and it’s the questionable fate of Tatsu’s father that Ra’s eventually uses to drive a wedge between Batman’s allies.
While this flashback has major importance for Alfred and Tatsu AKA Katana in the present day, there are a number of other flashbacks that are triggered by the context of various scenes. These moments These moments just make us like Alfred a little bit more (a foreboding sign for anyone who’s watched enough TV and movies) and add a little extra info about Bruce Wayne’s childhood while illustrated just how strong the bond between Batman and his butler really is. You’ll see the first time Bruce and Alfred met, the hell Bruce put Alfred through after the death of the Waynes, and you’ll watch as Alfred begins Bruce’s training. Alfred gets an incredible amount of screen time and he’s played brilliantly by JB Blanc, but there’s SO MUCH happening in theses 22 minutes or so that I hesitate to call it an “Alfred Episode” or a “Ra’s al Ghul Episode” it’s just a really solid episode where everyone has something to do and not only do the voice actors give top-notch performances, but the animators did a great job of capturing that emotion.
- The manipulated Jason Burr causes a great deal of chaos and is the very reason for Ra’s al Ghul coming to Gotham in the first place
- Katana must prove that Jason Burr is innocent despite all the evidence to the contrary and then she must confront Alfred when Ra’s al Ghul tells her what really happened to her father all those years ago. The despair on Katana’s face when she sees Batman getting beaten by Ra’s was heartbreaking. The animators did a great job making the character look so expressive
- Batman is deciphering the engravings on the Soultaker Sword in an effort to learn the incantations carved into the blade. He then has to find Burr and the Ion Cortex AND combat Lady Shiva and Ra’s al Ghul, who he is meeting for the first time
And, again, this is only the first of a three part mega-episode so there’s even more to come after this. I can’t help but think that if Cartoon Network had aired this episode and the 2 that follow it and actually advertised the fact that Ra’s al Ghul was coming then I think more folks might’ve given the show a chance. This is the big turning point for the series where we finally see the more classic Batman mythology bursting through and it’s glorious. You couldn’t ask for a more ruthless Ra’s al Ghul. Are you one of the many who scoffed at the C-list rogues gallery Beware the Batman has had up until now? Well, Ra’s al Ghul proves that baddies like Pyg & Toad or Humpty Dumpty definitely weren’t on par with the classics, and the episode shows us that the A-listers are coming and this Batman might not be ready for them. I think that’s exciting. I think that by showing all of these lesser villains early on the creators of Beware the Batman might’ve created a scenario that makes the real arch-enemies look that much more impressive.
I make a few more points in the spoiler tags below. You’ll see what kept me from giving it a 10/10 as well as certain moments I especially enjoyed.
- I liked how they kept that running joke alive of Bruce always maintaining a liquid diet
- The show does a fantastic job of giving us a smart Batman. His first scene, which shows him examining the Soultaker Sword and learning the incantations will most definitely play a part in future episodes. You can bet on that
- The Bruce/Alfred/Katana dynamic is fun, but it comes to an end almost as soon as it begins. The humorous moment in the limo was a nice touch
- I wasn’t expecting the Cypher-possessed Burr to blow up the Wayne offices. I definitely wasn’t expecting something that big so early in the episode, but it certainly set the tone for everything to come. When the building exploded you knew that anything could happen from here on out
- I really enjoyed the flashback to Alfred being hired by Thomas (voiced well by Anthony Ruivivar, who also plays Batman and a damn good Batman at that. They should hire him for the DC Animated films!). It was a nice touch seeing Bruce reading Churchill’s WWII series although I never imagined Bruce as being anything all that eccentric prior to the death of his parents
- The snow-covered forest was a nice change of scenery, but still could’ve used more variety in the trees or something. The show just never did a great job of creating rich environments for the characters to perform in
- I also wish that there was more difference between the League of Assassins ninjas. It’s fine that they’re all wearing the same uniform, that’s what henchmen do! But they are also the exact same height, weight, and skin color
- What was young Bruce trying to prove by getting himself and Alfred nearly killed by the thugs in the parking lot? Was it just a matter of overconfidence and him looking for a fight? A way of showing us that the death of his parents didn’t traumatize him in a way that he fears criminals, but that he’s now obsessed with confronting them and it’s up to Alfred to save Bruce from himself?
- I liked that Katana actually removed her domino mask before confronting Jason, acknowledging how there would be no way he wouldn’t recognize her
- My #1 complaint with the episode was that the kiss between Katana and Burr saved his mind and snapped him out of Cypher’s spell. This sounds pessimistic, but the power of love really can’t save the day every time. It’s about as bad as if just hitting Burr on the head would’ve saved him
- OH SNAP!!! I did not see the death of Burr coming. Did you? My jaw hit the floor when Lady Shiva used the Soultaker sword on him. Is he really dead or is there a way for Batman to use those incantations to pull Burr’s soul out of the sword and put it back in Burr’s body?
- Badass line: Batman tells Ra’s, who he just met, “You should’ve stayed in hiding.” to which Ra’s calmly replies “You have no idea how wrong you are.” before kicking the crap out of Batman
- Ra’s al Ghul’s look was very traditional except for the slicked back hair, which I’m fine with. It’s actually more natural that way
- I loved how the creators of the episode showed us so many flashbacks with Alfred that it made us forget about what Alfred was actually up to in the present day and then BOOM! There Alfred is with a bazooka. I cheered. It was also cool to hear Ra’s refer to him as “Agent Pennyworth” and Alfred to refer to Ra’s as “The Devil.”
- That cliffhanger.
- Could you imagine if a broken Batman being carried away by thugs while Ra’s al Ghul shuts down the power of the entire city and says “Rest in peace, Gotham City.” were the actual ending of the entire series? If it got canceled like that? Jeeeeez. I was not expecting such an incredible cliffhanger and to feel so disappointed knowing that it would be months before I could find out what happened next. Would it be on Cartoon Network? Would it be on Blu-ray?
- The areal shots of the city lights going out reminded me of Snyder and Capullo’s “Zero Year” when Batman shuts down several city blocks in one of Capullo’s amazing splash pages
If you doubt Beware the Batman‘s potential, watch this episode. If you’ve been watching it from the beginning, everything pays off here.