While we wait for Cartoon Network to re-air Beware the Batman and ultimately show the 15 remaining un-aired episodes, we might as well talk a bit about Beware the Batman: Shadows of Gotham, the season one, part one Blu-ray/DVD.
What Is Beware the Batman?
For those who don’t know, Beware the Batman is Cartoon Network’s replacement for Batman: The Brave & The Bold. It first aired in July of 2013, but vanished from its former Saturday morning DC Nation time slot in October after only 11 of 26 episodes were shown. The series is set in Bruce Wayne’s early years, immediately after crushing organized crime and at the beginning of the rise of the freaks. However, the villains featured in Beware the Batman were not the usual rogues gallery, but were made up primarily of esoteric foes who had never been utilized in animation or live action before. Also, Alfred played a much bigger role in the series than any Pennyworth before him and was given a modern update as a former spy who still possessed a rather strong build. Instead of partnering Batman with a Boy Wonder, the show starred Tatsu Yamashiro AKA Katana, who was given a new backstory as Alfred’s goddaughter. Unlike previous Batman cartoons, Beware the Batman is computer-animated. In the wake of the Colorado massacre in 2012, some of the violence in Beware the Batman had to be toned down and traditional firearms were given laser sound-effects and flashing beams.
- Glen Murakami (Batman Beyond, Teen Titans, Ben 10)
- Mitch Watson (Scooby-Doo! Mystery, Incorporated, Duckman)
- Sam Register (The Looney Tunes Show, Teen Titans)
- Butch Lukic (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Batman Beyond)
- Anthony Ruivivar (Third Watch, Southland, Banshee, The Adjustment Bureau)
- J.B. Blanc (Arkham Origins, Titanfall, Breaking Bad, Naruto)
- Sumalee Montano (E.R., Transformers: Prime, X-Men: Destiny, Skylanders)
- Kurtwood Smith (That 70’s Show, Robocop, Resurrection)
The Blu-Ray itself is about as bare-bones as you can get in this day and age, really. It’s not a combo-pack so there’s no additional DVD and forget about an Ultra-violet copy for your other devices. You open the case and there’s no little booklet or even an ad slipped inside, it’s just the disc staring you in the face. Once inserted into your Blu-ray player you almost immediately go into the menu screen because there aren’t even any ads ahead of the content, which is actually a great thing so you’ll hear no complaints from me there! However, it is sad to see just how plain the menu screen is:
On the one hand you have to appreciate just how no-nonsense it is and that you can jump right into your favorite episode, but there’s also the undeniable sense that a real lack of care went into the making of this Blu-ray. PLAY ALL, SUBTITLES: ON/OFF, and EPISODE SELECTION. That’s all you get. There are zero bonus features or commentary to speak of. They didn’t even try to throw in a sneak peek at an upcoming DC Animated Movie. There aren’t any other audio tracks for non-English speaking Batman fans and the subtitles are English-only as well.
Where’s the incentive to buy the Blu-ray when there aren’t any bonus features of any kind and it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Beware the Batman will arrive on Netflix just like Young Justice, Green Lantern: The Animated Series, and Batman: The Brave & The Bold before it? Heck, if you’re living in the United Kingdom you can watch all 26 episodes of Beware the Batman right now on your Amazon Prime account.
Still, it’s great to have Beware the Batman as a part of your vast Batman collection just in case the show never comes to any of your streaming services or one day comes and goes from those services. Also, the picture and sound quality are better than you’ll find on any streaming service right now so the Blu-ray does one-up them in that department.
One element ofthe Blu-ray offers that will interest most American viewers is that it features episodes 12 and 13, which went unaired on Cartoon Network’s DC Nation Saturday Morning block and they are two of the best episodes of the collection. You could watch them right now with the Blu-ray or you could wait until later in the year when Cartoon Network shows them at 3Am.
Here’s a list of all the Beware the Batman episodes included on the Blu-ray as well as a link to my own detailed review on each individual chapter.
- Episode #01: Hunted — 7.5/10
- Episode #02: Secrets — 8.5/10
- Episode #03: Tests — 6/10
- Episode #04: Safe — 8.5/10
- Episode #05: Broken — 7/10
- Episode #06: Toxic — 9/10
- Episode #07: Family — 7/10
- Episode #08: Allies — 8.5/10
- Episode #09: Control — 6.5/10
- Episode #10: Sacrifice — 9/10
- Episode #11: Instinct — 7/10
- Episode #12: Attraction — 8.5/10
- Episode #13: Fall — 9.5/10
The Series’ Strengths
The things that Beware the Batman really had going for it were (and I often speak of it in past tense as it’s unlikely to survive given the new 3AM time slot) that it had a serialized nature in which events from one episode directly influenced the next and there was a great over-arcing story that ran over the course of these 13 episodes, which makes it perfect for binge-watching. The 286 minutes will definitely fly by and you’ll be devastated when you reach the end.
Another fine point is that the fight choreography was some of the best you’ll find in any modern cartoon or even live action show for that matter. Despite the animation being rather displeasing to the eye during the show’s quiet moments, when it came time for characters to engage in martial arts you couldn’t have asked for a better spectacle.
Lastly, the show had strong characterization for our heroes and a stellar voice cast to bring its characters to life. Batman is an incredible intellect on the show, far greater than we’re seeing in today’s comics and films. Anthony Ruivivar makes a phenomenal Bruce Wayne/Batman and I hope that even if Beware the Batman doesn’t continue that we’ll see him reprise the role of The Dark Knight for some DC Animated films (speaking of which, I don’t see why WB doesn’t just make Direct-to-DVD Beware the Batman and Young Justice films since there’s clearly a market for that). Alfred (voice brilliantly by J.B. Blanc) may have gone through a makeover and certainly been toughened up quite a bit, but he’s still at his core Bruce’s conscience and the heart of the entire show. And then there’s Katana, who I went into the show caring the least about, but by the end could not picture the show without her. Watching Sumalee Monano’s character evolve over the course of the series was a real treat– Katana just needs to start wearing some gloves, because, come on! The cast gets even bigger than that and it’s hard to find a weak link among them. Kurtwood Smith makes a great Gordon and sometimes I’ve noticed that its his voice I’m hearing when I read the comics. Tara Strong (who voiced Batgirl in Batman: The Animated Series) is back again as Barbara Gordon and does exceedingly well, and many of the villains have memorable voices. One A-list Batman villain who appears in the Blu-ray’s final episode is portrayed amazingly by Lance Reddick and James Remar made Silver Monkey a very formidable enemy.
The Series’ Weaknesses
So you’ve likely heard that the series started off kind of weak, but got better as time went on and got really good in the second half that only folks in New Zealand and Britain seem to be able to watch (legally). If that’s the case, why does it have to struggle so hard to stay alive? Obviously, all we can do is speculate and it’s easy to blame it on the toys like we did with Green Lantern: The Animated Series or Young Justice— the toys didn’t sell and so Cartoon Network likely saw no reason to keep those cartoons afloat if they couldn’t move merchandise. But Beware the Batman never even had any toys besides a Happy Meal and one single action figure that came out with the “Batman Unlimited” line. So it must have been ratings, right? Then why weren’t enough people watching it? If Batman is so popular then how in the heck did a Batman cartoon get canceled? Here are just a few reasons that I could come up with for why not enough people tuned in:
- The animation style is off-putting. Art’s pretty subjective, but the majority of complaints you’ll hear about Beware the Batman are in regards to how ugly it looks. It’s a big reason why many people never gave Green Lantern: The Animated Series a chance. I know, I’m one of them. I thought GL looked like junk and wasn’t that big of a fan anyway so I didn’t waste my time, now I’m catching it on Netflix and kicking myself. And the funny thing is, even GL looked better than Beware the Batman because those GL episodes take place in alien worlds or the vacuum of space. Having scenery that looks a bit weird is perfect for sci-fi/fantasy and having the characters perform in areas that look devoid of life also works because we’re on an un-populated planet or something. But Batman exists in a bustling city and the Gotham of Beware the Batman couldn’t bustle if it tried. The town looks big alright, but judging by the cars on the streets and the crowds we see walking about, it’s populated by maybe 20 or 30 people. Everything in Gotham lacks texture and detail and comes off looking flat, sanitized, and lifeless. The same goes for the characters, whose faces are incredibly expressive, but their bodies remain stiff like wax sculptures. At least it’s that way until we have a fight scene. As I said, the sequences of hand-to-hand combat are brilliant. When it comes time to put these characters in motion the visuals you see on screen will blow you away, but it’s the downtime that makes the show appear so bland. And unlike GL, we aren’t changing scenery very often and there aren’t any bright colors to be found in Gotham so we’re looking at the same dark color palette and the same smooth-walled warehouse or street corner again and again and again.
- Who are these villains? A lot of people love Batman, right? Wrong. As few people like Batman as almost any other hero. A lot of people like Batman’s villains! The portrayal of Batman in this show is spot-on and yet you tell them that Joker isn’t going to show up for one little season AND EVERYONE LOSES THEIR MINDS! Beware the Batman opted to use the most esoteric villains possible because there have been so many movies and cartoons and comics that they figured people might be up for seeing Batman face a new kind of threat and then they could introduce the classics later on… oh how wrong they were. Worst of all, whoever was in charge of marketing decided to advertise what I think are the two worst villains on Beware the Batman, Pyg & Toad, who are so far removed from their comic book counterparts that they’re unidentifiable. They show up in several episodes in the first and second half of the series, but we never learn who they are or how they came to be. They’ve got a really odd gimmick and we’re never told why and that makes them look pretty lame. One thing Batman: The Animated Series did beautifully was give almost all the rogues their own origin episode and often times those episodes turned out to be the best. Beware the Batman was interested in showing people new villains, but didn’t devote enough time to making viewers care about them and, as a result, they didn’t. Perhaps worse was that many of the baddies felt like watered-down versions of the villains we all wanted to see instead of giving us something wholly original and that only made people angrier. The popular A-list villains finally show up in the second half of the series, but unfortunately US viewers will have to set their DVR or stay up until 3Am to see the likes of Ra’s al Ghul or Harvey Dent give the Caped Crusader a real challenge.
- Batman Fans Are Spoiled. This is probably the biggest thing that Beware the Batman had going against it. Face it: We haven’t gone a year, not a year in the past 2 decades without Batman being in an animated series and so we feel that we can afford to take a look at Beware the Batman, brush it off, and wait for the next one to come around. After all, we already had Batman: The Animated Series and that set the gold standard for animated shows ever since– comic book-related or not. We’ve had the best and anything less can bugger off. We’re spoiled! Look at us. Do you have any idea how many Wonder Woman fans would’ve killed to have had a cartoon? How many Animal Man fans? Superman just had a movie and his fans still don’t have a cartoon. Batman fans? We’ve got the best movies, the best comics, the best video games, hell, even our sick children are better than everyone else’s– do you see any ill Spider-man fans getting a shout-out from the President of the United States, because I don’t!
The score you see below is basically my grade for the first half of the series rather than what I would give the Blu-ray. The Blu-ray itself is nothing special, but the content i definitely worth watching and buying it couldn’t hurt in the campaign to get the show back on the air and at a reasonable time. But really, what we have here is an ugly duckling-type situation. It’s that person back in high school who flirted with you, but you ignored their advances because of how they looked or how minuscule their prospects seemed. Now they’re lovely through and through, but you missed your window and you’re kicking yourself! It was hard to get fans to watch Beware the Batman because of its divisive animation style and the fact that none of the A-list rogues gallery were present. Not enough people were willing to give it a chance and as a result, Beware the Batman was cut-down and now we can only see how beautifully it would have blossomed by catching the un-aired episodes or waiting until Cartoon Network runs them at 3Am later this summer. The A-list villains were coming and it was shaping up to be a great serial with an incredibly smart Batman and some of the best fight sequences in any animated show. Oh, well. We’re Batman fans and surely another animated series will be right around the corner, right? RIGHT?