Beware The Batman

Beware The Batman debuts at 10 a.m. Eastern Saturday on Cartoon Network.

Since appearing in Filmation's 1968 The Batman/Superman Hour, the Dark Knight has been a fixture of television cartoons, whether he's headlining his own series (Batman: The Animated Series, The Batman Strikes!, Batman: The Brave & The Bold) or playing a supporting role (Super Friends, Justice League, Young Justice). There's no other superhero that gets this kind of consistent television exposure, but each new Batman show finds a way to differentiate itself out from what came before it. In the case of Beware The Batman, the unique characteristic is the computer-generated animation, which utilizes a similar style as the canceled Green Lantern: The Animated Series with a considerably darker tone. The switch to CG animation results in a Gotham City that isn't as detailed and lively as former incarnations, but the action is sleek and the simple yet expressive character design has the same East-meets-West appeal of executive producer Glen Murakami’s work on The New Gotham Adventures.

Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad are an unconventional choice of villains to debut a Batman series, but BTB plans to use more obscure rogues to further set it apart from the hero’s previous cartoons. One of the show’s ads spotlights the foes that will be harassing Batman on the show, a group that includes C-listers like Magpie, Anarky, and Humpty Dumpty. Dan Slott made Humpty Dumpty super creepy in Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, so there’s a lot of potential in this ragtag lineup. While some may lament the absence of familiar faces like Joker, Catwoman, and the Riddler, it's exciting to see a cartoon explore the full scope of Batman's rogues gallery. And for those desperate to see established villains, Ra’s Al Ghul is set to make an appearance, which likely means Talia tagging along.

"Hunted" doesn't provide any backstory for the villainous pair, but it succeeds in making them a legitimate threat for a young Batman. The ecoterrorist duo captures Gotham businessmen who invested in a harmful oilrig, and names like Simon Stagg and Michael Holt will ring a bell with viewers schooled in the DC universe. Simon Stagg is responsible for turning his daughter’s boyfriend Rex Mason into the elemental superhero Metamorpho, and Michael Holt is a tech genius that takes on the mantle of Mr. Terrific when he loses his wife. Metamorpho is confirmed to appear on the show, and his power set is going to look gorgeous in this animation style. While there hasn't been any sort of news that Mr. terrific would be appearing in the show, the writers clearly aren't shying away from teaming Batman with lesser-known allies, beginning with Japanese superhero Katana.

Tatsu Yamashiro is brought in at the end of this episode to serve as Bruce Wayne’s driver and bodyguard if Alfred is incapacitated, like when he’s abducted by Pyg and Toad this week. Tatsu is Alfred’s goddaughter in BTB, the offspring of his old MI-6 partner who carried on her father’s legacy by becoming an expert swordswoman. Katana is a fun addition to the Batman mythology that doesn’t get much time in this debut episode, but her godfather gets plenty of focus in his new role as Bruce’s grizzled ex-secret agent mentor.

As shown in the stylish opening sequence (which features a totally rockin’ theme song by The Dum Dum Girls), BTB looks to be more of an ensemble piece than a solo Batman show, with Batman’s main partner-in-crime being his trusty “butler” Alfred. Part of Alfred’s housekeeping duties include sneaking up on Bruce while he’s sleeping and coming after him with a bat, and following the lead of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Batman: Earth One, the creators of this show give Alfred a more active role in Bruce’s training. His experience as an MI-6 agent makes him a tactical asset, and he proves his mettle in the field when he’s captured, saving Stagg and Holt from booby traps and helping them escape the collapsing oil rig once Batman gives him some painkillers for his broken ankle and an electric rod for protection. Hopefully this series will have some flashback episodes showing Alfred and Tatsu’s fathers working together in their prime, maybe with some cameos by British DC characters like Knight and Squire, Jason Blood, or The Shade.

This show stars a younger Batman who is still acclimating to the life of a costumed crimefighter. He hasn’t yet mastered the “silent but scary” routine, and he intimidates his opponents vocally rather than making them fear his presence. The mature Batman strikes with precision rather than leaping into action, and the Dark Knight of this series has to deal with the consequences of his overly aggressive action when he dislocates his shoulder in the middle of battle. He pops it back into place by banging it against the front of a truck, but that’s going to hurt like a bitch in the morning, especially after he gets thrown around like a ragdoll when Professor Pyg shoots the Batmobile with a cannon.

It’s too early to tell if BTB will explore the psychological depths of Batman: The Animated Series or reach Brave & The Bold’s dizzying levels of fun, but the creators of the series show an eagerness to explore the greater mythology of the character in new ways that are very promising. This isn’t the typical vision of Bruce Wayne, but isn’t that the whole point of all these different series? There are plenty of comics, movies, and TV episodes available for fans that want to see Batman stop the Joker’s latest evil plot. For everyone who wants to see Batman get blown up by a morbidly obese man in a pig mask and his amphibian sidekick, BTB is the place to be every Saturday morning.   

Stray observations:

  • The animators removed any realistic firearms from this series after The Dark Knight Rises shooting in Aurora, replacing traditional guns with more fantastic weapons that shoots lasers and balls of energy. It doesn't make that much of a difference, and it's not hard to believe that ordinary criminals would have these types of sci-fi gadgets in a world where an anthropomorphic toad has a supersonic ribbet.
  • Seeing Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad makes me want to reread Grant Morrison’s Batman And Robin. It’s hard to believe that Morrison’s epic storyline is coming to an end in just a few weeks. The last issue of Batman Incorporated was one of the most insane fights ever depicted in a Batman comic.
  • Fire sure does look pretty on this show, and there could be some very cool CG rain effects down the line if the animators have the budget.
  • “Remember: respect our enemies.” Professor Pyg is a villain with class. And a hacksaw.
  • “Didn’t they tell you? I’m the butler.” Against all odds, I find myself liking this Jason Statham version of Alfred.