Beware the Batman, by Glen Murakami and a Team of Dozens
As long-time visitors to the nerd farm may be aware, I’m not the biggest fan of screen adaptations. I like them when they’re good, sure, but so many of them aren’t that I don’t share the eagerness many funnybook fans seem to feel about seeing their favorite books adapted to the screen.
But I make an exception for Batman.
In part, that’s because… you know… Batman. But honestly, the character has such a good track record that I’ll give any new screen project a look. For the last 20 years, especially, the character has inspired stylish creative visions that were often better than the comics that were coming out alongside them. So I had to see the debut of Beware the Batman this past Saturday morning. And while it’s not god’s gift to Batman cartoons… I like it.
They set a good tone for the proceedings with the theme song, anyway, a propulsive burst of slinky style from alternative pop queens The Dum Dum Girls:
The other immediate impression, however, is not so great: the computer animation. Much like the work done on the Green Lantern cartoon that preceded it, Beware the Batman‘s CG is cold and a little stiff. I assume that’s because it’s cheap (or at least, cheap in comparison to the stuff you get from Pixar). Which… On the one hand, I expect TV animation to be a little cheap. That’s just how the budgets work out. But on the other hand, cheap hand-drawn animation still looks better than cheap CG. Or at least, it looks better than this particular cheap CG. While I wouldn’t call it ugly, it’s also not all that pretty. It adds nothing to the show’s appeal, anyway, and that’s not good news for an animated series.
What I do like, however, are the character and set designs. This show’s Batman is lithe and athletic. Still broad-shouldered and lantern-jawed, of course, but he looks a bit faster and more whip-like than he did in Brave and Bold or the various 90s animated series. The Batmobile is wide and low to the ground, but with the fins and (yes!) rocket exhaust familiar to any fan of the 1960s live-action show. Everything has a highly-stylized look to it, up to and including the villains of this first episode, Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad:
I like that they went so very cartoony with Toad. He should be incongruous in the spy-fi world of this series, but I didn’t even blink at him. The neo-Victorian / steampunk feel of the Pyg and Toad team helps with that, I suppose, and is a nice touch for the duo. Pyg has a sort of Alfred Hitchcock voice that suits this version of the character quite well, as does the big old-timey surgical saw he uses as a weapon. That thing looks ready-made for mayhem, and adds a dangerous air to a couple of villains who could easily slide over into silliness. I’m not terribly excited that they were recast as crazed eco-terrorists, mind you, but then again I don’t suppose you could really do this guy as the villain of a children’s show…
…so maybe it’s for the best. Of course, on the other hand…
…upcoming villain Magpie dresses like a goth hooker dominatrix, so maybe the depraved surgical performance artist version of Pyg might fly for the grade school set, too.
At any rate, Pyg’s plan in this episode is still kind of cool: he’s kidnapping a group of wealthy industrialists responsible for the destruction of a wetlands area, with the intent to force them out to be hunted, Most Dangerous Game style.
Hmm. Actually, that sounds a bit dull and hackneyed now that I’ve spelled it out. Ah well. Maybe my enthusiasm for it was spurred by this episode’s bit of fan-service: one of the rich guys Pyg goes after is Simon Stagg. In the comics, of course, Stagg is the boss and eternal thorn in the side of Metamorpho, and comes off sort of like an evil Scrooge McDuck. I was a bit shocked to see him turn up in such a random place, but he’s a fun character who’s always welcome on my TV. Plus, his appearance may mean that we’ll eventually see Metamorpho himself appear, and that’ll be a blast, too.
In fact… With the promise of Katana as Batman’s sidekick in this series, I wonder if they’re going to be doing the Outsiders before it’s all said and done. That might be interesting, especially since one of the primary themes of this first episode is Batman’s reluctance to accept help, even when he really needs it. I’m all for that, of course, playing as it does off Grant Morrison’s Final Lesson of the Batman (He’s never alone).
That theme plays out primarily through the relationship between Bruce Wayne and the real stand-out character of the Beware the Batman premiere: Alfred Pennyworth.
This Alfred, as has been advertised, is a tough-as-nails former MI-6 agent. Early promotional art for the series featured him with guns, something they’ve backed off from in the actual production. But he’s still plenty bad-ass, at one point launching a surprise attack on Bruce Wayne while he’s sleeping, and nearly winning the fight. He comes off sort of like a 60-year-old Jason Statham, really, and he totally steals the show in this first episode.
Word has it that producer Glen Murakami (no stranger to animated Batman) warned the creative team to back off from Alfred a bit because he might over-shadow Batman himself, and I think he may be right. Thus far, anyway, he comes off as more competent than Batman, and as a better-rounded character with a more interesting past. I’m sure that’ll change as they delve deeper into Bruce Wayne and Batman, but right now? Man, I’d watch the Alfred Show every freaking week.
But will I watch Beware the Batman every week? For right now, yes. This opening was good, not great. But they’ve opened the door to a lot of interesting themes that don’t often get explored with the character, and are obviously planning in the long-term. Katana, for instance, doesn’t show up until the end of this episode, and then not in costume. Pyg and Toad make vague reference to a past that’s not detailed, and Batman all but tells us they’ll be back. And there may be something fishy going on at Wayne Enterprises, too. So I am intrigued, and willing to see where they go with it. For now, though, this first episode gets a cautious grade of…
DC Nation: Wonder Woman
Debuting after the Batman premiere was something I found a lot more immediately exciting: a wildly stylish cartoon short featuring a totally bad-ass 1970s style Wonder Woman. And I don’t mean Linda Carter, either. I mean… Well, hell. You can watch most of it here:
SO cool. I love everything about that, from the weird angular character designs to the shoot-em-up spy caper to the laid-back tough girl attitude. They gave us a Wonder Woman who’s empowered and sexy, and made it look like the easiest, most obvious thing in the world. Why the hell can’t the funnybooks get things this right?
Oh, and the invisible muscle car! Holy crap, the INVISIBLE MUSCLE CAR.
Brilliant. Not your mama’s Wonder Woman, by any stretch of the imagination. But brilliant. This one shot alone (already made into a handy animated gif by some enterprising soul on the interwebs) makes it worthwhile:
My one complaint is that it was way too freaking short. It stopped just a few seconds after the footage above, with Wonder Woman in mid-shit-talk with a couple of female assassins who’re after the guy she just saved. I understand that “short” is the nature of these things, but damn. DAMN. I would watch that shit every week. I want more, and I want it now.