A new Batman series, Beware The Batman, has been airing Saturdays on Cartoon Network. Rather than go episode-by-episode, especially since it can take cartoons a few episodes to really get going, we've given it a few. Here's what we think, so far.
Even if you weren't aware of it from the creators admitting it, this series has a pretty clear mandate, much like Batman: The Brave And The Bold, to dig into some of the... less well-known villains, revamp them, and see what they can do. The tweaks have been variable, to some degree; the stripperific Magpie is kind of weak (also weird; why, precisely, are we see digital boobies at 10am on a Saturday?) but at least she's been upgraded from "joke", and Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad being softened is understandable, but perhaps they should have gone elsewhere. Still, it shakes things up, and the references are worked naturally into the narrative.
Also, Alfred in this version is basically John Steed. It's hard to go wrong when Alfred is running around with a shotgun or screwing around with the Batmobile. And Katana has been given more of a backstory and fleshing out that the show is only slowly revealing, a welcome choice to a character who has gotten short shrift from DC's cartoons.
The animation actually looks a lot better on television than we were given any hope to expect; it's fluid, and best shown off during the action scenes, which are quite well directed and a lot of fun to watch. That said, for a crime-ridden metropolis struggling with poverty and corruption, there's not a lot of signs of this; no overflowing dumpsters, no homeless people, no graffiti on the buildings. In fact, for a city, Gotham never seems to have anybody on the road or just walking by. The show's on a budget, obviously, and it isn't a glaring problem, but watch an episode or two and it is going to stand out.
The main problem with the show is that the writing wavers, a little bit. It's great in the broad strokes; for example, Bruce Wayne's childhood trauma only comes up in passing, and the show has consistent overarching plots that are worked effectively into the narrative. And it made a smart choice starting early in Batman's career, but it doesn't underline the idea; it only comes up by paying attention to certain choices.
On the other hand, individual episodes can be a bit rough or generic so far; the opening episode in particular was pretty much just a string of action scenes with a thin, unexplained set of villains. Further episodes get a bit better on this, and it's unfair to compare this show to Batman: The Animated Series, but you can't help but do it. And there's dialogue cliches and plot cliches aplenty in a few episodes.
Easily the consistent problem is that Batman is the least interesting guy in his own show. True, it's not like the other Batman shows have been masterful at exploring Batman's inner turmoil, but it would be nice if he at least got a little more to do than punch things.
Overall, the voice cast is a lot of fun. JB Blanc gets to do the most, and the guest stars range from Udo Kier to Kurtwood Smith, well cast as Gordon.
Unfortunately, there is one pretty glaring problem: Anthony Ruivivar, the voice of Batman, just doesn't work. His delivery is so flat and unemotional that Batman's primary emotion seems to be "bored." Granted, Batman is a tricky character to play, and the scripts aren't really helping, but Ruivivar is primarily a screen actor and, right now, it really shows.
Overall, the show has promise, but it needs some work and perhaps a bit more of a budget. But it's a bit better than the press materials made it look, and we'll be curious to see more of the show.