By Ed Sum
Perhaps the new character designs are not the only thing viewers should be wary of in Warner Bros. Animation’s sixth iteration of what Batman means to the masses. In Beware the Batman, the character of Anarky (a political activist/vigilante) will be pivotal to the series run and the animation style will take a while to get used to. The characters have a similar look to that of the cancelled Green Lantern: The Animated Series that not everyone took to right away. GL made use of bold colors and caricature. This style worked great when most of the story took place in alien worlds. But with a human world as a backdrop, everyone is going to look like an over-emphasized archetype.
Interestingly enough, the Bats looks like a well polished land turtle. From a distance, the material of his cape looks more like a polymer shell and the skin textures appearing more plastic than natural. This new animation looks like it took a few computer shading algorithms from the latest iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles just so it can be quickly rendered. When drawn, the character designs looks great, but when enhanced by CGI, the detailing cannot be appreciated as much.
Stylistic art direction aside, the casting and acting chores are decent all-around. Anthony Ruivivar stars as the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne. He pulls off a few moments that mirror Kevin Conroy’s portrayal, and that is good for convincing viewers groomed by Batman: The Animated Series. But for the newer crowd influenced by Nolan’s Batman trilogy, only time will tell if they will enjoy this iteration. The first episode, “Hunted,” seems to borrow a bit of the intro from The Dark Knight where the criminals are protecting their identities by wearing animal masks, but the villainous intent behind the crime spree to kick off the film is anything but. The tale being penned in Beware the Batman is setting up a distinct flavor of international intrigue.
Grant Morrison fans will no doubt be pleased because Professor Pyg and Mister Toad are the first villains to be introduced. These characters are an interesting part of the canon since they are not as well-known as the seminal Joker, Two-Face, Penguin, Riddler or Harley Quinn. The plan for this series is to introduce a rogue’s gallery of the lesser known criminals and that will be a deterrent for those viewers hoping to see more of Batman’s familiar enemies. Hopefully Victor Goodman (aka King Tut), a criminal Egyptologist, will make an appearance in later episodes. He’s always been an interesting character for viewers with a love for ancient cultures.
But for the good guys, this Batman works solo. Alfred (J.B. Blanc) indicates he wants to help out more, but Mr. Wayne forbids him. Viewers familiar with previous animated incarnations of this butler will no doubt be surprised. The producers have opted for DC Comic’s pre-crisis incarnation of Alfred’s history; he was once a MI6 agent. With his skills, he could be an asset on the street, but although he’s forbidden to resume being a super spy, he can still assist from the Batcave or by calling in favours. Because of his concern for Bruce Wayne’s safety, he hires Tatsu Yamashiro (Sumalee Montano), who is better known as Katana, to be his chauffeur.
If she turns out to be like another Kato to Wayne’s Batman, this series may be doomed. Viewers do not need a version of Green Hornet. But if this series continues down the espionage route ala Sydney Newman’s The Avengers, that will most certainly be welcomed.
There may be more globe-trotting going on with this series since Batman is dealing with international crime. Since Pyg and Toad were not apprehended by this episode’s end, their return is inevitable. As for how much of that will deal with current sociopolitical themes of this decade, only time will tell just how politically correct this cartoon will be.