It’s difficult to review any animated Batman series without comparing it to Batman: The Animated Series. The early ’90s series has now become, essentially, the gold standard for animated Batman fare. The creators of The Batman, which ran a little over a decade later, from 2004 to 2008, were well aware of this. So, they made it their goal to set their series apart from TAS as much as possible.
As a result, a lot of things in this series are rather different from what you’re used to—sometimes jarringly so. If you’re not prepared for it, it can be a little off-putting at first—but just at first. The further you get into the series, the more you’ll start to appreciate the time and effort that went into creating a new and unique Batman world, and the artistry of each episode.
While TAS had a noir feel to it, The Batman is more inspired by pulp. It’s the same basic era, but a very different style—more sensational, more visceral.
The series is set in Batman’s early days, but not quite at the very beginning. Much like its predecessor, it makes the wise decision to avoid Batman’s origin story, as there’s not a one of us watching that doesn’t already know that one by heart; however, The Batman is set at a different pivotal moment in the Caped Crusader’s career.
As we open the first episode, it’s been exactly three years since Batman began protecting the streets of Gotham, and he’s just succeeded in capturing the last of the city’s major crime bosses. The age of organized crime is over, but Batman’s very presence paves the way for a whole new era of crime in Gotham: the age of the supervillain.
As such, we meet a number of familiar faces—but not as you’ve seen them before. Penguin is an obnoxious rich guy with delusions of grandeur. Catwoman is a tech genius who may be even better at gadgets than Batman—and uses them to steal the most valuable jewels in the city.
And Joker… I’m not even sure how to begin describing him. Phrases like “highly unstable” and “dangerously psychotic” seem apt, but you’d rightly think, “Wait a minute! That’s what Joker is like in any carnation!” Which is true, but this Joker comes by those qualities in a very different way. While Mark Hamill’s Joker was calculating and methodical in his evil plans, this Joker is more of a loose cannon. He also has a rather wild hairstyle that almost, but not quite, resembles dreadlocks.
In addition to the story and characters, the animators also went out of their way to set the aesthetic apart from other incarnations of Batman. TAS’ art style was notably very dark, with sort of an art deco feel to it. The Batman uses more contrast. It maintains the overall darkness, but sets it off with pops of bright color. Even the sky is sometimes shades of pink or green.
The series ran five seasons, 65 episodes in all. As the series progresses, we get unique takes on a panoply of other characters from Batman lore. We meet Batgirl, Robin, and eventually even Superman—along with just about all the familiar faces from Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery.
The Blu-ray also has a number of featurettes that shine additional light on how they made the series, and how they worked to make it unique and set it apart from TAS, along with how the show evolved over time. There are also a couple of games and other fun surprises.
This show, in general, is a lot of fun. Years ago, I saw the follow-up movie, The Batman vs. Dracula (which I rented from Blockbuster to show you how long ago that was), but I had never seen the actual series before. I really enjoyed it. It’s a very different experience from TAS, but one that’s worth watching. If you’re at all a fan of Batman, I highly recommend checking this one out.
Creative Team: Bill Finger (creator), Alan Burnett (executive producer), Duane Capizzi (executive producer), Rino Romano (Batman)
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