Beware the Batman: Shadows of Gotham, Season 1 Part 1 DVD Review: A New Take On An Old Character

By my count there have been no fewer than 12 movies, 16 television series, several radio shows, and countless comic books featuring Batman.  With many more in the works.  The character remains one of the most popular in the superhero universe.  It is no surprise then that the Cartoon Network opted to make a new series, Beware the Batman, and that they decided to make some pretty big changes in order to set themselves apart from the very crowded Batman adaptation arena.

It is the first Batman series to be completely CG animated.  This creates a unique style for the show and helps set its tone.  In this version, Alfred is younger, a former member of MI-6, and more than capable of holding his own when the action goes down nearby.  Robin is nowhere to be found and instead Batman’s sidekick is Katana, who in this universe is a former CIA agent and friend of Alfred, who sets her up as Bruce Wayne’s chauffeur, though she eventually is accepted as Batman’s helper. The producers of the show have dug deep into the rogues gallery of villains turning up characters even the most hardcore of fans may not have heard of.

Unfortunately it seems that these changes have garnered poor ratings and quite a bit of hatred from the fanboy sect.  Reading some reviews and comments on the Internet, one can find all sorts of criticisms lobbed at the series. They hate Alfred’s spy background and his tendency to use fists over brain power.  Though Batman has had plenty of interaction with Katana in previous incarnations, many complain about her being teemed up as the sidekick.  Etc, etc, etc.  The Internet exists for some people to complain and one must expect that, especially when messing with a beloved character.

For my part, I rather liked the changes. Or at least wasn’t bothered by them.  Though I’ve enjoyed some of the movies and tend to think of Batman as my favorite superhero, I would not call myself a super-fan.  I’m also not at all opposed to tweaking the character a bit and exploring what can be done with him.

It seems a strange choice to make Alfred a studly, dangerous ex-spy instead of the more gentile butler he has become.  This is especially true in later episodes when Katana becomes more involved in the crime fighting, making Alfred more of a third-wheel than any real help, but for the most part it works alright.

I’m not at all familiar with the other adaptations of Katana and she fits right into the storyline from my perspective.  While each episode stands on its own, there are larger story arcs and the main one involves her.  She’s a former CIA agent who recently faked her death and has been hiding out. She’s old friends with Alfred and he brought her on as a chauffeur knowing full well Batman needs real assistance.  At first, Batman is leery of her, but after a series of tests over several episode he eventually takes her on as a sort of trainee and learns to trust her.  That arc works very well and I enjoyed watching their relationship change.

The weakest part of the show is its villains.  It makes perfect sense that they would want to find some obscure characters for Batman to fight as the usual gallery of the Joker, Penguin, Cat Woman, etc, have been done to death.  But with just 22 minutes an episode it’s difficult to introduce their characters, set up their crime and capture them (not to mention include various other ongoing story lines), and make us know or care about the bad guys.  The show does do a good job of bringing many of them back in later episodes so that we begin to be interested in them.  The League of Assassins play a big role throughout the series and that long storyline is the best of the bunch.  Several of its members become the villains of the day while the League itself becomes the overall arch enemy of Batman throughout the series’ first season.

The CG animation looks good.  Gotham maintains its moody darkness and the direction often employs some really nice shots of the city with expressive angles and interesting editing.  The characters are modern and interesting.  They’ve gone for expressionistic drawings instead of realistic so villains often look grotesque and strange rather than anything any real human could look like.  The action scenes especially are nice with lots of unique cuts and excellent camerawork.  It does all look a little too slick with none of the flair you can get with hand drawn cells, but it’s still a very nice looking series.

It is a Cartoon Network series which makes its target audience much younger than I am, but I still found myself enjoying it and it very much made me interested in going back and watching some of the other animated superhero series.  Additionally, my almost-three-year-old daughter loved it and spent the rest of the night playing “Batman.”

Season one consists of 13 episodes which are presented on two DVDs.  Other than a few trailers for other animated series there are no extras.  As of this moment the show is on hiatus and it is not known whether or not additional series will air.

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Mat Brewster

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