Network: WB (Half-hour; animated)
First aired: September 11, 2004
Last original episode aired: N/A
Regulars: Rino Romano (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Alastair Duncan (Alfred Pennyworth), Steve Harris (Detective Ethan Bennett), Ming-Na (Detective Ellen Yin)
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Supervising Producers: Duane Capizzi and Michael Goguen
Story editor: Duane Capizzi
OVERVIEW: The Batman inhabits a middle ground between the dark and serious, reverent adaptations of the '90s animated series and the populist fun of the '60s live-action series. Batman: The Animated Series gave Adam West a one-time guest spot; on The Batman, he has the recurring role of the mayor of Gotham City (before his death, '60s Riddler Frank Gorshin voiced Professor Hugo Strange). Meanwhile, Alan Burnett of Batman: The Animated Series serves as executive producer, and fellow DC Tooniverse stalwart Glen Murakami is among the show's other producers.
Unlike its carefully timeless predecessor, The Batman fairly dares to be dated. Fans have bristled at the "this is not your older brother's Batman" style, defined by its driving rock-guitar score (U2's The Edge wrote the original theme, replaced in Season Three by Andy Sturmer's uptempo '60s pastiche), young "Year Three" Batman, and a Jeff Matsuda (Jackie Chan Adventures) design that's generally lighter, brighter, and more colorful than the previous animated series—the Gotham night sky, for instance, is a cyclorama lit up by green, pink, purple, or red.
The only iron-clad regulars are 26-year-old Bruce Wayne/Batman (Rino Romano, Spider-Man/Peter Parker from Spider-Man Unlimited) and his trusty butler Alfred (Alastair Duncan, Collins on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), but Batman frequently crosses paths with the Gotham P.D.: Bruce's friend Detective Ethan Bennett (Steve Harris), Detective Ellen Yin (Ming-Na), Chief Angel Rojas (Edward James Olmos, swiftly replaced by Jesse Corti), and eventually Commissioner Gordon (Mitch Pileggi of The X-Files). (At the end of Season One, Bennett turned over to the dark side, and joined the Rogue's Gallery.) As directed by Ginny McSwain, the vocal tone adheres more closely to traditional cartoon melodrama than it did under Batman: The Animated Series's Andrea Romano.
The Batman has thus far shown a commitment to villains drawn from the comics, while developing original storylines. The Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson, Emmy-nominated for his work here), Catwoman (Gina Gershon), The Penguin (Tom Kenny), The Riddler (Robert Englund), Man-Bat (Peter MacNicol), Mr. Freeze (Clancy Brown), Clayface (Steve Harris), Killer Croc (Ron Perlman, who also voiced the role on Batman: The Animated Series), Bane (Joaquim de Almeida), and Poison Ivy (Piera Coppola), among others, have appeared in the first thirty episodes.
Though many fans have squirmed at some of the choices (the Joker's early look made him a barefoot Rastafarian), others have noted improvements in the second season. The revamp is unquestionably fresh, but just as undeniably pitched more at early-rising Saturday-morning kids than jaded adults. The Batman soups up the Batmobile and the Batpole, and one of the show's innovations is the "Bat-Wave," a centralized computer network that, through a handheld device, keeps Batman connected by radio and remote-control to crime alerts and his high-tech arsenal of gadgets. Naturally, the Bat-Wave is also the model for a children's toy meant to be used during broadcasts of the show. Like some of the action figures and vehicles, the toy Bat-Wave comes to life during broadcasts and uploads schematic images.
1. "The Bat in the Belfry" *** (September 11, 2004) Writer: Duane Capizzi. Director: Seung Eun-Kim. The Batman's new style is immediately apparent in a teaser that finds a sweaty Rupert Thorne (dressed like Al Pacino's Scarface) attempting to elude Batman. Hulking police chief Rojas firsts insists that Batman is an "urban legend," but when his existence becomes evident, Rojas gives Detectives Bennett and Yin their marching orders to apprehend the vigilante crimefighter. Meanwhile, Alfred commemorates Batman's three-year anniversary, but reminds Bruce, "For the Batman to remain below the radar, Bruce Wayne must occasionally rise above it." Bruce's attempt to enjoy a basketball game in the company of two young ladies is predictably inetrrupted by the Bat-Wave, which summons him to face the Joker, for the first time, at Arkham Asylum. The Joker exhorts, "Don't tell me you're not an inmate," then bluntly spells it out: "We're linked, you and I. Like comedy and tragedy—two sides, same coin" (well, they only have about twenty minutes of storytelling time). Admittedly, "The Bat in the Belfry" triggers culture shock, especially with its ridiculous-looking version of the beloved Joker, but by The Batman's standards, and given the demands of a pilot episode, "The Bat in the Belfry" is pretty good. The Joker poses a serious threat to Batman, with razor playing cards (and—sigh—ninja fighting moves), and to Gotham, with a Joker-gas-filled hot-air balloon. The episode also pays homage to the '60s series (note the Batwave transitions and the Batpole), Batman: The Animated Series (animated cameos by Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, and Paul Dini as Arkham inmates) and Tim Burton's 1989 film (the balloon scenario, the Batmobile's hard-braking, and the Monarch Theater).
2. "Call of the Cobblepot" **1/2 (September 18, 2004) W: Steven Melching. D: Brandon Vietti. Um, "The Oz-meister is in the house!" Yup, "Call of the Cobblepot" re-introduces Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. The Penguin, with mixed results. Mysterious high-rise heists are the work of his fine-feathered friends, and when "Ozzie" crashes Bruce's charity gala—flanked by Kabuki twins—he stokes an old grudge between the Cobblepots and the Pennyworths (turns out Alfred's grandfather "worked himself to the bone for those wretched snobs"). The Kabuki twins turn out to have razor talons inside their kimonos (a match for Batman's Batglider backpack), and Alfred's amateur sleuthing finds him strapped down as bird bait in the aviary of his least favorite "homunculus". Quirky pacing and animation make this one a bit of a chore to watch, as does an absurd turn of martial arts from the tubby baddie, but the final duel makes good use of dramatic lighting, and Bruce takes the final moment to pay lip service to a key Batman theme: "Hopefully, it's not the Batman who brings out the freaks."
3. "Traction" (September 25, 2004) W: Adam Beechen. D: Sam Liu. Review coming soon.
4. "The Cat and the Bat" (October 2, 2004) W: Adam Beechen. D: Sam Liu. Review coming soon.
5. "The Man Who Would Be Bat" (October 30, 2004) W: Tom Pugsley, Greg Klein. D: Seung Eun-Kim. Review coming soon.
6. "The Big Chill" *** (November 6, 2004) W: Greg Weisman. D: Brandon Vietti. During a Gotham heat wave, the coldest villain of all makes the scene: the coldly ruthless Mr. Freeze. At times, the episode is uncomfortably reminiscent of Batman & Robin; the Batsuit sports ice-skates at one point (talk about sensible shoes), and Freeze puns up an ice storm ("Have an ice evening"). Points for supplying Freeze's flashback origin, but the story is unfortunately lame ("I was just Victor Freeze then—common bank robber") compared to the Dr. Victor Fries version beloved by fans. On the whole, "The Big Chill" delivers a lot of nifty moments: a weather-proofed Batsuit, stunning action duels, and a tricked-out sequence of the Batmobile exiting the cave. In a second flashback, a fever dream takes Bruce back to the murder of his parents, helping him to overcome a crisis of conscience ("I'm not helping the law—I'm just breaking it").
7. "The Big Heat" (November 13, 2004) W: Christopher Yost, J.D. Murray. D: Seung Eun-Kim. Review coming soon.
8. "Q & A" ** (November 20, 2004) W: Stephen Melching. D: Brandon Vietti. The Cluemaster, a disgruntled game show loser who's grown up (and out), seeks revenge on those who participated in his defeat. It's up to Batman to save the Cluemaster's hostages from his booby-trapped recreation of the show: "Think Thank Thunk." This goofy take-off on the Twenty-One scandal of the '50s satirizes the dangers of being a couch potato. "Q&A" benefits from the contribution of Fred Willard as smarmy game-show host Ross Darren, but the 400-pound Cluemaster (who debuted in a 1966 Batman comic) doesn't leave much of an impression, except on his seat. Melching and Vietti compensate with plenty of activity, including a Batmobile car chase, but this one comes apart at the seams even before its anti-climax.
9. "The Big Dummy" (November 27, 2004) **1/2 W: Robert Goodman. D: Sam Liu. A moody teaser introduces Arnold Wesker and his "little friend" Scarface, a ventriloquist's dummy. An inherently silly villain from the comics, Wesker fits right in on The Batman, and Dan "Homer Simpson" Castellaneta is well-suited to the dark-comic role. Alfred's online dating quest on behalf of Master Bruce proves that even the Batcomputer is prone to pop-up windows, but not much else. Scarface is good for some witty visual and verbal gags and the payoff, when Scarface reappears "Large and in charge!" cancels out its implausibility with its useful symbolism of personality dominance. In a rare pensive moment, Bruce ponders, "If the Batman is my dominant side, how can I let someone know the real Bruce Wayne?" Action includes a Gotham Air and Space Museum throw-down (a good setting for an act-break cliffhanger) and mayhem in the streets once Wesker and Scarface make their intentions known.
10. "Topsy Turvy" * (February 5, 2005) W: Adam Beechen. D: Seung Eun-Kim. The Joker returns, with a quite impossible device that allows him to instantly encase people in giant playing cards. Go figure. Anticipating our confusion, Alfred asks Batman, "You're not expecting Joker to actually make sense, are you?" Touché. The "mystery" is mind-numbingly stupid, and though Batman's brief entrapment in Arkham is a nice turnabout, it's been done, to much better effect. "Topsy Turvy" further belabors the Batman-Joker duality without adding any depth ("I guess opposites do attract," quips the Clown Prince of Crime), but the Joker's climactic theatrical presentation has a hint of the old boy's malevolent mirth to it: just enough to remind us of how much we're missing.
11. "Bird of Prey" *** (February 12, 2005) W: Steven Melching. D: Brandon Vietti. A stong story and well-choreographed action highlight "Bird of Prey," a legitimately entertaining half-hour that whips out a number of the Penguin's trademark trick umbrellas (from a whirling-blade one-man helicopter to a deadly dervish) and supplies a tongue-in-cheek origin for the term "the Dark Knight." After a crackerjack action teaser that includes a Batcycle chase, an embarrassed Penguin jealously targets Bruce Wayne. While Wayne submits to being shadowed by TV reporter Melanie Bramwell (Kath Soucie), Penguin holds Alfred hostage, trashes Wayne Manor and chomps at the bit for Wayne's return. Penguin has a clear motivation (shame and anger at the fall of the Cobblepots), the "B" story serves properly to complicate the "A" story, and Melching keeps the show's customary "for the boys" silliness (Penguin is pantsed twice by Batman) to a happy minimum.
12. "The Rubberface of Comedy" (1) (April 30, 2005) W: Greg Weisman.
D: Sam Liu. Review coming soon.
13. "Clayface of Tragedy" (2) (May 7, 2005) W: Greg Weisman.
D: Seung Eun-Kim. Review coming soon.
14. "The Cat, the Bat, and the Very Ugly" **1/2 (May 14, 2005) W: Tom Pugsley, Greg Klein. D: Brandon Vietti. "Partnerships do appear to be all the rage these days," says Alfred, referring to the uneasy team-up of Catwoman and Penguin (future episodes prove team-ups are "all the rage," indeed). In an ironic twist, Catwoman and Batman wind up literally inseparable when Penguin clamps on booby-trapped handcuffs. Reminiscent of both Batman Returns and, with its matched jeweled statues, "The Purr-Fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" episodes of the 1966 Batman, "The Cat, the Bat, and the Very Ugly" starts out slow, picks up with the second-act complication, and finally lights on a worthy lighthouse-scaling action sequence at the break of the last act. When all is said and done, this isn't the sharpest script in the drawer (Penguin harnessing the power of Ra?), but it's a decent vehicle for the conceit of exploring Catwoman's reluctant-crimefighter side, and the final shot of a makeshift Bat-signal is a beaut.
15. "Riddled" (May 21, 2005) W: Christopher Yost & J.D. Murray.
D: Seung Eun-Kim. Review coming soon.
16. "Fire & Ice" *** (May 28, 2005) W: Joseph Kuhr.
D: Sam Liu. Dynamic animation highlights this team-up of Firefly and Mr. Freeze—time to break out the weatherproof, snow-white Batsuit! Again, the very visual character of Freeze proves compatible with the splashy, pun-happy The Batman, and obviously the hot-headed Firefly makes an appropriate foil for the ice-cool Freeze (the team-up allows Batman to quip, "Feed a cold; starve a fever"). The Gotham Policeman's Gala affords opportunities for Freeze to test his new cryo-accelerator and for a turning point in the relationship of Batman and the police.
17. "The Laughing Bat" (June 4, 2005) W: Michael Jelenic.
D: Seung Eun-Kim. Review coming soon.
18. "Swamped" (June 11, 2005) W: Tom Pugsley, Greg Klein. D: Brandon Vietti. Review coming soon.
19. "Pets" **1/2 (June 18, 2005) W: Christopher Yost & J.D. Murray. D: Sam Liu. "Pets" has a creative team-up in its favor, as the Penguin gains sonic control of Man-Bat by stealing a high-tech device. The fearsome Man-Bat's sonar vision provides some neat animation, and though his first clash with Batman suffers from frantic editing, the second one is cleverly staged amongst metal storage containers. The plot, however, is predictable and marred with gauche humor: a subplot with Alfred chasing down a raccoon "intruder" in the Batcave and some silly one-liners (Arkham guard: "Do you want these chimichangas or not, Langstrom?"). The Penguin and Man-Bat also lack chemistry, partly due to canned-ham performances by Tom Kenny and Peter MacNicol. (Star Trek fans will be intrigued to note that the Batcave's inner workings resemble the Jeffries tubes on the Starship Enterprise.)
20. "Meltdown" (June 25, 2005) W: Greg Weisman. D: Seung Eun-Kim. Review coming soon.
21. "JTV" (July 9, 2005) W: Michael Jelenic. D: Seung Eun-Kim. Review coming soon.
22. "Ragdolls to Riches" (July 16, 2005) W: Adam Beechen. D: Seung Eun-Kim. Review coming soon.
23. "The Butler Did It" (August 20, 2005) W: Alexx Van Dyne. D: Brandon Vietti. Review coming soon.
24. "Grundy's Night" (August 27, 2005) W: Adam Beechen. D: Sam Liu. Review coming soon.
25. "Strange Minds" (September 3, 2005) W: Greg Weisman. D: Brandon Vietti. Review coming soon.
26. "Night and the City" (September 10, 2005) W: Steven Melching. D: Brandon Vietti. Review coming soon.
27. "Batgirl Begins (1)" (September 17, 2005) W: Michael Jelenic. D: Brandon Vietti. Review coming soon.
28. "Batgirl Begins (2)" (September 24, 2005) W: Michael Jelenic & Adam Beechen. D: Christopher Berkeley. Review coming soon.
29. "A Dark Knight to Remember" **1/2 (October 1, 2005) W: Joseph Kuhr. D: Brandon Vietti. A middle-of the-road episode featuring solid action (including a dynamic cuckoo-clock climax), a good hook (an amnesiac Bruce Wayne can't remember being Batman), and a better-than-usual narrative imperative for Batgirl (who must pick up Batman's slack). It's a bit odd that Alfred doesn't search his conscience to consider that Wayne might be better off with his emotional curse lifted, but it's a mark of this series' more lighthearted tone that Batman's reeducation is more comical than dramatic. Will Wayne summon his courage and reclaim the mantle of the Bat? I wouldn't dare spoil the ending...
30. "A Fistful of Felt" *** (October 8, 2005) W: Steven Melching. D: Anthony Chun. When Arnold Wesker gets professional "help" from Professor Hugo Strange, The Ventriloquist betrays his Pacino-esque "little friend" Scarface ("You broke my heart. You broke my heart!") and returns to straight life as a children's entertainer, but a properly suspicious Batman discovers more than meets the eye. This entertaining outing makes the most of its funhouse scenarios: a showdown in a mint (involving the trademark Batman prop of a giant penny), a Bat-brawl with fuzzy-costumed flora and fauna, and a tied-to-the-railroad-tracks climax at "Cockamamie Junction." The Ventriloquist has a proper psychological conflict (Scarface or "Mr. Snoots"?), and most importantly, Melching never sullies the hero; if The Batman has to be silly, this is the way to go.
31. "RPM" (November 5, 2005) W: Christopher Yost. D: Christopher Berkeley. Review coming soon.
32. "Brawn" (November 12, 2005) W: Alexx Van Dyne. D: Brandon Vietti. Review coming soon.
33. "The Laughing Cats" (November 19, 2005) W: Joseph Kuhr. D: Christopher Berkeley. Review coming soon.
34. "Fleurs du Mal" 1/2* (November 26, 2005) W: David Slack. D: Anthony Chun. This sort of nonsensical plot sells kids—and it goes without saying, adults—short. Someone (I wonder who?) is imprisoning Gotham's most prominent citizens in a Matrix-like garden while their "living plant clones" wreak havoc on the city. It's all part of a sinister environmental rampage to "green up Gotham." Imagine a knock-down, drag-out fight between Batman and a "person" who dissolves into mulch...that's one heck of a plant. It's difficult to get past the stupidity and engage in this Batgirl-heavy adventure, though I enjoyed the bit in which Batman punched a "little old lady" in the face (Batgirl: "You knew she was a plant, right?"). The rest is fertilizer.