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Haunting the shadows of Gotham City's crime-ridden streets, a lone crusader wages a ceaseless struggle for justice in an urban jungle besieged by evil. From battling the killer comedy of The Joker to tangling with new arch-foes like the insidious Sewer King, Batman explodes into action in one villain-cushing caper after another!

Writing Credits:

Not Rated.

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Surround
French Dolby Surround
Spanish Dolby Surround
Portuguese Digital Mono
English, Spanish, French, Portuguese

Runtime: 89 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 4/22/2003

• Episode Introductions By Producer/Director Bruce Timm
• “Voices of Gotham City” Featurette
• “The Line-Up” Game

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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Batman: The Animated Series: Tales of the Dark Knight (1992)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 22, 2003)

A year after the initial batch of Batman: The Animated Series episodes on DVD arrived via 2002’s The Legend Begins, we get another set of shows. Packaged in a set called Tales of the Dark Knight, this disc provides four shows from the series’ first season. Note that although these are the sixth through ninth episodes produced, the DVD doesn’t approximate the broadcast order. For the series’ first season, they created 65 programs. I’ll review these episodes in production order and will also mention at what point they actually hit the air.

The Underdwellers (broadcast 27th, 10/21/92) starts with a scene in which a “leprechaun” steals a woman’s purse. When Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) investigates, he discovers a group of children enslaved by the Sewer King (Michael Pataki). Batman rescues one of the children and takes him back to Wayne Manor, where Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) tries to clean him up and break down his defenses. Batman then returns with the boy to save the other kids and stop the Sewer King.

Shades of Oliver Twist! I’ve not seen enough Batman: The Animated Series to declare “The Underdwellers” as its worst episode, but it must be high on that list of shame. It smacks far too much of one of those “very special episodes” that take on social causes in a sappy way. It also suffers from one of the lamest villains I’ve seen. The Sewer King has virtually no powers and betrays little threat to Batman; sure, he bosses around some alligators, but the reptiles don’t muster much menace. Batman solves the “mystery” with tremendous ease, and the story seems rudimentary at best. It feels padded and flat. “The Underdwellers” proves to offer a dull and pointless story.

P.O.V. (broadcast 13th, 9/18/92) starts as officers Montoya (Ingrid Oliu) and Wilkes (Robbie Benson) drive to a sting operation to bust a drug lord. When they get there, they see the building on fire and Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) barely conscious. They also notice Batman at the scene. An investigation queries the group on what happened, and we hear the events from the points of view of Bullock, Wilkes and Montoya. While they tell their tales, we watch the actual events and then follow what happens after that.

Shades of Rashomon! Like “Underdwellers”, “P.O.V.” suffers from the absence of a strong villain. Never do we suspect the drug gang will truly threaten Batman. Still, at least they’re tougher than the Sewer King, and the moderately unusual structure to the story makes it somewhat more interesting. The program also includes a lot more action than the static “Underdwellers”. This isn’t very good Batman, but it seems moderately entertaining and rebounds somewhat after the clunker that opens the disc.

The Forgotten (broadcast 23rd, 10/8/92) begins with Bruce Wayne at work as a volunteer at a homeless shelter. A co-worker tells him that homeless and other volunteers have started to disappear mysteriously. Wayne goes undercover to get to the bottom of this, but he gets mugged and abducted. When he awakes, he discovers he’s stuck in a slave labor camp where the men must mine gold ore for a fat bastard named Boss Biggis (George Murdock). He meets and befriends Dan Riley (Dorian Harewood) and Salvo Smith (Lorin Dreyfuss) but suffers from amnesia. In the meantime, Alfred goes on Bruce’s trail to find his employer and old friend.

Shades of... well, “Underdwellers”! While not nearly as dull and heavy-handed as that earlier program, “Forgotten” suffers somewhat from its attempts to seem socially relevant. It also falls flat due to the near total absence of Batman. The concept of a Batman episode largely without its namesake seems intriguing, but here it doesn’t work very well. We also lack a tough and compelling villain once again, as Boss Biggis isn’t very scary or threatening. “Forgotten” offers a pretty predictable and weak program.

Be a Clown (broadcast 11th, 9/16/92) opens with a ceremony conducted by Mayor Hill (Lloyd Bochner) to inaugurate a new housing project. Though he declares it safe, some gangsters make a mockery of this statement. Hill relates that this was an isolated incident and he’ll make Gotham as safe as his mansion when he runs the “costumed freaks” out of town. This piques the interest of the Joker, who decides to pop in at the Mayor’s party for his semi-ignored son Jordan (Justin Shenkarow). The Joker impersonates Jekko the Clown and attempts to slay the many adult partygoers there since the Mayor uses his son as an excuse to schmooze. When Jekko/Joker departs, he finds Jordan as a stowaway, and at the boy’s bidding, he tries to make him into a protégé.

The relationship between the Mayor and Jordan lends “Clown” a sappier tone than I’d like, but at least we finally find a decent antagonist and a reasonably rich story. Actually, there’s not much to the plot of “Clown”, but the return of the Joker makes me so happy that I don’t care. The program gives us a typically nice performance from Hamill and pits the Joker vs. Batman in some entertaining ways. It doesn’t provide a stellar episode, but it’s easily the best of this DVD’s bunch.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+ / Audio B / Bonus D+

Batman the Animated Series: Tales of the Dark Knight appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While superior to the moderately ugly visuals seen during The Legend Begins, the picture quality of Tales seemed erratic.

Actually, Tales varied dependent on the episode in question. The first three presented stronger visuals than “Clown”. The programs on Legend looked quite dirty, and “Clown” resembled those shows. Lots of dust appeared, and various examples of marks and other flaws showed up throughout that program. Happily, the first three episodes looked significantly cleaner. They demonstrated the occasional speckle but they were pretty free of defects otherwise.

Sharpness created a fair number of concerns, though, and seemed worse than the Legend disc. Much of the time, the shows looked reasonably distinct, but quite a few soft elements cropped up at times. These issues weren’t extreme, but they created more than just a couple concerns. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no problems, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement.

When compared to Legend, Tales demonstrated stronger colors. The hues came across as fairly bold and lively throughout the four episodes. The prior disc looked somewhat bland, but the tones seen in Tales were pretty vivid and distinct. Black levels also were nicely deep and dense, and low-light shots seemed accurate and appropriately visible. Without the softness, Tales would have earned a much higher grade, but those issues largely knocked it down to a “C+”.

The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Tales also improved slightly upon the material from Legend. While the track remained mostly oriented toward the front speakers, it opened up the audio more broadly. The forward channels showed pretty good movement and activity, as elements meshed together well and blended neatly. As for the surrounds, they added good ambience, and they came to life well during some of the louder scenes. For example, when trains became involved, the rear speakers kicked in positively.

Audio quality also improved upon the old disc. Speech remained clear and warm, and I noticed no issues due to edginess or intelligibility. Music appeared noticeably cleaner and brighter. Legend sounded too dense and bass-heavy, but Tales lightened up the track nicely. The score showed good clarity and dynamics. Effects also benefited from the improved bass response. The old disc was boomy and unnatural, whereas Tales seemed tight and concise. Effects seemed lively and distinct for the most part. Nothing about the audio appeared terribly impressive but it came across as strong enough to merit a solid “B” for this kind of material.

Only a smattering of extras appear on Tales. For all four shows, we find Episode Introductions with Producer/Director Bruce Timm. His comments last between 43 seconds and 49 seconds for a total of three minutes, six seconds of material. Timm discusses some general notes about the series plus specifics about Boss Biggis, Officer Montoya, and the Joker. Despite the brevity of these clips, Timm includes some useful material.

A five-minute and 20-second featurette called Voices of Gotham City also seems short but positive. It provides remarks from casting and voice director Andrea Romano, producer/director Bruce Timm, and actor Kevin Conroy. We learn how Conroy and Hamill got their parts and also get information about what they look for in other voice actors, looping, and matching the action. Romano dominates this quick but interesting examination of voice work.

Finally, The Line-Up offers a pretty lame trivia game. We hear some general characteristics of various villains and then must identify them. This feels pointless and goes nowhere.

Maybe Batman: The Animated Series improved as it progressed. Unfortunately, as demonstrated on Tales of the Dark Knight, the episodes seemed generally weak. Actually, these probably shouldn’t be seen as truly representative of the series as a whole, for the shows seen on the prior Animated Series DVD appeared superior. The four on Tales varied from decent to bad, though, and didn’t do much to impress me.

At least the DVD improved upon the earlier release. Although these four shows were produced during the same time period as the previous five, Tales looked and sounded noticeably superior to Legend. It presented a similarly modest collection of extras. While not a poor disc, the generally flat material seen on Tales of the Dark Knight makes this a set that probably won’t interest many beyond the most dedicated Bat-fans.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.75 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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