Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 14, 2022)
Should anyone view it as a coincidence that an animated TV series called The Batman received a Blu-ray release days before the live-action movie The Batman hit multiplexes? Of course not – dumb question!
In its animated form, The Batman debuted in the fall of 2004 and it lasted five seasons, with a conclusion in spring 2008. The show went for 65 episodes, all of which appear in this six-disc “Complete Series” package.
Because this spans 23 hours of content, I won’t attempt to discuss all 65 shows. Instead, I’ll pick three per disc to review. The plot synopses come from IMDB.
The Bat in the Belfry: “The Joker (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) makes trouble in Gotham City.”
In 1992, Batman: The Animated Series became a seminal project that set a high bar for the Dark Knight’s cartoon TV adventures. This led to 1997’s The New Batman Adventures - albeit essentially an extension of TAS - as well as 1999’s Batman Beyond.
The Caped Crusader also appeared on other DC animated projects across this time span, so the question becomes what The Batman did to separate itself from the pack. The twist here comes from the decision to set the adventures fairly early in the character’s career, as we find Batman at the start of his third year as a crime-fighter.
That creates a decent approach, and it allows for familiar characters to pop up for the “first time”. As depicted here, Batman never met Joker prior to this encounter.
Intriguing as the premise might seem, “Belfry” itself seems spotty. Richardson’s Joker feels like an impersonation of Mark Hamill’s iconic Animated Series performance, and the rest of the tale feels iffy. While not a bad show, “Belfry” doesn’t quite satisfy.
Call of the Cobblepot: “Oswald ‘Penguin’ Cobblepot (Tom Kenny) has delusions of rebuilding the lost Cobblepot fortune via high-flying robberies employing various trained birds. Unaware of Cobblepot's criminal plans, Alfred (Alastair Duncan) goes to the dilapidated Cobblepot mansion where he is ensnared by Oswald.”
Another famed Bat-foe “debuts” here, and this works better than “Belfry”, partly due to Kenny’s peppy performance as Penguin. While he echoes other actors – especially Burgess Meredith from the 1960s TV show – Kenny makes Penguin his own. Toss in a clever connection to Alfred and this turns into a pretty good episode.
The Cat and the Bat: “Selina ‘Catwoman’ Kyle (Gina Gershon) attempts to steal a valuable cat statue. Unbenownst to her, the object belongs to Japanese gangster Katsu (Keone Young). She fails, and Batman (Rino Romano) begins to track her.”
And here comes our intro to Catwoman, maybe second on Batman’s list of most famous foes. “Cat” comes with some clever moments – especially when Catwoman gets a hold of Batman’s utility belt – but Gershon overdoes her performance and the scenes with Katsu go nowhere.
Meltdown: “Despite intensive rehabilitation, Ethan Bennett (Steve Harris) once again takes the form of Clayface in order to seek revenge against Joker, the man who turned him into that monster.”
Although I missed the series’ debut of Clayface, “Meltdown” efficiently offers a synopsis, so it doesn’t seem like a problem that I skipped S1’s “The Clayface of Tragedy”. The series’ Clayface differs from prior incarnations of the character – indeed, Bennett, who also acts as Bruce’s pal, exists nowhere outside of The Batman.
This Clayface tends to feel like a riff on Two-Face, as he becomes a lawman who goes bad. Derivative as that may seem, “Meltdown” explores the concepts pretty well, even though it leaves Batman as more secondary to the narrative than usual.
JTV: “Joker pirates the airwaves of Gotham in order to broadcast his crimes on TV as entertainment. When Detective Yin's (Ming-Na Wen) overzealous new partner (Patrick Warburton) tries to bring down the clown prince of crime, he merely becomes Joker's latest ‘costar’.”
Given that Joker just played a major role in the prior episode, “JTV” feels like it goes to the well again too soon. On its own, this becomes a competent show, and the use of Adam West as Gotham’s mayor seems fun, but I can’t claim the program excels.
Ragdolls to Riches: “The Batman finds himself caught in the middle of a game of one upmanship between master thieves Ragdoll (Jeff Bennett) and Catwoman. Meanwhile, Selina Kyle eyes Bruce Wayne as a possible target for future robberies.”
The stabs at romance between Selina and Bruce offer intrigue, especially because this series plays this theme in a different manner than other Batman enterprises. Ragdoll delivers an enjoyable new villain and this becomes a lively show.
The Butler Did It: “Spellbinder (Michael Massee), a three-eyed mystic with the ability to induce both hypnosis and visions, sets his sights on stealing the valuable Eye of Sarkana, mesmerizing Alfred to be his personal thief.”
Don’t expect much from “Butler”, as it uses the semi-clever premise of Alfred’s “crime streak” to become nothing more than a lackluster hypnotism plot. It drags and fails to offer much entertainment.
Batgirl Begins Part 1: “While the Batman faces off against Temblor (Jim Cummings), a villain possessing seismic powers, we meet Commissioner Gordon's (Mitch Pileggi) teenage daughter, Barbara (Danielle Judovits). Already worried his daughter lacks focus, Gordon fears Barbara's new friend Pam Isley (Piera Coppola) is a bad influence.”
When I review two-part episodes, I save a discussion for the second chapter. Skip ahead!
Batgirl Begins Part 2: “After a chemical accident transforms her into a half-human half-plant being, Pam Isley takes the name Poison Ivy and sets out to destroy Gotham's environmental polluters.”
As we can see from the synopses, “Begins” offers a double origin story, as we find out how both Batgirl and Poison Ivy came into existence. This means Batman himself plays a supporting role and the episode feels a bit more “kiddie-friendly” than usual, but “Begins” still becomes a reasonably engaging experience.
Fleurs de Mal: “When her father and other high-ranking Gotham officials begin to embrace environmental causes after the delivery of mysterious plants, Barbara discovers that they've been replaced with plant-based copies created by Poison Ivy and teams up with Batman to stop her and their own evil clones.”
One awkward side effect of my choice to skip episodes: I inadvertently end up with the same characters back to back. Five episodes separated “Begins Part 2” and “Mal”, but for me, they came on top of each other.
Though I could’ve lived without two consecutive Ivy shows, “Mal” does well for itself. It brings a fun adventure and mixes Batman and Batgirl to create a solid tale.
Cash for Toys: “Toymaker Cosmo Krank (Patton Oswalt) seeks revenge against Bruce Wayne after the billionaire successfully leads a campaign to remove his unsafe toys from store shelves.”
The return of goofball detective Cash Tankinson and the presence of a silly villain means “Toys” leans more toward comedy than most episodes of the series. The show pulls it off well and turns this into a fun escapade.
A Matter of Family: “When the circus comes to Gotham, ruthless crime boss Tony Zucco (Mark Hamill) demands protection money from the Flying Graysons, a family of trapeze artists. They refuse to pay and Zucco exacts revenge, leaving youngest Grayson Dick (Evan Zabara) an orphan.”
With the earlier introduction of a teen Batgirl and now the entry of Robin, The Batman seems more committed to a kid-oriented vibe. That doesn’t mean the series goes for dumbed-down child-friendy stories/themes, though.
Not that The Batman was ever dark and hard-hitting, but the tone feels fairly consistent, and it doesn’t shy away from semi-grim material. Hopefully that will continue with Robin now in the fold am “Family” offers a good “origin story” for the role.
Strange New World: “Professor Hugo Strange (Richard Green) unleashes a deadly toxin on all of Gotham, turning its entire population into zombie-like creatures. With the fate of the city in his hands, Batman must overcome incredible odds to find an antidote before the condition is rendered permanent.”
The notion of some Gotham heroes turned into zombies offers moderate intrigue, and “World” becomes a decent exploration of it. However, Strange feels like a tepid villain and the show doesn’t maintain a particularly interesting plot.
The Batman/Superman Story Part 1: “Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) teams with the rogues of Gotham City in a scheme to place Metropolis' Man of Steel (George Newbern) under his control.”
The Batman/Superman Story Part 2: “Batman and Robin must free Superman from Lex Luthor's control via Poison Ivy's hypnotic spores.”
These shows offer Superman’s first appearance in The Batman, though the series uses actors from pre-existing animated series. “Story” doesn’t become a classic Bats/Supes tale, but it comes with good action and enough big-name villains to make it a fun enterprise.
Joker Express: “How is the Joker mind-bending Gotham's citizens into committing crimes for him? Batman, Robin and Batgirl go underground to derail Joker's plot.”
“Joker infects ordinary citizens to carry out mischief” acts as an old plot, but “Express” comes with a few twists. These don’t make it especially fresh, but they deliver enough of a curveball to add some life to the old notion.
Lost Heroes Part 1: “When the most powerful members of the Justice League are abducted, Batman, Robin and Green Arrow (Chris Hardwick) must discover the mystery surrounding their disappearance.”
My policy ain’t changing now!
Lost Heroes Part 2: “The Joining attempts a second invasion of Earth with a plan to steal the powers of the newly formed Justice League. Only the non-powered heroes Batman and Green Arrow stand between them and world conquest.”
The Batman winds down with this two-part episode, and it goes out with an episode that feels more like a Justice League adventure than a Batman story. While The Batman began with the Dark Knight as the sole hero, it experienced “bloat” as it introduced Batgirl, Robin and then various JLA roles.
This feels a little desperate, as though the producers felt the series needed more “juice” to attract viewers. “Heroes” doesn’t dispel that notion.
The episode comes with some good elements, but the return of Hugo Strange doesn’t encourage me, as I still don’t like the character. The reliance on JLA characters also makes it decent but curious farewell to the series.
Some inevitable inconsistencies aside, I find a lot more to like about The Batman than dislike. It might not match up with the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series, but it holds its own.