“The Batman was the only roadblock to my freedom.” “What are we then?” “Speed bumps.”
Sorry this post is a bit late, life stuff.
Anyway, The Batman. I do feel sorry for this series, don’t get me wrong there are series that got a worse end of the stick than this one (I’m sorry Beware the Batman, we’ll get to you I promise). This series though had the unfortunate challenge of following Batman the animated series and from my gushing last week you can probably guess how tall an order that was. Not only did this series have to fight its way out of the shadow of a titan, but it was also hamstrung by needing to be more kid-friendly and the bane of all good cartoons, the need to sell toys! Yeah, this series never really had a chance.
Don’t get me wrong, the series had its moments, the clayface episodes had a pretty good character arc for Ethan and I actually think ‘The Laughing Bat’ is the best episode of the series with some really good lines and the Joker manages to be genuinely sinister a couple of times. I also like the fact that Batgirl got introduced before Robin because to me that makes more sense. There’s no way Batman would let a kid take part in his crusade on crime, I mean I get that he wants Dick to not feel so helpless and angry about the death of his parents, but there’s no way he’d take the risk willingly. If there were say a teenage sidekick before Robin though, one who was, let’s say, independent of the Batman. One who would be out fighting crime whether Batman allowed it or not, then maybe as Batman came to appreciate said sidekick and see that she could handle herself just fine under the right guidance, then maybe, just maybe, he could be persuaded that the Robin thing might work. That’s my mental head canon anyway.
That’s also exactly where Season Four of The Batman has us. Batgirl has been around for a season already and slowly won the trust of our dear Dark Knight and with the beginning of this season Robin makes his debut. The is also the season where I think The Batman finally finds its groove. Its no longer concerned about zigging where Batman the animated series (BTAS) zagged and doesn’t feel as hampered by the toy commercials (also there’s less of the villains with sudden kung fu, seriously the show had the penguin performing martial arts, that’s just sad).
Our episode begins at the end, well sort of. See Black Mask (lesser known villain, don’t worry about back story the show never bothers with one, just know he’s a guy in a creepy mask) has threatened to set off a sonic bomb unless the city pays up and, well, times almost up. Until the Batman arrives! He quickly takes down Black Mask and Batgirl and Robin take out the henchmen. The bomb is still out there though so while Batman goes to track it down, Batgirl and Robin are put on guard duty to keep an eye on Black Mask. They both grumble about this and learn one of the first rules of being a sidekick, there’s no credit for taking out the goons. To get their own back they make fun of Batman while running along the rooftops, following the police vans.
It’s one of the things that works really well with The Batman in seasons 4 and 5, the snappy banter between Batgirl and Robin. It’s something BTAS missed out on, with robin being made college age and the very limited appearances of Batgirl and then when Batgirl did become a regular member of the cast Robin had moved on to being Nightwing. Here we get to see them play off of one another and sure, they’ve been de-aged into kids and act more like a big sister and little brother, but it works for this series, though sometimes the lines can get a little too corny.
While the prepubescent duo are off practising their comedy skits, Batman has found the last known location of the sonic bomb, as well as Black Mask’s army of trained soldiers! It does make me wish that we got more the Black Mask in this show. He’s actually a competent and scary villain despite the fact that we know so little of the man beneath the mask, in fact that probably makes him a little scarier. Most of the villains in this show were there for their gimmick and nothing more, so much so that sometimes they even stole each other’s gimmicks for an episode (looking at you Joker). Outside of the likes of Clayface none of the villains really got much back story or development, not until the later seasons and even then it was only on occasion. Black Mask though, he’s cold and imposing and he has a private army to carry out his plans! When this dude threatens to blow up half of Gotham, you believe he’ll do it. Heck, the guy shoots his number one henchman because a couple of kids got in his way.
Anyway Batman is captured and that means Number One and the rest of Black Mask’s army are free to storm the police station and retrieve their boss. With all of the police officers gassed into unconsciousness, it’s up to Batgirl and Robin to save the day, and they actually do pretty well. It turns into a siege with Batgirl and Robin fighting to block off every attempt the henchman make to get inside, showing off some impressive acrobatics in the fights and some quick thinking. I also like the fact that we get to see the deeper friendship between Batgirl and Robin. When she sees that Robin is actually scared of the army their about to face down, she does her best to cheer him up and even takes a moment to admit that she herself is scared. It’s sweet, pity the henchmen then bust in and ruin the moment.
Meanwhile Batman escapes in a very Batman like manner, using voice recognition to get his utility belt, which has been removed, the shock the henchmen left to guard him. Again it’s another sign of this show finally coming together as the Batman finally starts acting like Batman. In the earlier seasons the ‘kid-friendly’ aspects of this show tried to make Batman more hip and happening in the way middle-aged advertising executives think is cool. It also led to the infamous Batman eating nachos thing that sent the Internet into meltdown a while back. Happily that sort of think is dropped in later season and we get the more brooding Dark Knight we all know and love.
With Batman free it’s a race to the climax, with Batgirl and Robin having a pretty awesome mid-air battle with Black Mask as he tries to escape on a helicopter and set of the sonic bomb. Of course Batman has already deactivated the bomb by the time Black Mask hits the button and Batgirl and Robin get to bring in the big bad. Now the only question left is who’s going to wash the Batmobile.
All in all The Batman isn’t a bad series. It doesn’t have the pathos or the drama of BTAS and there are many, many times when it’s hampered by the more ‘kid-friendly’ aspects forced on it and the need to sell toys, but there are moments when it gets to shine. It can do imposing and smart villains like Black Mask, or more tragic ones like Clayface. It has things that BTAS never managed, such as us getting more of a glimpse at a Batgirl and Robin dynamic that was fun and cute and even a much better interpretation of Hugo Strange. It can also sometimes get the characters and the emotions spot on, such as the scene I mentioned before with Batgirl cheering up Robin. It’s not the greatest, sometimes it’s not even good, but if you’re wanting to check it out, either go for the Clayface episodes, ‘The Laughing Bat’ or just start at season 4 and watch from there.
Tune in next week and be prepared to face the Hammers of Justice! Are you Brave and Bold enough?
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday (usually).