The first Batman show to follow Batman: The Animated Series was The Batman, and it was not met with a warm reception. Between the character designs (Jeff Matsuda from The Jackie Chan Adventures brought a big influence to the show) and the effects of the Bat-Embargo (this show got to use all the Batman villains except for any to be used in the Christopher Nolan movies for a while, meaning Justice League Unlimited went very much without) and then just being something different and new to something that was so beloved it met some harsh criticism and really had to earn praise, which started to come a little by the end of season one but wasn’t fully achieved until the end of the series.
I’m going to look at one episode from each season today.
The Big Chill (by Greg Weisman)
I skipped past the Joker, Bane, Penguin and Man-Bat reinventions, which were generally more visual than character-related, to the reintroduction of Mr. Freeze, who was probably the most drastically adapted. It’s worth noting the look, which is an average-sized guy enclosed in ice and a suit to add to his bulk. Clancy Brown provides the voice, a sibilant, breathy rasp as if whispering through mist, with lots of puns too.
This Mr. Freeze is a thief as well instead of a scientist who went through a terrible accident, so he’s just mean where the BTAS Freeze was callous and embittered to hide his personal devastation. This show’s Batman as well is younger, a little bit cooler, although the “suit-up” scenes and mechanical-sounding Batwave are very dated now, still an after-effect of the Pokemon/Digimon generation. The transformation from bank robber Victor Fries to mutated and “unliving” Mr. Freeze does make good use of that detail on the micro-level, going inside his bloodstream and showing his accidental transformation, which results in his hair falling out and his eyes turning red.
The Batman also made use of a supporting cast for conflict too. Alfred is the stalwart confidante, and friend Ethan Bennett, a detective on the Gotham City Police Department, is a friend of Bruce’s, constantly against partner Ellen Yin’s vendetta against the Batman. The end of the season would resolve this in one respect and make it worse in another.
A forced flashback to the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne is also used to artificially resolve a bout with self-doubt that lasts about two minutes and Freeze’s cold references wear out their welcome by the time he’s got to “Baby, it’s cold outside!”, but Batman in a coldproof suit allows for a more even battle and doubtless there was a toy to go with it.
Riddled (by Christopher Yost and J.D. Murray)
The Riddler debuts, played by Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund and looking like Marilyn Manson on steroids, with long black hair, lipstick and bandit mask, with a costume that goes down the arm like a tattoo. I like Englund and I like the look, but neither matched. They really needed someone younger and trying to be edgy and dark.
Detective Yin, who is now more sympathetic to the Batman, is trapped in a battle of wits with the Riddler and has to hotfoot it round Gotham to avoid him bombing the city. Ineffectual Chief Rojas, an incompetent boss replacing Jim Gordon until they finally brought him in, is around to fuck it up as much as he can by not playing ball, while Batman lurks in the background to provide help.
The writing really lets this episode down, especially when it comes to the depiction of the Riddler. Bad lines, poor character quirks. They had a chance to do something different and only got half pregnant with it.
Before it changed in season three I’ll mention that the Edge from U2 provided the original theme tune for the show and influenced the score with lots of guitar riffing throughout, which gives it a pretty trademark sound.
A Fistful of Felt (by Steven Melching)
In this episode we’ve got this show’s version of Scarface and the Ventriloquist. Ventriloquist is fine, the same pudgy, unassuming guy he always is, and Dan Castellaneta is a cool bit of casting, but they try too hard with Scarface, giving him a shaved head and big hoop earrings.
Dr. Hugo Strange, who in this show is an obese guy played by Frank Gorshin, feigns rehabilitating the Arkham inmates, including separating Wesker and Scarface and changing Wesker’s point of fixation to a new puppet called Snoots that he uses to entertain children with. Batman can’t believe it, and things come up to make it seem unlikely too. It’s a really good mystery thriller, with Wesker as sympathetic as ever and never seemingly able to restore normality. Scarface even gets to quote Michael Corleone!
Adam West is in the show now as Mayor Marion Grange, and although they don’t appear in this episode, Mitch Pileggi has joined as Commissioner Gordon and Danielle Judovits plays Batgirl, who appears before Robin as the Bat-Embargo also stretched to Teen Titans for a while.
Also, as we’re into season three, the theme tune has changed now, so we get something that sounds like the previous one combined with a rock version of the sixties theme tune. It’s… different. Not sure it matches the show, though.
The Everywhere Man (by Greg Weisman)
There was a great reaction at SDCC the year that The Batman season four was previewed as it was revealed that characters debuting in the show would include Black Mask, Harley Quinn, a different Clayface, Killer Moth, plus, at last, Robin. A new character was introduced as well called the Everywhere Man. Of interest was that he was being played by Brandon Routh not long after Superman Returns. Another Superman connection is guest star Allison Mack from Smallville, drawn pretty much as she looked in real life, long before she was involved in some sinister stuff.
The Everywhere Man’s gimmick is the ability to appear anywhere and disappear. Good gimmick, lame costume, with it being divided vertically into three thirds, the middle white and the sides orange with a big ‘e’ on the face and chest. The main plot revolves around who it is and how they do it, with a suspect presented early on, discarded, then looked at again. Not a bad episode, but feels more like an average Batman Beyond show.
Ring Toss (by Len Uhley)
The end of season four introduced the Martian Manhunter and an alien introduction as a way to subsequently introduce the Justice League of America. This episode, as you’d guess from the title, features Green Lantern and his archenemy Sinestro.
It’s Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern in this show, admired by Robin. Sinestro looks more like the Leader or Hector Hammond with the size of his head and forehead, but the late Miguel Ferrer is cooler as the voice actor for him than Dermot Mulroney is for GL. The Penguin ends up getting the Green Lantern ring and the powers that go with it temporarily in an inadvertent retread of The Case of the Stolen Powers. It’s not a typical villain team-up, much like the aforementioned episode, with Sinestro considering Cobblepot massively beneath him. Batman gets to don the ring himself, although a missed opportunity is not giving him a matching outfit.
Conclusion: I just wanted to look at a few average The Batman episodes, which I’ve not watched in years, and ended up finding it a very average show. There were better episodes within the various seasons, but it takes time to draw them out and they’re not as obvious as in Batman: The Animated Series. That’s pretty much the legacy of the show, not as good as…
I might look at a few more episodes if there’s interest, but The Brave and the Bold is the go-to now.