After years of doing practically the same thing with the various Batman media incarnations recycling the same villains and plots time after time, Beware the Batman: Shadows of Gotham immediately from the start sets out to try something different with pumping some new life into the Batman franchise by introducing a slick new style of animation, focusing on Batman's lesser known villains (some of which are one off villains in the comics), giving us a new take on a beloved character, and offering us an alternative to Robin in the form of a new sidekick. How does this slight reinvention of the Batman franchise hold up to past series'?
The Batman/Bruce Wayne we're introduced to in Beware the Batman is a bit different of a take than we're used to. Here he is in his earlier days as the caped crusader with a bit more arrogance and a touch of an inexperienced edge. Despite his brashness, Bruce is shown to be a brilliant detective, an excellent fighter, and a great strategist. He's semi new to being a vigilante, so he's not completely untouchable like he typically is in other media, we get to see a bit more of a vulnerable side.
Aided by his his butler/semi-bodyguard, Alfred, who is re-imagined as a retired MI-6 operative, whom is dealing with being unable to go out into the field. Due to this, Alfred takes it upon himself to seek out a sidekick/partner for Bruce. He quickly decides upon a young woman named Tatsu Yamashiro, or better known to some as Katana. Tatsu was formally undercover as a member of the League of Assassins to stop them from succeeding in an evil plot. The plot is the same as always in Batman, Together with Tatsu and occasionally with Alfred, Bruce sets out to stop the numerous villains appearing throughout Gotham City.
In these first 13 episodes of the series the series stays primarily episodic throughout with a new bad guy coming in each week for Batman to face with two story lines connecting each episode. In the first 6-7 episodes of the set, the main recurring storyline for the series is the picking of Batman's sidekick, Katana, and her training to see if she's fit to do so. The real meat of the story is in the second half of the set where Tatsu/Katana and Batman track down the League of Assassins from clues they picked up throughout the first half of the series. While all of this happens, Bruce must also evade a city wide manhunt, led by (not yet allied) Jim Gordon.
One thing I really loved about Beware the Batman was the writing for the series. While clearly a show marketed for kids, the series has the writing aimed at an adult audience. The series is packed with depth and emotion with a story you have to pay attention to.
I should note that there are three things fans might take a problem with when it comes to this show. Number one... If you're buying this expecting to see Batman taking on any of his classic enemies like The Joker, Two Face, Scarecrow, The Riddler, Black Mask, Clayface, Bane etc. and you MUST see these characters, then move on past this show, You will be sorely disappointed. Outside of a two minute cameo in the closing minutes of the set from Ra's Al Ghul, Beware the Batman instead chooses to focus on some of Batman's lesser known villains like Anarky, who thus far is the series' main antagonist, Magpie, Lady Shiva, Silver Monkey, Professor Pyg, and Phosphorus Rex.
The second thing that might turn Batman fans off to the show is the computer generated animation in a CGI format. If you're an older fan it might take a bit to get used to, but once you do then you'll enjoy the style.
Lastly, the third problem is more of a warning to those considering purchasing this box set. Before purchasing, you should be warned that due to low viewership, Cartoon Network somewhat unexpectedly pulled the plug on the show instead of running the full 26 episodes. Due to this, the back half of the series may never see a release in the U.S. despite the series currently airing in different countries.
+ Lesser known villains from the Batman villain gallery are expanded and focused on. It's a decision I'm sure a lot would disagree with, that I personally felt was great.
+ Nicely told episodic stories that end up being weaved into the overall storyline.
+ Katana is a terrific sidekick to Batman.
+ Marketed toward a younger audience but is written for adults in mind.
+ A fleshed out cast of characters who get a lot of development throughout these first 13 episodes.
- Instead of being it's own series, at times it tries a bit too hard to recreate the magic of the much loved Batman: The Animated Series. It operates the same on nearly every single level.
- Cancelled way before it's time.
Video and Audio
For the older audience I think that one of the biggest problem some will have with this show is the computer generated animation. It's a little hard to get used to, but once you do, you will find yourself enjoying the style. These 13 episodes feature mostly a dark setting (due to who the series focuses on), but when it uses it's color palette to it's advantage, the series can be quite gorgeous.
For Audio we have 5.1 Dolby Digital stereo track and for the most part it is solid throughout with no audio dropouts or distortions. The cast is great across the board with the standout being Anthony Ruiviar, who takes up the mantle of Bruce Wayne/Batman. The definitive Batman for me will always be Kevin Conroy, but Anthony does a terrific job.
- There are no extras present at all for this first set of episodes.
Despite having a rough start where you have to get used to the show, Beware the Batman turns out to be an addicting, fast paced and action packed show that surprisingly has well developed storylines, and characters that have a lot of depth. Beware the Batman tries something totally new with a classic franchise and the end result should appeal to a broad audience. The only problem that I really had with it was the fact that it ends on a massive cliffhanger and we might not get a part two. With that said, Beware the Batman: Shadows of Gotham - Part One is recommended.