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Batman - The Complete Third Season, The

Warner Bros. // Unrated // April 10, 2007
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted April 10, 2007 | E-mail the Author
"The Batman" went through plenty of growing pains for its third season. Dropped without explanation from the story was Detective Ellen Yin, who had been working toward becoming a new sidekick of sorts to the Dark Knight (actress Ming-Na had become unavailable to return to the series); in her place, we have the arrival of Batgirl, whose presence takes the series in a whole new direction.

It's something of a mini-almost-sorta reboot as a result. There's a new opening sequence, with The Edge's twangy theme song replaced by a crunchy surf-rock tune from Andy Sturmer, who also wrote the "Teen Titans" theme. That series' popularity obviously had an influence on this new season, as Batgirl's wide-eyed character design is similar to the heroes of the Cartoon Network series. In addition, the Gotham landscape is now slightly more abstract, most notably in the swirling red and purple skies above. An entire episode is designed to showcase an all-new Batmobile. Finally, season-long story arcs have been toned down, delivered on a smaller scale, with Dr. Hugo Strange's ongoing manipulations from behind the walls of Arkham Asylum not carrying the full weight of, say, the Clayface and Ellen Yin storylines of previous seasons. Even Batman's gradual acceptance of a sidekick is something of a restrained arc.

The most obvious adjustment is that Batgirl is introduced before Robin (who would not appear in the series until season four). This comes with its share of awkwardness, not because the deviation from Batman mythology (the retooling plays quite well, actually), but because Commissioner Gordon was just introduced in the series two finale. We never get a chance to settle in with him before he's thrown into the thick of things, and now here he is with a teenage daughter - a daughter whose co-star status means the Gordons now become a key part of nearly every episode. (There's also some storytelling clumsiness at hand, as Barbara tails her dad to every single police function as a means of getting her into the action more easily.) Yet the series plows ahead with the Gordons at the center and never looks back, allowing for a rather quick adjustment to the change.

The season opens on a very high note, with the excellent two-part saga, "Batgirl Begins," introducing not only our new heroine, but also Poison Ivy, revamped to be a high school pal of Barbara's; she's a young eco-terrorist who gets slimed with nasty plant-growth chemicals (so much for study hall!). Early episodes that follow manage to revisit old villains - the Penguin, Scarface, Catwoman - while offering new spins, thus keeping stories quite fresh. (An exception: "Brawn" finds the Joker buffed up on super-muscle juice, a lazy attempt to mindlessly beef up the action.) New baddies are also introduced, most memorably the cybernetic Gearhead (voiced by "Batman Beyond" himself, Will Friedle), whose race car exploits allow the show to provide some thrilling chase sequences, and Cosmo Krank (Patton Oswalt in a deliciously over-the-top turn), a flashy toymaker who winds up being the crazed bag guy the Joker should have been.

As the season progresses, the producers return to the key gimmickry of season two: mixing and matching villain teams. But unlike that year, in which the combos grew stale quickly, here they're given some promising twists. Best of these is "The Icy Depths," in which Mr. Freeze and the Penguin are not allies, but instead rivals on the hunt for missing treasure; the story, possibly inspired by "National Treasure," adds enough sharp detail to become a ripping stand-alone adventure.

It's clear that although there's a bit of stumbling in shifting from the story arcs of the first two seasons to this different direction, the series winds up better for it. The animation, while still as excellent as before, is taking some welcome chances (with the aforementioned abstract look), and the stories, while still as action-centric as before, are getting more fulfilling. The writers have found a way to take the villain-of-the-week format and work in some complexities, allowing the show to finally find its footing, establishing itself as its own branch of the Batman franchise.

The DVD

Warner Bros. collects all thirteen episodes of this season in "The Batman: The Complete Third Season." The episodes are spread over two discs, which are housed in a single-wide keep case with a hinged tray holding the second disc. Curiously, the menus still use The Edge's theme as its music.

The episodes featured on this disc are:

Disc One: "Batgirl Begins (Part One)," "Batgirl Begins (Part Two)," "A Dark Knight to Remember," "A Fistful of Felt," "RPM," "Brawn," and "The Laughing Cats."

Disc Two: "Fleurs du Mal," "Cash for Toys," "The Apprentice," "Thunder," "The Icy Depths," and "Gotham's Ultimate Criminal Mastermind."

Video & Audio

As with the previous season sets, the presentation here is sparkling, with the series' crisp animation looking as vibrant as ever. ("Brawn" proves an odd episode out, as its video is filled with occasional blurring and other motion-related animation problems.) Presented in the show's original 1.33:1 broadcast format.

The Dolby stereo soundtrack is equally impressive, although unlike the previous releases, this set offers no alternate audio tracks and no subtitles.

Extras

"The Batman: Season 3 Unmasked" is an eight-minute featurette in which the producers and voice actors talk about the various changes on display, with Batgirl understandably taking up most of the discussion.

A collection of previews for other Warner Bros. releases is also included. Thankfully, no trailers play as either disc loads.

Final Thoughts

With the third season of "The Batman," we see the show undergoing some serious improvement. It's here that the show finally figures out where it's headed and how it wants to get there, and instead of being a mere marketing ploy, the addition of Batgirl actually works to upgrade the entire series. Despite the lack of any serious bonus material, the increased quality of the episodes and a decent retail price help make this set Highly Recommended.

Related reviews

The Batman: The Complete First Season
The Batman: The Complete Second Season
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