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Batman: The Complete Series (Blu-ray + Digital), The
The Batman (premiering on The WB in 2004) finds the caped crusader just a couple of years into his career as a crime fighter in DC's Gotham City. The five-season show represents an engaging mix of aspects of the Batman mythos, from the character's first appearance in 1939 and on into the era of Christopher Nolan's cinematic take, starting with Batman Begins in 2005. Lively and brisk, both episodic and serialized, funny, often spooky, and eminently entertaining, it's an animated version of the character that should please all fans of the Dark Knight.
My relationship with Batman extends back to the '60s TV series, but doesn't include any of the animated versions that weren't on Saturday Morning TV in the '70s. So instead of saying this is the best animated Batman, or my favorite, I'll just say I really like what I see. It takes a bit of getting used to, so I can see why others may complain. Though the art is stylized, it's not slick and sleek like Batman Beyond, it's chunky and cartoon-like. It seems to draw from anime, with the women characters in particular sporting huge eyes. Bruce Wayne himself, settling in to the reality of his life as a caped crusader, looks like a palooka. He's got a broken nose, and if he weren't wearing one suit or another, you take him as a failed boxer. A couple of other noted character designs bookend the aggressively stylish motifs, with The Penguin finding the perfect balance between Burgess Meredith and Danny Devito, while The Joker looks something like the mascot for a AAA baseball team from hell.
If you can get right with those appearances, you'll find fast-paced and dynamic direction, with camera work and editing that are as punchy as any contemporary live action superhero movie. While the animation may not have a multitude of content between key-frames, it always stays well above the level of more cut-rate content, remaining fluid and engaging.
Well-past the half-way point in the series, it's clear story-arcs aren't quite as serialized as some say; there is a definite episodic slant, with something like a 'villain of the week' feel. But again, this is balanced nicely with slow-moving and subtle continuity aspects. The pair of detectives tasked with trailing the Batman early on each both have their own trajectories, while giving way to other aspects of law enforcement, Commissioner Gordon, for instance, while new sidekicks and interlopers emerge. Notable among mid-series editions is Batgirl, blessed with a contemporary attitude that provides an avatar for teen viewers, and Robin later on. So while these aspects provide throughput that keeps the series compelling, jerks like the Joker keep popping up and getting hammered down, leading to an episodic feel. This seems like a nice compromise; you can watch through in series fashion, or pop in an episode at random and garner plenty of entertainment value.
If fine, fun criminal capers and action aren't enough for your animated appetite, The Batman is packed with fine interplay between characters and great acting as well, to make it all work wonderfully. Rino Romano does wonderful work crafting each aspect of Bruce Wayne's personalities: businessman, ladies man, pseudo foster son to Alfred, and menacing vigilante. Speaking of Alfred, Alastair Duncan supplies that character with sly wit and gentle compassion. Other standouts include Tom Kenny as the aforementioned Penguin, Mitch Pileggi as Gordon, Danielle Judovits as Batgirl, and Kevin Michael Richardson especially as Joker, layering on the sass.
The Batman: The Complete Series is pretty much the complete package as far as I'm concerned. Providing a nice blend of episodic action and serial intrigue, the show sports stylishly appealing animation and character design, brisk pacing, great action, solid acting, and lots of fun. It's easily-digestible in two or three episode chunks, and looks good in this Blu-ray 6-disc collection. With a handful of extras, the set is Highly Recommended.
The Batman was originally produced in a 1.78:1 ratio, then cropped for broadcast. It's presented here in its native aspect ratio, and looks nicely cinematic in that regard. The 1080p high-definition image is OK; seemingly the simple animation style wouldn't need much to render it sharply and seamlessly. Colors are vibrant, details good, and motion is smooth. Some compression artifacts, banding, crush, and posterization may be noticeable from time-to-time for viewers with large screens, and some deficiencies in the original animation will be more apparent, but I'd term this as an overall acceptable presentation, nothing great, could have been better, but for me, not distracting.
The Batman comes swinging at you in DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio, sounding nice and spanky! Dialogue is clean and, clear, distortion-free, and mixed well with the soundtrack. A little bit of dynamic stereo separation adds dimensionality, with a nice audio range. Musical elements benefit from this range, as do both theme songs; The Edge's contribution is moody and iconic, as a superhero theme should be, though it's sunk by an ill-advised whisper at the tail end. The replacement theme by Andy Sturmer echoes the theme to Hawaii 5-0 as much as it does the original TV theme, and is not as impressive.
A smattering of extras ported over from earlier DVD releases are included, as well as one new featurette, in this 6-disc collection which comes in a slightly thicker than normal keep-case with flipper trays, and gloved in a slipcover. You get a Digital Download Code (which on the VUDU platform appears to present some episodes in a different order) and on disc one a 16-minute featurette, The Dark Dynasty Continues, providing a look back at the production.
Disc three includes an 8-minute featurette, Season 3 Unmasked and a 25-minute featurette, Joining Forces: The Batman's Legendary Team-ups. Disc four has about 25-minutes of content over four featurettes. Season 4 Unmasked,The Batman Junior Detective Challenge, a five minute trivia game that whips by of its own accord, The Batman Junior Detective Exam - Level 2 which is mostly more of the same, and Building The Batman, essentially a tarted-up toy commercial. Disc six rounds things out with Gotham PD Case Files: A 6-minute primer of The Batman villains with low-resolution series clips used for illustration, and New Look, New Direction, New Knight, a five-minute discussion of the show's production elements. Lastly, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available for all episodes.
The Batman: The Complete Series is pretty much the complete package as far as I'm concerned. Providing a nice blend of episodic action and serial intrigue, the show sports stylishly appealing animation and character design, brisk pacing, great action, solid acting, and lots of fun. It's easily digestible in two or three episode chunks, and looks good in this Blu-ray 6-disc collection. With a handful of extras, the set is Highly Recommended.