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The Batman
The Bat in the Belfry
Original airdate 9/11/04

In 1989 director Tim Burton and actor Michael Keaton took movie theaters by storm with the first big screen adaptation of the dark knight, Batman. Due to the box office success of the film, Fox gave Bruce Timm and his team a half hour slot on Sunday night primetime for a Batman animated series.

While the show wasn't a hit in primetime, it flourished in a more traditional time slot befitting an animated show. Initially running three years, the show was retooled as The Adventures of Batman & Robin and Batman: Gotham Knights. Different titles, same quality. Its creators continued to expand that universe with shows like Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited as well as Batman direct to video movies.

The quality of their work has been recognized and embraced time and again by fans. The writing has always been top notch, the action explosive and the voice talent represents the best in the business.

Now in 2004 a new team looks to reboot the Batman animated franchise with a new series and all new talent. The first episode aired last Saturday and spent most of the time setting the stage.

Bruce Wayne has been Batman for three years. He's still in his mid twenties and isn't as dark or brooding he's typically portrayed. News reports tell us that crime has dropped significantly since Batman's first reported appearance but no one has yet been able to confirm Batman's existence.

Bruce Wayne juggles his playboy lifestyle and crime fighting hobby with the help of his butler Alfred and an electronic device I've taken to calling the Bat-Palm Pilot.

Batman mainstay Commissioner Gordon is nowhere to be found this time around. Instead, a young detective named Ethan Bennett has been put in charge of hunting down Batman and he has a new partner named Ellen Yin who recently transferred to Gotham from Metropolis.

Batman and the detectives have their first encounter when alarms sound off at Arkham Asylum. An ape-like Rastafarian clown named The Joker has let prisoners out in an effort to draw Batman's attention. This is presumably the first encounter Batman has had with the Joker during his three years in action and may be the first encounter he's had with a costumed villain.

The debut show is good, although fans of Bruce Timm's animated series will spend the half an hour noticing the differences. The Batman is obviously a repackaged Batman for a younger audience, similar to last year's Spiderman on MTV. Bruce Wayne is much younger and not as gruff as we are used to seeing him. He's more like the totally awesome older brother you always wanted that drives a rocket powered car.

Even though they specifically say Bruce has been Batman for three years, it feels more like year one. He's never met the Joker, doesn't have a sidekick named Robin, and Bruce is too fresh-faced to have been fighting crime for three years. Even after we find out that Detective Ethan and Bruce are old friends, they have a conversation about Batman that you would think they would have had when Batman first appeared.

The show looks great. The animations have a slightly more Japanese look to them without taking it too far. Batman looks cool and the fight scenes are all well done. For some reason the sky in Gotham is always bright green or red and I really don't like the Joker's hair style or wardrobe, but those details are minor. If I can get used to the animation on Teen Titans, this show will be a breeze.

Kevin Conroy will always be the voice of Batman in my head, and that is probably the biggest hurdle the new show faces. Rino Romano does a fine job and fits the bill as a less guttural Batman, but it's like drinking a Pepsi when you're a hardcore Coke fan.

Surprisingly, I have no problems with Kevin Michael Richardson, who voices the Joker. His tone is richer than Mark Hamill who voiced the Joker with more of a high pitched cackle you wouldn't think he was capable of making. Richardson's Joker might sound sane if he were a telemarketer and not jumping out of a giant jack in the box.

The Batman does have an impressive line up of stars on hand to lend voices to future villains.

Dan Castellaneta - Scarface
Clancy Brown - Mr. Freeze
Joaquim de Almeida - Bane
Robert Englund - The Riddler
Gina Gershon - Catwoman
Frank Gorshin - Hugo Strange
Tom Kenny - The Penguin
Ron Perlman - Killer Croc
Adam West - Mayor Grange

It's hard to compare this show to Batman: The Animated Series, but it's also hard not to. Obviously the show isn't as good as its predecessor, but I've only seen the first episode and Bruce Timm has had 12 years to win my heart. On the other hand, if this were the first time I'd seen a Batman show, I'd be totally hooked.

A better comparison would be to match it up versus MTV's Spiderman. That show sucked from the beginning and only got marginally better. It never took the time to establish its continuity so I was constantly trying to figure out where and how everything fit. The Batman accomplished that goal in its first episode as well as showed me that the team working on it has its head straight about Batman, Gotham and the rest of Bruce Wayne's world.

The Batman airs regularly on Saturday mornings on Kids WB and comes with the strongest recommendation we can give it for you to check it out.

Michael Goodson


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