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RELEASES - BLU-RAY & DVD - SEASON ONE, PART ONE: SHADOWS OF GOTHAM

Beware The Batman
Season One, Part One: Shadows of Gotham

Studio: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Warner Archive
Street Date: February 18th, 2014
Closed Captioning: Yes
Run Time: 286 minutes

Episodes:
Hunted, Secrets, Tests, Safe, Broken, Toxic, Families, Allies, Control, Sacrifice, Instinct, Attraction, Fall

Synopsis: All-new adventures against vicious villains! Another night falls in Gotham City and the ever-vigilant Dark Knight watches over his city and its citizens. With the help of his ex-secret agent butler, Alfred, and sword-wielding assassin Katana, the Batman wages a tireless war against Gotham’s twisted criminal underworld. Buckle up for 13 all-new adventures from the first season, and ride along as Batman battles the evil machinations of Professor Pyg, Magpie, Mister Toad and criminal mastermind Anarky. It’s a crime-fighting collection of hidden clues, cool tech and detective thrills as Batman prowls in the shadows, ready to deliver action-packed excitement and justice!

Package and Menu Screens

Review
By James Harvey

Beware The Batman returns the Caped Crusader to his gritty roots and throws in a few neat twists to make this show one of the more unique animated takes on the renowned superhero. After the welcome wacky diversion of Batman: The Brave and The Bold - yet another fantastic cartoon series starring DC Comics' top dog - it's actually welcoming to see a more serious animated take on Batman. And, as the first thirteen episodes play out on the new Beware The Batman: Season One, Part One: Shadows of Gotham home video collection, the possibility at just how impressively ambitious this series could be comes to light.

Beware the Batman brings us back to the earlier years of our big-eared hero's career. Batman (perfectly voiced by Anthony Ruivivar) doesn't quite have the pants-wetting rep with Gotham's underworld yet, but we see his notoriety slowly grow from episode to episode. He's a bit rough around the edges, true, but still a force to be reckoned with. One of the major changes Beware The Batman makes right away is the introduction of a new crime-fighting partner in Katana (voiced by Sumalee Montano), obviously meant to be a precursor to the inevitable underlings of Robin and Batgirl. While they clash at first, she soon proves to be a perfect addition to Bruce Wayne's nocturnal crime-fighting adventures. Batman's relationship with Alfred is changed as well, and definitely for the better. The reliable butler is now also a bodyguard to Wayne and can hold his own alongside the Dark Knight (which we get to see in more than a few awesome fight sequences). Voiced by J.B. Blanc, he brings an unbelievable amount of gruffness, compassion, and experience to this rough-and-tumble version of Mr. Pennyworth.

It's safe to say the producing team of Glen Murikami, Mitch Watson, and Sam Register have successfully pulled off the first Batman CG-animated series. Any worries you may have about this team tackling this series can be forgotten - they pretty much nail it from the very first episode. And, like nearly every Batman animated series that proceeded it, it was mercilessly lambasted by fans before a single episode has even aired, so it's obviously doing something right. I'm pretty surprised at how well Batman translates to CG. The flow of the fight scenes, the gadgetry, it all nicely finds a home in the computer-generated world of Gotham. I may look a bit rough and awkward at first, but things really do smooth out by the latter episodes.

Admittedly, Beware The Batman does take a little bit to get used to - the plastic-looking costume, the CG animation, even the character designs. But by the time the first episode wrapped up and I got my first taste of what this show had to offer - with an ongoing serial format akin to the late, great Green Lantern: The Animated Series or the under-appreciated Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated - I was ready for the second episode. And the third episode, and fourth, and so on. This show just hooked me right in. While it may take time to grow on some people, especially those who are resistant to change or have an aversion to CG animation, Beware The Batman is a great addition to the DC Comics animation library. In just thirteen episodes this series has accomplished far more than other superhero shows with three times that, and I am anxious to see where the next thirteen episodes will go. The creative team has obviously planned this series out in great detail, and I like what I'm seeing.

The show assumes the viewer already knows Batman and his modus operandi. He's Bruce Wayne, orphaned son fighting crime in a hopeless city. But, just a few moments in, the slight twists to the mythology already start to sneak in. Alfred is very active in Bruce's training regiments, going so far to pose as a burglar to keep him on his toes. Batman also quickly takes in a new bodyguard/sidekick with Katana, a former protege of Alfred and MI6 agent who's lethal with a sword and a very capable combatant. And the criminals Batman finds himself fighting in this series - Professor Pyg, Mr. Toad, Magpie, Cypher, and Lady Shiva to name a few - are purposefully nowhere near the usual super-villain standard our hero usually engages with. The 90s villain Anarky is given a radical makeover, remade as Batman's ideological opposite and it actually works, even if he resembles little of his comic book counterpart. It's these little changes, which resonate much more than one would expect, that freshen up what's actually a very intimate, detailed, and unique telling of the Dark Knight mythos. It gives Beware The Batman the opportunity to establish itself as its own thing among the other Batman cartoons. There is however one big-name bad-guy in the mix that makes quite an impact when he appears, but I'll avoid naming him to avoid potential spoilers.

I find Beware The Batman also has something that most other cartoon series don't have - a sense of unpredictability. With the lesser-known villains, the interesting supporting cast, and the slight changes to the mythos here and there, there seems to be an actual air of danger to the show. That something major could happen at any moment (and, actually, episode #13 "Fall" ends on a gutsy, jaw-dropping cliffhanger). We know our heroes are safe, but that doesn't mean they'll emerge from an episode unharmed.

There even seems to be a very specific purpose for the main cast. Katana and the more rugged take on Alfred are actually key to the show's ongoing narrative. We even get a glimpse of Alfred in action as a younger agent, with the consequences of some of his early work coming back to haunt him. It's interesting how embracing something the comics only occasionally focused on, like Alfred's MI-6 past, can make this beloved character here in Beware The Batman seem so new and fresh. This take on Batman definitely has a bit of the "Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight" influence in there, mixed in with the classic Batman from the 1970s/early 1980s, and perhaps some of the current "The New 52" version. Actually, this is arguably a more serious take on Batman than what we got in Batman: The Animated Series and the DC Animated Universe continuity.

If I was to compare Beware The Batman to any era of the Dark Knight's history, I'd have to say it most resembles the 1970s/80s era of Batman comics. The tone of the series reminds me of the Dennis O'Neil, Neal Adams, Steve Englehart, and Gene Colan stories of that time - stark and gritty crime tales with a touch of high-flying adventure. It seems pretty appropriate given the proceeding 1960s era of zany Batman comic, and how the similarly zany animated Batman: The Brave and The Bold proceeded this new Batman cartoon.

Like with any new series, there are a couple drawbacks. The CG can be a bit stiff at times, the designs sometimes sparse and the streets empty, but it seems no different than most other CG-animated shows on television today. And besides, the empty city streets and occasional weak bits of animation are no different than the complaints most would lob at a regular 2D-animated series. It seems like there was a lot of pre-judging on show based soley on the CG animation and, personally, I think it's unwarranted. This show really looks excellent, in terms of design work, animation and overall execution. And much like the animation, there are a few weak bits of writing here and there, but nothing major or detrimental to the series. The series is so strong than any issues that pop up - be it with the animation, writing, or obvious neutering of the on-screen action - are hardly noticeable or annoying.

And while there is the occasional hiccup with the CG animation, it also brings a wealth of benefit to the show. The CG animation allows for a host of visual tricks with Batman and his dark motif, allowing for new visual tricks when it comes to our hero slipping in and out of dark shadows. Batman's costume design is also very unique to this series, and could likely only be pulled off as effectively as it is here than in 2D. The sheen of the costume and the weight of the cape wouldn't work in regular 2D animation. The camera gets quite the workout in Beware The Batman as well, with the CG animation offering up a host of new possibilities when it comes to movement and choreography. The action sequences are quick and sleek, moving swiftly and making a quite an impact. They land fast, and land hard.

Personally, and this might be a weird thing to compliment on, but I found the show's technology designs to be really interesting. Everything has a classic, retro feel to it, but it also has a modern twist. Look at the Batcomputer keyboard, for example. The keys themselves look like old-fashioned typewriter keys, but they're modernized with a glowing LCD hue. Ditto with the huge dials and gauge readers. And, naturally, the screens are holographic. Look around the Batmobile's cockpit. Covered in old-fashioned looking tech with a modern tweak to it. It's as if technology paused sometime after the 1950s and then restarted just over the last couple of years. It's just an interesting design choice that the creative team deserves a nod for.

Turning to the Beware The Batman - Season One, Part One: Shadows of Gotham home video release, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has released the first thirteen episodes as both a two-disc DVD collection and a single-disc Blu-ray release (available only through Warner Archive). The two-disc DVD releases features a solid standard definition release with great audio. The menus are the standard awful default design, which seem to plague nearly every animation release from WBHE, with a handful of trailers listed as the sole extras. It's a suitable DVD release that's worthy for pick-up if you are unable to get the superior Blu-ray release. The Blu-ray release from Warner Archive, WBHE's manufacture-on-demand label, is fantastic. The video quality is sharp and crystal clear, with only the odd bit of color banding. The sound is robust and clear, though a shade lacking since it's a standard 2.0 Dolby Digital track. The Blu-ray release includes no bonus features, but, honestly, the simplicity of the release actually works greatly in its favor. There are no trailers to sit through, no ads, the disc just gets right to the main menu after the usual warning screens. If you picked up the Batman: The Brave and The Bold: The Complete First Season Blu-ray release from Warner Archive, you know exactly what to expect.

Beware The Batman - Season One, Part One: Shadows of Gotham is a home video release worth searching out for all Bat-fans - it even includes two episodes of Beware The Batman that have yet to be broadcast! Featuring great serial storytelling, compelling characters and a fantastic narrative, Beware The Batman is another fine addition to the animated Batman library. By bringing a fresh spin to the well-known story of Batman, the creative team behind Beware The Batman have created something unique, addictive, and pretty damn exciting. Just wait until you get to that cliffhanger on the thirteenth episode...

Media

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