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Beware the Batman: Shadows of Gotham (Season 1, Part 1) DVD Review

Beware the Batman: Shadows of Gotham (Season 1, Part 1) DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Beware the Batman: Season One, Part One (2013-14)
Show & DVD Details

Producers: Glen Murakami, Mitch Watson / Writers: Mark Banker, Mitch Watson, Erin Maher, Kathryn Reindl, Jim Krieg, Michael Ryan, Michael Stern, John Matta, Matt Weinhold, Len Wein / Directors: Sam Liu, Rick Morales, Curt Geda

Regular Voice Cast: Anthony Ruivivar (Batman/Bruce Wayne), JB Blanc (Alfred Pennyworth), Sumalee Montano (Katana/Tatsu Yamashiro)

Recurring Characters: Kurtwood Smith (Lieutenant James Gordon), Finola Hughes (Lady Shiva), Matthew Lillard (Dr. Jason Burr), James Remar (Silver Monkey/Mr. Reese), Grey DeLisle Griffin (Magpie), Tara Strong (Barbara Gordon), Wallace Langham (Anarky), Cree Summer (Bethanie Ravencroft), Brian George (Professor Pyg), Udo Kier (Mister Toad), Jeff Bennett (Simon Stagg), Michael Leon Wooley (Tobias Whale), JB Blanc (Lunkhead, Batcomputer), Sumalee Montano (Azura), Michael Patrick McGill (Officer O'Brien)

Notable Guest Voices: Gary Anthony Williams (Michael Holt), Ian James Corlett (Joe Braxton), Carlos Alazraqui (Junkyard Dog), Arif S. Kinchen (Daedalus), Matt Jones (Humpty Dumpty/Humphrey Dumpler), Matthe Mercer (Ice Pick Joe), Adam Baldwin (Rex Mason/Metamorpho), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Sapphire Stagg), Greg Ellis (Phosphorous Rex), James Arnold Taylor (William Benjamin), Dee Bradley Baker (Mutant Ninjas 1 & 2), Beth Tapper (Jocelyn Kilroy), Brian George (Liam Taylor), Gary Sturgis (Prison Guard), Anthony Ruvivar (Thomas Wayne), Abraham Benrubi (Street Thug #2), Jason Marsden (Young Bruce Wayne), Paul Nakauchi (Edogawa), Lance Reddick (Ra's Al Ghul)

Running Time: 285 Minutes (13 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-PG on air)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, French, Portuguese, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French;
Not Closed Captioned; Some Extras Subtitled in English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Season 1 Airdates: July 13, 2013 - October 5, 2013 (2 Episodes Not Yet Aired)
DVD Release Date: February 18, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.97
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray ($21.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

Buy Beware the Batman: Shadows of Gotham from Amazon.com: DVD Blu-ray Instant Video

Obviously, Batman is an evergreen property for DC Entertainment. He was before Christopher Nolan's films left an indelible mark on superhero cinema and he continues to be now that the blockbuster trilogy has concluded.
For a long time now, no other personality in the DC canon, not even Superman, has been as big a draw for the comic book giant. While the next chapter for the franchise -- a Batman/Superman crossover scheduled for May 2016 -- has DC, Warner Bros. and moviegoers more excited than any other Hollywood project in the works, the movies continue to be just one piece of a multimedia presence.

"Batman: The Animated Series" was around when Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher were directing the Caped Crusader's much-anticipated theatrical outings. "Batman Beyond" kept the character alive after Batman & Robin did in the film franchise. Now, though Christian Bale has moved on to other things, there is "Beware the Batman" occupying the airwaves at Cartoon Network.

Actually, "Beware" has been missing from Cartoon Network's schedule since October, after airing eleven of its thirteen Season One episodes ordered. The shelved two and the broadcast eleven all hit DVD (and, exclusively through Warner Archive and Amazon, Blu-ray) this week from Warner Home Video in a release subtitled Shadows of Gotham and also Season 1, Part 1.

Step aside, Robin. Batman has a new sidekick by the name of Katana (Bruce Wayne's driver Tatsu Yamashiro) in "Beware the Batman."

"Beware" makes no attempt to fit into the Nolan trilogy chronologically or even to be consistent in its depictions. Batman/Bruce Wayne himself (voiced by "Third Watch", Starship Troopers actor Anthony Ruivivar) is quite possibly the only character many will recognize here. There's his butler Alfred (JB Blanc), but he's introduced as a badass protector, one Jason Statham would have to shave his head to play.
Skeptical police contact Lieutenant Gordon (Kurtwood Smith) is a dead ringer for Spider-Man's J. Jonah Jameson, down to the two-toned flattop. More prominent an aid to Batman is Tatsu Yamashiro (Sumalee Montano), Alfred's Japanese goddaughter who's hired as Wayne's driver and bodyguard before quickly emerging as Batman's formidable sidekick. (You may know her better by her alter ego, Katana.)

Most episodes introduce a new villain or two, which it pulls from deep within the comic book canon that celebrates its 75th anniversary this coming May. These antagonists prove to be not just unfamiliar but quite weird. The most iconic rogues -- Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman -- are nowhere to be found.

"Beware the Batman" offers an atmospheric and suitably cinematic presentation that differs from Nolan's vision but is closer to them than to the camp that Batman's best-known television series, the 1960s live-action one, offered. Though Cartoon Network's programming tends to be kid-friendly, this show does not fit that label to a T. The TV-PG rating it carried, unusual for a Saturday morning cartoon, reflects recurring violence, some scantily-clad curvy women, and very little humor. It's presumably a step down from DC's ongoing stream of PG-13 direct-to-video movies, but it'd be a stretch to call this "all ages" fare. It doesn't seem we can cite the content for the puzzling schedule pull, though, as the DC Nation block continues to run the TV-PG "Teen Titans Go!" and follow it with the similarly rated "Uncle Grandpa."

"Beware" runs with stylized, angular designs. The show's computer animation, the work of India's Xentrix Studios, has the quality of a video game much of the time. Backgrounds are often barren, while character movement tends to be clunky. Television animation is historically limited, having to be produced reasonably quickly and in a cost-effective manner. But, as in the big screen variety, the medium has been making steady technical improvements, which renders these visuals a little disappointing, considering the higher budget and built-in audience that Batman's brand awareness should give him.

While "Beware the Batman" remains in active production yet still absent from the airwaves and upcoming schedule (a subject on which Cartoon Network remains strangely mum), this two-disc DVD hit stores on Tuesday.

Watch a clip from "Beware the Batman":

In the first episode of "Beware the Batman", Professor Pyg and Mister Toad set the tone for weird villains to flourish. Endangered inventor Dr. Jason Burr is happy to have the protection of Tatsu Yamashiro.

Disc 1

1. Hunted (21:56) (Originally aired July 13, 2013) On behalf of animalkind, Professor Pyg and Mister Toad abduct billionaire industrialist Simon Stagg to teach humanity a lesson and get to Batman.

2. Secrets (21:57) (Originally aired July 20, 2013)
Alfred reveals his personal connection to newly-hired driver/bodyguard Tatsu Yamashiro. Batman looks into Magpie, a thief who eludes him.

3. Tests (21:56) (Originally aired July 27, 2013)
Anarky befriends renegade artists Daedalus and Junkyard Dog to do his bidding. A not yet trusted Tatsu tries to crack Bruce Wayne's secret.

4. Safe (21:57) (Originally aired August 3, 2013)
Tatsu is assigned to protect Dr. Burr, the inventor of the revolutionary Ion Cortex who's been targeted by the League of Assassins.

We wind up with a Beauty and the Beast scenario when poison gas turns Simon Stagg's daughter's boyfriend into the monstrous Metamorpho. Despite the mask, the League of Assassins isn't monkeying around with Bruce Wayne.

5. Broken (21:58) (Originally aired August 10, 2013)
Explosive nutcracker statues with men inside them turn up around Gotham City, a phenomenon Batman is able to link to a disgraced criminal.

6. Toxic (21:58) (Originally aired August 17, 2013)
Exposed to experimental gas, a Simon Stagg security guard, who's also his daughter's boyfriend, turns into Metamorpho.

7. Family (21:58) (Originally aired September 7, 2013)
The League of Assassins gets to Batman and Tatsu through the therapist Bruce is seeing.

Magpie is out of jail and in the mood for some Batman in the thus-unaired "Attraction." A young and not too bald Alfred Pennyworth consoles young master Bruce Wayne in one of "Fall"'s flashbacks.

Disc 2

8. Allies (21:57) (Originally aired September 14, 2013)
The henchmen of incarcerated criminal Tobias Whale abduct Lt. Gordon's daughter Barbara, prompting Batman and the newly-rebranded Katana to try to rescue her.

9. Control (21:58) (Originally aired September 21, 2013)
A mind-hijacking device from something called Cypher targets Tatsu and endangered inventor Dr. Burr.

10. Sacrifice (21:58) (Originally aired September 28, 2013)
Anarky frames Batman for theft and tries to lead him into a trap.

11. Instinct (21:59) (Originally aired October 5, 2013)
Pyg and Toad return with a vengeance and their sights set on the fashionable.

12. Attraction (21:58) (Not yet aired)
Infatuated with Batman, Magpie escapes from prison and tries to eliminate Katana, whom she perceives as a threat.

13. Fall (21:56) (Not yet aired)
Dr. Burr surprises Batman by teaming up with the League of Assassins and handing over his Ion Cortex to them in this flashback-heavy episode.

This isn't your Grandpa's Batman, or even your older brother's. Bruce Wayne is aided by his new bodyguard/driver Tatsu Yamashiro and his muscular bald butler Alfred Pennyworth in "Beware the Batman."

VIDEO and AUDIO

Having already discussed the look and animation of the series above, there isn't much left to say about the DVD presentation. Clearly derived directly from the digital source, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is subject to the limitations of standard definition but otherwise void of any problems. Generally dark (it's apparently always night in Gotham) and tinged with blue-green, the visuals aren't dazzling but they're up to today's standards for television animation. Keeping compression reasonable, this DVD doesn't at all falter in presenting them.

Despite what the packaging says, the English soundtrack is in plain Dolby Surround 2.0, not Dolby Digital 5.1. That's kind of a bummer since one assumes the series was mixed for the full 5.1 channels, as most new shows are. Still, the simpler audio does a fine job of balancing elements and placing you somewhat in the middle of the action.

The cover art gets reformatted to serve as the main menu of each disc. You could have made a more interesting episodes menu with a few minutes on your computer.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The only bonus feature included here are trailers for other Warner-distributed properties. Disc One opens with trailers for Justice League War and "Teen Titans Go!": Season 1.
Its trailers page holds additional previews for Scooby-Doo! Wrestlemania Mystery, The LEGO Movie, LEGO Legends of Chima: Laval's Journey video game, and LEGO Legends of Chima: The Lion, The Crocodile and the Power of CHI.

There are no inserts within the unslipcovered, swinging tray-wielding eco-friendly keepcase, leaving episode titles to be printed on the back cover.

Most notable among the static menus are the main screen, which recycles the cover art and loops the Dum Dum Girls' 20-second theme song. The other screens are just as simple, silent, and undecorated as most of Warner's DVD menus these days. Episodes are divided into a fitting number of chapter stops.

Beware the Batman who rides a moving train.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Beware the Batman" offers a distinctive and fairly enjoyable take on the legendary superhero.
Batman T-Shirts! Batman Gear
It's a bit dark and violent for kids and yet still a tad Saturday morningy for adults, but there is an obvious audience for this and one concerned for the series' hazy future.

With no bonus features and a 2.0 soundtrack instead of the 5.1 soundtrack advertised, Warner's DVD disappoints somewhat, but it's reasonably priced and currently the only way to see a couple of these episodes and possibly the easiest way to legally revisit the rest. While interested parties should find this worth a look, I'm not sure they'll come back for seconds or make future broadcasts part of their television habits.

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Reviewed February 20, 2014.



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