Friday, February 08, 2008

Batman Beyond

I never watched this cartoon when it originally aired and it's next in line of the Bruce Timm animation collection, so I popped it in and was pleasantly surprised. I've only watched disk one of the first season but I'm thoroughly impressed so far. I guess when you don't hold onto any expectations it is much easier to be impressed or let down, but still, it's good stuff.

It works for me because they keep the core that made the animated Batman and Superman stories so good. They focus on simple capers and well told stories rather than recreate point for point the comic books. Whereas the Batman and Superman cartoons would plunder the characters' deep histories for stories to retell, that gets left behind so far in this series. It's sort of freeing in that way I suppose in that telling Batman of the future stories you don't have the mythos to rely on and the writers get to stretch their own minds for a bit. There are still some homages for the long time fans such as Bruce Wayne's dog Ace, and the Oracle face showing up in advertisements, which are fun to spot but not occuring often enough to be distracting.

The villains tend to be riffs on Batman's rogue gallery but not too sexed up as to feel hacked out. I think the aesthetics of the Bruce Timm style go a long way to help that. There's Inque who is kind of like Clayface mixed with the Shadow Thief and that Bic pen mascot, as well as some classic Bat-foes like Mr. Freeze and the Royal Flush Gang. The classic villains, even if appearing for the first time, are all managed in a way that makes sense. Plus, there is crusty old Bruce Wayne who is a great character idea and would be better used if he did more than tell the new Batman to "get out of there!"

At first I thought the music and the sort of now outdated computer animation would be distracting but they lend a certain charm to the place. Whereas the original animated series was sort of like Batman crossed with Chinatown, this is like Batman crossed with Blade Runner. The original series felt more retro-sci-fi-noir, this series is very much futureshock-sci-fi-noir. The simplification of the colours and the experimental use of shadows and colour on the characters really help move this series into something familiar but different territory. The visual cues remind you of the setting that needs to be foriegn to the viewers but with enough visual pop as to keep you engaged. I think it works, if not only for the advances in the animation itself that help give the characters more fluid and quick movement onscreen.

Like the other series, it can stumble into goofball territory, but in the end I like the freedom of the series. It shouldn't work because of the changes they made but in the end it works precisely because those changes are really just minor tweaks. There is a hook and point of familiarity for the audience but the rest is more or less all new. And really, how many dystopian sci-fi cartoons are there?

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