What Went Wrong: Beware the Batman
Why did this uniquely new take on the Caped Crusader fail?
So the Cartoon Network pulled Beware the Batman from its schedule. On one hand, this move feels like it came out of nowhere. It was a solid series that was getting better and gaining respect with each new episode. But how surprising can this network decision be when the show was struggling in ratings (behind both Teen Titans GO! and the previous Batman series, Batman: Brave and the Bold) and not doing the primary thing cartoons these days are supposed to do: sell toys.
It’s a tough reality. There have been countless Batman cartoons over the years, and Beware wanted to distinguish itself as different. Their modus operandi? Using villains we’ve never seen before. Sure, those well-versed in comics might be familiar with names like Anarchy, and Cypher, (I am partial to Lady Shiva myself), but it was an uphill battle to try and get general fans to get excited about the likes of Magpie, who felt like a more schizo version of Catwoman, and Metamorpho, who looked like a more colorful version of Clayface. D-List villains are D-List for a reason, and unfortunately, Beware the Batman didn't do enough to distinguish these rogues as little more than knock-offs of much more interesting villains we’d rather see.
This issue, coupled with some very offbeat choices, I think alienated most audiences. These concepts, like Professor Pyg turning from a rather twisted and sick individual to the more cartoon-friendly (read: bland) man in a mask who doesn’t amount to much besides "monologuing" his victims as an eco-terrorist (Ground covered better by Poison Ivy, no?). With his talking Mr. Toad (never explained), and people that actually look like Humpty Dumpty, it was never clear what kind of a reality this show was going for. Clearly there were fantasy elements, like a soul-sucking sword, but then so much of the show had an emphasis on relatively realistic, and grounded detective work; which was commendable and one of Beware’s best features.
BtB's other good aspect was Katana, the sidekick they decided to give Batman in the place of Robin. Again, perhaps an alienating decision in retrospect, but as it was, she ended up being the single best thing about the show in my opinion. Katana was a great yang to Batman’s yin, equal parts skilled, yet naïve, smart-ass and quick-tempered; all characteristics various Robins (and Batgirl) have had throughout the years. Perhaps simply using the Boy Wonder would have made fans happier, but the dynamic here felt fresh enough to be new for viewers.
Asking people to accept change, or open their minds can be a hard thing. Was I on board with an Ex-MI6 Alfred who was arguably just as capable of fighting crime along side Batman if he hadn’t hurt his leg? Hell no, and he didn’t need to be modeled after action star Jason Statham, either. But it turned out not half as bad as it sounded. Did I like the plastic-y and broad animation? (a problem that killed Green Lantern's series for me, as well; does it even need to be CGI? I mean, Batman’s eyes look like the headlights of a Mazda 6!) No, I didn’t love the designs, but seeing it in motion, the animation does come to life.
Beware the Batman was never bad. It doesn’t live up to Batman: the Animated Series (nothing can), but I liked it a hell of a lot better than The Batman and Brave and the Bold. The saddest part is, things were getting interesting. Ra’s Al Ghul was being set up, and who knows what other familiar faces were on the horizon. Perhaps this was simply a case of people being a little Batman-ed out, a little fatigued from what is bordering on overexposure for this character, and this just wasn’t the right time for a show of this ilk. Or maybe people just wanted something else; I wonder if a cartoon based directly off Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight universe (on HBO a la Spawn, of course) would have fared any better. We may never know.
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