REVIEW: THE BATMAN – SEASON 4

Main Cast

Rino Romano (Spaceballs: TAS)
Alastair Duncan (Providence)
Evan Sabara (The Polar Express)
Danielle Judovits (Toy Story)
Mitch Pileggi (Stargate: Atlantis)Rino Romano in The Batman (2004)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Kevin Conroy (Batman: TAS)
Grey Griffin (The Book of Life)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Maurice LaMarche (Futurama)
Jason Marsden (Young Justice)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Steve Harris (The Rock)
Wallace Langham (CSI)
Julianne Grossman (Star Trek: Discovery)
Allison Mack (Smallville)
Brandon Routh (Legends of Tomorrow)
Diedrich Bader (American Housewife)
James Remar (BLack Lightning)
Kurt Fuller (Ghostbusters II)
Jerry O’Connell (The Death of Superman)
Kellie Martin (ER)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Hynden Walch (Teen Titans)
Townsend Coleman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Bob Gunton (Daredevil)
Brooke Shields (Pretty Baby)
Gina Gershon (Red Heat)
Xander Berkeley (Kick-Ass)
Louis Gossett Jr. (Legend of The Mummy)
Dorian Harewood (Terminator: TSCC)

The Batman (2004)Few animated TV shows have improved as greatly and as rapidly as much as “The Batman.” When the program debuted on the Kids WB! network in 2004, it was a reboot of the franchise, and while repeat viewings did help the show’s more radical changes become acceptable to lifelong fans of the character, it still never quite hit the heights of the 1990s’ “Batman: The Animated Series,” deemed by most as the definitive presentation of the hero.Strange New World (2006)The season opens with the introduction of Robin, the Boy Wonder. Series producers took a brave risk the season prior by breaking from the continuity of the Batman mythology and bringing in Batgirl as a sidekick first; the official reason given is that Robin was tied up on the “Teen Titans” cartoon, but the switcheroo seems to go beyond that, as it led to a shakeup that helped breathe new life into the franchise.The Batman (2004)Perhaps to counterbalance such changes, the season premiere strays very little from the established Robin backstory: young Dick Grayson (seen here at around age 10 or 11, unlike several other incarnations that aged him slightly) is the son of a successful circus act. Here, Dick’s father also runs the circus, so he’s directly responsible for shooing away the thugs that show up one night for a little extortion. Batman arrives to thwart the baddies, but they return to sabotage the trapeze. The Graysons are killed mid-performance, and Bruce Wayne, seeing a parallel with his own history, takes Dick in as a foster son. Dick later discovers the Batcave, dons his old circus outfit, and sets out to capture the mobsters; by episode’s end, he’s properly christened as Robin.The Batman (2004)It’s interesting to note that every time this legend is retold, its writers find new ways of infusing some modern day logic into the proceedings. Like Dick’s circus costume, which now comes right off the bat with the familiar “R” crest, only for “Richard,” not “Robin.” He later decides to use “Robin” as his superhero alter ego not in tribute to Robin Hood, or because of the goofy motorcycle helmet design from “Batman Forever,” but simply because Dick’s mom liked that nickname. It adds a bittersweet human touch to the myth that feels so natural, I’m surprised it’s never been used before. (In a nice touch, Kevin Conroy, the voice actor who played Batman in the 1990s, appears as Dick’s father. It’s a wonderful passing-the-torch moment that reminds me of when Adam West showed up on “Batman: The Animated Series” as the Grey Ghost. Also providing guest star voice work this season are Mark Hamill, Louis Gossett, Jr., Ron Perlman, James Remar, Wallace Langham, and Brandon Routh.)The Batman (2004)Batgirl is absent from this episode (wisely so – although it’s an excellent story, it’s also pretty cluttered with characters and events). She returns in the follow-up, and there we set the stage for the rest of the season’s tone. The sidekicks spend their time bickering and trying to one-up each other, in pure brother-sister mode. It’s a fun dynamic to the show that allows Batman to remain his moody self without forcing the series to become overly brooding. A peculiar moment regarding the sidekicks comes late in the season, when Robin pauses in the middle of a dangerous mission to ask Batgirl if she’s afraid. After some fudging between the two, she admits that she is. Not only is this a deeper, more thoughtful character moment than the series would have ever attempted a few years earlier, but it’s a startling moment of character honesty that you rarely get in a children’s adventure.

REVIEW: THE BATMAN – SEASON 3

Main Cast

Rino Romano (Spaceballs: TAS)
Alastair Duncan (Providence)
Danielle Judovits (Toy Story)
Mitch Pileggi (Stargate: Atlantis)

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RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Piera Coppola (Phineas and Ferb)
Jeffrey Combs (Fortress)
Grey Griffin (The Book of Life)
Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants)
Kevin Michael Richardson (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons)
John DiMaggio (Futurama)
Adam West (Family Guy)
Frank Gorshin (60’s Batman)
Will Friedle (Batman Beyond)
Fred Willard (Anchorman)
Charles Napier (The Silence ofThe Lambs)
Patton Oswalt (Caprica)
Phil LaMarr (Free Enterprise)
Michael Bell (Transformers: The Movie)
Ian Abercrombie (Army of Darkness)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Gina Gershon (Red Heat)
Bumper Robinson (Sabrina: TTW)

Kevin Michael Richardson in The Batman (2004)The Batman” went through plenty of growing pains for its third season. Dropped without explanation from the story was Detective Ellen Yin, who had been working toward becoming a new sidekick of sorts to the Dark Knight (actress Ming-Na had become unavailable to return to the series); in her place, we have the arrival of Batgirl, whose presence takes the series in a whole new direction.The Batman (2004)It’s something of a mini-almost-sorta reboot as a result. There’s a new opening sequence, with The Edge’s twangy theme song replaced by a crunchy surf-rock tune from Andy Sturmer, who also wrote the “Teen Titans” theme. That series’ popularity obviously had an influence on this new season, as Batgirl’s wide-eyed character design is similar to the heroes of the Cartoon Network series. In addition, the Gotham landscape is now slightly more abstract, most notably in the swirling red and purple skies above. An entire episode is designed to showcase an all-new Batmobile. Finally, season-long story arcs have been toned down, delivered on a smaller scale, with Dr. Hugo Strange’s ongoing manipulations from behind the walls of Arkham Asylum not carrying the full weight of, say, the Clayface and Ellen Yin storylines of previous seasons. Even Batman’s gradual acceptance of a sidekick is something of a restrained arc.The Batman (2004)The most obvious adjustment is that Batgirl is introduced before Robin (who would not appear in the series until season four). This comes with its share of awkwardness, not because the deviation from Batman mythology (the retooling plays quite well, actually), but because Commissioner Gordon was just introduced in the series two finale. We never get a chance to settle in with him before he’s thrown into the thick of things, and now here he is with a teenage daughter – a daughter whose co-star status means the Gordons now become a key part of nearly every episode. Yet the series plows ahead with the Gordons at the center and never looks back, allowing for a rather quick adjustment to the change.Kevin Michael Richardson in The Batman (2004)The season opens on a very high note, with the excellent two-part saga, “Batgirl Begins,” introducing not only our new heroine, but also Poison Ivy, revamped to be a high school pal of Barbara’s; she’s a young eco-terrorist who gets slimed with nasty plant-growth chemicals. Early episodes that follow manage to revisit old villains – the Penguin, Scarface, Catwoman – while offering new spins, thus keeping stories quite fresh. New baddies are also introduced, most memorably the cybernetic Gearhead (voiced by “Batman Beyond” himself, Will Friedle), whose race car exploits allow the show to provide some thrilling chase sequences, and Cosmo Krank (Patton Oswalt in a deliciously over-the-top turn), a flashy toymaker.