When The Batman first debuted, we gave it a chance. Michael Goodson even reviewed a few episodes before even his prodigious attention span could no longer stand it. Even more egregiously a toy commercial than Batman Beyond, the show seemed to keep grinding to a halt to allow for Batman toys to respond.
Yet in the years since, the show has gained popularity, and not just among little kids with light-up Batmobiles. Could it be that as a disgruntled fan of Bruce Timm, I was just petulantly screaming, "You're not my REAL Batman" and holding my breath?
So in December, Warner Home Video released The Batman: The Complete Fourth Season, and it was time to take a gander, especially since this season also introduced a new version of the Justice League. What? A new version of the Justice League? Heresy!
But seconds into watching an episode on this DVD, it became clear this wasn't the same show I'd poutily given up on years before. Though a couple of shots still looked like triggers for the toys, this show had brightened up and smartened up. The theme song had changed, going from a quasi-spooky but unmemorable piece to something that combined the feel of Danny Elfman with the sixties' TV theme song. It was …cool.
Characters referenced earlier events, but not in the forced way that had characterized early episodes, with the two detectives assigned to bring in the Bat and provide exposition. Instead, references to earlier episodes came from characters responding to the plot. Then, of course, The Batman pulled its coup d'grace, which I'd somehow missed over the years. Jane Espenson, writer of some great Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel episodes, was working her magic on The Batman.
Having a well-regarded television writer doesn't guarantee that a show will be good, especially when it's a producer that sets the tone. But it also seems that Duane Cappizzi, who had written The Batman vs. Dracula (not bad) and Superman: Brainiac Attack (which he has apologized for) learned from earlier mistakes.
In a featurette on the second disc, the creators, including Cappizzi and Alan Burnett, talk about their mandate for the fourth season, and it reflects well in the actual episodes. Not only does the series have an arc of growth, it's got far sharper characterization, with a Robin and Batgirl that have charm.
One thing about The Batman that always made sense but still stuck in the Fanboy Planet craw was that it was clearly aimed at children in a way Timm's work never was. The series still errs on the side of being more kid-friendly, but that's not a bad thing as the creators work in a little more sophistication.
Culminating in an alien invasion storyline - vaguely threatening if you're under 9, fairly clever if you're older - the series manages to introduce J'onn J'onnz in a friendly, heroic way, at one point even rendering him as a funny animal character. Yet the Martian Manhunter is still recognizably such, and Batman's reaction upon being invited to join the Justice League is definitely the Batman we know.
I've never been a huge fan of this show's character design, and at this point, nothing can be done about that. Overall, however, the series has become something I could become a fan of, and that was quite a surprise. I'm not going to go back and give the first season another chance; those episodes weren't very satisfying. But The Batman has become something worth watching.