So I’m three episodes into this show and I’m just now finding out that Tatsu Yamashiro, who Alfred has put forth as Bruce Wayne’s new bodyguard, is actually the DC Comics character Katana. And to think I started my review of the series’ first episode by asserting that I had a PhD in Batman. Pssh. Turns out, I’m not as big a fan as I thought I was. If I had gone back and read Batman and The Outsiders, a series that was a tad before my time and never seemed all that appealing to me anyway, I would know that Katana served under Batman as a member of the team. So it makes sense why she would be on the show. I had no idea though, I thought she was most likely an original character, or just a super-obscure one that I’d never heard of. Certainly not a character with her own ongoing solo series.
But this is one of the things that Beware the Batman does very well. It takes the characters that aren’t getting much attention anymore, the ones that fans like me are constantly overlooking in order to get our hands on that next juicy Joker story or whatever, and gives them new life. I would’ve never thought a character like Katana would be worth writing about in my column, much less added as a principal cast member in the latest Batman cartoon series. And yet the show pulls it off, giving her a chauffeur/bodyguard position and setting her up to be kind of the Kato to Bruce’s Green Hornet. It makes her interesting, makes her someone I want to know more about. The show worked similar wonders with the last episode when it put the obscure villain Magpie front and center and gave her a cool new look along with a compelling backstory and motivation. And in episode three, “Tests,” the show hopes to work some of that magic on another long-lost Bat-character, Anarky.
Now, this guy I’ve heard of before. I promise. He’s got the really weird, long neck and the gold face and he’s actually a little kid, right? Something like that? Ok, so aside from having heard of the character I never really felt all that compelled to read any of the stories that centered on his contribution to the Batman mythos. The one thing I do know, and which always stuck with me, is that the co-creator was Alan Grant, a guy who was fascinated by the actual political concept of anarchy, and the character came out of his admiration of that philosophy.
And here’s where the show gets it wrong. Way wrong. We open up on two goons vandalizing a hardware store. Pay close attention to the rook on the sign above the store’s entrance and the checkerboard floor inside. These guys are artists of some sort, street artists I suppose, who hold a major grudge against anyone who doesn’t support their art, such as the proprietor of said hardware store. Batman shows up and kicks the crap out of the two goons, then bundles them up for the police and leaves. However, another player emerges from the shadows just after Batman leaves. Anarky, dressed in all white and looking very much like Moon Knight, frees the goons and equips them with super powerful weapons so that they might wreak havoc upon Gotham.
Throughout the episode Anarky keeps throwing these goons at Batman, as well as an assortment of other puzzles and death traps, in order to test Batman, who he believes is his perfect rival. And this is where the chess iconography that they’ve been beating you over the head with all episode long starts to come out. Anarky sees Batman as the black king, a keeper of order and peace, while he sees himself as the white king, a bringer of chaos and destruction. And so of course, in the very black-and-white world of Beware the Batman, the logical thing for these two diametrically opposed forces of nature to do is to punch each other a lot and almost blow up tourists.
Now, I know I’ve already copped to not having really read any actual Anarky stories, but based on what I know about the co-creator of Anarky and his philosophical interests, and also just based upon the very little information I actually have on the character, I’m inclined to believe that there is a bit more subtlety to the story of Batman and Anarky than this. I mean, I almost guarantee there is. There must be. Anything is more subtle than “I’m dressed in white, you’re dressed in black, so let’s do fighting!” So now we’ve literally boiled down the struggle between the protagonist and the antagonist to a black-and-white, good versus bad, bland, colorless mess. And on top of that, the show got there by revamping a character that was once an expression of anarchist philosophy and turning him into the capitalist definition of anarchy, which is terrorism. And he’s got some sort of quasi-Ditko-esque objectivist angle to him as well.
So the bad guy of the episode is a jerk who gleefully stands for terrorism for terrorism’s sake, which completely takes away anything compelling about the character, while the philosophical argument of the episode is reduced to order (good) versus chaos (evil). Only it’s extreme order versus extreme chaos. It’s yin and yang without the corresponding dots in the center from each energy’s counterpart. And Batman comes away from it looking even more fascist, the way he has Alfred pilot a drone Batmobile into the city to fire missiles at the goons from the beginning, or how he flat out murders Anarky by punching him off of a very high platform onto a slab of cold, hard metal below. It doesn’t even seem ambiguous either, you see it and think, “oh damn, that dude is dead.” Now, of course they throw in the moment later when Batman goes back to check on the body and it’s gone, so yeah, it’s a cartoon and no one dies, but look, that dude, for all intents and purposes, was dead. And Batman couldn’t have cared less.
Oh yeah, and have I mentioned that the other bad guys in this episode are a couple of bozo street artists? What the hell? So essentially, street artists are glorified vandals and are ideal pawns for terrorist supervillains, and the concept of anarchy is synonymous with putting bombs on gondolas. What am I even watching?
God. Oh yeah, and there’s some more stuff with Tatsu here and there, since you know, “Tests,” and Bruce is testing her to make sure she’ll be a good Kato person. Honestly, I didn’t even pay attention to that stuff. I don’t know. The show is starting to lose it’s charm a bit. Especially with this episode, the show is starting to really become just another tedious, grating, bone-headed generic Batman cartoon. Hopefully the next episode can redeem the series. I still feel that it has potential, but it has a lot of problems it needs to work through before that potential can be realized.
I tried hard to like and respect this show, but episodes like this one, and especially the Humpty Dumpty episode proved this to be a very shallow and meaningless show (aware that I may be asking too much of a Batman cartoon, but I was raised on Batman: The Animated Series.)
The Humpty Dumpty episode was particularly offensive to me. The character is a beautiful and complicated and tragic figure in his debut Arkham Asylum: A Living Hell by Dan Slott, but in the episode he’s a creepy, evil, leering psychopath Toy Man rip off. It bears no similarities whatsoever to one of my favorite obscure Arkham inmates. The show took the easy direction, Batman vs Fat Evil Guy, when they had the opportunity to make something really touching and effective and strange. His “origin story” in the episode is also bafflingly minor and undercooked, it’s honestly terrible writing.