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The Batman: The Complete Fifth Season

Warner Bros. (2007), Warner Home Video (July 8, 2008), 2 discs, 272 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Not Rated, Retail: $19.98

Storyboard:

The Batman furthers his relationship with his Justice League teammates as he protects Gotham from the forces of madness.

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The Sweatbox Review:

While fans will always think of the Nineties’ Batman: The Animated Series as the definitive cartoon Batman, the following decade’s The Batman did do one thing that its predecessor did not. In its five seasons, its protagonist followed a continuous arc that defined his relationship with those around him, as he went from lone vigilante to a member of the superhero community. The first season showed The Batman engaged in a one-man war on crime (though aided by his butler). The second season developed his relationship from the police lieutenant who would one day be commissioner. The third season saw The Batman eventually accept a partner, in the form of the persistent Batgirl. Season Four finally added Robin The Boy Wonder, who not only was Batman’s partner but also effectively his adopted son. And, at the end of that season, we saw the coming of The Justice League. This set the stage for more guest-stars in season five, where Batman teams up with the various Leaguers before being shown alongside the whole team in the series finale.

Others would argue that the show’s arc was one that saw it go from awful in the first season, to tolerable, to decent in the end; but I think that the show is a little better than some have given it credit for. The scripts are usually thinner than the more character-driven episodes in Batman: The Animated Series, but the newer show does provide plenty of action and good animation, which seems to have been its purpose. The stories did get better over the course of its five seasons with the addition of Alan Burnett to the producing staff, but truthfully it never reached the glory of BTAS. Nevertheless, there is visceral entertainment to be had when watching The Batman, and this fifth season has the added fun of throwing in some of the rest of the World’s Greatest Superheroes.

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Disc One
The Batman/Superman Story, Part 1 gets the whole guest-star thing off to a booming start, with the introduction of the Man Of Steel to the show. Set one year after the events of Season Four’s finale, Superman’s enemy Metallo crashes a Gotham news conference being covered by the Daily Planet staff. Batman joins in the fray when he sees that Superman needs help against Metallo, and he manages to score some kryptonite in the process. The relationship between the two is a strained one, particularly when they use their abilities to uncover each other’s secret identities. Oddly, in this version, Batman encourages Superman to join up with the Justice league, with Superman being portrayed as more of a loner. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor recruits Gotham City villains to aid him in his latest scheme. Though this series does not follow the continuity of previous DC Comics animated shows, Lex Luthor and Lois Lane are voiced by previous cast members of Superman: The Animated Series (Clancy Brown and Dana Delaney); and Superman is voiced by the man who did him on Justice League, George Newbern.

The Batman/Superman Story, Part 2 sees Luthor using last year’s alien invasion as a justification for trying to take over the world. (It all makes sense in his mind.) During the course of events, Superman learns what Batman learned over the course of the last season— teamwork is good.

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Comic book fans may guess that, with a title like Vertigo, the next episode features a team-up with Green Arrow. Here, Green Arrow first confronts Bruce Wayne about how he is supposedly harming kids, but Batman later convinces him that Wayne is not in fact cooperating with Arrow’s old enemy Count Vertigo. This episode also features a pretty good animated retelling of Green Arrow’s origin. Between this show and Smallville, it’s nice to see the old guy getting so much attention.

White Heat is a villain-centric episode, and of course these tend to be some of the better ones. Firefly, who gets almost zero respect in Gotham City, plans a big job that will allow him to retire in luxury with his girlfriend Blaise. Things go wrong, however, and a radioactive accident leads to him gaining new, dangerous powers. This affects his mind and his actions, severely taxing his relationship with Blaise. This is Batgirl’s first appearance on this set, too, as she helps Batman take on the newly christened Phosphorus.

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A Mirror Darkly gives us a nice characterization of the speedster known as The Flash (with voice work by Charlie Schlatter), but unfortunately also gives us probably the stupidest plot of this season. Of course, it’s hard to help that when you use a villain such as Mirror Master, but I still found his plan to trap people in mirrors ludicrous at best. At least John Larroquette does a good job with the character.

Joker Express starts out as a pretty typical Joker episode, but the twist here is that Batgirl becomes a victim in his scheme to have others do his stealing for him. I like the twist, but this Joker seemed too hi-tech, and it was hard to believe he would settle for having others do the stealing for him. In short, it just didn’t seem like The Joker. (That’s not a new complaint for this series, of course.)

Ring Toss does a better job of introducing a twist into an old story. Green Lantern enlists Batman’s aid in finding Sinestro, but is later attacked by him and is beaten. In desperation, GL sends his power ring to Batman, but the ring is intercepted by The Penguin, leading to all sorts of chaos. (This is actually reminiscent of an episode of The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians, where Penguin intercepted Superman’s powers, which were being magically brought to Felix Faust.) The most fun part of this episode is seeing Robin hero-worship GL. There’s more good voice casting here, too, with Dermot Mulroney as GL, and Miguel Ferrer as Sinestro.

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Disc Two
The Metal Face Of Comedy is another high-concept show that collapses under the weight of its own silliness. The Joker becomes digitized, first trapped in a computer, and then released into the real world, where he confronts his true, corporeal self. The writers did mange to sneak in a video game version of Nightwing (Dick Grayson’s vision of his older self, here played by Jerry O’Connell), but the rest of the episode I just couldn’t deal with. However, this episode does include voice acting by Diedrich Bader, who will play Batman himself in the upcoming series Batman: The Brave And The Bold, so that at least adds some minor interest. But if you can’t stand it when writers act like no one understands anything about computers, and like to treat them like magic boxes, then avoid this episode at all costs.

I was prepared to hate the next episode, based on the lameness of the titular villains; but Attack Of The Terrible Trio actually turned out to be pretty decent. The Trio in this case are some college-age oddballs who steal Kirk Langstrom’s Man-Bat formula to transform themselves into animalistic creatures. The mixture of bat-mythos and social commentary about bullying make this one a keeper, plus this is one of the few times we get to see Barbara Gordon outside of her Batgirl suit, here living in the dorms.

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The End Of The Batman gives Batman and Robin nemeses that they can relate to, as Wrath and Scorn are basically twisted versions of them. That’s a good set-up, but the motivation of the antagonists remains awfully murky, rendering the rest of the tale somewhat meaningless. Re-write!

What Goes Up… is the season’s Hawkman episode. Although the script does use a plot device derived from Hawkman’s home world, Hawkman himself retains a bland personality. I did like seeing The Shadow Thief team up with Black Mask, but once you get past the child-like reaction of delighting in mixing characters together, there is not a lot of meat in this one.

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Lost Heroes, Part 1 and Part 2 is the big Justice League team-up story. Unfortunately, it’s way too reminiscent of last season’s finale, with the same alien species coming to Earth again. Most of the League is taken out of the picture and their powers stolen, making the whole team-up idea a bit moot for a while, as Robin and Batgirl get more screen time than the League. And that old chestnut, the “stolen super powers” plot, is just too quaint for me to go along with anymore, especially in the unbelievable and nonsensical way it is presented here. Plus, seeing Robin and Batgirl zipping around using jetpacks just doesn’t seem true to their characters. Frankly, this one just wasn’t as cool as it should have been, and it makes for a disappointing way to close the show.

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Is This Thing Loaded?

Disc Two begins with Trailers for Tiny Toons & Freakazoid, Batman: Gotham Knight, and Popeye: Volume Two. From the menu, you may also select trailers for Ben 10: Race Against Time and Speed Racer: The Game.

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The second disc also includes two substantial featurettes. Joining Forces: The Batman’s Legendary Team-Ups (8:41) has the writers and producers discussing how and why they brought more super characters into the show. The Batman: Justice League Profiles (11:39) includes the same speakers, going more in-depth about each of the Justice League guest-stars. Character designer Jose Lopez is also featured, discussing his design choices for the various superheroes. Though these featurettes may sound pretty basic, I found them to be the perfect complement to the episodes on this set.

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Case Study:

Standard keepcase, with a tray for the second disc. An insert advertising Lego Batman: The Videogame is also included. The episode listing may be found on the back cover.

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Ink And Paint:

The video on this release is just about as perfect as you would hope, given its recent vintage and origins in digital post-production. The series remains in the standard 4:3 ratio, a missed opportunity for a show that would have looked great in widescreen.

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Scratch Tracks:

The audio is only 2.0 Dolby Surround Stereo, but given that, it’s a pretty good aural experience. You’ll get more rocking explosions and piercing shrapnel in the Warner Premiere movies, but for a TV show, this is plenty good. A French track is also available.

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Final Cut:

I liked this fifth and final season of The Batman overall, but there is definitely a mixture of clunkers and winners here. With an emphasis on guest-stars, the usual secondary characters move to tertiary status for much of the season, thereby losing the show much of its usual bat-flavor. The writing continued to be hit-or-miss on this show, with the super guests good examples. Superman experienced a personality change from what we have seen before (which is not necessarily bad, and was even interesting), while Green Lantern and especially Green Arrow showed distinctive personas; but Hawkman made little of an impression in his outing with Batman. Far-fetched plots that a comic book editor would reject unfortunately got through in a couple of episodes, wearing my patience thin. But, I made it through the whole set with an impression of only minimal damage to the Batman legacy. The Batman may be no classic, but it is far from an embarrassment either. With some sharp dialog, dynamic animation, and a few solid stories, this show is still recommended for those who can’t get enough Batman.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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