Batman fans depressed by the direction taken by Joel Schumacher's big screen adaptations have looked towards television as The Dark Knight's savior. Since 1992, Batman has appeared as an animated superhero in several series. "Batman: The Animated Series" (1992 to 1995) surrounded Bruce Wayne/Batman with Dick Grayson as Robin and Barbara Gordon, Police Commissioner Gordon's daughter, as Batgirl. "Batman: Gothic Knights" (1997-1999) had a grown-up Dick Grayson as Nightwing who often helped Batman, Tim Drake as the new Robin, and Batgirl. "Batman Beyond" (1999-2001) took the concept to the future with Terry McGinnis wearing a high-tech Batsuit while being aided by an elderly Bruce Wayne. The loyal Alfred the Butler seems to be always around to provide behind-the-scenes help and moral support.
The animated "Batman" productions look very different from most other animated works because of the way that it is drawn. The "Batman" look is achieved via technique as well as artistry. When it comes to technique, "Batman" differs from everything else in a major way. Most animations are done on plastic cels that are laid on top of white backgrounds. However, "Batman" is laid on top of black blackgrounds, so it looks darker than even pictures with black overlaid on white. (Black backgrounds don't allow as much light to pass through them as white backgrounds do.) The artistry used to draw "Batman" is also unique. Animators use minimalist "noir" lines to create a distinctive look. Sleek figures, sharp angles, and impressionistic silhouettes dominate the landscape. With the exception of Batman's vehicles, most of the objects in Gotham City look like things that were made during the 1930s and 1940s.
Since production work stopped on the animated "Batman" series in 2001, the animation team has been creating the occasional feature-length movie for TV specials and home video releases. "Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman" is the latest effort, and it's a solid detective/action flick. The film takes place in the post-Dick Grayson era, so Tim Drake is the new ward under Bruce Wayne's guardianship. Barbara Gordon is off at college, so she makes a brief appearance while calling Bruce Wayne from school (she has the hots for him). All is fairly well and quiet in town until Batwoman appears on the scene. She's not affiliated with the official Batman team, so she's giving everyone plenty of headaches.
Batwoman seems intent on attacking the mob as well as The Penguin's operations. When she's out for the bad guys, no one seems to mind having another vigilante do-gooder in town. However, when she crosses the line, Batman decides that it's time to bring her to justice. The key to Batwoman's identity is a major twist that I won't reveal in this review given how short the movie is (seventy-five minutes long). However, I will say this--if you have a guess about what Batwoman's real identity might be, then you're probably right. :-)
As much as I like the animated approach to Batman, I have to admit that "Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman" disappointed me a bit. The film begins with promising doses of atmosphere and a genuine sense of mystery. The whole deal with Batwoman is very intriguing. After all, the appearance of Batwoman raises questions about Batman's identity as well as the legitimacy of his behavior. Sadly, the story makes the silly mistake of relying on a routine action climax to resolve matters. Just as the film looked like it was going to introduce metaphysical contemplations along the lines of "What is Batman?", a couple of explosions destroy the hope of seeing a different kind of movie. Also, I didn't like the half-hearted use of Tim Drake/Robin, Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, and Commissioner Gordon. They're basically cameos in "Mystery of the Batwoman", and you end up wishing that they're either on the screen a lot or not on the screen at all. I'm sure that, had the film been at least 90 minutes long, Batman's support team would've been much better-utilized than they are as the final product stands.
By the way, Kevin Conroy has voiced the animated Batman for more than ten years now, and I'm glad to say that it's hard to imagine Bruce Wayne/Batman sounding like anything other than Kevin Conroy.
From what I could tell, a lot of the animation that was done for "Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman" was created on computers, so the 1.33:1 (full-frame on 4:3 monitors) picture image looks flawless. Colors are strong, and shadow detail is amazing. I really dig the lighting scheme that was used for the movie.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio track is not as awesome as the video presentation of the movie. The sound design is very front-loaded and center-channel oriented, so you don't get an enveloping experience. However, to its credit, the actors' voices are very crisp and clear, a couple of directionality effects provide some zings, and the subwoofer gives a few kicks of its own during major explosions.
There's a DD 2.0 surround French track, too. Optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles as well as optional English closed captions support the audio.
There are a couple of extras on the DVD that look like great additions to the disc at first but yield little repeat value.
The best bonus is "Chase Me", a short film without any dialogue that has Bruce Wayne/Batman dreaming about giving chase to Selina Kyle/Catwoman. This is a fun, witty piece, but it runs a tad long after we get the point.
"Behind the ‘Mystery'" is a fluffy promo for "Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman". There are some talking-heads clips with the voice actors, but you don't get to glean any substantive from the featurette. "‘Batman' P.O.V." offers footage from a round-table meeting with some of the key behind-the-scenes personnel. It's a little better than "Behind the ‘Mystery'" when it comes to offering info on the production, but it, too, barely scratches the surface of what was done in order to make the movie. "The Making of a Scene" is a throwaway look at the animation process. It doesn't really help people who want to get into animation.
Finally, there are "Character Bios", a "Gadget Gallery", and promos for other "superhero" DVDs.
Using your computer to access the DVD will yield some weblinks as well as a demo for a game based on "Batman: The Animated Series".
Chapter listings appear on the inside cover of the cardboard snappercase.
I've been a fan of the animated "Batman" since "Batman: The Animated Series" debuted on TV in 1992. Warner Bros. is doing a commendable job with The Dark Knight because it's unafraid of catering to grown-up audiences. Therefore, the animated "Batman" doesn't date as badly as the usual garbage that kids watch after they get out of school during the afternoon. However, like so many other American animation efforts, "Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman" ends up with simplistic resolutions. The film's animation style and gritty tone present plenty of opportunities for its animators to make something special, but I've yet to see an animated "Batman" production that transcends its roots like a "Kiki's Delivery Service" or a "Beauty and the Beast". Still, this one's worth a look.