Season 4 finds THE BATMAN at its most accessible and fan friendly. Lots of folks (and I was one of 'em) weren't too enthused with this younger Dark Knight version when he first came out in 2004. So, with The Batman - The Complete First Season (DC Comics Kids Collection) having left me and others in a lukewarm and sulky state, I never thought the series would last to a fourth season, let alone a 5th, which is just around the corner. But, perhaps because of the dearth of animated superhero stuff on TV - what with only the occasional animated film released by Marvel and DC, leaving us with LEGION OF SUPERHEROES (enjoyable) and FANTASTIC FOUR (kinda shady) as the other viewing options - well, I've started watching THE BATMAN more and more.
There's been a decided upgrading in quality to the episodes. Also, the additions of Batgirl (debuted in Season 3 and now officially in the Bat family) and of Robin (debuts this season) provide a more consistent element of levity and color to the show, nicely offsetting ol' Batface's grim and dour tendencies. In fact, for me, the show's trump card are these kid crimefighters, whose presence and bicker-and-banter act enliven things tremendously. Great sibling rivalry unfolding here. I find myself having a change of heart regarding this series. I like it now.
As the seasons progress, the show continues to serve up increased depth to the storyline and deeper character development. In addition to Robin, making their debuts to the series are Lucius Fox, the new Clayface, Black Mask, and Harley Quinn. Noteworthy episodes (for me, anyway) are the amusing "Team Penguin," the horror-tinged "Strange New World," "Artifacts" (which features a much older Batman ala THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS), "Seconds," and the big one, "The Joining, Parts One and Two." "The Breakout" is also a fun and funny episode, focusing on Batgirl and Robin's personal and working relationship (Batgirl: "Suggest a 2102: procurement of snacks from police lobby." Robin: "Roger that!").
Another bid for fan friendliness is the animators' redesign of the Batman's look as they restructure his jawline to more closely resemble the Batman from the '90s animated series. Works for me, although I didn't really have a problem with how he looked before. THE BATMAN: THE COMPLETE SEASON 4, covering episodes 40 to 52 of the series, boasts vocal guest stints by Brandon Routh, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Robert Englund, Brooke Shields, Dave Foley, and the great Ron Perlman. As for our regular voice cast, Danielle Judovits and Evan Sabara are pitch perfect as Batgirl and Robin. Rino Romano will never be Kevin Conroy. Heck, he'll never be Adam West. But, of late, I find myself thinking "Well, he doesn't really stink up the joint." I guess I'm getting used to him as the Dark Knight. Kevin Michael Richardson makes for a good Joker, and would've had a shot at becoming THE definitive voice of the Clown Prince of Crime, if not for Mark Hamill. Mitch Pileggi (THE X-FILES's Director Skinner) is solid as Commissioner Gordon and I wish he had more lines this season.
Okay, here are the 13 episodes:
Episode 1 - "A Matter of Family" - This one introduces and retells the origin of the young and very spirited Dick Grayson; guest-starring the voices of animation greats Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.
Episode 2 - "Team Penguin" - This is a very funny episode. To combat Batman, Penguin decides to improve his odds by forming a supervillain group, consisting of Killer Croc, Firefly, Ragdoll, and the hapless Killer Moth. Batgirl and Robin meet for the first time, and they have issues ("So, you got a new partner. It's because I changed the presets on the Batmobile radio, isn't it?").
Episode 3 - "Clayfaces" - Clayface again claims to have reformed and wants another chance. But can his friend Bruce Wayne believe him? Meanwhile, someone with Clayface's abilities begins committing crimes.
Episode 4 - "The Everywhere Man" - Batman and Robin go up against a costumed art thief who can duplicate himself. The Everywhere Man is voiced by SUPERMAN RETURNS's Brandon Routh.
Episode 5 - "Strange New World" - Cool episode with a horror element. Hugo Strange releases a toxin on Gotham City which turns the populace into the undead. Batman has 48 hours to administer the antidote before the zombified state becomes permanent.
Episode 6 - "The Breakout" - Somewhere in Gotham City, a bomb has been placed by the crime boss Black Mask. With Batman out of commission, it's up to Batgirl and Robin, without adult supervision, to somehow save the day.
Episode 7 - "Artifacts" - Another nice episode, this one involves a far flung futuristic episode. In the year 3027, Dr. Freeze had managed to survive and is once more running amok. Meanwhile, archaeologists unearth the old Batcave, which just might offer up an anti-Freeze solution. Appearances by Nightwing and Oracle.
Episode 8 - "Two of a Kind" - Harley Quinn finally debuts in this series, as a psychologist with a wacky talk show. Can Mr. J be far behind?
Episode 9 - "Seconds" - A time travel story. Batman finds himself continually stumped by a common criminal.
Episode 10 - "Riddler's Revenge" - Batman and the Riddler (Robert Englund) have a conversation on the bottom of the ocean.
Episode 11 - "Rumors" - An armored vigilante named Rumor (Ron Perlman) is kidnapping Gotham's supervillains.
Episode 12 - "The Joining, Part One" - A police detective new to town hints that he may be privy to Batman's secrets. Later, the Dark Knight investigates him and bumps into another superhero, who informs Bats that Gotham is about to face its most perilous threat: an alien invasion. The debut of Lucius Fox (Louis Gossett, Jr.).
Episode 13 - "The Joining, Part Two" - Thinking it too dangerous for them, Batman forbids Batgirl and Robin from getting involved as he continues to combat the mechanical aliens. But the Caped Crusader finally realizes that even he can't do it alone. The finale to this episode suggests very good things for the future of THE BATMAN.
With season 5 projected to guest star Superman and the JLA, I'm glad to see this particular Batman's universe continue to expand and evolve. Bats went from being initially a loner to a dynamic duo with Batgirl, and here, a trio with the addition of Robin. In episode 13, Batman utters a very promising closing statement which made me pump a fist in the air: "You've put together quite a League. Let's get to work." Hell, yeah.
But, listen, the Batwave device still sucks.