I was gonna review Batman Sub-Zero tonight but I only have 1 multi region DVD player and it was unavailable to me tonight so instead I skipped ahead to Mystery Of The Batwoman. Not a bad idea though really because I’ve never seen this one before. It means this review is a much fresher opinion rather than one effected by years of Bat-nostalgia. Can’t believe there’s less than a week until I see The Dark Knight Rises… and I still have 4 films to review before that, not counting tonight’s review. So, Mystery Of The Batwoman eh?…
You may have noticed that earlier today I posted a review of Mask Of The Phantasm. If you’ve just read that review this synopsis of the plot for Mystery Of The Batwoman may sound familiar. Batman (Kevin Conroy) discovers that a masked vigilante using a similar MO to his own has arrived in Gotham. This new masked hero has a fairly pronounced disregard for the lives of the criminals she fights which obviously puts her on Batman’s radar. Batman must find out the identity of this Batwoman (Kyra Sedgwick) before she goes too far. Yup, pretty much the same set up.
As the film moves along a number of potential true identities for Batwoman turn up on the scene. And so arises the age old problem of a mystery masked vigilante in a feature based on a series. How do you make sure the viewer hasn’t figured out the identity of the Batwoman before Batman himself does? The trouble stems from the fact that there’s only two things you can do. Either make a familiar character be the mystery character or you bring in new characters which, in essence, puts a giant Joel Schumacher inspired neon sign above there head. How does Mystery Of The Batwoman attempt to avoid giving away the goods too early? By introducing not one, not two but three new female characters out of nowhere to put us off the scent! Well that just makes us suspicious of all three women. Which also means that any attempt at misdirection by the story just leads us to double guess the events as they unfold. Once we know the film is being duplicitous with it’s storytelling then we aren’t exactly gonna trust that what we see is all the facts. I’m not gonna spoil it but if you don’t figure out the truth by about 30 minutes in then you’ll never be The Worlds Greatest Detective. You probably wouldn’t be the 4,000,000th greatest detective to be honest.
That said the story unfolds decently enough and kids will probably love guessing how Batwoman really is. Unless of course they figure it out too. If it wasn’t for the ham fistedness of the secret identity plot the film would actually work quite well. The events and character details are enough to weave a decent little adventure. I would have preferred something with a little more grit to it though. The tone of the film is a fair bit lighter than the other animated Batman films from this series, especially noticeable if you saw this after the previous film which was the very dark Return of The Joker. One thing that made the Animated Series stand out, as I’ve mentioned before was that it didn’t shy away from mature themes and even the odd on screen death. There’s a distinct lack of the dark stuff here. It’s one of those cartoons where no-one seems to really get hurt. Even though Batwoman is showing a disregard for the lives of the criminals she fights Batman always seems to save them or they escape death by their own accord. Quite a step away from Return Of The Joker’s relative lack of fear when it came to death.
Another issue for the story is that Bruce Wayne/Batman has very little to do beside investigate Batwoman’s identity. He has a romance of sorts with one of the girls but it reeks of being tacked on to force some sort of emotion. After running through the themes of loss and regret in Mask Of The Phantasm this is a decided less involved character plot. To add to that the Tim Drake version of Robin is in the film… and he proceeds to serve no purpose. He appears alongside Batman in key action scenes, we see him training in the Batcave but that’s it. He has no sub plot, seemingly no interest in helping Batman out and doesn’t do anything that couldn’t have been worked around. I don’t understand why this just wasn’t set after the events seen in Return Of The Joker. We could have had a darker Batman, fresh with the pain of the events recently witnessed which would have led to some potential conflict at the idea of there being a apparent hero in town looking very much like she wants to be part of his team.
Of all the Animated Series based films Mystery Of The Batwoman has the most fluid and detailed animation. It’s got a slight hint of anime influences here and there but generally it’s like watching a flashier version of the New Adventures Of Batman & Robin. It’s even a step above what the same team were doing in the Justice League series at the time. If I have any issue it’s with that Tim Drake again. He’s drawn as being a little older than he was in the flashbacks in Return Of The Joker which put his design at odds with the nature of that films plot. Small gripe though. There is clearly different animation leads at work on these two films which is likely the reason.
Overall Mystery Of The Batwoman is the weakest of the 4 Animated Series based films but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. It has a botched story and lack teeth but that’s really all that stops it being on the same tier as the others. As such it is merely a good Batman adventure rather than a great one. It feels a little like a film that was made for the sake of filling a gap in a release schedule and I’d imagine the lack of critical praise it got when compared to the other films is what led Bruce Timm and his team to begin their DC Animated Movies project which has brought us some good stuff over the last few years. I’d probably suggest this be one for the kid Bat-fans rather than the old Bat-relics such as myself.