Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Idiot Box: Beware The Batman 1x02 - "Secrets" Review

Yeah, I know I said I probably wouldn't follow this show regularly like I do some other ones, but given the marked improvement in episode two for a show I expressed such lack of faith in, I felt it was only right that I mention how much better this second installment of Beware The Batman is than the pilot. This week we were introduced to Magpie, another villain plucked from DC obscurity and used here as BtB’s version of Catwoman, pursuant to their rule of using lesser known villains in place of Batman’s established Rogue’s Gallery. If you know anything about Magpie, you might find it strange that she would be brought into any show that’s trying to be even remotely dark and gritty, but then this show is as much about re-examining these characters as it is highlighting them for an unfamiliar audience, and unlike last week, this time it’s actually done well, in such a way that it largely justifies this approach.

The episode Secrets follows Batman on the trail of Magpie, a kleptomaniac with multiple personalities out for revenge against the doctors who took her mind away in an attempt to cure her condition. Magpie was never really all that big in the comics, and she’s one of those comic book characters that’s really synonymous with the trends of the decade in which she was introduced, in this case regrettably the big hair and bedazzled 1980’s. This new Magpie is considerably darker, with poisonous claws, an inability to feel pain, and a dominatrix outfit with a personality to match clearly meant to accentuate among other things, her ridiculously giant rack, which I only point out because I’m still sore about how they had to tone down the violent nature of Professor Pyg last week, but apparently this get up is okay (Also, and perhaps more importantly, it gives me an erection). In any case, this is easily a much better example of an esoteric Batman villain re-tooled for the modern era, and good enough that it almost rekindles my interest in how they might remodel other bad guys.

I mention that Magpie is this shows version of Catwoman, and I would argue a much more interesting take considering apart from the look and the will they or won’t they crap with Batman, Selina Kyle isn’t all that fascinating a character, but there’s more to it then just substituting one female super thief for another. Though I’ll have to wait at least until next week to be sure, I’m beginning to suspect a trend forming in how this series is using its villains to sort of get around the “No Classic Villains” rule, by basically just combining two classic villain concepts to introduce the less well known ones. With the multiple personality angle, Magpie is really sort of a cross between Catwoman and Two Face, and Professor Pyg is kind of like The Penguin (an animal themed sophisticate) crossed with The Mad Hatter, only with The Wind and the Willows in place of Alice In Wonderland. If this holds true, I think it’s a novel idea, and I think the next slated villain Anarchy would work really well as a combination of Nolan’s versions of The Joker and Bane. Even better, The Ten-Eyed Man who was also promised to be on the show has recently been revived by Grant Morrison as a sphinx-like desert mystic in 52 and I think the New 52 as well, which might make for a weird sort of Ra’s Al Ghul/Riddler amalgam.

On the other hand, this does beg the question of just how much utility there is at all from the whole “No Classic Villains” rule in the first place, and how much of it just constitutes rearranging the deck chairs. The decision to use lesser known characters with the opportunity to tell new and different stories was what initially drew me to this show in the first place, and if all we’re going to get is the same kinds of stories with slightly different characters involved, it seems like a waste of a good hook. What’s the use of changing it from Catwoman or Two Face to Magpie if the story is just going to be Catwoman-esque, or Two Face-esque, apart from killing two birds with one episodic stone (…cause she’s a Magpie with split personalities…it’s clever dammit!). Wouldn't it be far better to use this platform to tell new stories with villains that until now were deemed too silly or strange to work? How about a Calendar Man episode about the ultimate scheduler, or if you want to stick with Grant Morrison's weirdness, how about King Kraken or Lord Death Man?

Secrets is good enough that its turned me around on this show at least enough to keep watching, though the bitter taste of wacky Professor Pyg still lurks in my mouth, and I'm just waiting for them to screw it up again. We also got a little bit more of the side characters, setting up Katana and revealing the distrustful relationship between Batman and Commissioner Gordon hinted at in the pilot, which I like as a source of conflict, except this has already led to the introduction of Barbara Gordon, which only pisses me off that for some reason they think setting up Batgirl is fine, but Robin is a step to far. Still, overall, its rare to see shows improve this much so quickly, and I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at least for now. Anarchy is up next, and apparently Humpty Dumpty is in the wings, though I imagine they'll be leaving out the whole sewing together his dead mom thing.

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