There are currently 7 brand new episodes of the animated series Beware the Batman on my DVR. As of late Saturday night, though, there were none. So, what happened? Well, you remember how in the old days TV shows which failed would often get pulled from the schedule only to later have their remaining episodes burned off over the summer or on a Friday or Saturday night with little to no advanced warning? Yeah, Cartoon Network just did it with Beware the Batman, the first ever foray into computer animation for the caped crusader. Premiering as a Saturday morning cartoon in July 2013, Beware the Batman was pulled off the air after 11 episodes, effectively canceled before it had even reached the halfway point of its 26 episode first season. Months and months went by with empty promises that we would eventually be allowed to see the remaining episodes until, finally, it re-emerged this past May as part of Adult Swim’s Toonami block, airing in the extreme early morning hours, typically 3 AM.
Why any of this was happening was anyone’s guess. Cartoon Network sure as heck wasn’t saying, offering no official comments on the matter beyond mere confirmations of the show’s exit from the Saturday schedule and introduction to the Adult Swim schedule. This is pretty much exactly how they handled dearly departed DC shows Young Justice and Green Lantern, both pulled with no given reason and quietly burned off months later, although they weren’t assigned to the ghettos of Adult Swim for their respective burn-offs. Rumors began circulating that Cartoon Network was no longer comfortable with marketing superhero shows to little kids, not unless they seriously toned down the violence. You could also look at the ratings and see that Beware the Batman was definitely down from the most recent Batman series to air on Cartoon Network, Batman: The Brave & The Bold, or you could guess that toy sales, the true force behind kids cartoons, must have been insufficient.
You could also simply blame the quality of the show since Beware the Batman didn’t exactly get off to a good start. It was always a bit of a strange beast, a TV-CGI approach focusing almost exclusively on Batman’s lesser-known villains. Heck, I’m a fairly big Batman fan, and I’d never heard of villains like Magpie, Tobias Whale, Professor Pyg, and Humpty Dumpty (in the case of those last two, I wish I never had). They also gave Batman a sword-wielding female sidekick named Katana (instead of Robin), and made Alfred a gun-toting badass.
Those are all things you could adjust to (I did), and the show was clearly far improved by the halfway point of the season. However, what may have sunk them was their insistence to stay serious in an era of jokes. Modern superhero cartoons like Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers Assemble are aggressively funny to better appeal to little kids whereas Beware the Batman takes itself very seriously, utilizing a slow-burn narrative built upon a persistent mystery pertaining to both Alfred and Katana’s past in the first 13 episodes and then the rise and fall of Harvey Dent in the last 13 episodes. This approach made Beware the Batman a rewarding experience but also one apparently requiring too much patience.
The final ax dropped a week ago when Adult Swim’s made the following announcement through Toonami’s Tumblr page:
We JUST (like, hours ago) found out from our legal department that Beware the Batman and Sym-bionic Titan are being “written off,” financially, as of now. Therefore, after this weekend neither of those two shows will be a part of Toonami again, unfortunately. What’s the good news? Welp, because we hate to bone you Bat-fans by simply yanking the show, we’re running ALL of the remaining unaired episodes THIS weekend from 2:30a-6a, for one last Bat-blow out.
Of course, I didn’t actually see that announcement until today. So, that’s why I woke up Sunday to find my DVR suddenly crowded with 7 new Beware the Batman episodes. It is great that they didn’t leave me hanging (or force me to buy the DVD, which just came out today), but there’s something deeply depressing about this to me. This is not how Batman’s reign of animation domination should end.
Going back to Batman: The Animated Series, Batman has either been the star of his own animated show or co-star in a Justice League-like ensemble since 1992, with only one year off (1996) during that entire stretch. Some might call that pure overexposure and bemoan the lack of effort on Warner Bros.-TV’s part to try and launch any of their non-Superman/Batman characters in the animated realm, but I’ve taken comfort in the knowledge that there was just always a new Batman show around the corner:
- Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
- The New Adventures of Batman & Robin (1997-1999)
- Batman Beyond (1999-2001)
- Justice League (2001-2004)
- Justice League Unlimited (2004-2006)
- The Batman (2004-2008)
- Batman: The Brave & The Bold (2008-2011)
- Young Justice (2010-2013)
- Beware the Batman (2013-2014)
There were rumors earlier this summer that Cartoon Network already had another Batman animated series ready to go, Batman: Unlimited, although the only piece of evidence was a poster displayed at a Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. Nothing has come of that yet. It’s highly possibly that nothing ever will. The Saturday morning cartoon is pretty much officially dead at this point, and Cartoon Network’s entire slate of programming is exclusively comprised of kiddie-friendly fare like Teen Titans Go! and The Amazing World of Gumball.
DC Animation has pretty clearly moved on, focused now on building up their direct-to-video films, which started out as mere adaptations of beloved graphic novels, like Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman and Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. As of late, these films are being used more as test cases for eventual live offerings, with a solo Flash film (Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox) preceding the live action Flash TV show and Suicide Squad (Batman: Assault on Arkham) and Aquaman (Justice League: Throne of Atlantis) animated offerings coming out before rumored live-action films.
Next year will see at least 3 new animated films. In addition to Throne of Atlantis, we’ll get Batman Vs. Robin and Justice League: Gods and Monsters, the latter of which will feature a universe in which Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are a bit more on the evil side than we’d usually expect. There is even going to be a 3-part, short form animated series leading into Gods and Monsters, but instead of airing on Cartoon Network or its Adult Swim cousin it will instead premiere on Machinima, a gaming and media streaming site most known for its original live action shows Mortal Kombat: Legacy and Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist. Of course, we’re not talking about an actual full-fledged TV show here but instead 3 short cartoons leading into a full-length animated films, and they’re probably smart to jump into bed with Machinima because “that’s where the kids are these days.” It also doesn’t hurt that Warner Bros. actually heavily invested in Machinima earlier this year, which is the type of corporate synergy that has made the DC cartoons a logical home on Cartoon Network for so long now (DC and CW are both part of the Time Warner conglomerate).
However, as someone who grew up not reading Batman comics but instead absorbing his stories through the legendary Batman: The Animated Series I can’t help but feel a little down that in the current market Beware the Batman was just burned off so unceremoniously from 2:30-6 AM on a Sunday morning.
What about you? Did you bail on Beware the Batman long ago? Or grow to kind of like it? Or are you just sad for me since I watched Batman cartoons as a kid, and I clearly still do now that I’m an adult? Let me know in the comments.