What is it? – A live-action stage performance following the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder vs. Gotham City’s gallery of rogues
Well, that was fun! I am still feeling around for format. Since this was a live stage show, I felt compelled to explain it at length, as there were many things the story guide don’t get across. Future things, depending on ease of access, I’ll try and gauge how much detail I go into. Speaking of getting a feel for the format, I think I’ll try isolating several specific subjects and discussing how they succeeded or failed.
Robin – Mostly Successful!
As I alluded to earlier, it turns out that the primary character arc in this show is Robin’s. He undergoes the greatest change and is present for the majority of consequential scenes. Unlike the Waynes’ deaths, which happen out of view, the Graysons tumble from their sabotaged trapezes in front of the audience and Dick alike, cementing the tragedy more vividly. He is thrust into an unfamiliar situation, placed in the care of Bruce Wayne by Commissioner Gordon. He acts on his own to uncover the truth of his parents’ death and winds up a pawn in the Joker’s schemes. He pushes for the opportunity to train and fight, an opportunity which Batman is hesitant to offer. Acting on his own again later, he comes to Batman’s rescue and redeems his earlier mistake, this time fighting and winning–though in cooperation, which he was too proud or reckless to consider before.
Villains – Win Some, Lose Some
In their enthusiasm, the producers of the show went overboard with villains and wound up diluting most of them. The Joker and Harley Quinn are strong enough to fill the role of antagonists, and their visual flamboyance translate well to a large stage production. I would have cut the rogues gallery down to them, Zucco, and two ‘gatekeeper’ villains to serve as roadblocks on Batman’s investigation: one pre-Joker reveal, and one within Arkham Asylum. The Joker has demonstrated numerous times in other media that he doesn’t need the cooperation of other villains to take over the asylum, and often revels in the chaos that emerges from warring factions of criminals.
Since Zucco is tied to more conventional organized crime, either the Penguin or Two-Face would have been sufficient, I think. They are each rulers of criminal empires as well as iconic, popular characters. The Riddler is the kind of guy who prefers running things from afar, setting up elaborate schemes that exist on their own without a lot of additional parties required, so shelf him. I didn’t mention it before, but a good deal of time was wasted in the Iceberg Lounge with a dead-end dance number. Cut that, spend a minute or two on explaining the villain’s motives, have Batman bust in, and then let it be known that the Joker is behind it all. The whole inclusion of the “let’s work together” thread between Penguin, Two-Face and Riddler is a dead-end anyway, and is broken up basically at the end of the scene when Batman busts in and roughs ’em all up.
For proceedings within Arkham, both Scarecrow and Poison Ivy attack Batman on similar vectors: intimate chemical warfare with the intent to debilitate. Scarecrow’s fear gas would render him ineffective (and does in the show itself), as would Poison Ivy’s seduction/toxin. Really it’s a tossup, as both lend themselves to a cool on-stage presence, but focusing on one or the other would allow for more. Either amp up the depection of the fear gas if Scarecrow, or redo the sequence with some living plants and vines if Poison Ivy. I think I’d go with Poison Ivy, since she’s probably the better known and more visually interesting, plus you could toss in a few references to her back-and-forth friendship/rivalry with Harley Quinn.
Catwoman is fine as is, playing both sides as she is wont to do.
Production – Highly Successful
There’s not a whole lot to complain about here… everything is visually cohesive and the use of the backdrop screen allows for dramatic scene changes in a matter of moments. Comic art is used throughout to create an engaging atmosphere. The costumes are fantastic, the music is suitably booming and all original. Set pieces are impressive, and the staging of the action is fine, allowing for a clear view of what’s happening from just about any angle (though I was only sitting in one place throughout the show, one can extrapolate, yo).
My gripes are minor, and can be summed up with “Batmobile”. Specifically, the unnecessarily long animated sequence and, need I remind you… “Wow! Laser flares!”
Fighting – Neutral Overall
Visually speaking, any fight is defined by the participants and their powers. While a battle between magic users, for example, may carry with it the opportunity for large and flashy cues to communicate what is happening, the Batman universe prefers characters who are more grounded in reality (with a few exceptions who prove the rule). In dealing with the given medium of an arena-scale stage show, the proceedings tend to be dwarfed, so they compensate by throwing more bodies into the mix. But Batman has to come out on top, so he can’t be swarmed or mobbed entirely. The end result is a dampening moderation on the proceedings, playing out in a sort of ‘action clump’ that may move about the stage a bit as Batman engages with the various challengers, but ultimately stays pretty well centralized. A field of minions rounding up around Batman then moving in for their chance to get defeated and tossed aside until all have been cleared away.
I suppose the fights could have been made more visually interesting if they could devise a way to incorporate Adam West TV show-style sound effect stings (BLAM! BOFFO! KRAK!), but I’m not really serious when I say that. I just wanted to type “boffo”.
In addition, the height of the stage space is never utilized in a particularly satisfying way. The early fight with Catwoman plays out in a strange fashion, confined along a vertical plane instead of a horizontal one. Batman is a gadget-user and, famously, the caped crusader, but the extent of his time in the air beyond the first fight is to glide in then mix it up at ground level. If it were possible to incorporate the signature grappling hook (which does get used at one point but only as a stage exit), it could have gone a long way. What is there currently just never really gets off the ground (pun intended!)
Batman – Disappointing
Here lies my biggest issue. For a show called “Batman Live”, he’s very lifeless. Sure, he punches and kicks and swoops in a few times, but I am left feeling he was robbed of some crucial agency. What the audience is shown is important, and Batman never seems to have any “aha” moments for himself, it is all either off-camera or reactive. We are shown Catwoman, and Batman just appears afterwards. We are introduced to villains at the Iceberg Lounge, and Batman just shows up again. Sure, one can argue the logic of this after the fact (why wouldn’t Batman be able to piece it together, after all?), but by omitting any depiction of detective work on Batman’s part, it flattens the character and turns him into a vespertilio ex machina (okay, I apologize for that one… but you got to learn Latin for “bat”, so take what you can get!)
As for agency, beyond just robbing him of his detectivity, when we are shown why Batman knows where to go, it’s because he was told or was drawn into it. Catwoman sets off an alarm during her heist, no doubt alerting Batman to her location. He only goes back to the circus because Dick went off ahead and got caught. Commissioner Gordon tells him that Arkham’s been taken over. Even the final victory over the Joker is given to Harley. Granted, it’s a great moment and plays into the Harley/Joker relationship perfectly, but to have Batman seeing the Joker lift off in his big Joker-faced hot air balloon and just be kinda “eh” is not satisfying.
And… I suppose that’s that! Time to gracelessly end this post as I dash off into the night and stumble on a raised section of sidewalk, never to be heard from again (no, I’ll post more later, honest).