Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman is the third and final animated feature derived from the Batman animated series of the 1990s. Released direct-to-video in 2003, it actually came out a few years after the series had ended. As such, it uses the same animation style that the series used at the end of its run, after its revamp into The New Batman Adventures. This is a simpler, more “streamlined” design than in the prior Batman series; while I appreciate the redesign of the Penguin to more closely resemble his comic book counterpart, for the most part I’m not as fond of the designs in The New Batman Adventures, and so Mystery of the Batwoman doesn’t quite stack up to the earlier animated Batman films.
Unlike the prior two films, which used the same voice actors as the series for recurring characters, Mystery of the Batwoman uses only some of the same voice actors, and casts new voice actors for some parts. Kevin Conroy returns as Batman, and Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is back as Alfred, Robert Costanzo as Harvey Bullock, and John Vernon reprises his role as Rupert Thorne — incidentally the only appearance of the mob boss in the “new” art style, as he didn’t make any appearances in The New Batman Adventures. But a few of the other regular characters received new voices for their appearances in Mystery of the Batwoman.
Is his voice changing because he’s growing older, or was WB just unable to rehire the same actor?
Robin, voiced by Matthew Valencia in the series, is now voiced by Eli Marienthal. This is, incidentally, not the same Robin as in SubZero; where that was Dick Grayson, this is Tim Drake, at least in name. The cartoon gave him a backstory and personality that’s a bit more in line with Jason Todd, though (you know, the Robin that comic book readers voted to have murdered by the Joker.) Also getting voice makeovers are the Penguin (now voiced by David Ogden Stiers) and Bane (Hector Elizondo). I’m not sure exactly what the purpose was to these replacements, as none of these characters had bad voice acting in the series; while the voice acting of their replacements is also good, it’s not significantly better either. Still, this is probably an issue only for people who watch Mystery of the Batwoman immediately after an episode of the cartoon; I noted it only in passing.
The central plot isn’t too hard to guess from the title. There’s a new vigilante in town, the Batwoman of the title, and she isn’t associated with Batman and doesn’t play by his rules. (This film was made long after the comics abandoned the concept of a Batwoman character, and a few years before they reintroduced the character.) She appears to be targeting the crime syndicate set up by Oswald Cobblepot (a.k.a. The Penguin), Rupert Thorne, and new character Carlton Duquesne (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson). She’s not above using guns or bombs to get what she wants, and so Batman has to figure out who she is and put a stop to her while at the same time trying to stop the criminal enterprise.
One of my complaints about Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was that with only one new character, it was easy to figure out who the Phantasm was. For Mystery of the Batwoman, the writers appear to have learned the lesson, at least somewhat. There are three new female characters that are introduced, and each seems to have a possible motive for a vendetta against the crime syndicate. There’s Kathleen Duquesne (Kimberly Brooks), daughter of Carlton who blames him for her mother’s death in the crossfire of an assassination attempt. There’s Wayne Enterprises scientist Roxanne “Rocky” Ballantine (Kelly Ripa), whose fiance is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, framed by the Penguin. And there’s Detective Sonia Alcana (Elisa Gabrielli), whose family store was once burned in a fire set during one of Thorne’s protection rackets. At various points, Batman has reason to suspect each of the three. And just in case any viewers are sharp-eared enough to recognize an altered voice, directors Curt Geda and Tim Maltby wisely choose to have Batwoman-in-costume voiced by an entirely different actress, Kyra Sedgwick.
Secret identities are such a pain when they’re someone else’s.
The problem is, even though they put more work into keeping the secret identity a mystery, it’s still not particularly hard to figure out. Maybe I’m just too genre savvy after years of both comic books and mysteries, but the show eliminates too many possibilities early on, and as Sherlock’s old axiom goes, once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains must be the truth. It’s easy to figure out the mystery about twice as quickly as Batman does, and while I do feel that a proper mystery should be solvable by the viewer, it isn’t such a great thing for the viewer to be that far ahead of the world’s greatest detective.
I also felt that the plot otherwise felt rather thin and existed mostly to establish the mystery and solve it. Which, okay, is the way most mysteries are, but it doesn’t work very well when dealing with a secret identity mystery. Put simply, the movie puts a lot more time into making the audience try to figure out who Batwoman is than it does in making the audience care who Batwoman is. It’s probably a consequence of the run time again being fairly short for a film (75 minutes); there’s just not quite enough meat to it. Comedies can sometimes get by with an hour and fifteen run time, but a good mystery, and many action films, require a bit more room to breathe and grow. Some more time to devote to the plot of Cobblepot and company, and time to develop the Batwoman suspects as characters would likely have been helpful.
Ultimately, while it’s not exactly a bad film, it’s not all that great either. While the mystery was set up a little better than in Mask of the Phantasm, the rest of the film wasn’t up to par. Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman winds up being a bit of a disappointment in that it’s possible to see how it could have been handled better.