You might think the real mystery of the Batwoman would be “how did the studio behind Mask of the Phantasm and Return of the Joker churn out this pile of mediocre nonsense?” But that’s easy: Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman was made without the involvement of Bruce Timm or Lauren Montgomery. The only member of the Holy Trinity of Animation to take part in this fiasco was Andrea Romano, and even the best voice director in the business can only do so much when every other aspect of the movie is shit.
In case it’s not obvious, I don’t much care for Mystery of the Batwoman. It’s not the worst of DC’s animated features (we’ll get to them, I promise,) but it is a noteworthy misstep, especially considering it was the last feature made in the classic “Timm-verse” style. Creatively and commercially, it’s an unquestionable failure. How does it fail? Let me count the ways.
We’ll begin with a failure that’s obvious the first time anyone appears on screen: animation. Compared to the rich, detailed animation of the animated series and features that preceded it, Mystery of the Batwoman appears flat, static, and above all, cheap. It’s as if they cut half of the frames out of a typical episode of the animated series, leaving the final product looking like a Newgrounds video. This might not be such a big deal if it wasn’t a followup to some of the best animation work in modern history, but it was, and the comparison is inescapable.
The score isn’t as bad as the animation, and from a purely musical perspective I wouldn’t say it’s bad at all. Unfortunately, it’s also a poor fit for Batman. Like it or not, the animated series had a very distinctive musical profile, and the lightweight jazz approach Mystery of the Batwoman took was too dramatic a departure, made all the worse by halfhearted attempts to reflect the work of Danny Elfman and Shirley Walker. I won’t speak ill of Lolita Ritmanis’ skill as a composer, because I’m not even remotely qualified to do that, but her style was entirely inappropriate for the animated world of Batman.
But what about the story? To be blunt, it was dumb. The amateurish script was not up to the task of presenting an actual mystery, and was not helped at all by poor pacing. The central mystery, that of the Batwoman’s identity, was laughably simplistic. Which of the three never-before-seen female characters could she be? By the time it’s revealed the answer is as pointlessly obvious as it is stupid, but it does raise the real mystery of the Batwoman: Why does it take three women to make one unsuccessful Batman knockoff?
Conveniently, that question brings me to the aspect of this movie that annoyed me the most. The old DC Animated Universe always had a bit of a problem with casual misogyny. In most cases, it didn’t go much farther than literally every female character being drawn as a tiny-waisted sexpot. With Mystery of the Batwoman, that inherent sexism is drawn into the spotlight.
Take the above example, the team of three Batwomen. That concept on its own would actually be kind of cool; three badass ladies pooling their resources to match the world’s greatest detective. Unfortunately it falls on its face at the end when the womenfolk fail miserably and must turn to Batman for rescue. Combine that with nonsense like the stupidly unnecessary phone conversation with a jealously flirty Barbara Gordon and a pattern starts to form.
For the record, the notion of Batman and Batgirl hooking up was first brought up by Bruce Timm in Batman Beyond. So, while I hate everything about that ridiculous idea, I can’t really blame it on Mystery of the Batwoman. But it’s still awful and there was no reason at all to lend it credence with a scene that would have subtracted nothing from the movie if it had been left out.
Speaking of ill-advised Bat-romances, why even bother hooking Bruce Wayne up with one of the three Batwomen? If the story had followed any sort of logic, the relationship would have been doomed from the start. The fact that Bruce opts to continue the relationship after confirming young Kathy’s double identity (for fuck’s sake Bruce, date someone your own age,) is wildly out of character. It doesn’t much matter though, since everyone watching knew perfectly well that Kathy would never be seen on screen again. So why try to validate an entirely pointless romance? Another mystery, and not one worth solving.
I could probably keep going, but I think I’ve made my point pretty clear. Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman is an ill-conceived, poorly animated, badly scored movie that ironically has no respect at all for women and only slightly more respect for Batman. Unless you really want to waste an hour of your life, I’d give this one a pass.
Next Time – Superman: Doomsday