While protecting the citizens of Gotham City, Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) discovers there is a new caped crusader in town: Batwoman (Kyra Sedgwick). This cowled cutie surfs the skies atop a bat-winged rocket-sled, waging a one-woman war against fast-rising crime lords Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) and Carlton Duquesne (Kevin Michael Richardson), who are mere cat’s-paws to that flippered fiend the Penguin (David Ogden Stiers). Her take-no-prisoners attitude affronts the Dark Knight, who is puzzled by her identity since his usual crime-fighting companion Barbara Gordon a.k.a. Batgirl (Tara Strong) is away at college.
Aided by Robin (Eli Marienthal), Batman sets out to uncover the identity of this reckless vigilante. Could Batwoman be Duquesne’s spoiled daughter Kathy (Kimberly Brooks)? Or perhaps scatterbrained scientist Dr. Roxanne “Rocky” Ballantine (Kelly Ripa), newly employed at Gotham Industries? How about determined Detective Sonia Alcana (Elisa Gabrielli), latest recruit to the Gotham Police, who maintains Batman inspired her to fight crime? In his guise as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, our hero investigates and winds up getting a little too close to sexy Kathy than he’d anticipated. Meanwhile, the Penguin hires chemically-fuelled hulking assassin Bane (Hector Elizondo) to wipe out this bat infestation once and for all…
This is the third feature-film spin-off from Batman: The Animated Series, following the outstanding Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), one of the best Batman adaptations in any medium, and Batman: Sub-Zero (1998), which shamed the makers of the live-action Batman & Robin (1997) by being ten-times more entertaining at a fraction of the cost. Unlike the television series, these direct-to-video features favour fast-moving action and spectacle and, with the notable exception of Mask of the Phantasm, struggle match the same level of intricate plotting and emotional depth.
The original Batwoman featured in the comic books, Kathy Kane, was a professional tennis player who donned a garish red and yellow outfit in a bid to snag Batman for a husband. Ah, the sexist 1950s… The millennial animated Batwoman is redesigned as a slinky, grey femme fatale although, in a nice touch, Kathy Duquesne has an athletic background to match her comic book predecessor. Even with Kyra Sedgwick on vocal duties, seasoned viewers will probably guess the big twist regarding Batwoman’s secret identity, while Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Kathy is more upbeat and uncomplicated compared with the tortured, film noir-styled romance in animated episodes past. However, on both a scripted and visual level, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman still stands head and shoulders above most cartoon fodder, with enough plot quirks, charming character details and eye-catching set-pieces to satisfy Bat-fans.
The film retains producer Bruce Timm’s delightful, retro-Forties designs, with added va-va-voom for the gutsy, sexy female characters. Also carried over from the Bruce Timm-Paul Dini cartoon show (not to be confused with the inferior The Batman cartoon created by Michael Goguen and Dwayne Capizzi - which, confusingly, also spawned a line of DTV movies) are excellent voice-actors Kevin Conroy and Tara Strong (essaying a Batgirl with a decidedly more amorous interest in Batman than past incarnations). John Vernon returns as gangster Rupert Thorne for one final time, although long-time fans will note David Ogden Stiers substitutes Paul Williams as the Penguin and Hector Elizondo replaces the great Henry Silva as Bane.