Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season One, Part One
Review by KC Carlson
As a DC comic book, the original Brave and the Bold title ran from 1955 to 1983. For the first 24 issues, it was an adventure-style comic featuring tales of the Silent Knight, Viking Prince, Robin Hood, Golden Gladiator, and others. Issues #26-49 featured try-out series (ala Showcase), the most successful of which were Hawkman, the Justice League of America, and (later) the Teen Titans. Beginning with #50, the title contained a series of stories featuring random team-ups of various DC superheroes, which ran until #67, when the most popular team-up character, Batman, became the ongoing “star” of the title. Almost every subsequent issue featured a team-up with him and another DC hero, and this continued to the series’ end with issue #200.
At first, it seemed like a pretty unlikely source for a new Warner Bros. animated TV show, especially since the near-endless continuity revamps at DC had rendered pretty much every issue of the series as “not in current continuity”. (Truth to tell, many of the issues were never part of any DC continuity, even as they were being published.) But since the basic concept of the series (popular Batman teaming up with a different character every issue) is one of the very favorite concepts of long-time comics readers, it seemed perfect to base a new Batman animated series around — providing it had the right tone.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold has nailed that perfect tone in spades by becoming the biggest mixed bag of influences in recent memory — yet somehow it all works! Unlike previous Warner/DC animated shows which were mostly taken seriously, with the occasional outrageously weird or funny episode, Batman: The Brave and the Bold has flipped that on its ear, with mostly outrageous episodes (or risky, yet perfect, character takes), occasionally interrupted with a serious episode.
Broken down further, the show is one part Silver Age love-fest, starring lantern-jawed Dick Sprang-era Batman with his teeny-tiny Bat-ears, and his “impossible” utility belt and equipment. A lot of the story ideas for this series come from that pre-Julie Schwartz, sci-fi-based Batman era that no one at DC (except for Grant Morrison) wants to admit happened, and so a number of episodes feature time travel, or interplanetary threats, just for old times’ sake. Plus, the show features old-school, beardless, gimmick-arrow Green Arrow!
Then there’s one part 1966 Adam West-style line-reading goonery (including Batman’s occasional snarky thoughts — brilliant, especially since current comics characters aren’t allowed to have thoughts anymore, other then endless murky monologue captions); one part crazy (but tough) Rogues Gallery, drawing from the entire DCU; one part up-to-date hipness (the inclusion of way-cool Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, the bizarre Outsiders update, especially Japanese schoolgirl warrior Katana, and Ryan Choi Atom (hmmm… that might be a future problem)); and one part courage to not be SO serious. Loopy, over-the top, boisterous Aquaman is my new favorite incarnation of the character, and Plastic Man is always a treat — especially watching Batman and other heroes’ reactions to him.
What It Is
Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Season One, Part One is a two-disc DVD set that includes the first 13 episodes of the series, half of the season’s total. Normally, I’m not a big fan of splitting TV seasons, but I’m generally in favor if means keeping animation collections affordable, with the economy the way it is. And this is a much better collection than Warner’s previous four-episode single discs.
Unfortunately, besides a preview of Lego Harry Potter (and does that really count?), there are no special features or commentaries in this collection. I do hope that economic conditions improve by the time that Part Two of the season is issued, as I’d like to see a featurette or two about the series. For many of us, cartoons like this are more than just “video babysitters”. Some of us like to see what the creative people behind the shows have to say about about their work, as well as have the opportunity to take a public bow for it.
Each episode is structured in such a way that there’s a “teaser” opening, with Batman teaming with a hero, as a way to warm up the show. Often these teaser segments will showcase an upcoming full-length appearance of the teaser guest star, or sometimes it’s just a quick (and often amusing) appearance by one of DC’s many bizarre (but beloved) obscure characters, like B’wana Beast. After the super-stylized opening credits (which require still-framing to truly appreciate), the main adventure begins with Batman teaming with another hero in a longer adventure. There’s a sort of repertory company of popular recurring guest stars (like the old comic), which includes Blue Beetle, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Plastic Man, and (to a slightly lesser extent) Red Tornado.
Finding the Show’s Voice
The voice acting in this series is very strong, especially considering that they do not often resort to superstar stunt casting. The basic cast is drawn from a number of professional voice actors. It took me a couple of episodes to get used to Diedrich Bader as Batman (mostly because I’ve seen almost every episode of The Drew Carey Show, and it was difficult to disassociate him from the character of Oswald), but now that I’ve gotten away from that, I can see how brilliant his deadpan style is for Batman on this series. I especially love his occasionally put-upon “thought” voice. He also voiced the robot Zeta in the underrated series The Zeta Project.
It’s hard for me to believe that the voice of Bender on Futurama is coming from the same guy voicing Aquaman here, which just goes to show how great a voice actor John DiMaggio is. He also voices a number of villains on the series including Grodd and Black Adam. Other standout voice performances include Will Friedle as Blue Beetle, James Arnold Taylor (a life-long comic fan) as Green Arrow and Guy Gardner (so he must like green as well), as well as many other characters, and Tom Kenny (aka SpongeBob SquarePants) as Plastic Man.
One For the Kids!
Maybe the best thing about Batman: The Brave and the Bold is that it’s a great show to watch with your kids. While most of DC’s recent direct-to-disc animated movies are not very kid-friendly, this show is designed for kids from top to bottom, with its big, bold design and bright colors. (Note: Batman’s outfit is Silver Age blue in this series, not the comics’ gritty black and gray. And includes the yellow chest circle!) There’s also not a lot of direct punching and hitting — and when it does occur, the animation goes for a very stylized “moving still image” of actual violent impacts. Fair warning: there are a couple of episodes that deal with death, although it’s all off-camera and nothing is ever shown. But be prepared to have some questions from your little ones, especially in scenes where the storyline recaps Batman’s origins (and the murder of his parents).
Notable Moments (G’nort Your Everyday Cartoon Show!)
A couple of the better episodes of this batch are written by frequent comics writer J.M. DeMatteis. The first, “Day of the Dark Knight”, teases the Green Lantern Corps before introducing a great story teaming Batman and Green Arrow, transported though time by Merlin to battle Morgan Le Fay and The Demon. Watch closely after the title sequence for a prison break featuring cameos by many of the non-DC-canon villains from the 1966 Batman TV show, including Egghead, King Tut, Bookworm, Louie the Lilac, Ma Parker, Marsha: Queen of Diamonds, Shame, the Archer, and others.
Another DeMatteis’ episode, “The Eyes of Despero”, follows up on the promise of more Green Lantern Corps members (spotlighting Guy Gardner, Sinestro, and G’nort, plus a fleeting Hal Jordan cameo, as well as dozens of others), after the teaser of Dr. Fate vs. Wotan. DeMatteis gets to recycle his Guy Gardner “one punch” joke into animation, and have your remote ready to still-frame G’nort’s hysterical “cheat sheet” for remembering the Green Lantern Oath.
The final two episodes of this half-season break the regular format, offering up the series’ first two-parter: “Deep Cover for Batman” and “Game Over for Owlman”. They not only introduce the concepts of parallel earths and evil dopplegangers to the series, but also do a pretty good job of summing up the entire series to date. After Batman encounters his evil doppleganger, Owlman (whose outfit looks like the early Kane version of Batman, with long pointy ears and no yellow chest circle) from Earth-23 (as yet unassigned in DC Comics’ list of Multiverse worlds), Batman disguises himself as Owlman and travels to the other Earth to infiltrate Owlman’s Injustice Syndicate (itself a version of DC’s long-standing and multifaceted Crime Syndicate). Their membership consists of evil dopplegangers of pretty much all of the heroes we’ve met so far on the show (some of whom appear only in cameo). Batman also encounters Earth-23’s only heroic character, the Red Hood, whom he teams with (along with heroic counterparts of many of the villains we’ve seen on the show, most notably Grodd and Sinestro). At the end of Part 1, the villains are quickly defeated, and Batman returns to his own world — only to discover that he’s now wanted by the police!
In part two, Batman learns that he’s been away for three weeks (because of a malfunctioning Phase Oscillator — probably obtained from Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems). In that time, Owlman has escaped from the Batcave, where he was being held prisoner, and has gone on a crime spree. Not only that, all of Batman’s allies have teamed up to bring him to justice — all except Plastic Man, whom the other heroes don’t want hanging around because he’s so lame. All of the previous has just been prologue to the big event in this episode — introducing the Joker to this particular animated universe.
This Joker is … odd. Visually, he’s based on the Dick Sprang version, with the odd-shaped head and flattop hair. He’s voiced here by Jeff Bennett, who also voices Johnny Bravo; various characters on Freakazoid (including The Huntsman, Lord Bravery, Candlejack, and Caveguy); and Batman’s singing voice in this series (in a subsequent musical episode not in this particular set). Bennett plays the Joker fairly low-key, probably trying to find another take on the character beyond Mark Hamill’s manic over-the-top reading, which in many fans’ ears has become the defining performance.
I won’t give away the ultimate ending of this episode, but I will say that Batman ends up having to enlist a whole gang of alternate universe versions of himself, including Justice Rider Batman, Leatherwing, Bat-Vampire, a big-brained Batman, and — a favorite of old-time DC Comics’ The Brave and the Bold readers — Bat-Hulk! Yay!
The series just gets weirder and weirder as it goes along. In episodes that have already aired (but not yet collected on DVD), we’ll see that musical episode that I talked about, featuring Neil Patrick Harris (and the songs can be purchased), plus we’ll be introduced to more members of the legendary Justice Society. Bat-Mite appears (in an episode written by Paul Dini) to pay back a parody of Batman from a 1946 Daffy Duck cartoon, Jonah Hex battles some Klassic Kirby Kreations, and Aquaman goes on vacation with Mera and Arthur Jr. — in a rented RV! There’s a crazy interplanetary road race, and the Teen Titans, Booster Gold, the Metal Men, the Challengers of the Unknown, Captain Marvel, the Spectre, the Phantom Stranger, Woozy Winks, Detective Chimp, and Matches Malone all appear! Further down the road, they promise to break out the Big Guns, including both Superman and Wonder Woman, and supposedly a crossover with the new (and excellent!) Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated show is in the works. (Holy New Scooby-Doo Movies!)
As you can see, Batman: The Brave and the Bold is great fun, a must-watch for Silver Age DC Comics fans, and a welcome addition to the growing legacy of top quality Warner Bros. animated shows. (The studio provided a review copy.)