Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season One, Part Two
Review by KC Carlson
"Batman's rich history allows him to be interpreted
in a multitude of ways. To be sure, this is a lighter incarnation,
but it's certainly no less valid and true to the character's roots
than the tortured avenger crying out for mommy and daddy."
-- Bat-Mite (2009)
Yay! Another (half-)season of Batman: The Brave and the Bold on DVD (no Blu-Ray yet)! Since Warners has split the season into two parts, I will follow suit and declare this Part Two of my review. (If you haven’t already, you might want to check out Part One for some history and background on the series, so I don’t have to repeat myself here.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season One, Part Two (or B:TBatBS1P2) (sorry, just being silly) contains 13 more wonderfully entertaining, charming, engaging, amazing, and just plain fun episodes of Batman and his pals n’ gals. Currently airing on Cartoon Network since 2008, this animated series is filled with equal parts slam-bang action (or is it? watch very carefully! Do those slo-mo punches actually connect? Brilliant!), as well as crazy, imaginative situations, some occasionally bizarre humor, well-executed (and subtle) satire, and even a little song, a little dance (and a little seltzer down your pants!). So, not your usual angst-filled fanboy-fest (although there is even a little bit of occasional angsty-ness for well-rounded-ness). Sometimes I think this show is so much fun, I might never have to read comic books again — especially since they don’t make comic books like this any more (except for maybe Tiny Titans).
Guest stars in this clump of episodes include Aquaman, Adam Strange, The Demon, Blue Beetle, The Huntress, Booster Gold, Robin, Red Tornado, Jonah Hex, Kamandi, OMAC, Black Canary, Green Arrow, the Outsiders, Dr. Fate, and even Sherlock Holmes and Watson! Plus great cameos by The Question, the Golden Age Flash, Wildcat, Mister Miracle and Big Barda, Hawk and Dove, and even Two-Face. (Not to miss is a heart-tugging appearance by Ace the Bat-Hound!) Villains run the gamut from Classic (Psycho Pirate, Scarecrow) to Powerhouses (Gorilla Grodd, Solomon Grundy, Bane) to Silver Age (Crazy Quilt, Catman) to Silly (Punch and Jewelee) and even a couple of foes original to the cartoon (Music Meister, Equinox — although he’s a lot like old JLA/Final Crisis foe Libra). Don’t blink, or you’ll miss a couple more cameos of “so awful they’re great!” villains from the old 1960s Batman TV show (like King Tut and Bookworm) or some Silver Age one-shotters (like Zebra-Man and Calendar Man).
The best part of having this show on DVD is all the great still-frame moments — from the opening credits to the hysterical (and historical!) graffiti in the TB&TB club (cool!) in the Music Meister episode (you won’t believe how many superhero team names also make great band names!) to the creator cameos in the Bat-Mite episode. You’ll need that Still Frame button in many of the episodes here — especially to I.D. the goofy old villains — so keep that remote handy! It’s essential!
Such is the wonderfulness of this series is even when one of the storylines is not a home run (thankfully a rarity), the very structure of the show with its teaser segment — spotlighting a completely different adventure and team-up — means that virtually every single episode has at least something that will make you smile or trigger a fist-pumping “Yeah!”
Two episodes from this set are flat-out classics. First up is the episode which provides our opening quote, “Legends of the Bat-Mite” — a tour de force of silliness and slyness written by Paul Dini and directed by Ben Jones. I was laughing from the first frame of the main story, an establishing shot of an urban building that kinda looked like a bank, identified by a 10-foot-high sign reading “BANK”. Of course the bank is robbed, but when Batman investigates, he discovers that it’s a set-up by his most obnoxious fan, Bat-Mite (voiced by Paul Reubens, aka Pee-Wee Herman) who proceeds to put Batman through increasingly silly paces, while frequently yelling “This is SO cool!” like the fanboy call to arms that it has become.
Things escalate beyond strange (biker Santas, mutant Easter Bunnies), so Bat-Mite decides to poll other Batman fanboys to find out what they think. We jump to a 5th Dimensional comic book convention (with a logo remarkably similar to the San Diego Con), where the show’s creators and voice actors are on stage addressing an entire ballroom of people dressed in Batman costumes — all of them male. One of them voices his disgust with the current goings on with the usual (and ultimately pointless) fanboy rant, “He’s not my Batman.” There are hushed whispers on stage. Finally, a deadpan Bat-Mite responds with the quote above, concluding with “and besides, those Easter Bunnies look really scary, right?” after he sees the audience growing restless. The crowd murmurs in agreement (“True ‘dat!”) while the camera pans across the room to land on Paul Dini and Bruce Timm (dressed as the animated Harley Quinn and Joker, respectively). Timm/Joker responds: “Meh.”
Greatest. Convention. Moment. EVER. (Plus, it never really happened!)
Batman eventually distracts Bat-Mite by offering him an autographed Batarang. The sprite’s response? SQUEEE! Bat-Mite: The hero that could be — YOU!
And by this point, the episode’s just half over! More strangeness to come! (The least of which is the Science Museum identified by the giant protractor outside!) Plus, some of the greatest absurdist animation ever.
The other outstanding episode is “Mayhem of the Music Meister”, an all-singing and -dancing episode featuring the multi-talented Neil Patrick Harris as the villainous Music Meister, whose special power is to control people with music, forcing them to sing rather than talk. It’s a gimmick-laden episode, to be sure, and not all of the five songs are toe-tappers, but it’s a really fun experiment to watch and actually has a surprise character development or two as well. (Hint: Aquaman and Grodd dance.) I really like the fact that the episode is formatted as a three-act theatrical musical performance, complete with curtains. Plus, as a cool tie-in, all the songs (including the show’s theme song) are available as digital downloads from both iTunes and Amazon. (I’ve been picking them up from Amazon a song at a time whenever I get one of those free $1 download credits.) There will be more music to come in future B:TBatB episodes.
(BTW, this is a key still-frame episode that not only features obscure villains and fun graffiti, but there’s also a scene which features a grid of dozens and dozens of characters from the series. Happy hunting!)
Jack KIrby fans will be excited that there are three episodes on this set featuring Kirby Koncepts (although I’m not sure I would have done them as three episodes in a row). I did get a big kick watching Jonah Hex interact with the Female Furies (and possibly hooking up with one of them off-screen).
Picky, Picky, Picky
I only have two complaints about the Season One, Part Two package, and both of them are pretty minor. First up, an aesthetic problem: This package lists the episodes based on their Production Numbers, rather than the order in which they were first aired (at least in America). Normally, this is not a problem for a series of basically one-shot episodes without many continuing elements. But “The Fate of Equinox!” is so obviously designed to be the Season One Finale. It’s the culmination of the season-long Equinox character storyline (as well as a mini-bookend for the second half of the season) and also a big superhero team-up, featuring all of the “regular” cast. So it’s a real shame that it plays as the third-to-last episode on Disc Two, kinda rendering the two episodes that follow (including the musical episode) as afterthoughts. For the best aesthetic enjoyment of the series, when you watch Disc Two, watch the episodes in order until “The Fate of Equinox!” — then skip it, watch the next two episodes (“Mayhem of the Music Meister!” and “Inside the Outsiders!”) before going back to watch “The Fate of Equinox!” You’ll be glad you did.
Second, this Season One, Part Two (or whatever) thing is silly and confusing. Why not just say that each season of the series is only 13 episodes? That’s the way they’re shown initially anyway (with a several week (or months) gap between the two halves of the season). Much easier for everyone — and much easier to market as well!
Again, there are no extras to speak of in this set, other than a couple of trailers for other Warner animation projects. The one for All-Star Superman seems really out-of-place here, due to the differences in content and style. Remember, Batman: The Brave and the Bold is not rated — so it’s perfectly appropriate for all ages of Bat-fans. It is pretty action-oriented, so watch out for your little ones (or big ones) who occasionally get too excited about what they see. It’s that kinda show…
Season Three Update
After a (too-)long hiatus, Season Three begins in America on March 25, 2011, on Cartoon Network with an episode titled “The Battle of the Super-Heroes”, rumored to feature Superman for the first time on this show. Two episodes from Season Two are still unaired in the USA, but one of them — “Bat-Mite Presents: Batman’s Strangest Cases” (including the crossover with Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated, as well as a manga-inspired Batman) — is (appropriately) scheduled to air on April 1 on Cartoon Network. Program those DVRs!
It’s the last half-season (13 episodes) of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, so look for some surprises! It’s apparently being replaced with a “more serious” (sigh.) CG-animated Batman show (but not until 2012). Until then, please enjoy the remaining episodes — as well as the future DVD collections — all of which hold a place of honor on my DVD animation racks. (The studio provided a review copy.)