Today marks the end of a great era in Batman history – Batman: The Brave and the Bold leaves the air today… the last new episode in the now cancelled series airs tonight in the United States.
I have a very unpopular opinion about this show: I think it is the best Batman cartoon ever made. Yes, that means I think it is superior to the much beloved Batman: The Animated Series.
Why, you ask, as you sharpen your pitchforks and light your torches? Well, let me see if I can quickly explain my reasoning for this…
The Brave and the Bold contained more intelligence, humor, DC comics history and glorious fan-service easter eggs than pretty much any superhero cartoon ever made, let alone BTAS. How’s that for starters? The reason so many people rallied against this show is primarily due to the fact that it “looked kiddie” – yes, people are so concerned with asserting their maturity that they tend to reject certain aesthetics out of hand, simply because they offend their delicate sensibilities. I believe that to be a supremely absurd position to take in life, but that’s a topic for another time. In a broad sense, I can empathize with this sort of outlook; we all have our tastes and there is nothing wrong with not giving something a chance because you’re not intrigued by the aesthetic (I’m looking at you “The Batman”).
Yet in a more specific context I’m not sure it comes down to simply the style of the animation here… what I think it comes down to is the odd perception people have of Batman. The character is one of the most fiercely imposed upon in all of comics history it seems… within the past few decades the majority of the fan base has become vitriolic in their response to anything that doesn’t represent the character as “dark”, “gritty” and “realistic”… again, let’s keep in mind that this is a man who dresses in a bat costume and makes gadgets that look like little bats to help him beat up brainwashing gorillas and steroid enhanced luchadors. Yeah, it’s pretty silly when you look at it objectively.
One of the reasons that I think Grant Morrison has written what amount to the greatest Batman stories ever told is because he understood the inherent silliness of the character. He knows the history; the majority of Batman representations contain absolutely ridiculous elements – and he loves it. He loves and reveres it and he managed to supplant those into a modern vernacular, he doesn’t reject the goofy Silver age zaniness, he embraces it wholly and mightily re-incorporates it into the mythos. In short – he respects the history of the character; he doesn’t shun it and pretend it didn’t exist. Of course, he only gets away with this because he’s such a good writer. I’ve always thought that if Grant Morrison were to create an all-ages Batman cartoon, it would be exactly like BTBATB was. It was smart, laden with meta references and it was never afraid to not take itself deadly serious.
This was a show that paid respectful and loving homage to, pretty much, every conceivable iteration of Batman – spanning across all media; comics, movies, television, etc. The whole show was basically a love letter to die-hard Batman fans.
This was a show that embraced the unbridled insanity that is the DC universe, relished the absurdity of the long history full of campy and dramatic heroes and villains – and this was a show that did it all with a surrealist’s humor and a wry tongue-in-cheek intelligence. Best yet, it managed this without talking down to kids, it managed to pack each episode with enough content to please parents and children at the same time; this is the Pixar of animated Batman shows. Plus, far before Geoff Johns rebooted him, any frequent viewer of this show already new Aquaman was cool as hell. Any show that has the voice of Bender playing the most hated and ridiculed superhero, pretty much ever, has won me as a viewer before I ever watch a single frame. Actually – when one gets right down to it, I think it may even be safe to say it has the most impressive voice cast of any superhero cartoon ever = Holy shit that’s a lot of amazing people.
Enough blather though, let’s get to the meat and potatoes.
Take a short stroll down memory lane with me and have a look at what I consider to be the pinnacle of Batman on television with my list of the
Top Ten Episodes of
Batman: The Brave And The Bold
(It was VERY difficult for me to limit the list to just ten episodes, I started out with 25 that I thought just had to be on here – this show rarely had a sub-par episode)
– SPOILERS AHEAD –
“Crisis: 22,300 Miles Above Earth!” – Written by Steven Melching
One of the great things about the format of this show was the always present ‘cold opens’. They were sometimes related to the main episode’s plot, but more often than not, they were totally separate and unconnected. This episode has one of the weirdest.
Joker has captured Batman, put him over spit and is hosting a literal “roast” for a huge cavalcade of villains. The really weird part? They bring in real life comedian Jeffery Ross as roast master.
Yeah… this show is fucking nuts.
Anyway, the main episode’s plot is damned absurd in its own right. Justice League International has decided to host a party for the Justice Society of America aboard the watchtower. The young guns of the JLI are trying to show their respect for their old heroes, the JLA. Martain Manhunter is playing the worried party host, trying to make sure the party goes smoothly- it goes anything but. Everyone is waiting for the lynchpin of inter-team relations, Batman, to show up… but he’s a bit tied up trying to foil Ra’s al Ghul’s most recent plot. So as Martain Manhuter frets over the party going smoothly and waiting impatiently for Batman to arrive, things go from bad to worse… we learn that Aquaman is really bad at charades and eventually a huge brawl breaks out between the two teams/two generations – then, believe it or not, pie throwing ensues.
Trust me, this is much funnier than it sounds and the capper to the episode manages to tie Batman’s intense subplot up with the comedic Watchtower party pretty perfectly.
“Sidekicks Assemble!” – Written by Marsha F. Griffin
We open with three young sidekicks who are bickering, training, and making a pact for the future. We’ve got Robin, Speedy and Aqualad forging their lifelong dynamics which seem to ironically mirror the dynamics between their adult mentors.
Eventually these precocious little kids grow into precocious adults who are still desperate to break out of the shadows of their more adult Superhero teachers… they’re given the opportunity to choose between two cases to take on, while their adult counterparts take on the other. As it turns out they picked the right, or wrong one, depending on who’s looking at it. The kids get the exciting and dangerous case which involves Ra’s al Ghul trying to destroy the world with a flying island. We’re treated to some really great action set-pieces in this episode and the interplay between the adult heroes and one another, the kid heroes and one another, and then all of them combined is a real treat.
By the end of it all Robin has decided it is time to strike out on his own and unveils his new Nightwing persona for the first time, disco suit and all.
“The Mask of Matches Malone!” – Written by Gail Simone
We open on Batman, attempting to foil Catwoman’s latest heist… although more flirting occurs than foiling. Black Canary and Huntress arrive on the scene as well and are… well, a little put off by Batman’s brazen displays of affection for the Cat and jealous cat-fights ensue between the three girls.
Two-Face wanders in during all their bickering and manages to make off with the same item Catwoman was originally there to steal; a cloak which grants its wearer “nine lives”. As it turns out, Two-Face plans to auction off this cloak to Gotham’s underworld. Batman, Black Canary, Catwoman and Huntress decide to go undercover, infiltrate the auction and retrieve the cloak. Batman takes on his Matches Malone persona to do so and during the ensuing fight at the auction he becomes afflicted with amnesia.
Now, believing himself to really be his alter ego, Matches Malone – a gangster, he absconds with the cloak and sets off on a crime-spree. Of course he is unstoppable because, as no one except the Birds of Prey know, he is the goddamned Batman.
The Birds of Prey decide to confront Bats and plan to somehow cure his amnesia. They then manage to accidentally wander onto the stage of the club “Matches” is hiding out in, and they start an amazing double entendre-filled song and dance number. Seriously. This song makes the whole episode amazing just on its own. I mean… here, just watch:
Yes. What happens after this doesn’t matter… but it is still awesome. Great episode.
“Emperor Joker!” – Written by Steven Melching
The cold open here is great. A pitch-perfect homage to Detective Comics # 241
The episode proper however…even better. Long story short: Bat-Mite accidentally gives The Joker his inter-dimensional powers and of course, Joker goes a bit… mad. Twisting reality around him to his sick will, he decides to kill Batman… over and over and over again in increasingly strange and elaborate ways.
Meanwhile, Bat-Mite and Harley Quinn fall in love, and Joker creates a Joker-Mite to keep Bat-Mite busy.
Pure insane genius.
“The Color of Revenge!” – Written by Todd Casey
This is the perfect example of taking an absolutely ridiculous silver age villain and making him interesting. Crazy Quilt is said villain here and back in the day, a young Robin blinds him during a fight…
Years later he returns to seek his revenge.
This episode is fantastic not just for the villain, but for the great dynamic between Bats and Robin. Robin believes Batman treats him with kid gloves and holds him back from reaching his true potential. What elevates that dynamic beyond the stale though, is that the heroes are more concerned with their relationship during the whole episode than poor Crazy Quilt.
He’s the one who is desperate to be taken seriously in all his silver age goofiness, but Batman and Robin could not care less.
“The Super-Batman of Planet X!” – Written by Adam Beechen
You want geeky fan-service? Well look no further than this episode. Not only is it full of nods to Batman history in the comics (but really, what episode of this show isn’t?), but also full of nods to everyone’s beloved BTAS. We see Batman crash-land on the planet Zur-En-Arrh, specifically, in the city of Gothtropolis. Yep, that is certainly a mix of Gotham and Metropolis.
There is already a Batman which exists on this strange planet though: The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.
This Batman has a very Clark Kent-like secret identity, a girlfriend who is suspiciously Lois Lane-like and a bald arch-nemesis named, Rohtul (Luthor, duh). Now if that wasn’t interesting enough we can point out the fact that Kevin Conroy is voicing this new Batman, and all the Superman: The Animated Series actors are reprising their roles here, albeit skewed alternate-reality versions of said characters.
I’m just a sucker for the Batman of Zur-en-Arrh, what can I say.
“Bat-Mite Presents: Batman’s Strangest Cases!” – Written by Paul Dini
Wow. This one is a doozy. Bat-Mite episodes are always a guaranteed good time, but this one really takes the cake. Bat-Mite, ultimate Batman fanboy that he is, takes us through his Batman museum to share some of the odder incarnations that Batman has taken over the years (If for no other reason than this possibly being a regular type of episode I’m disappointed this show was cancelled).
The cold open presents us with a stone-cold take on the Mad Magazine parody Bat boy and Rubin. The odd, subversive humor and the very unique art style is a dead ringer for the Magazine’s spoof.
Bat-Mite then introduces us to the Anime version of Batman.
He and Robin famously take on Lord Deathman – transplanting this to the show was a no-brainer, they were able to include many easy “Americanized anime” jokes; bad dubbing, edits made for content and just the ridiculousness of some of the situations those zany Japanese writers would come up with.
Then we arrive at the really brilliant bit. A meditation on Scooby-Doo meets Batman. I was going to do a big review on the Scooby-Doo/Batman movies and I honestly gave up the idea after seeing this episode. Paul Dini manages to either blatantly comment upon everything I would have brought up or slyly mock just by silent references in the art alone.
Batman’s unexplainable pimp ring?
Yeah, it’s here and it goes un-commented upon… just as it should (although, I still prefer the OG pimp ring myself).
What about the constant mis-coloring of Batman’s bat symbol and costume?
Bat-mite even informs us that when the cartoon were originally broadcast Batman wasn’t allowed to even throw a punch… so, he decides to fix that with his powers, letting Batman and Robin take out Penguin and Joker. That’s not enough for Bat-Mite though, so he then decides to give Shaggy and Scooby the same pugilistic powers as well.
All that and Batman even takes a time out during the episode to teach kids about shark safety.
Oh yeah and Weird Al is in this episode too. Go figure.
“The Knights of Tomorrow!” – Written by Todd Casey & Jake Black
This is just another perfect example of what this show offered the mythos of Batman that no other cartoon before it had. This episode is an animated Elseworlds tale.
We open on Batman and Catwoman doing their flirting and fighting thing… when suddenly… things get serious.
They passionately kiss and decide it’s time to leave the games behind. So they get married.
Not only do they get married but they have a baby, and they name him Damian.
Cue fanboy squealing.
Not only do we get Damian, but we also see the mantle of the Bat passed on to who else, Dick Grayson.
Bruce trains Damian in the hopes that eventually he’ll be the next Batman, after Dick… but Damian is a bit… hesitant.
It should be noted, however, that this alternate version of Damian is not the psychopath that exists in the comics, he never had Talia as a mom and Bruce was always in his life, mind you.
Anyway, Bruce, Selina and Damian are visiting the grand opening of a Batman Museum when suddenly… The Joker attacks – or rather, the Joker’s “son” attacks. Bruce just can’t help himself and throws down with the clown and Selina jumps in too, pulling her whip off a display to take part in the fun. Meanwhile, Dick shows up and things go from bad to worse:
With his parents murdered young Damian now decides he must avenge them. So the cycle completes. Dick is losing a fight with the two Jokers (yep, papa Joker is still around!) when suddenly, who shows up? His new robin, Damian.
Eventually when all is said and done with this episode we’ve gone even further into this future and managed to see three generations of Wayne men take on the role of The Batman (four if you want to count Dick as a Wayne) – and damn, it is satisfying.
“Chill of the Night!” – Written by Paul Dini
This really broke the mold for the show. It was the first episode that dared to “get serious” about the idea of Bruce’s parents being murdered and wondered what Bruce might do if one day he was able to seek true revenge on his parent’s killer. It was also not just darker in tone, but the animation itself was much darker here than in most other episodes.
Chill of the Night uses the underrated three-issue miniseries The Untold Legend of the Batman as its’ basis. Basically, in the version Dini tells here, The Phantom Stranger and The Spectre (voiced by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill , respectively) place a bet on whether or not Batman will kill the man who murdered his parents when he finally confronts him as an adult.
The Phantom Stranger takes Bruce back to a Halloween party his parents threw, where the events leading to their murders began. Here Bruce is able to see his parents (voiced by Adam West and Julie Newmar) again and even gets to see his father in his original “Batman” costumed get-up. He and his father even get to fight alongside one another for a brief and bittersweet while.
This all leads up to a great moment wherein Batman (back in his normal time-line) finally confronts Joe Chill, reveals his identity to him (this is also the first time the show showed “Bruce’s” face)
and… well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. This is one you should definitely watch for yourself.
This episode is just heartbreaking and the definitive proof that this show can stand toe to toe with the most “serious” Batman cartoons out there.
“Mitefall!” – Written by Paul Dini
Yes, this is the final episode… It aired long ago in the UK and is just now going to air for the first time in the US. TONIGHT (Nov. 18, 2011)
Do not miss this episode.
Yes, it is another Bat-Mite episode, yes it is another Paul Dini episode… can I help it if those two things add up to an enormous amount of pure awesome?
This is such a poignant and sadly sweet episode that it made man-tears well up in my eyes. It is also absolutely hilarious.
Bat-Mite wants a new Batman cartoon because he thinks the formula on TBATB is getting stale, he also knows “the audience” wants a “darker” Batman. His plan is to piss off all the Batman fans he possibly can so he decides to use his powers to alter the cartoon and Batman’s world.
He starts by giving Batman an adorable daughter and wife who hang out in the Batcave.
He then allows “the toy companies” to force their ridiculous toys into the show, altering the narrative around them. “Neon Super-Street Talking Bat-luge, Activate!”.
This is just the beginning, Ambush Bug, (obscure, even for this show!) who is voiced by Henry Winkler (Who also, oddly enough, appears in this episode as Fonzie!) sees Batmite’s meddling while working out at the gym and decides to try and stop him from forcing BTBATB to ‘Jump the Shark’.
Bat-Mite is nothing if not tenacious though, so he keeps right on, trying to break the show in any way he can. He replaces the voice actor for Aquaman, the break-out character. He even makes Batman use guns (on the beach, in bermuda shorts and with Scrappy-Doo!)…
Bitemite has a change of heart and decides that, after all, he does love BTBATB. In the end though, The Brave and The Bold gets cancelled anyway, despite Bat-Mite realizing the err of his ways…
With no other option Ambush Bug decides to organize a wrap party where everyone can gather in the batcave, while workers strike the set around them.
I honestly cannot begin to describe how touched I was by the ending of this episode.
Needless to say, I will greatly miss you Batman: The Brave and the Bold – and television is all the poorer for having lost you.
Thanks for the great run, I’ll see you on Bluray.