Brave, Bold, Blu
To a hefty chunk of my generation, Batman: The Animated Series is the be-all, end-all of superhero cartoons. It simply doesn’t get any better than the show’s moody and stylish take on the Caped Crusader, which still preserved the escapist fun that comes from seeing bad guys get bonked around. This is the definitive Dark Knight for a lot of people, though that didn’t scare others away from contributing their own interpretations in the following years. Arguably, the most audacious of them all was Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which is probably as much of an about-face from a Christopher Nolan-style tone as they come. Emphasizing colorful team-ups with other heroes over gritty solo adventures, The Brave and the Bold offers vibrant entertainment with plenty of pep, a show whose inaugural season is now twice as dazzling thanks to its Blu-ray debut through the Warner Archive Collection.
Everyone knows about Batman (voice of Diedrich Bader). Man of few words, the world’s greatest detective, a lone wolf watching over the streets of Gotham City. But contrary to the image of the scowling crimebuster who’s dominated media for the past decade or two, Batman’s comic-based exploits often skewed light and fantastic. These are the stories that helped inspire The Brave and the Bold, in which Bob Kane’s costumed avenger romps about through different time periods, alien worlds, and alternate dimensions. But not only that, Batman is also accompanied by a rotating line-up of supporting do-gooders who all have their own powers to help out in a pinch. Playing against the Dark Knight’s straight man are the likes of Green Arrow (voice of James Arnold Taylor), Plastic Man (voice of Tom Kenny), and many more who are glad to assist in taking down the scum of the DC Universe. The capers may be a bit nuttier and the wisecracks more abundant than normal, but the cowl we all know and love is as ready to cast a shadow over evildoers as it’s ever been.
While ostensibly aimed at kids too little to have The Dark Knight Returns rearrange their DNA just yet, The Brave and the Bold brings with it appeal on a variety of levels. Indeed, youngsters are able to sit back, feast on a cornucopia of bright visuals, and watch Batman hurl as many one-liners as he does right hooks. This isn’t a show that takes itself all that seriously, adopting a self-aware jokiness and opting to make its episodes one-and-done, stand-alone escapades over establishing any kind of continuity. That said, The Brave and the Bold knows where it came from, for it’s bursting at the seams with references made with long-time comic readers and fans of Batman’s previous screen incarnations in mind. Most prominent of all such actions the show takes to become a stand out involves filling its roster of both heroes and villains with obscure characters who’d never make it in a big blockbuster with a broad demographic. If you’ve had your fill of seeing Superman and the Joker used time after time, allow the inclusion of Wildcat, Red Tornado, Crazy Quilt, and Equinox to be your compensation package.
Over the course of 26 episodes, The Brave and the Bold’s first season proves itself to be fast-paced and enjoyable. While some adventures are a bit heavy on the in-jokes for the wee ones and some a little too hectic for adults, their quality overall remains consistent. Keeping Batman deadpan when faced with going back to King Arthur’s time and hunting bad guys alongside Sherlock Holmes is no easy feat, but the show’s creative team is more than up to the challenge of pulling off such a balancing act. Bader’s performance matches the series’ tone wonderfully, giving us a Dark Knight capable of doling out equal parts justice and observational gags. As for my personal favorite episodes, “Legends of the Dark Mite!” is a whip-smart summary of everything both great and sigh-inducing about fanboy culture, while “Mayhem of the Music Meister!” is loaded with catchy tunes belted out by Neil Patrick Harris as the villain of the hour.
For those used to the character being served up with extra helpings of gloom and glum, Batman: The Brave and the Bold will be a rude awakening. But despite a drastic switch from the style that’s taken hold of the brand to date, rest assured that this show explores the more out-there aspects of the Caped Crusader’s history without teetering into cynical parody. The Brave and the Bold delivers good fun that looks terrific in high-def, leaving this hopeless Bat-addict eager for Season 2 to get the same treatment.