Animation Wednesday: Batman: The Brave and The Bold

This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a weekly column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.

Let’s talk about Batman for a second.  Batman means a lot of different things to different people.  On the one hand, it’s the story of a boy, orphaned by violence at a young age, who grows up and dedicates his life to fighting crime, using the vast resources and skills he’s developed.  On the other hand, it’s a story about a grown man, a millionaire ninja detective, who dresses up like a bat and goes out to beat up crooks at night, often accompanied by children.  There have been a lot of different takes on Batman since he was first created in the 1930s, with varying levels of seriousness, camp, pathos and self-awareness.  One that falls on the lighter end of the scale is Batman: The Brave and The Bold, which is in its third and final season on Cartoon Network.

Batman: The Brave and The Bold draws from two major sources.  The first is The Brave and The Bold comic series, an older monthly title which featured a new partnership between two heroes (often, but not always, including Batman) each month.  Like the comics, the show focuses on an alliance between Batman and another superhero, generally favoring second-string or lesser known crimefighters over the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman.  The other clear influence is the Batman TV series from 1966, starring Adam West as the caped crusader.  The show was generally more comedy than action, and a lot of the tone, as well as the look of the costume and gadgets, has been adapted.  This is a Batman who carries a Bat-Flashlight for when he falls into traps and yells one-liners like “The hammer of justice is unisex!!” before knocking out his adversaries.

There was a bit of a backlash when Brave and The Bold first premiered.  A lot of people thought it was “too silly,” especially compared to other recent series like The Batman or the  critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series.  But the thing is, there’s a lot of silliness inherent to the premise of Batman.  And while creators like Bruce Timm, Christopher Nolan, Frank Miller, and Grant Morrison have done a great job in their own ways of making grounded, realistic reasons and justifications, there’s still a bunch of great Silver Age stories where Batman and Superman fly through space and time and get transformed into children and compete for girls’ affections.  The creators of Brave and The Bold understand that not every Batman story needs to be dark and brooding, and that there’s a place for whimsy in the mythos too.

But they don’t stop there.  Beneath the outer layer of silliness is a visionary level of dedication and innovation that goes into this show.  It constantly references and homages older stories, be they movies, TV series, comics, or what have you.  The long-awaited episode in which Batman and Superman team up contains a triple-homage to Justice League Unlimited, The Dark Knight Returns, and Action Comics #311.  Actors who have played and voiced Batman and his allies and enemies in other works pop up in interesting and surprising ways.  This is a show that understands where it came from.

It’s also a show that knows where it wants to go.  Brave and The Bold displays an impressive commitment to diversity in its supporting cast.  While they favor more obscure partners for Batman, they also show a preference for the more diverse, modern versions of a lot of heroes (Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle, Ryan Choi as Atom, and numerous other examples).  For all of its merits, Silver Age DC was a white boys’ club, and there’s a wealth of untold stories out there featuring these characters.  The show doesn’t shove its “tolerance” in your face either, there’s still episodes involving the Silver Age Blue Beetle that are well-handled and nice to see in animation.  It’s just so refreshing to see a show making a conscious push for a multicultural superhero world, particularly at a time when DC Comics themselves seem to be pulling away from that.

Beyond my deep, abiding love for the core tenets of the show, there’s just a lot of fun stuff in Brave and The Bold.  Diedrich Bader is great as a deadpan, larger-than-life Batman, and John DiMaggio’s bombastic Aquaman is my absolute favorite take on the character, particularly when paired with the easily exasperated Atom.  Plotlines include everything from bodyswap comedies to multi-episode arcs against Starro the Star Conqueror and Darkseid to a genuinely new twist on Batman’s origin.  Also, there’s a musical episode featuring Neil Patrick Harris.  Game, set, and match.

Batman: The Brave and The Bold is winding down its final season on Cartoon Network.  After it’s done, plans are reportedly in place for a new cartoon which will “return the character to a more serious tone.”  While I’m sure it’ll be great, I’ll miss Brave and The Bold, and I highly recommend checking it out.  Cartoon Network’s Friday schedules have been a bit wonky lately, but there’s two seasons to catch up on, so get to it!!

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