There are many comic fans, a group that includes yours truly, who feel as though Bruce Timm’s 1992 Batman The Animated Series Batman: TAS) so thoroughly covered (and accurately portrayed) the franchise that further animated incarnations were simply no longer necessary. Over time, the next decade in fact, the team responsible for Batman The Animated Series would somehow manage to evolve the property enough to keep it fresh and in many cases, even improve upon the formula. We would enjoy Batman Beyond and the “caped crusader’s” legacy again as a staple of both the Justice League series (and to a lesser degree in Justice League Unlimited). Even to this day that incarnation of Batman lives on in the form of the DCAU’s frequent animated feature films such as Batman Under the Red Hood, Justice League Crisis on Two Earths, Superman/ Batman Public Enemies, Superman/ Batman Apocalypse and so on.
However, and banking on the success of the live-action Batman film reboot (with Christian Bale), Warner saw fit to give viewers another animated version of the franchise, this time opting for a weekly Saturday morning affair. What resulted was The Batman (2004-2008); a brighter, younger take on the Bruce Wayne character that, while true to many of the characters given their proper due in Batman: TAS, was generally rejected by fans for its light hearted take on dark material and inconsistency (especially in the Rogues Gallery).
As such I, like many, feared for the worst when news broke back in late 2007 that Warner Brothers was going to reboot the animated Batman franchise once again. This latest incarnation, which would be known as The Brave and the Bold, would be a brighter incarnation than the last with even lighter underlying tones. Teaser shots at the time depicted Batman back in his bright blue, yellow and gray motif, eerily reminiscent of the get-up worn the 1960s Adam West live action series, or more disturbing still, his 1970s/ early 80s Superfriends persona. This one would have to be an absolute disaster right? Wrong!
After just a few episodes (which were now appearing in a Friday primetime slot in Cartoon Network’s lineup), Brave and the Bold managed to obliterate any and all preconceived notions of failure.
For starters there is the show’s unique format to consider; each episode actually consists of a small self-contained team-up adventure before the opening theme then a full length adventure to follow, usually containing an entirely separate hero for which to be teamed up with Batman and villain(s) in need of some justice. Episodes are structured as stand-alone although there are hints of ongoing story threads explored here and there (as well as a few two-parters for good measure).
Just as had been forecasted, the look of the show is extremely bright and crisp, with color pallets seemingly directly from the pages of a comic book. Interestingly, neither Kevin Conroy’s (Batman: TAS) nor Rino Romano’s (The Batman) voice talent was utilized for this show, instead calling upon Diedrich Bader of Drew Carry fame to provide the vocals for the titular character. Many of the secondary characters from the past Batman franchises mentioned above do make frequent appearances here however.
So just what makes The Brave and the Bold formula work despite doing away with nearly every aspect of what made Batman: TAS so incredible you ask? It actually manages to prevent falling into a pattern of overusing its hero and villains for that matter by structuring each episode as a team-up. In a very legitimate sense, the show has more in common with say Justice League than it does the other Batman incarnations. Among the notable team-ups in this collection, expect Blue Beetle, Red Tornado, Atom, Green Arrow, (and a truly hilarious take on) Aquaman to mention a few.
Next up, it may approach matters lighter than the earlier incarnations but it doesn’t do so at the expense of Bruce Wayne/ Batman’s intelligence and nor does it overlook his dry, ironic wit. There is humor scattered about here but no child-like slapstick involved in effort to try and gain approval from the younger set. Most of the conflicts require brains and Batman’s abilities as a detective to thwart as well as the brawn often provided by Batman’s episodic sidekick.
The look of the characters (both hero and villain) comes straight out of the 1960s-70s comic pages as well, but don’t let the lack of updating throw you, they are portrayed in the absolute best possible combination of their original persona blended with modern-day depth (no fear of Superfriends-style group laughter to fade endings here).
DCAU alumni James Tucker is the producer of the show and brings with him an apparent deal of respect for the character as a whole as well as their past efforts in Batman: TAS and seems to literally go the extra mile in not attempting a redo of what has already been accomplished there. Instead, Brave and the Bold brings a much-appreciated modern take on the classic characters out of the comics from yesteryear.
Warner Brothers tried initially to pacify fans of the show by dropping 4-episode releases (meaning 6-sets would have to be purchased to have one full 26-episode season) but quickly followed that poor decision up with double disc 13-episode releases. At the time of this review’s writing the first season has been released on DVD entirely as well as the first half (13-episodes) of the second season. The show is still running on Cartoon Network and is currently broadcasting its third season.
In all, I came away from this show very pleasantly surprised. There is a subtle rhythm to the episodes that is terribly addicting once the viewer becomes accustomed to the format, style and era being represented. Be forewarned though, completion of this set will lead to having no choice but to acquire the rest. Here’s hoping Warner wastes little time in bringing the rest of the seasons to DVD.
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