The Brave. The Bold. The Deeply Ambivalent.
As a Batman fan for many years, I have come to appreciate many things about the character. I have also come to realise that, as DC’s most popular superhero and a mainstream icon, he is going to get treatments that I am not going to like. So I loyally sat though Batman And Robin; more recently, I suffered through The Batman, a series of transparent 22-minute toy commercials that mixed the occasional great episode with some of the most horrific, intelligence-insulting cartoons I’ve ever watched.
Now, hot on the heels of the superb The Dark Knight, Batman returns to the small screen with Batman: The Brave And The Bold. But Warner Bros. has decided to take the character in the complete opposite direction and ordered up a lighter show featuring team ups with the various heroes of the DC Universe. I originally assumed this would result in another tedious demographic-grabbing show like most of DC’s recent series and paid little attention to it during its build up. It surprised even me when I found myself volunteering to review the show’s first episode.
“The Rise of the Blue Beetle” teams Batman with the Blue Beetle as they are transported across the galaxy to rescue a planet whose citizens are being abused by space pirate Kanjar Ro. Usually the thought of Batman on alien planets makes me wonder if the writer actually knows anything about the character he is writing for: Batman, after all, is supposed to be a normal man fighting to keep his city free from the crime that robbed him of his parents. I’ll be entirely honest and say this isn’t the Batman most of us know and love. Usually this would annoy me (if there’s one thing I hate, it’s seeing characters I liked being whored out) but I managed to sit through the episode and enjoyed quite a lot of what I saw. Don’t get me wrong, I’d sooner have a well-done solo Batman show, and believe that sales of Gotham Knight and the staggering success of The Dark Knight prove that the character appeals to more than just the kiddies. But I understand that they’re trying to craft an entertainment here. There’s some genuinely funny lines, but this 22-year-old thinks that the ones in this episode miss more often than they hit, and don’t come close to the amount of wit displayed by The Spectacular Spider-Man or the vastly under appreciated Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes.
Visually, the show is based on the old school comic books from which it takes its title. It’s a period that I don’t especially care for personally (even I, a Stan Lee fan from an early age, find them too goofy) but I do have a fondness for Batman’s blue and grey suit, which I never thought I’d see animated again. I’m not fond of the Green Arrow design featured in the pre-title sequence, but it could be a lot worse. I do like the color palette the producers have used, and think it mixes well with the thick inking. It’s also nice to see something these days that isn’t clearly anime-inspired.
The casting is also decent. Andrea Romano, bless her: not only does she give great interviews but she truly is the best there is at what she does. She’s managed to find a good-enough Batman yet again, even if she and everyone else realises that replacing Kevin Conroy is a fruitless task. Thankfully, this show appears to have avoided the initial casting blunders that plagued The Batman. The highlight of the premiere, of course, is Will Friedle as The Blue Beetle—it doesn’t matter who he plays, it’s always wonderful to hear Will again. Music-wise, the show goes in a completely different direction than you would expect from Batman, but it fits this show perfectly. Let me be the first to campaign to get some isolated scores released for the show!
I had no expectations Batman: The Brave and the Bold going into it, but I did enjoy most of it. Unlike the last two DC premieres, it didn’t shake my belief that someone my age can enjoy cartoons. But it didn’t completely blow me away, either. I’m still not sold on the concept and am not entirely sure I’ll continue to watch unless I hear especially exciting things about it or that a guest star I really want to see shows up. (Mainly Robin. For some silly reason, Superman is being denied his spot on the show. So is Wonder Woman, but I consider that a good thing!) If you’re a fan of old school Batman or have little ones of your own, then I’d recommend tuning it. I don’t see it getting the severe criticism The Batman received (and occasionally deserved) but I can’t see it ever replacing Batman: The Animated Series as Batman’s finest animated effort.
This is one of the more difficult pilots I’ve ever had to review because I’m still not sure what I thought of it. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. I suspect this will be many an older viewer’s reaction.