I’ve read a lot of reviews of Batman: The Brave and the Bold by writers (including here) who feel the need to bend over backwards explaining how they can like the show even though it’s not 100% serious in the way that Batman: The Animated Series or Beware the Batman are. I think the fact that the show isn’t 100% serious is exactly what I love about it. Like many comic book superheroes with publication histories measured in decades, Batman has gone through numerous changes over time, with different creators putting different stamps on him, and different eras demanding changes to address their conception of what a superhero should be. If Batman: The Animated Series made an impression by cherry-picking their favorite bits from the character’s long history and dispensing with the rest, Batman: The Brave and the Bold succeeds by wholly embracing nearly everything from that history, contradictions and all. Season was released on Blu-ray by Warner Archive early last year and season 2 arrived late last year; we may be a little behind in getting our reviews up, but a series as good as Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a perennial that will hopefully always be in style.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold borrows its sub-title and its central concept from the popular DC comic book, teaming up Batman with some other superhero in a fight against evildoers. I haven’t revisited the show since it went off the air in 2011, but I remember feeling like season 1 took a while to really find its footing. Marathoning the first season on this Blu-ray set shows that this perception might have been an accident of ordering or scheduling in their original broadcasts. While its earliest episodes are solid but not overwhelming, the first episode that really captures the show’s loopy charm comes by episode 5, “Invasion of the Secret Santas!” with its slightly demented take on the android hero Red Tornado and his Pinocchio complex, set against the backdrop of a Christmastime team-up with Batman.
The show quietly hits its stride from there, demonstrating how it can swing from the serious (“Dawn of the Dead Man!” and “Fall of the Blue Beetle!”) to the silly (“Journey to the Center of the Bat!”) as it ramps up in quality steadily. The show has fully found its footing by the 2-part mid-season story “Deep Cover for Batman!” and “Game Over for Owlman!”, as Batman is sent hurtling across dimensions to face down a funhouse mirror world in the first episode while tackling his own evil doppelganger in the second. There’s such an infectious sense of earnest play, where utter nonsense is tackled with utmost seriousness that only makes it funnier and more entertaining. Then the show hits the sublime insanity in the back-half of season 1, which I delved into in far more detail in the past. I have little to add from that earlier expression of love for the series, other than to say I may like it even more now than I did then.
In its second season, the show becomes even broader and more ambitious across multiple dimensions, many of which are embodied in the mid-season two-part episode “The Siege of Starro!” This season exploited multiple pre-teaser segments to stitch together a larger backstory for “The Siege of Starro!”, exemplifying the show’s willingness to experiment with structure. If season 1 played it safe with a relatively small set of heroes to team up with, season 2 breaks the gates wide open for multiple second- and third-string characters, many of whom get the same awesomeness transfusion that the show lent its bombastic and hilarious Aquaman. “The Siege of Starro!” leaves the fate of the world in the hands of a team of those lesser-known and lesser-loved heroes, nicely proving the principle that any character can become someone’s favorite with the right story. “The Siege of Starro!” is only one of at least five episodes this season with the spectre of death looming over them (in some cases, embodied by the Spectre himself, in an episode that nicely adapts a Batman origin story from Batman #47). Those who dismiss Batman: The Brave and the Bold as insubstantial fluff must do so by consciously ignoring the number of times that heroes are confronted with giving that last full measure of devotion in the name of the greater good, and the genuinely surprising number of times that they do so.
This is not to say that it’s all grim seriousness this season, though. Batman: The Brave and the Bold has enough confidence for more outlandish experiments, such as the enormously entertaining “Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure!”, sending the bombastic King of the Seven Seas on a cross-country family trip in an RV; or the anthology episode “Bat-Mite Presents: Batman’s Strangest Cases!” that showcases truly outlandish visions of Batman from MAD Magazine, Jiro Kuwata’s notoriously non-sensical manga, and Scooby-Doo. Episodes like “Death Race to Oblivion!” or “The Malicious Mr. Mind!” fully embrace more ridiculous comic book characters and storytelling tropes that are largely eschewed in our modern “Superheroes Must Be Serious” times, and several pre-teaser sequences have great fun with obscure and ridiculous characters like G.I. Robot or the Haunted Tank (and I’ll happily claim credit for bringing at least the former to Michael Jelenic’s attention during a press roundtable at the 2009 New York Comic Con). If nothing else, the show is much more comfortable pushing its title character to the background or relegating him to a supporting character in favor of other heroes, with several episodes this season centering on heroes ranging from the Justice Society of America, the new Blue Beetle, or the Birds of Prey. The Brave and the Bold is also more willing to incorporate older elements of Batman history into the show (something deliberately avoided in earlier seasons, according to James Tucker). “The Super-Batman of Planet X!” loops in Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, and Clancy Brown for thinly-disguised alternate versions of the characters they played in the Batman/Superman/Justice League series (in another comic book adaptation, this time of the slightly crazy Batman #113). Conroy returns with Mark Hamill and even 1966 Batman Adam West for “Chill of the Night!”
Despite my outrageous affection for the series and everything it tries to do, I must admit a little disappointment at the back half of season 2, which loses a bit of the momentum of earlier episodes. “The Knights of Tomorrow!” feels oddly unsatisfactory, and I was notably disappointed by the appearance of the Justice League International in “Darkseid Descending!” It seems like both that comic book series and this TV show share general sensibilities and an unjust dismissal by the Serious Superhero Brigade (or perhaps the babymen), so I’m not quite sure why I feel like the episode isn’t more successful. Even so, the second season never fails to entertain, and often yields some of the best episodes the series ever produced.
Like most Warner Archive releases, both season sets of Batman: The Brave and the Bold are pretty bare-bones packages. Both sets (consisting of 2 discs each) launch immediately into Warner Home Video’s minimalist menus, offering Play All, Episode Selection, and Subtitle options. The episodes look fine in 1080p high-definition, and while I’d have preferred a full 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, the 2.0 stereo track is more than satisfactory. All episodes also get a generous selection of chapter stops, which makes it easy to jump to the points where commercial breaks were inserted, or skip the opening and closing credits during marathon views (as much as I love the theme song, I always found the opening credits a little disappointing, especially in comparison to the sizzle reel released before the show premiered). Like almost all Warner Archive releases, there are no bonus features included on either set.
However, hardcore and (arguably) more mature fans of the show may consider it a bonus that these Blu-ray releases restore a few minor edits made to the broadcast and DVD versions. The review copy of the season premiere distributed to press included an eyebrow-raising throwaway reference to “the aristocrats” joke which was overdubbed when the episode aired and was released on DVD. The reference is restored in the season 1 set. Due to a risque double-entendre song, the infamous season 2 episode “The Mask of Matches Malone!” never aired in the United States and was only released in an edited, pan-and-scan version as an extra on the season 3 DVD set. The season 2 Blu-ray set returns the episode to its proper place in full widescreen and in its uncut version (which seems to come down to a suggestive finger-waggle). Only the most irrationally meticulous fan would even notice these changes or spend the time to compare them to the DVD releases (ahem), but it’s still nice to know these episodes have finally been restored to their original versions.
Superheroes don’t have to be serious to be good. TV shows can be for children without being childish. Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a glorious self-evident proof of both these principles, done up in four-color style that’s broad as life and packed with more fun than it has any right to be. Perhaps these no-frills Warner Archive Blu-rays aren’t quite what the show deserves, but they’re still more than adequate for a show that speaks for itself so well.