Although the DC and Marvel shows I’ve looked at recently have been from the eighties, I thought I’d quickly have a look at a show from the last ten years that did golden age comic book stories with a new twist. Batman: The Animated Series is the stuff of legend, and Batman Beyond luckily was easily accepted as the follow-up to it, but the first non-BTAS show, The Batman, met with a lot of criticism before being appreciated for what it was. This has since opened the gates for newer takes on the Dark Knight, with Batman: The Brave and the Bold being the show to follow it.
For the uninitiated, the concept of the show is that Batman ALWAYS teams up with a hero (or villain on occasion!) to fight an enemy, as per the old The Brave and the Bold comic. In the style of James Bond, there’s also always a pre-credits mini-episode, nine times out of ten unrelated to the main episode, and a feeling of fun throughout.
However, cartoony appearance and sense of humour aside, the show wasn’t shy about doing some serious stories, much like how Galactic Guardians gave us The Fear. That was actually the motivator for doing this review, to look at the episode where they did their take on the Batman origin story, plus some other great episodes too.
Enough yapping, to the episodes!
Hail the Tornado Tyrant! (by J.M. DeMatteis)
Pre-credits: The Batmobile and Green Arrow in his car compete to take down the Jokermobile before switching to flight modes to chase Catwoman.
Main episode: Red Tornado has created a young protege, Tornado Champion, who differs from the stoical android in a vital way – he has emotions. Tornado Champion is initially distant, but a run-in with Major Disaster jolts his emotion chip, making him more susceptible to different feelings. Feelings like aggression and vengeance, to the point where he would kill. RT realises he must end this “experiment” and deactivate TC, but that’s not the end of him, just the beginning of… the Tornado Tyrant!
This episode wisely follows up the casting of Corey Burton (who had played the emotionless and cold Brainiac in Superman: The Animated Series) as Red Tornado by having Carl Lumbly, who had played the all-too-human alien J’onn J’onnz in Justice League, play his son. It’s the old trick, used masterfully in the classic BTAS episode Heart of Ice with Mr. Freeze, of having someone played as aloof and seemingly disconnected from their feelings, but actually all too emotional. In a robotic monotone, Burton as Tornado is able to suggest the gamete of feelings, from regret to sadness to heartbreak. As he plunges his hands into his son’s chest to destroy him, he can only look away as the Tyrant reacts questioningly “Father?”. But the real gut punch comes after, and I won’t spoil that.
Mayhem of the Music Meister! (by Michael Jelenic and James Tucker [script and lyrics])
Pre-credits: In a twist, NO pre-credits scene other than Music Meister preparing to conduct an orchestra, ready for this, the musical episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold!
Main episode: As Aquaman, Black Canary and Green Arrow catch Black Manta, Clock King and Gorilla Grodd in the midst of a breakin, everyone starts singing against their will! Who is responsible for this? The Music Meister! Only Batman is able to avoid his hypnotic influence and foil his wicked plan.
Not the first TV show to try this (I always think of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Once More, With Feeling), but still very impressive with the clever lyrics. The regular cast do an awesome job (John DiMaggio growls his lyrics as Grodd), but the real star is Neil Patrick Harris as Music Meister, who comes fully formed with look(s), logo and character features. Grey DeLisle gets the Disney love song homage If Only. The only thing I would’ve done further is to find a way to cast Tia Carrere, who sang the song I Never Even Told You at the end of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
Chill of the Night! (by Paul Dini)
Pre-credits: Somewhat gratuitously (the writer is married to magician Misty Lee), Zatanna teams up with Batsy to fight Abra Cadabra in a magical battle involving humans turned into puppets.
Main episode: Crime boss Lew Moxon lies on his deathbed, holding onto the secret of who killed Thomas and Martha Wayne. Batman, disguised as a priest under the premise of taking his last confession, probes him for the name of the man responsible, only getting one word: “Chill!”. Meanwhile, the Phantom Stranger (played by former voice of Batman, Kevin Conroy) and the Spectre (played by the former voice of the Joker, Mark Hamill) wager as to whether Batman will aim for justice or for vengeance.
As The Fear was the reason for this foray into TBATB, it’s worth comparing that episode and this episode. They both share in common the voice of Adam West, here playing Thomas Wayne alongside original Catwoman Julie Newmar as Martha Wayne. This episode shows the gun and the gunshots, in shadow against the wall of the alley, as well as a montage of Bruce training and building to donning the original cowl with the long ears.
A flashback to a costume ball with an animal theme sees Batman fighting criminals alongside his father in a more extravagant bat costume that influenced his own. Other items of note are the Tiki Tavern location, which recalls a similar club from World’s Finest, the Batman/Superman three-parter from Superman: The Animated Series. Richard Moll is cast as Lew Moxon, but while present reprises his role as Two-Face, who was otherwise played by James Remar in this series. But most noteworthy is that this is the first time in the series that Batman removes his mask in the course of an episode, having firmly stayed in the Batman role entirely up until this point. It helps add to the importance of the episode and was commemorated in there being only one figure in the line that allowed you to reproduce this and show reveal the head of Bruce Wayne.
Battle of the Superheroes! (by Steven Melching)
Pre-credits: From the secret file of the Bat-computer… Batman’s Greatest Cases, featuring The Mummy Crime Fighters – In Color! Pharaoh, a legally available version of King Tut, commands his zombified servants to rob a bank and drop the cash in his Sphinx-mobile! Luckily Batman and Robin are there to stop him in their own protective mummy bandages!
Main episode: The crew of the show didn’t have access to all three members of the Trinity, so it was momentous when Superman and Wonder Woman finally appeared in the show. As a result, many classic Superman homages are presented in this episode, but the biggest and funniest is when Supes is unknowingly exposed to red kryptonite and loses all of his goody-goody nature, in a reference to the bizarre Superdickery web phenomenon. This culminates in the inevitable Batman vs. Superman battle that’s more fun than watching Dawn of Justice.
Some great lines in the show worth mentioning:
Lois Lane, writing up her latest fawning article: “We would all be better off with a little bit of Superman within us.”
Jimmy: “Superman’s turned into a real di-”
Lois: “-fferent person!”
They were lucky to get those in!
Bat-Mite Presents: Batman’s Strangest Cases! (by Paul Dini)
Pre-credits: Batboy and Rubin fight crime in a Mad Magazine recreation with Ben-Day dot backgrounds, rolling into a Bat-Mite reveal, who hosts the show as a series of different Batman vignettes
Main episode: First, to Japan, and Bat-Manga! Lord Death Man is back from the grave with revenge on his mind for Batman. The show apes some of the conventions of Japanese cartoons, with bizarre theme tune with ill-fitting lyrics, limited animation, bad dubbing and purposely darker tone.
Next, to the movies, as Batman joins The New Scooby-Doo Movies with Mystery Incorporated and “Weird Al” Yankovic. An ill-fitting laugh track and alliteration punctuate the polka-inspired perilous plot. This is an awesome deconstruction of the flawed quality of the old Hanna-Barbera production, with Bat-Mite even pausing the episode to point out Batman’s incorrectly coloured neck while ignoring the reversed colours of his logo.
Summing up: The Brave and the Bold ran for 65 episodes, plus a later crossover DVD special with the Scooby Gang again. Its main aim was to be fun and light-hearted, but it didn’t shy away from going deeper and more thoughtful. The next Batman show to follow it was the criminally underrated Beware the Batman, which I’ll get to hopefully at some point. This show used to be on Amazon Prime in the UK, but has since been removed as well as the majority of the DC shows, seemingly in anticipation of DC Universe venturing outside the US some time this century. If you have the chance to check out these episodes and more, please do.
In the works: I’m still working through Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends season one followed later by season three, then The Incredible Hulk from the early eighties as well as Spider-Woman and The New Fantastic Four from the late seventies. On the DC side, the Ruby-Spears Superman show is next, then to alternate with Marvel reviews I think I’ll look at Beware the Batman, as mentioned above, Green Lantern: The Animated Series, The Batman and Legion of Super-Heroes.
Beyond those, I’ll stretch out from comics and go for more traditional Saturday-morning cartoons as well. I have some in mind immediately, but let me know if there are any you fancy me visiting. I have an extensive collection of both Region 1 (US) and Region 2 (UK) DVDs, so it’s a deep pool.