Sunday, January 25, 2009

TV Review: Batman: The Brave and the Bold

Wow... this is my 300th post is just under a year. Since I'm tired of complaining about Oscar nominations and cheap movie studios, let us break for a moment to discuss something awesome.

Although it is theoretically pitched to a younger audience, with bright colors and gee-wiz adventure, the newest Batman cartoon has a certain level-headed sophistication that makes it completely watchable for audiences of any age. Despite being a cartoon that seemed to have been invented purely to sell newer and different action figures to an ever younger audience demographic, Cartoon Network's Batman: The Brave and the Bold is smart about its kid-friendly science fiction adventures. And it's also very funny. Taking its name and its modus operandi from the long running (and occasionally canceled) comic book series, the show teams Batman up with a different B-level DC comic book hero every week, sending them both off on a fantastical adventure in far-off lands, alien worlds, and fantastical environments. The secret to the show's success is two-fold. The stakes are still life and death and Batman is still his gruff, no-nonsense self, which renders the insane occurrences around him and his nonchalant reactions to them downright hysterical.

Ironically, the light tone allows the creators to engage in rather violent fist-cuffs and smack downs, while the characters discuss matters of death freely without constantly using disguise words like 'destroy' or 'disappear' or 'lost'. For example, not only did the most recent episode have an onscreen death of a major hero, but the show's otherwise light and funny Christmas episode (awesomely titled 'Invasion Of The Secret Santas') contained the most vivid flashback of the Wayne murders that I've ever seen in a Batman cartoon. Second of all, Batman (voiced with punchy authority by Diedrich Bader) remains ever the hard ass, although he is more grouchy taskmaster than brooding psychotic. Crime fighting is a job for him, and whoever is riding shotgun in the Batmobile sure as he'll better pull their weight. But, since he is crime fighting with equals and not junior partners, the dialogue has a sense of true camaraderie and respect. Batman may believe he's superior to many of his partners, but he genuinely likes them and considers them his friends (if only in internal monologues).

I'm also quite fond of the crime fighting 'Dos and Don'ts', where Batman and Green Arrow or The Blue Beetle discuss personal strategies, making the show into an occasional superhero version of Burn Notice (apparently, if you carry knock-out pills in your belt, you need a special casing so they don't go off on you while you're moving). And Bats is forever unphased, which lends a trippy kick to the all the absurd goings on ("Are you seeing what I'm seeing?," asks Plastic Man, "Because I'm seeing gorillas riding pterodactyls, with harpoon guns, stealing a boat.") While Bader is a surprisingly convincing Batman, the show is extra funny if you imagine Christian Bale's McGruff The Crime Bat uttering some of Batman's choice dialogue ("Pretend you didn't see that," Batman sternly advices two traumatized youngsters, after they witness Batman punch the head off a robot Santa Claus).

In the end, the show works because of its absolute matter of fact presentation of the goofball subject matter. Whether attacked by murderous Santa robots or facing down unhinged dinosaurs, Batman treats it like any other day at the races. Tongues are obviously placed firmly in cheek, but the show is serious when it needs to be ("If I wanted you to retire," Batman explains to an over the hill Wild Cat, "it's because you're like a father to me... and I don't want to lose another one."). This is easily the most consistently funny Batman property since Adam West hung up his cape in 1968. It's certainly not high art like Batman: The Animated Series, but it's smarter than The Batman and it's a perfect counter-balance to the realism-drenched crime drama that is The Dark Knight. Because even the darkest of Dark Knights may have been undone by "Fluke, the most obnoxious dolphin on the planet."

Grade: A-

Scott Mendelson

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