Recently I’ve taken some time out to watch the backlog of recorded The Brave and Bold episodes I had on my DVR before disconnecting my cable. I had heard a great deal of good things about this series being sort of a love song to the silver age Batman comics and, more directly, the ‘Batman: The Brave and the Bold’ comic book series where the world’s greatest detective would team up with a different hero every month. This TV series follows the same format for the most part, teaming Batman up with a multitude of heroes and villains in each episode, most drawn from the most obscure corners of the Batman history.
I had been turned off when this show first came on because it was so radically different from Justice League Unlimited and the universe that came before it. I saw it as a kiddie version of Batman and was frustrated that my once dark and moody Batman had become gaudy and loud.
I was wrong. This isn’t a Kiddie version of Batman. It’s perhaps a bit more widely targeted than previous series, but this show is unequivocally created by huge Batman fans as a means of waxing nostalgic with other huge Batman fans. The sheer number of references to obscure Batman comics in each episode is staggering. The episodes make enough sense on their own of course, but if you get the fifty year old comic book reference, then it’s even better.
Not that I really get most of the references directly. I’m not only too young to have experienced the Silver age of comic books, I also never collected or cared about comic books for most of my life. I still don’t care very much as it is, but I’m hugely interested in the evolution of these bardic tales over sixty years of history.
Yeah, I called them bardic tales because that’s what they really are. The story of Batman may have been recorded, may have an original author, but that story has been carried forth by new voices giving their own interpretations of the character for decades. And while each new voice tried to harmonize with those that went before, they also brought their own notes, their own pace, which has affected those who picked up the tale after them. Some people complain that there is no solid continuity in comic books, hell, Marvel and DC have been implying that the lack of continuity is a big hurdle to overcome to the extent that they’ve been trying to tie their books tighter and tighter together with ever year.
But it’s a good thing that there is no definitive Batman history. It allows the character to remain relevant, and the stories based around that character to evolve with the medium and culture it exists in. Think about it. Batman as a character that exists today is littered with traits and histories dropped by a dozen of landmark authors, each twisting the tale a bit, each dropping parts the previous guy left behind. Batman may have started with Bob Kane, but what would he be without Edmund Hamilton, Julius Schwartz, Frank Miller, Dennis O’Neil, Jeph Loeb, or Paul Dini? Hell, who would he be without Adam West, Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Kevin Conroy, Joel Schumacher, Christopher Nolan, or Christian Bale?
Batman’s relevance is because of his bardic roots, and this TV series embraces that by pulling out the stories from the lesser known histories and trying to make them relevant again. Not all episodes end up being entirely memorable, but they all show something we haven’t seen in Batman in a while. These stories were once memorable, and now they have the opportunity to be remembered again.
The show itself is well produced, which certainly helps build its credibility despite its campy appearance. Batman has a decent voice with a simple, sharp, but recognizable design. He doesn’t stand out too significantly because really he’s the foundation for the partner of the episode. The ‘guest’ hero is typically the one who is developed and given chances to stand out in the episode, and Batman allows himself to silently place second fiddle. It’s actually rather charming, honestly. Batman’s role is almost like a Den mother to the larger hero community. He’s always there, he can pull them out of trouble if they get too far in, and typically goes out of his way to make sure everyone ends up stronger or wiser in the end.
It’s not quite consistent with Batman’s current personality with respect to the Justice League, but it does show that he’s more than simply a force of justice and actually is a bit caring inside. I sort of wish he was more consistently portrayed like this, but it probably would have undermined what was probably the strongest dynamic in the old Batman Beyond TV Show that I adored. So, yes, Batman has to be stoic and unapproachable, but he can also be a leader and the voice of guidance.
The stories chosen for the first two seasons of this show are hit or miss in my opinion. Some of the most obscure characters are not terribly interesting to me, and way too much time is spent on some recurring heroes, like the Metal Men. On the other hand, some are quite stand out. For instance, giving Blue Beetle a co-starring role in the show certainly was a good move. Doing the Injustice Society story with Earth-2 was also a great story and had some excellent changes to make it fit this series. And, of course, the Music Meister episode featuring Neil Patrick Harris as a singing hypnotist was superb.
There’s too much here to go into every highlight episode, but generally speaking, I think this show is worth your time. As long as you’re not looking for Christopher Nolan or Frank Miller grittiness, this show can be a blast and may add a few notes to your knowledge of Batman’s sixty-year-long legacy. Recommended.