The most recent episode of the Cartoon Network show Batman: The Brave and the Bold was a pretty interesting one. Bizarre, but interesting. I don’t know when it will be shown in Canada; Teletoon now airs the show, but they only recently started, so they still have to show some other episodes before they get around to this one.
The new episode was called “Legends of the Dark Mite!” written by Paul Dini, who is famous for writing many of the best episodes of the ’90s Batman series, but has also contributed freelance episodes to Warner Brothers’ later superhero shows (Justice League, The Batman, and now this one). The idea of it was that Bat-Mite, the floating Batman-fan who wants to hang out with his hero (Batman’s answer to Mr. Mxyzptlk) pops up, having decided that Batman isn’t acting enough like a real superhero, and tries to use his powers to make Batman into his own conception of the character. The episode climaxes with Bat-Mite trying to become Batman himself and winding up in a tribute to the Daffy Duck cartoon “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery,” but not before he goes to a Fifth Dimension comic-book convention, where the Batman fans complain about the light and silly version of the character (echoing complaints of real Bat-fans), and there’s a cameo from Dini and Batman: The Animated Series producer Bruce Timm. Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Rubens guest-voices as Bat-Mite.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a show I like very much in conception, not quite as much in execution. The idea is fantastic, and very, well, “bold” considering that it came out after the Christopher Nolan movies. The producer of the show, James Tucker (a producer-director on Justice League), has said that the Batman he always thinks of as the definitive version is the one he grew up reading and watching, the one who had all the goofy villains and crazy sidekicks. So in defiance of the Nolan version, he came up with a Batman show that is a tribute to the ’50s and ’60s comics. Though Batman himself (voiced by Diedrich Bader) has the raspy voice and no-nonsense manner we now expect from the character, every episode is filled with goofy plots, often sci-fi oriented, and with Batman usually teaming up with other DC characters. Every episode also features appearances by obscure characters, many of whom turned up in Batman comics in the “Silver Age.” Some of the characters turned up in other incarnations — Bat-Mite was in the ’70s Filmation series and Ace the Bat-Hound, who appeared in the Bat-Mite show, was used in Timm and Dini’s Batman Beyond — others, like Catman, are answers to geek trivia questions. When Bat-Mite meets a gallery of Batman villains in the “Duck Twacy” sequence, not only are there obscure villains, but Mr. Freeze is referred to by his original name from the comics, Mr. Zero. The whole show is a tribute to an often-scorned period in comics history and an affirmation of the fact that, as the above clip explains, the light version of Batman is no less valid than the dark, angsty version.
My problem with the execution is twofold. One, I think the scripts are often weaker than they should be. (Even Dini’s script for the Bat-Mite episode is not as funny as his Mxyzptlk episode on Superman in the ’90s.) Two, and perhaps even more importantly, the show just doesn’t have the money to do everything it wants to do. The animation shows signs of corner-cutting all over the place, the music is all electronically-generated, the backgrounds look too computerized. To really make a show with the feel of those old comics, they would need to have a higher budget than they do, something closer to the ’90s show — but of course, that’s not their fault; that’s just the reality of working in TV animation today.