One of my favorite comic book adaptations ever is the classic from Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series. My praise for the series is only one of many voices; of all of the incarnations of Batman over the years on television and the big screen, many die-hard comic book fans view this Batman as the definite version (yes, even more so than the highly acclaimed portrayal of the Dark Knight in the theatrical world that’s been created by Christopher Nolan).
But I’m not talking about that series today (though at some point in the future, I’d like to do a longer, in-depth look at this animated version of Batman). Rather, I’d like to look at the newest incarnation of Batman on the small screen — that found on the new show on Cartoon Network each Friday night, Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
This isn’t the first attempt at a Batman-themed cartoon since B:TAS ended. Comic book fans remember the Kids WB show, The Batman — which ran from 2004 to 2008, and that now repeats on Cartoon Network’s sister network, Boomerang. This particular show wasn’t all that well received by the die-hard comic book community, though it seemed to do well enough with its target audience found on Saturday mornings. But while the average nine year-old may have liked the show well enough, this Batman was viewed by many comic fans as a pale imitation of their favorite animated series, a second-rate version of the far superior Batman of its predecessor.
For my tastes, The Batman is a decent enough show — I can watch it without issue (though it did take me a while to get used to the different animated style and some of the more radical changes made to the design of several of the main villains). But it wasn’t anything I looked to seeing on a regular basis, nor was it anything I missed once the original episodes ended. The problem with the show was that it was trying too much to be like the show it followed. If you wanted to see a dark, grim version of the Dark Knight, you only needed to pop a DVD in your player to see it done better by Timm and company than it was in this show.
Maybe that’s why I’m finding myself genuinely liking Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It’s not trying to be something we’ve already seen before on the tube. And it’s that freshness that makes it now a must-see on my Friday night viewing schedule (and other times as well, as I do believe Cartoon Network also re-runs episodes during the day on weekdays).
I’ve read the comments of some critics who’ve complained about the animation of the series, claiming that it’s too “cartoony” for their tastes. I’ve also read the criticism from those who’ve said that the stories are too simplistic and juvenile, with the assertion that the show is aimed at the young viewer only. Not to belabor the obvious, but it’s clear that the show is intended to be accessible for the younger viewer (not that anyone should complain, since the comic industry needs all of the younger blood it can get if it intends to still be around in thirty years, once the adults audiences of today have aged and passed on). What the critics of the show are missing is that a show doesn’t have to feature heavy-handed adult themes in order to still be entertaining.
What this show does do is portray in animated form a classic, Silver Age version of the Caped Crusader — one from a period in which the “dark” part of the character wasn’t all that emphasized. Everything about this Batman seems to have been pulled from that era — whether it’s the physical depiction, the character portrayal (for a change, Batman isn’t a antisocial loner), or the sometimes outrageous plot lines, the show is mining the Silver Age Batman for all it’s worth.
In no way can this approach be seen better than, not only in the Batman on display each episode, but in the show’s portrayal of two supporting characters. Green Arrow is the old-school, pre-Neal Adams version — clean-shaven (though still exhibiting more of the disposition of the modern character rather than the boring, undistinguished version of the 1960’s) and with his sidekick Speedy, present and accounted for. The other character that screams “Silver Age” is Batman’s main villain, The Joker. Recently seen for the first time in the episode, “Game Over for Owlman!” The Joker is animated in a style that looks pulled directly from a 1940’s or 1950’s issue.
The Joker from Batman #44, January 1948
The Joker and Batman from the episode, "Game Over for Owlman"
The show takes its cues from other areas as well — I got a huge chuckle out of the Batmobile entering the Batcave in a way taken directly from the Adam West Batman show of the 1960’s. The episodes featuring parallel worlds is a nod to the Multiverse of the DC Universe, and several of the alternate Batmen of the Owlman episode were modeled on different Elseworlds versions of the Caped Crusader. But there are modern touches as well, like the portratal of the new Blue Beetle in several episodes and a portrayal of a young group of Outsiders (Black Lightning, Metamorpo, and others) that’s different from any I’ve ever seen before.
The good news for fans of the show like myself is that it’s been renewed for an additional 26 episodes, which will bring the show’s total to 52 shows in total (at least). It’s worth checking out if you’re a Batman fan, or if you’re looking for something superhero-related for the kids that’s a little tamer than Heath Ledger’s Joker (not that there was anything wrong with that). It may not be the fondly-remebered classic Animated Series, but there’s nothing wrong with that either — and who knows? Maybe we’ll be looking back as fondly at it in a few years as we do Bruce Timm’s Batman. So far, the show’s off to a strong start.