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Curses, 'Batman!': Appreciating an Animated Series That Was Too Good, and Ended Too Soon -- But Very Meta
December 11, 2011  | By Ed Martin
 
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Outrageous! Cartoon Network's Batman: The Brave and the Bold, one of television's most clever shows, ended its three-year run last month without any fanfare at all -- online, in print, or anywhere else.

At least it went out in grand style. The series finale was meta to the max, as Bat-Mite -- the pesky, somewhat obsessive Bat-fan from another dimension -- observed that the show was past its prime and decided to do something about it, ultimately bringing about its demise...

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"Oh, BTBATB," he lamented, "What was once so fresh has become formula! It feels like only yesterday we learned the next Batman cartoon would be a lighter incarnation. Fanboys everywhere panicked, but it was for nothing. What we got was a love letter to Silver Age comics."

True that, but one need not have been a comic book geek, past or present, to appreciate the fun of the show, which was often as chock-a-block with pop-culture references as an average episode of Fox's Family Guy. Thank goodness it will live on in reruns, downloads and DVDs.

BTBATB took its inspiration from the longtime D.C. Comics franchise The Brave and the Bold, which in its many incarnations over the years has always featured one-time pairings of two super-heroes or super-teams from the D.C. Comics universe.

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This show simply moved to the concept's center Batman, arguably D.C.'s most popular hero in recent years, then paired him with major D.C. characters such as Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Aquaman, as well as more obscure heroes like Metal Men, Deadman and (shown at right) Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth.

I always thought this show worked as a perfect vehicle through which D.C. parent Warner Bros. could familiarize new generations of readers with little-known characters from the past, and re-launch them in new comic books or on other platforms.

Throughout, there was plenty of crazy good humor (much of it expressed in song) that made the show entertaining, even for viewers of all ages who weren't necessarily familiar with D.C. Comics. (Check out this musical sequence featuring the beautiful Birds of Prey performing a song that seems to be about the genitalia and sexual skills of various male superheroes.) Clearly, BTBATB wasn't for kids only:

Diedrich Bader gave a perfect vocal performance as Batman, and John DiMaggio often stole the show as Aquaman, Batman's most memorable sidekick throughout the run of the series.

No animated series since The Simpsons made such perfect use of dozens of eclectic guest voices -- especially Paul Reubens as Bat-Mite, who returned for the series finale, and, most memorably, Neil Patrick Harris as the villainous Music Meister, in a song-filled episode that took full advantage of NPH's talents as an entertainer.

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As the final story progressed, Bat-Mite -- dismayed by an episode that found Batman battling an ape known as Grodd, who was armed with a device that turned people into bananas -- decided to use his powers to make BTBATB so bad it would have to be cancelled.

"I'll use my fifth-dimensional powers to make the show so bad it won't just jump the shark, it'll do a quadruple spinning back-flip over it," he declared. "The network will have to take it off the air!"

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He then pulled out all the jump-the-shark staples. In short order, he gave Batman an adorable kid (and an appreciative laugh track every time she said something cute) and a perfect TV wife (complete with an ever-present pearl necklace), brought in Ted McGinley to play Aquaman, moved the show's locale from Gotham City to Malibu, and put Batman in a new costume, transforming him into Alpine Ice Climber Batman.

("Let's see how you like the Dark Knight in one of those hideous variant costumes you only find on store shelves!" Bat-Mite laughed.)

He even evoked Cousin Oliver! (If you have to ask, you aren't a student of television.) At one point, Batman was made to literally jump a giant mechanical shark.

Sure enough, BTBATB was cancelled, and the closing scene -- the most meta of all -- was itself a love letter to D.C.'s Silver Age.

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Dozens of D.C. characters were seen standing around at a fanboy fantasy cocktail party on the show's soundstage, as sets were struck and props carted away. Music Meister was at the piano providing entertainment for the send-off.

Spotted in the crowd: Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, The Riddler, Aqualad, the Metal Men, Deadman, the Spectre, Superdog, Kamandi, Scarecrow and, in a last minute display of just how geek-cool this show really was, the all-but-forgotten Prez, the First Teen President of the United States. (Anyone remember his limited comic book series from the early Seventies?)

Also present were the Currys of Atlantis, who were featured in what was arguably the most memorable sequence of the show's entire run, a take-off of the 1966 Phyllis Diller sitcom, The Pruitts of Southampton. The sheer creative genius of that segment alone was reason enough to support this show for years to come.

[To see what you may have been missing, check out, and perhaps purchase, season sets of Batman: The Brave and the Bold by clicking HERE.]


1 Comments

 

Rich said:

As someone who grew up watching re-runs of stuff like "Chellenge of the Superfriends," I was delighted by the last big era of comic book shows: Fox Kids 90's "X-Men" & "Spider Man" series and the Paul Dini "Dark Knight" (the retro one with a Tim Burton op theme). The WB's "New Adventures of Superman & Batman" was decent. Cartoon Network had an amazing hit with "Teen Titans" (a Japanese Anime import).

Problem is, there have been a number of rehashes and re-imaginings that never really "go over well"- because their are characters (or stories) that play well on TV, and ones that play better in comics. The DC Universe is so convoluted now that there are so many versions of "Batman" & others, it's hard to get a core audience that will mesh well into the comics scene. "Young Justice" is great for kids, but it's not remotely 'canon'. BTBATB is awesome for seasoned vets, but not biting enough for the modern 'Dark Knight' fans - there hasn't been a cohesive 'Show' that everyone likes for a while.

Marvel recently had a similar problem over 2010-2011 when it combined with Madhouse studios and released 4 series in a Japanese anime style over a year. American fans of Anime largely ignored the series, citing artwork, character design, and useless plots as reasons. There was excitement beforehand (to be sure), but many lamented that Marvel & Madhouse "missed an opening" to make something unique or edgy - it was like Japan imitating American cartoons, when American fans wanted a Japanese re-vision of Marvel classics. No one was satisfied.

G4TV dubbed them in English, and now shows them on Fridays on its channel, but it's not creating much buzz (to my knowledge). Both DC & Marvel have rich histories and an endless supply of material. They just have been choosing the wrong styles, audiences, and versions. The fans know what they like. Pity no one learned from the 90s.

Strangely, the 'straight to DVD' animated movies of Marvel & DC heroes do really well in video store rentals, sales, and online, despite taking larger risks in style & storytelling.

 
 
 
 
 
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