Recommendation: Batman: The Brave and the Bold

I love Batman. I love Batman media, from the Adam West TV show to the dark gothic animated series, from The Batman from the early aughts to the Christopher Nolan trilogy. I fully expect to love The Batman (movie, not series). No, I do not love, or even like, the Joel Schumacher movies, but I do sometimes watch them if I want to laugh and cringe at the same time.

But one show that seems to get overlooked sometimes in the world of Batman media is Batman: The Brave and the Bold, an animated show that aired from 2008 to 2011, before being sadly cancelled in order to make way for Beware the Batman. Not that Beware the Batman was bad, but it didn’t have the heart and soul of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

And this heart and soul are easy to identify: the people who made this movie not only love Batman and his history, they love the entire DC Comics universe. Not just the major heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman (who are only introduced in the final season), but characters obscure (the Metal Men) as well as iconic. And old as well as new – lots of characters from decades ago (Adam Strange, Wildcat), alongside newer characters like the third Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes (who has many appearances as a fledgling hero who needs Batman’s guidance) and Ryan Choi (the third Atom).

And it’s all done with immense respect and liking for these characters, whether they’re good or evil. For instance, one of Jaime Reyes’ first episodes sees him trying to investigate the legacy of past Blue Beetles, which allows the makers of this series to pay homage to the previous iterations, especially Ted Kord. You can feel all the love they have for DC’s whole history and all their characters, including the goofy and weird ones. Like, I had never heard of Gentleman Jim Craddock before this – I know technically he appeared in one of the DCAU series, but I honestly don’t remember him because he wasn’t put center stage. Or Red Tornado, who just doesn’t get as much attention as his earnest little robot self deserves. Or the Weeper. There’s actually a supervillain whose signature is CRYING.

Basically, every episode features Batman teaming up with some other superhero (sometimes a group of them, like the teen rebels known as the Outsiders) and dealing with a problem on other planets, or in another time period, or on Dinosaur Island, or England, or parallel universes, or in Batman’s own body (Aquaman and the Atom go on a Fantastic Voyage to cure Batman of silicon-based critters). Sometimes we don’t even know how Batman came to be where he is, such as when he pops up in the Old West to save Jonah Hex (who promptly insults his supersuit).

Okay, the focus isn’t always 100% on Batman and his team-up. One whole episode is about Aquaman going on a family vacation, during which he is forbidden to superhero. It even highlights the nature of Batman’s mythos and his fandom in some fourth-wall-breaking encounters with Bat-Mite.

And it’s wonderfully bonkers, and very much embraces the corniness (Diedrich Bader says the most hilariously cheesy things) of old comic books. It wants to be fun, and it IS fun, balancing out plot and characterization with the need to entertain. I mean, one episode has a sitcom version of Aquaman’s life! Another one was clearly dreamed up just because they wanted Batman to team up with Sherlock Holmes.

But it’s worth noting that not all is funny and goofy. There are serious conflicts in here, such as the invasion of Starro that spreads across the second season, and which ends with a truly heartrending loss. Or the ongoing battle against Equinox, a force that seeks to balance out order and chaos, and is willing to do horrifying things to make that happen. There’s also Chill of the Night, a really magnificent and totally serious episode in which Bruce Wayne’s soul is literally held in the balance, as he discovers who was responsible for his parents’ death.

It also has a great voice cast – you’re guaranteed to be a big fan of at least one person who had a hand in this. Diedrich Bader is an outstanding Batman (probably why they brought him back for the Harley Quinn show), and it has homages to Batman’s past by having Adam West and Julie Newmar play the Wayne parents, as well as Kevin Conroy playing an alternate-universe Batman.

So if you’re a fan of Batman, or even just of DC comics and its history, then this series is one you definitely need to see. Even if you don’t normally watch lighter incarnations of the Dark Knight, this is clever and well-written, and its love and joy are infectious.

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