Sunday, May 23, 2010

Look only at the surface of TV's Batman: Brave and the Bold and you might be discouraged from giving the kid-friendly cartoon the chance it deserves. In these modern times it's become tough to sell Batman beyond his grim and gritty street adventures, which were animated expertly in the nineties by the almost definitive works of Batman: The Animated Series, and popularized by films like The Dark Knight. Alas; to overlook this show is to overlook greatness and know only one face of the multi-facetted Caped Crusader!

Seventy years of history has given us a library of comic book versions of the Dark Knight, along with equally mixed results in other media forms, ranging from the lasting influence of the 1930s serials, to the cringe-worthy camp of Adam West and the live-action 1960s series.
Against all odds, Batman: Brave and the Bold draws upon all of these influences, and more, to create a hybrid concept sourcing the strengths of the best and worst of Batman of all forms. On the surface, the design is clearly heavily influenced by the Adam West era and it's 1950s post-Comics Code inspirations, but beneath that is a Batman with all the grit and determination you know and love from his comic adventures.

The great lure of Brave and the Bold goes well beyond that of just another Batman series, using to great strength the entire DC Universe! It goes farther than the awkwardly insular Justice League series' that spun out of the Bruce Timm cartoons, moving freely by not taking itself too seriously, or demanding strict consistency in it's material. Indulgent beyond anything you've seen before, Brave and the Bold is arguably the smartest DC cartoon ever created! It was in the recent second series episode, Gorillas In Our Midst, that this cool went one step further!

First appearing in More Fun Comics #52 in early 1940; The Spectre is one of the all-time great heroes of the classic Golden Age. Better known to current readers as a lofty omnipotent being tied to either Hal Jordan or Crispus Allen; The Spectre was originally the personified spirit of God's vengeance bound to a deceased police detective named Jim Corrigan! Throught the years he dealt bitter justice to those whose hearts knew evil, compelled to punish with limitless power and a penchant for tortures of irony.

Unfortunately, the above preview clip doesn't give you the entire taste of this episode's opening sequence. As you can see, Batman takes on fifties villain, Professor Milo, with The Spectre watching on. Batman doesn't agree with Spectre's unwavering lethality, believing in the judicial system. As young viewers would've seen first-hand, The Spectre doesn't care much for the Batman's opinions, returning post-battle to deliver one of his trademark fates -- death by test rats, unleashed on a helpless Milo transformed into cheese!

Granted, it isn't quite as gruesome as some of The Spectre's comic book punishments, but for a Saturday morning cartoon, this sequence impressed me for it's creepy factor! It comes off the heels of The Spectre's appearance on home video in a "Showcase" short film released as bonus material on the Justice League: Crisis of Two Earths DVD -- a project conceived because of the appearant unlikelihood of The Spectre's appearance in other projects. Which is exactly the kind of defiance that Brave and the Bold shows routinely, making first-class TV heroes out of the likes of cult favourites including; Kamandi, Wildcat, B'wana Beast, and Vixen! Even Aquaman gets a main event boost from the loving comedic bravado of the show's interpretation!

Fans digging deep into the DCU over the past few years will find a lot to like about the show, especially if you're the kind of Bat-fan who loves when Grant Morrison gets his hands dirty with the same kind of enthusiastic manipulation of quirky Bat-history. A lot of the same high concept energy is expelled here, with a wholely unique brand of animated Bat-results!

The second series hasn't quite had the freshness of the first, but I'm still thoroughly enjoying it, and in the recent appearances of The Spectre, I'm pleased with just how spooky it can be. I was inspired to tell you about the show because of that factor, which is all too often bumped out of kids cartoons these days. This is the kind of scary I enjoyed as a kid! Such fun! Even better -- it might breed the annoying fear of the unknown out of "new" readers, too!

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