Team-Ups And Families: The Thematic Connection Between DC’s Rebirth Era And ‘Batman: The Brave And The Bold’
Batman: The Animated Series is arguably one of the most influential DC Comics properties of the past three decades --- at least where the Dark Knight himself is concerned.
After debuting in 1992 and launching an animated universe that would continue for the next fourteen years and provide the foundation of DC Entertainment's current line of animated movies, the show's influence helped to redefine how the comics worked, from the redesign of Gotham City into a retro Art Deco nightmare full of sleek lines and police blimps in 2000 to the way Batman himself was presented.
And if nothing else, if you really want to see the influence of that show, you only need to look at Harley Quinn, who debuted on the show and was imported to become one of DC's most beloved --- and marketable --- characters.
But if you're looking solely at the influence of mass-media projects on the comics, the last year or so has seen a pretty interesting shift in how Batman is being presented in the comics. The BTAS influence is still there, of course, and I'm not sure it's ever really going away, but the past few months of the Rebirth era have shown us an entirely different influence on the Caped Crusader: Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
If you're not familiar with it, BATB ran from 2008 to 2011, starring Diedrich Bader as Batman and following the team-up format of the comic book of the same name. In addition to teaming Batman up with characters as varied as OMAC, Space Ghost, Kamandi, and Scooby-Doo --- and giving us what is literally the best version of Aquaman that has ever been in anything --- the show also boosted up the toyetic aspects of the character, showing Batman fighting evil with jetpacks, a transforming Batmobile, and a laser sword that he kept hidden in his utility belt.
Also, while it was never made explicit on the show itself, BATB served as a sort of stealth sequel and continuation to Batman '66, drawing on the same sort of imagery from Silver Age comics that the show did, and expanding it out into an entire universe of DC heroes.
There are subtle hints littered in there --- like cameos from TV villains like Bookworm and King Tut or the color scheme of the Batmobile --- but it mostly comes through in tone. BATB has the same straight-faced silliness combined with genuine thrills and high adventure that made the '66 show so appealing, and I suspect that the pendulum swinging back towards re-examination and love of the show is one of the things that made BATB successful, and has led to the trend that we see cropping up now in the comics.
Don't get me wrong, here. It's not like the post Rebirth issues have seen Batman running around referring to his fists as Hammers of Justice, but if you look hard enough --- and if you're the kind of person who loves BATB and doesn't mind a little confirmation bias mixing in with your reading --- it's definitely there in a few less-than-subtle ways.
Part of it just comes down to the gadgets. BATB, like Batman '66 before it, put an emphasis on Batman's crime-fighting accessories. And after years of creators who tended to push more towards giving the Dark Knight a slightly more realistic arsenal --- and I do mean slightly, that dude has always just knocked out ninjas and Man-Bats by throwing tiny little metal boomerangs shaped like himself --- it stands out as something pretty notable when those little metal boomerangs are also made of an alien super-metal that can also knock out ghosts until the next full moon.
The introduction of Nth Metal Batarangs was the first time I saw something that originated on BATB --- in the form of Batman's ghost-punching Nth Metal knuckles --- creep into the comics, but it certainly wouldn't be the last. The current "Night of the Monster Men" storyline has seen Batman flying around Gotham City fighting giant monster babies on his jetpack, and folks, that's about as far from that Year One-inspired platonic ideal of gritty, street-level superheroics as you can possibly get.
The only thing we really haven't gotten yet is Batman pulling a laser sword out of his utility belt, but all things considered, I think we can consider Batman swinging around a chainsaw in his fight with Black Spider to be a solid Close Enough. I mean, if nothing else, that same issue has Batman literally winking at the reader, and in the one after that, he takes out a bad guy with literal Shark-Repellant Bat-Spray.
That book is awesome, and the '66 aesthetic is back in full force, is what I'm getting at here.
But in isolation, those things are just the natural evolution of the crime-fighting tricks and tchotchkes that Batman's been using for the past 75 years. What really makes the current era of Batman feel like it's influenced by BATB comes from the way that he's been presented to us as readers. Three months into this new iteration of the DC Universe, and we haven't once seen Batman alone.
Detective Comics focuses on the larger Batman family and the role of Batman at the head of a team of heroes and sidekicks, and Batman is making that family even larger with the addition of Gotham Girl and a story where Batman's forming his own version of the Suicide Squad to take on a mission that he can't accomplish himself.
Even All Star Batman, the closest thing we've seen to a solo adventure, is itself an offbeat team-up story with Batman and Harvey Dent taking on Two-Face --- and that's even before you get to the backup stories where Batman's training his newest sidekick, Duke Thomas.
Again, this isn't something new; Batman's been working as part of a team since 1940. But every single story that we've seen in the Rebirth era isn't just a team-up, it's specifically about Batman's role in a larger family, in an entire universe of superheroes. That's always been an undercurrent, and the Batman Family was certainly not neglected in the New 52 era, but having the overwhelming focus be on Batman in the context of teams and team-ups is definitely a new direction.
I'll admit that saying that the current universe is building on the influence of Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a little bit of hyperbole, but I do think there's something there, a trend that's seeing the pendulum of storytelling swinging away from grittiness and realism, a larger trend that's been building for a decade, that goes beyond BATB and into stories like Batman Inc., and when you start throwing jetpacks into the mix, BATB is definitely the one big touchstone that comes to mind.
And if we can get that influence over to Aquaman, things might just work out all right.