The Ten Best Moments From ‘Batman: The Brave And The Bold’ Season 1
This week, the first sesason of Batman: The Brave and the Bold was released on Blu-ray, marking the first time that the entire season of the Caped Crusader's animated team-up has been available. That's why we're marking the occasion -- because I will take literally any excuse to talk about BATB -- by taking a look back at the highlights of those first 26 episodes.
If you've never seen it, or even if you have and are just getting ready to dive back in to all the HD goodness, then here are the bits and pieces to watch out for that made the show so great: The Ten Best Moments from Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season 1!
10. Batman's Utility Belt Laser Sword (Episode 1x01: "Rise of the Blue Beetle")
Even before the opening credits rolled on the first episode, Brave and the Bold's producers were sure to let you know exactly what kind of show you were in for. Unlike the darker dark knight Batman: The Animated Series (in which Batman's gadgetry was limited to a wrist-mounted computer, a grappling hook launcher an endless stream of batarangs, a jet, a tiny laser torch...), BATB's Batman was a guy who would straight up pull a laser sword out of his belt in order to cut down the Clock King's robot henchmen.
It's probably my single favorite thing about the show -- both because it sets the tone of goofy action that would define the series throughout its three-season run and because it's Batman with a laser sword -- and when I talked to James Tucker, Michael Jelenic and Ben Jones about it, their reasoning for leading with it was pretty simple. According to Tucker, they wanted to make the name "The Dark Knight" a little more literal (as they did a few episodes later when Batman and Green Arrow went back in time to go hang out with Merlin for a while), and as Jelenic said, toy companies love swords. Sometimes, it's that simple.
9. Gorilla Batman (Episode 1x02: "Terror On Dinosaur Island")
I'll admit that my tastes in superheroics favor the goofiness of the Silver Age a little more than the average person, but one of the best things about Brave and the Bold was that it was willing to put that stuff right at the forefront of the show at the same time that Christopher Nolan's ultramodern take on Batman in The Dark Knight was right at the forefront of pop culture. The fact that both of those things were happening at once, and that both were as good as they are, is a pretty strong argument for Batman's adaptability as a character.
Either way, being turned into a gorilla is probably the Silver Age-iest thing that can happen to someone, but that's not the only reason I love this scene. No, I love it because of how short-sighted Gorilla Grodd's plan is here. You might think you've won by turning Batman into a gorilla, but all you've really done is made him stronger and given him two additional fists with which to kick-punch you. That is a bad move if you're on the side of crime.
8. Bat-Mite's Hallucinatory Dream Sequence (Episode 1x19: "Legends of the Dark Mite")
The reintroduction of Bat-Mite as a fourth-wall-breaking foil for Batman is unquestionably one of BATB's defining moments, to the point where it's sometimes easy to forget just how good the episode where it happens actually is. Most viewers probably remember the scene parodying San Diego's Comic-Con International, grumpy fan reaction to a brighter, happier Batman and Bat-Mite's assertion that their take was just as valid as "the tortured avenger crying out for mommy and daddy." That is pretty great, and believe me, I am always up for antagonizing one's audience, but there's another scene in there that's just jaw-droppingly amazing that often gets overlooked.
When the episode gears up for its final set piece, writer Paul Dini and director Ben Jones shift things into a lurid, abstract fantasy sequence that's equal parts Silver Age Batman villains, Fantasia and Wackyland (home of the Dodo) in Bob Clampett and Friz Freling's classic Looney Tunes shorts:
It's beautiful, engaging and maybe the weirdest thing I could've ever imagined seeing in a Batman cartoon -- and if I didn't expect to see a gigantic, fully-painted Killer Moth looming over Bat-Mite, I don't think anybody did.
7. The Jack Kirby Influence (Episodes 1x22: "The Last Bat On Earth" and 1x23: "When OMAC Attacks")
One of the greatest tragedies in comics history -- for me, anyway -- is that outside of a few Super Powers stories, the legendary Jack Kirby never really got the chance to work on Batman. Fortunately, that's a problem with our history that the people behind Brave and the Bold attempted to fix, giving us a show that was inspired by Kirby as much as Dick Sprang, Bob Haney and Jim Aparo. Which, now that I look back on it, should've been pretty clear from the moment Batman's cape spontaneously turned into a jetpack.
Aside from just the general visual nods, the show's Kirby influence hit critical mass when they brought in the King's creations for full-length team-up stories. As someone who loves those nine issues of OMAC like you would not believe, it was pure joy to see the One Man Army Corps punching out tanks with Batman in tow, but the best episode is unquestionably when Batman heads to the future with Kamandi, the Last Boy On Earth. That's something that happened in the comics, too, but throwing Gorilla Grodd in the mix was icing on the cake. It's almost as good as the time Batman had to have a death race against Steppenwolf, but that was in Season 2.
6. Batman Doesn't Sing (Episode 1x24: "Mayhem of the Music Meister")
I almost left anything relating to BATB's musical episode off the list, because honestly, there's not much I could write about it that hasn't already been said at some point over the past five years. The thing is, it really is that good, if only because it features a stirring love song where Black Canary plaintively yearns for Batman's heart by singing "If only he could love me / As much as he loves fighting villains." That is the most romantic sentiment I have ever heard.
Also, fun fact: When asked for the reason behind doing a musical at San Diego a few years ago, Michael Jelenic's answer was simply that they realized they could make more money selling the soundtrack. He was joking, though. I think.
5. The Batman '66 Villains (Episode 1x16: "Night of the Huntress")
One of the cool things about Brave and the Bold is that while it's never actually mentioned, it's clear if you're paying attention that the show is meant to be a sequel to the 1966 Batman TV show. The outfits, the design of the Batcave, even the red and black color scheme of the Batmobile were all nods to the Adam West/Burt Ward era, but there was one big clue: the appearance of the '66 villains.
Mixed in with the show's regular roster of baddies like Dr. Polaris and the Clock King were the villains that originated in the show, and usually never made it into the comics: Bookworm, King Tut, False Face and even Milton Berle himself, Louie the Lilac, popping up during a prison riot only to be summarily smacked down by Batman, the Huntress and Blue Beetle. It's worth noting that they never made the jump to being the primary antagonists of an episode, but given the show's expansion to the entire DC Universe -- this was, after all, a series that opened with Batman battling Kanjar-Ro in deep space -- it's pretty neat just to see 'em.
4. Grown-Up Robin (Episode 1x18: "The Color Of Revenge")
If the appearance of Bookworm and the Archer was a little too subtle, then the episode where Robin appeared, complete with the red Batphone hotline, the bust of Shakespeare and the Bat-poles probably should've done the job. But what's really great here is the relationship it shows between Batman and Robin.
Like a lot of projects in both comics and TV, BATB shows us a Robin who's desperately trying to be his own man and get out of Batman's shadow, but it also gives us a Batman and Robin who have a mutual respect for each other as partners and crimefighters. Given how well the show tends to pull off good-natured rivalries -- Green Arrow's status as an unabashed Batman knockoff sticks out in particular -- it's not surprising that it does this well with Robin, but it's still pretty great to see.
3. Sad Aquaman (Episode 1x14: "Mystery In Space")
All right, look: We can all agree that BATB Aquaman is the best Aquaman has ever been in his entire 72-year history, right? I mean, that's not even up for debate, it is just a stone cold fact that John DiMaggio's performance as the boisterous, adventure-seeking underwater Hercules is the best version of the character. Basically every time he's onscreen is a delight, but if I had to pick one single moment that was Aquaman at his best, then his mighty birthday depression manages to edge out even the time that he went into Batman's bloodstream and used his aquatelepathy to summon a white blood cell that he rode as a horse.
At this point in the show, Aquaman had only made a couple of appearances, but the characterization they'd done was so strong that it is instantly hilarious when his bluster is replaced by sad-sack moaning and drawing frowny faces in the sand. Even beyond that, this is a character whose emotions are so big that his depression can only be conquered by going on an adventure in space, and Batman is enough of a bro to make this happen. It's basically perfect.
2. The Crime Syndicate (Episodes 1x12: "Deep Cover For Batman" and 1x13: "Game Over For Owlman")
There have been plenty of stories about an alternate universe where the good guys are the bad guys over the years -- there's a big one going on right now, in fact -- but for obvious reasons, they mostly focus on the evil doppelgangers of our heroes. When Brave and the Bold took on the Crime Syndicate, though, they did things a little differently. Obviously, the Batman/Owlman conflict was at the heart of the episode, but it was just as important to see the hero of that alternate Earth: the Red Hood, a heroic version of the Joker.
The really compelling bit in this episode, aside from the voice acting by Jeff Bennett that just evened out the manic highs and lows of his Joker voice, was the origin story. The twist of Owlman dropping the Red Hood into a vat of acid in a malicious attempt at murder but Red Hood refusing to allow his mind to shatter so that he could keep fighting against evil? That's compelling stuff, and a side of the character that you don't usually see.
1. Everything That Happens In "Trial of the Demon" (Episode 1x15: "Trials of the Demon")
If I had to point to the one quality that made Brave and the Bold such a standout show from the very beginning, it would be the sheer, fearless ambition on display in every episode. To do a (somewhat) goofy, (mildly) lighthearted take on Batman at a time when most pop culture was clamoring for Batman at his darkest takes guts and to take on the entire DC Universe with obscure heroes and villains takes even more, but there is no single episode that shows the ambition of the series quite like "Trials of the Demon."
Here's what happens in it: Not only is this a team-up with the Etrigan the Demon (another Jack Kirby creation), it's a time-travel story where Batman and the Demon team up with Sherlock Holmes in order to fight Jack the Ripper, who turns out to be Jim Craddock, who is sacrificing his victims to demonic powers, which results in him becoming Gentleman Ghost and swearing vengeance against Batman -- vengeance that he was talking about as early as episode two. So yeah, Sherlock Holmes, demonic sacrifice and Batman. It's pretty much the best thing ever.
Seriously, that's like five different amazing plots going on all at once in one huge time-travel epic, and it says a lot about this show (and, in particular, writer Todd Casey and director Michael Chang) that it's able to pull it off and make it seem compelling and effortless. It's one of the best episodes the show produced, and since Brave and the Bold was a show that kept getting better over its three-season run, to have that big and ambitious a highlight this early is a pretty strong accomplishment.