With its final season now underway, Batman: The Brave and the Bold looks more and more like the exact kind of gutsy, carefree show that superhero fans deserve. The Silver Age-inspired team-up show originally came on the air after Cartoon Network cancelled their frequently stellar Justice League Unlimited series, filling a void that that consummately well-handled program left in its wake. Justice League Unlimited proved that using allusions and cameos—even if it was a risky move, especially in light of the studio execs’ discomfort—wasn’t necessarily just another kind of fan service, but rather a way of treating viewers with genuine respect.
Like Justice League Unlimited and the comic its named after, The Brave and the Bold took full advantage of the decades of imaginary history that have turned two-dimensional characters into figures that arrested adolescents still gawp at with boyish wonder. The show’s writers have made the most of characters as absurd and as obscure as Crazy Quilt and the Music Meister for the sake of reflecting the colorful schizoid universe that they sprang from. Comics today are primarily read by hoarders and children, so what better way to make a show for both factions than one that’s overstuffed with new faces, punny jokes, and scads of sight gags?
The creators of The Brave and the Bold have made a more aggressively flamboyant cartoon than any other recent one that Warner Bros. has produced since the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini-era of DC cartoons began in the ‘90s. The second half of the show’s first season features a number of weaker episodes that bite off much more than they can chew with outlandish premises that simply aren’t grounded well enough in a competent narrative with clearly defined stakes. Both “Duel of the Double Crossers” and “Menace of the Conqueror Caveman” are certainly zany enough to be products of the show’s anything goes ethos. But they have none of the storytelling basics nor the flair for goofy jokes that “Mayhem of the Music Meister” and “The Last Bat on Earth” have in spades.
The central hurdle that the show’s writers have to contend with is The Brave and the Bold‘s standalone narrative structure. Each episode must stand on its own, though each season has an overarching villain that rarely is as interesting as the villains in individual episodes (the same is usually true of the comic series, incidentally). The show takes its name from the comb book on whish its based, and its plot structure is pure formula storytelling: Batman and another hero, like Dr. Fate or Jonah Hex, join forces to take down out-there menaces like Psycho Pirate or Mongul. As a result, any superior episodes like “The Color of Revenge,” “When OMAC Attacks,” and “Hail the Tornado Tyrant” are usually character studies after a fashion. Canny creators use the show’s flimsy format to highlight new characters and issues that superheroes face in the DC Universe, like fears of never being recognized by your elders (“The Color of Revenge”) or the conflicts that being a super-android parent engenders (“Hail the Tornado Tyrant”). Appearances from Bat-Mite (voiced by Paul Reubens, no less) and jokes at Aquaman’s expense are always satisfying, but it’s what you do with the rest of the episode that counts most.
In that sense, the most standout episode of the show’s first season’s second half might be “When OMAC Attacks.” (Who designed this cockamamie set? Couldn’t Warner Bros. have just given fans an entire season instead of making them buy two separate sets?) The episode has real stakes: The cosmic villain Equinox prevents Batman from stopping a fight between OMAC (the One Man Army Corps), one of Jack Kirby’s zanier characters, and Shrapnel, a villain made entirely of metal, that unwittingly activates a nuclear meltdown. It also largely works because sniveling janitor Buddy Blank, the unwitting alter ego of OMAC, is a funny, human character that also happens to turn into a Mohawk-wearing muscleman whose powers are transmitted to him via a giant sentient satellite dish named Brother Eye. OMAC and Blank remain one of the more well-defined ego/alter-ego characters on the show, the former character being obsessed with mindlessly bonking heads while Blank spends most of his time fantasizing about doing the things that OMAC does reflexively.
Then again, “Mayhem of the Music Meister” is just as worthy as “When OMAC Attacks” thanks to its bouncy musical numbers sung by Neil Patrick Harris’s Music Meister and Grey DeLisle’s Black Canary. That episode’s energy is infectious and a perfect example of why The Brave and the Bold‘s success is entirely dependent on its ability to make freakishly silly characters funny and/or relatable.
The visuals on this DVD are just as crisp as when they originally aired and the color balance is thankfully nicely preserved. The set's 2.0 stereo surround audio mix, however, is unfortunately only as good as a 2.0 soundtrack can be: You can hear the layers of nuance that the show's sound editors put into the show, but not as well as you might have been able to were the show given a 5.1 mix.
There are no extras in this box set, which kind of blows.
In spite of the fact that buying half a season of a TV show sucks, Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Season One, Part Two features a number of very strong, and a few great, episodes from Warner Bros.'s latest too-clever-for-its-own-good cartoon series.