By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service

 

April 12, 2011 -- It’s cliché to say that comics aren’t just for kids any more, but sometimes neither are superhero cartoons.

 

Case in point is Batman: The Brave and the Bold, now in its third and last season. Maybe its impending demise has emboldened the creators to take the gauntlets off, but recent episodes have been a huge Easter egg hunt for comics fans.

 

B&B takes the square-jawed, campy Batman of the 1960s and teams him up with other DC characters, which was the format of The Brave and The Bold comic book from 1966 to 1983. Some other characters are also from the 1960s, like Green Arrow, who is presented as the Batman knockoff he was before 1969 (a competition which is played for laughs.)

 

But Brave and Bold is more than just an exercise in nostalgia. Batman existed before the ‘60s, and continues to exist 40-odd years later, and B&B isn’t afraid to lift from any of it. It’s like a mix-tape of Batman’s 70-year history, with other characters sprinkled in for spice.

 

Take for example the first episode of season three, “Battle of the Superheroes,” which debuted March 25. This is the first episode to co-star Superman, which is significant, because Batman co-starred with Superman in nearly every issue of World’s Finest Comics from 1954 to 1986. Even before the team-up was formalized, the two first co-starred in a 1952 story where they *gasp* revealed their secret identities to each other, which was unheard of in 1950s superhero circles.

 

In “Battle,” Superman and Batman are pals, until red kryptonite (provided by Lex Luthor) turns the Man of Steel into – in the words of Jimmy Olsen – a “Super-jerk!” Batman has to keep his friend busy, and non-lethal, until the red K wears off.

 

It’s an amusing story for kids, but what’s amazing for adult fans is the execution. In one scene, Mr. Mxyzptlk shows up, and runs Jimmy Olsen through a series of bizarre transformations in seconds – most of which first appeared in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen comics from 1952 to 1974. Running down the list, I can practically hear comics fans whooping with joy: Blimp Jimmy, Genie Jimmy, Werewolf Jimmy, Porcupine Jimmy, Future-Boy Jimmy and – of course – Giant Turtle Man Jimmy. Those transformations were all the subject of 8- or 10-page stories decades ago, but I think they still work as 8- or 10-second sight gags today.

 

Superman is old school as well, a squinty-eyed hero (1940s) who changes in a Daily Planet supply closet (1960s), and whose famous 1950s TV theme (“faster than a speeding bullet”) is incorporated into the dialogue. The computer villain Brainiac shows up, and wants to steal Metropolis “to re-populate my home planet” – a confusing line, unless you know that’s exactly how he was portrayed in his first appearance in 1958 (he’s changed a bit since then). Lois Lane has brief daydreams that mirror “Imaginary Stories” from her book in the ‘60s, the Metropolis mayor is named for long-time Superman artist Curt Swan, and Luthor’s lair is modeled on those depicted when Swan was drawing the books.

 

But we also get the 1970s Metallo, and Bat-armor straight out of the best-selling 1986 graphic novel Dark Knight Returns. Batman says to Luthor, “You diseased maniac!” -- a line from 1978’s Superman: The Movie. The “World’s Finest” team – yes, a newspaper headline calls them that – defeats Luthor with the same identity-switching trick they used in that first team-up in 1952.

 

I could go on, but then I wouldn’t get to talk about episode 2, “Bat-Mite Presents: Batman’s Strangest Cases!” Bat-Mite – a 1950s magical imp similar to Mxyzptlk – speaks directly to the viewer from his “Bat-Museum” full of genuine Batman toys and costumes. This meta-mad episode doesn’t just break the fourth wall – it chews it up, along with all the other scenery.

 

First we see an adaptation of the famous “Bat-Boy and Rubin” parody from Mad #8 (1954), with Rubin sounding exactly like Jerry Lewis.  Then we see an adaptation of a 1960s Japanese Batman comic book that was itself adapted from an American comic book. Then the Super Friends version of the Dynamic Duo meet the Scooby Doo gang, although they’re hampered by the TV “Standards and Practices” rules of the 1970s – until Bat-Mite changes them.  

 

This maddening ouroboros of self-reference is almost enough to make your head hurt – until you realize you’re laughing too hard.

 

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com

 

Views: 362

Comment by Don Collett on April 15, 2011 at 12:06am
It sounds like I've been missing a lot on B&B lately!
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on April 15, 2011 at 7:17am

"Bat-Mite Presents" was an animated Bat-Mite in front of a s**tload of REAL Batman paraphernalia.  If you watch it, you'll see it's all real world.  That Paul Reubens... who ever thought he'd get work on a children's show again?

 

And the Scooby Doo part kind of made me nostalgic.  Till I realized it wasn't good - but it was heart-breakingly honest to the Scooby Doo Movies and to the Superfriends cartoons (which somewhat regularly got Batman's and Superman's symbols reverse colored... as B&B did... and showed Batman's neck... as B&B did... and showed an important safety tip about sharks!)

 

As for "Bat-Boy and Rubin" - for the twelve of us in the United States (me and Cap being two of them) who've read the story, it was SCREAMINGLY funny - literally.  My wife didn't know if she had to call paramedics or not.  Wally West is rolling over in his grave, laughing...

 

The Brave and the Bold isn't B:TAS, more's the pity.  On the other hand, it isn't "The Batman", thank Odin!  (What a steaming pile of junk that was...)  But it was fun and it was clever at times (okay, I'll grant you, tedious at others... VERY few others), and I hate to see it go.  I can't believe it's ratings - I can believe that DC or Cartoon Network decided that they just don't want to make fun cartoons any more (unlike their hit cartoons "Dude What Would You Do" or "Destroy Build Destroy" - some animation, there.  Those people look almost lifelike... :P )

 

x<]:o){

ELS

Comment by KSwolf on April 16, 2011 at 2:32pm

I haven't watched this week's episode yet, but the writers apparently dug a really obscure character out of mothballs for this one -- a Bulletman foe who hasn't made an appearance since 1942.

 

Comment by Don Collett on April 16, 2011 at 9:42pm

Saw the Bat-Mite episode...what a hoot!  Loved it all, especially the Scooby-Doo segment, which was way too faithful to the style of the original. :) And the other "special guest star" in that segment made me cheer!

BTW, Uncle Eric...I caught two other errors in the story...Batman with no gloves (and a ring on his left hand), and once with no tights, ala the Boy Wonder.

Comment by Figserello on April 16, 2011 at 10:04pm

The episode in question sounds like fun, but in what way is it subversive?

 

Judge Dredd taking on the Jolly Green Giant and the Michilin Man with hi-ex bullets is somewhat subversive.  Ronald Reagan escalating the invasion of Corto Maltese into nuclear war via folksy homilies on the television is too.  Ensuring the DVD collections of the show you are about to cancel appeals to nostalgic fanboys rather than fickle 10-year-olds and thus has a long shelf-life is hardly subversive.

 

Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on April 18, 2011 at 1:13am

I've been saying since this series started that it is like an animated love letter to the creators and fans of Batman's long history. I hope that anybody who enjoys the cartoon is reading the comicbook version, too. It's not always as great as its animated counterpart but it is always at least very good.

 

It does crack me up, though, that the voice of Batman was Oswald on The Drew Carey Show. :)

Comment by Captain Comics on April 18, 2011 at 3:30am

Figs, I always consider it subversive when creators break the fourth wall, because they're subverting the suspension of disbelief.

 

Comment by Figserello on April 18, 2011 at 3:45am

Fair enough.  I can see it's breaking a rule.  Although its not very overt.  And you can't pick up a DC comic these days without some clever references to old comics in them.  In fact, I'd say any DC story that had something totally fresh and original in it instead of rehashing old ideas would be subversive these days.

 

I guess I prefer my subversion to ... STICK IT TO THE MAN!

 

(And yes, I am a grumpy guts today!)

Comment by Doc Beechler (mod-MD) on May 2, 2011 at 4:54pm

Gaggy...the little henchmen of the Joker's seen here:

 

http://the-isb.blogspot.com/2006/05/sheer-terror-of-super-villain.html

 

was in the last episode. 

 

Gaggy!

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