I don’t think that the family realized how much they’d missed Batman: The Brave and the Bold until the latest episode unfurled over the weekend. Granted, my kids have loved this show for a while. My boys, six and four, have had their view of Batman and the DCU shaped by a few animated sources (Justice League, Super Friends, etc.), but they seem to really connect with this particular show. In fact, it’s fair to say that they’ve been growing up with it. TB&TB debuted on November 14, 2008; Connor would have been almost four, Kyle just under two.
Of course, the bonus is that parents can enjoy the show right along with their kids (frequently, even more so). Take for example the latest episode to air in the U.S., “Battle of the Superheroes!”. Prior to this episode, Superman had only appeared once in the series; he was previously seen from behind in a group shot as the Justice League discussed preventing an asteroid strike in the opening scene of “Sidekicks Assemble!”. This episode was the first chance to really jump into that well of mythology, and it does it in spades.
Before we talk about Superman in the TB&TB context, let’s look at this installment’s opening. The villain is Pharaoh, or, essentially, King Tut, a villain from the ‘60s Batman series that recently saw a comics introduction in Batman Confidential #26 in 2009. Pharaoh had a cameo earlier in the series in the “Day of the Dark Knight!” episode; he is among the villains trying to escape from Iron Heights. Also seen during the escape attempt are animated versions of other “Batman TV” villains like Bookworm, Archer, Egghead, Louie the Lilac, and Shame. Obviously, these are Easter eggs aimed squarely at older/longtime fans; though the Batman live-action series is getting a thorough workout on cable station HUB, it’s airings seem confined to late-night/early morning hours at the time of this writing. That, to me, is one of the appealing things about this iteration of the show: it considers anything from any era or media open to introduction and interpretation (kinda like Grant Morrison).
The most obvious example of that comes in the rest of this new episode, which is basically a celebration of Superman’s Silver Age. Some people consider the Silver Age to be silly, but you have to respect it as a wellspring of crazy-ass creative energy. Sure, there are things that are hokey by the standards of subsequent generations, but it was fun and wildly inventive. The episode (written by Steve Melching and directed by Ben Jones) endeavors to cram as many references and in-jokes in as possible.
Among the highlights, we run a gamut of Jimmy Olsen transformations at the hands of Mr. Mxyzptlk. We get cameos by Metallo (green and orange Metallo, I add), the original Toyman, and Silver Age Brainiac. Of course, Luthor is in full effect, combining his Silver Age persona and ‘80s Bryne-era suit and kryptonite ring. There’s Krypto, the Fortress, Kandor, Red Kryptonite, and Perry White. There are gags relating to Lois’s marriage daydreaming and scheming. And in a moment that will live forever in my house, Jimmy Olsen nearly calls Superman a dick before Lois says “different” over him. (Why will it live forever in my house? Laugh out loud at Jimmy nearly calling Superman a dick, then try to explain to your four and six year old what’s so funny while your wife laughs at you.)
The whole thing crackled with wit and spirit, but it wasn’t content to rest with the Silver Age. When red kryptonite-affected Superman needs taken down, it’s up to Krypto and . . . Batman in the “Dark Knight Returns” Superman-takedown suit. That’s right; Silver Age and Frank Miller, together. For even greater effect, still shots in the subsequent battle are direct recreations of individual panels from TDKR. The mind boggles.
Frankly, it makes one very sad to know that the powers that be already saw an end in sight for TB&TB long before it ran out of gas. After the next cycle of original episodes wraps, that is reportedly the end of this version. Another version of Batman is promised, and I’m sure the family will check it out. But there’s just something to this one . . . there was something special about a show that was willing to be comedic, be dramatic, be musical, hell, be anything, because the main character, at the end of the day, really is that adaptable. Welcome back, TB&TB; we’re gonna miss you.