Cartoon Graveyard: Holy Balls, Batman, The Acid Is Kicking In!

June 4, 2009

I was actually going to hold off on this week’s series, Batman: The Brave And The Bold, since it’s a superhero cartoon and I did one of those pretty recently.  When I did get to it, I might have said something about how its lighthearted tone and cartoonier art style was a jarring departure from the older animated series that is so venerated by geeks like myself.  Then I would have posited that such a change was necessary, since trying to follow up Batman: The Animated Series and  Justice League on their own terms would have been a fool’s errand, and lightening Bats up some was the logical place to go.  Indeed, I might have said something like, “Batman’s rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways. To be sure, this is a lighter incarnation, but is certainly no less valid and true to the character’s roots then the tortured avenger, crying out for mommy and daddy.” But I can’t.  Why?  Because that’s an exact quote from the most recent episode, in which “lighthearted” gave way to “taking the last crazy train to Nutstown.” And that’s why we’re here.

Title: Batman: The Brave And The Bold
Network: Cartoon Network
Premise: Batman teams up with other superheroes, does superhero stuff

The aforementioned team-ups that the show is based on range from the ordinary to the wilfully obscure.  Everyone recognizes Green Arrow and the Flash, for instance.  But who the hell knows who Bronze Tiger and Jonah Hex are?  (Well, me, but I don’t count.)  Still, for the most part it’s been good old-fashioned superhero fun.  Bats and friend team up, banter and bicker, fight bad guys in some imaginative way, repeat.  Simple, kid-friendly good times.  Then someone had the bright idea to reintroduce Bat-Mite.

Yeah, this guy right here

Yeah, this guy right here

For those of you who weren’t reading terrible Batman comics in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Bat-Mite was Batman’s answer to Mr.  Mxyzptlk, the “fifth-dimensional imp” with all the gnarly powers that ran Superman ragged.  Bat-Mite, instead of being an asshole prankster like Mxy, is Batman’s biggest fan and tries to help him, usually by using his reality-warping powers in incredibly stupid ways.  Basically he was an excuse for the writers and artists on Batman to be even weirder than normal, which is quite a feat.

Oh no! Not RAINBOWS!

Oh no! Not RAINBOWS!

I've actually read this one. The mustache is a disguise!

I've actually read this one. The mustache is a disguise!

Okay, this is just turning into Superdickery.com. I'll stop now.

Okay, this is just turning into Superdickery.com. I'll stop now.

These days, Bat-Mite is just a punch line, and to the writers’ credit, that’s how they use him.  The cartoon Bat-Mite, voiced by Pee-Wee fucking Herman, suddenly appears one night and proceeds to annoy Bats no end.  Now, I can appreciate a TV series taking time out for a comedy episode.  The Twilight Zone, one of the greatest shows of all time, did it fairly often, including one memorable (and hysterical) episode with Buster Keaton and time travel.  But the writers of Batman: TBATB (I hate acronyms, but that’s a long-ass name) took it one step further, using Bat-Mite as an excuse to show off their geek knowledge and their taste for surrealism.  In one scene, Bat-Mite tries to improve Batman’s costume, in the process recreating and quickly satirizing just about every incarnation of Batman in the past fifty years, from Adam West to Frank Miller to an explicit reference to the infamous “Bat-Nipples” from the hated movie Batman And Robin.  After that comes some reality-warping silliness, which is stopped in mid-fight so Bat-Mite can poof over to a comic book convention to answer fans’ criticisms of his antics, and by extension the series as a whole.  Evidently the creators took some heat from the Legion of Super-Nerds at some point, since that’s where the quote in the opening paragraph comes in.  The whole sequence smacks of the old Animaniacs and Tiny Toons cartoons, which engaged in such meta-humor shenanigans pretty regularly.

So, having satirized both their character’s past and his more obnoxious fans, the episode proceeds to jump the tracks completely.  Bat-Mite, after becoming irked by Batman’s noncooperation, decides to try being the man himself.  Instead of pure silliness ensuing, we get a meticulous, shot-by-shot homage to the Daffy Duck cartoon “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery,” in which Daffy imagined himself as a Dick Tracy spoof.  Both the original cartoon and this one, by the way, display an admirable trait in Warner Animation: the willingness to let their animators do whatever the hell they want as long as their work brings in money.  That’s putting mercenary motives to good use, fellas.  Keep it up!

So after the crazy comics geekery and even crazier cartoon geekery, it all ends happily and ridiculously.  And good on them for doing it.  Animation is, after all, a medium that lends itself very well to flights of fancy, and it’s good to see people taking the weirder part of their imaginations out for a spin.  No doubt everything will be back to normal next time (Fry’s Law redux), but considering the glut of teens-and-preteens-doing-typical-boring-things shows out there, it’s very refreshing to get a show that takes some chances.  Even if it did involve reintroducing the world to Bat-Mite.

Final Judgment: Keep doing that, it’s silly.


One comment

  1. […] all of Marvel’s Civil Wars and Dark Reigns and whatnot. You could try to lighten the tone, a la Batman: The Brave And The Bold. You could try to draw in fans of the movies, but those have gotten… I don’t want to say […]

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