With batman in theaters now, superhero fans everywhere have Gotham’s Dark Knight on the brain. But while Bruce Wayne’s big-screen adventures may get the most attention, his TV exploits of him can be just as fascinating.
When fans think of the best Batman cartoon, their minds will likely first go to Batman: The Animated Series, known for its dark, gothic tone and nuanced storytelling. However, not every Batman cartoon is so moody in its atmosphere — in fact, one of the best superhero cartoons of all time is known for embracing the campy wackiness of Batman’s 1960s adventures. The show in question is none other than Batman: The Brave and the Boldwhich originally ran from 2008 to 2011.
The Brave and the Bold takes its name from a DC comic that ran from 1955 to 1983. While initially an anthology series, the book spent most of its run as a Batman comic, pairing the Caped Crusader up with a different DC superhero in every issue. Similarly, Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a team-up series — instead of focusing on Batman’s exploits in Gotham alongside the rest of the Bat-Family, it sees the Caped Crusader travel the entire DC Universe, joining forces with a new hero in every episode.
As an episodic team-up series, The Brave and the Bold lacks a traditional supporting cast, with Batman being the only character to consistently reappear from episode to episode. The show still possesses a cast of recurring characters who appear regularly across its 65 episodes, but they aren’t exactly the first names who come to mind when most people think of DC’s greatest heroes. There are some big names who show up regularly — most prominently Aquaman (portrayed masterfully by John DiMaggio of futurama fame), along with Green Arrow and Black Canary. However, most of the recurring stars are lesser-known characters like Blue Beetle, Plastic Man, the Atom, and Red Tornado. Die-hard comic fans are sure to recognize them, but they’re likely unfamiliar to viewers only familiar with the movies, or past animated series.
One of the biggest strengths of The Brave and the Bold is its willingness to shine the spotlight on more obscure DC characters. Characters like Booster Gold, Kamandi, Wildcat, Etrigan, and Firestorm are all given prominent roles across the series, while the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash are used sparingly. The villains are likewise a mix of famous and obscure, with Gorilla Grodd, Black Manta, and Mongul appearing alongside the likes of Clock King, Crazy Quilt, or Gentleman Ghost. There are some more popular characters who gain focus over time, like Robin (later Nightwing), Shazam, and of course the Joker, but there’s just as many guest stars like OMAC, the Challengers of the Unknown, B’wana Beast, and the Haunted Tank, who are such deep cuts that even hardcore DC fans may not know them.
The other biggest strength of The Brave and the Bold is also the biggest reason it was controversial among fans upon its initial release. Namely, it eschews the more dark and brooding atmosphere that Batman is typically associated with in favor of bright, colorful campiness that feels far more reminiscent of the Adam West TV show than Batman: The Animated Series. Batman himself is played as serious as ever, thanks to the delightfully deadpan performance of character actor Diedrich Bader. However, the world around the Dark Knight is darker than ever, with comedy being just as prominent as action throughout the series.
Most of the series consists of lighthearted yet traditional superhero adventures with plenty of witty banters and goofy puns thrown in for good measure. However, the more off-the-wall episodes feature plots like Aquaman going on a road trip with his family de él, or Batman being tormented by Bat-Mite (voiced by Pee-wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens), an all-powerful entity from another dimension who happens to be Batman’s annoying number-one fan. There’s even a Scooby Doo crossover that guest stars Weird Al Yankovic as himself. And of course, there’s the musical episode featuring Neil Patrick Harris as the original villain Music Meister.
more than anything, The Brave and the Bold is a gigantic homage to the Silver Age of comics, borrowing its aesthetic and tone from Batman’s 50s and 60s adventures, in which the most ridiculous stories possible were treated with absolute seriousness. This departure from the much grittier vibe of modern Batman stories may be a turn-off to some, but to the show’s fans, it’s a major part of its appeal. That said, the show also knows when to stop being funny. Some of the series’ most memorable episodes are the ones that feature more dramatic stories — first and foremost is “Chill of the Night,” in which Batman hunts down his parents’ killer, Joe Chill. Also noteworthy are “The Last Patrol” and “Menace of the Madniks”, which showcase the tragic fate that awaits some of the world’s greatest heroes. And while the series is almost always episodic in its storytelling, its longest overarching plotline focuses on a surprisingly threatening iteration of Starro the Conqueror, who slowly enacts his scheme to conquer Earth.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold may not be every fan’s cup of tea, but to those who enjoy its particular brand of cheesy charm, it’s a passionate love letter to the DC Universe, from its most iconic characters to its forgotten fan favorites. And more importantly, it’s perfect proof that not every version of Batman needs to be bleak and brooding to be good. If you haven’t watched this action-packed series yet — or if you want to re-experience it — the entire show is currently available for streaming on HBO Max.
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