Tuesday, October 13, 2009

DVD Review: Batman the Brave and the Bold Volume One

Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume One
(Released August 25, 2009 by Warner Home Video)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Bruce Timm’s Batman the Animated Series (1992-1999) was, for me, the most perfect version of Batman anywhere outside his “native medium” of comic books. And surpasses a fair amount of what has been done in the comics during the 21st Century.
When Warner Bros. introduced a new and different animated Batman series in the fall of 2008, I didn’t expect to pay it much mind, as it just wasn’t Timm’s version. But they found a way to reel me in with a series called: Batman the Brave and the Bold.

The Brave and the Bold was an important comic book series of the Silver Age (roughly defined by the 1960s), running from 1955 thru 1983. It introduced us to the Justice League of America, the Suicide Squad, and the Silver Age version of Hawkman among others. Starting with its 59th issue in 1965, it became the “Batman Team-Up” book, pairing Bats with Green Lantern – followed by virtually every known “guest star” in the DC Universe.

And so is the premise of the TV series that takes its proud name from that comic book title of yore. This series is not about the “Bat-Universe” of Robin, Alfred, Batgirl, Nightwing, Commissioner Gordon, and Gotham – but, as it was in the comic book, is about Batman as omnipresent “Uber-hero” teaming with a wide variety of DCU guest heroes – and battling an equally wide variety of guest villains – some of which have never been seen in animation before and others reinterpreted specifically for this show.

It is lighter in tone than was Timm’s series, skirting “camp” but never plunging squarely into it a la Adam West. Props may be plenty “Big”, death traps suitably fiendish, and plots generally more outlandish than Timm’s, but that owes much more to the imaginative comic books of the Silver Age and prior, than to any echoes of the sixties TV series.
Dialogue is lively and snappy, with heroes given to bickering and tossing the occasional sarcastic barb, far more so than did Timm’s versions. Diedrich Bader, as Batman, is especially good at this, while still echoing enough of Kevin Conroy’s “classic” animated Batman to sound “right”. When he is paired with a primo guest-hero like Brave and the Bold’s versions of Green Arrow, Plastic Man, and particularly John DiMaggio’s reinvented version of Aquaman, it can be pure gold!
In short, the series very nicely lives up to the tradition of stories in The Brave and the Bold comic book… and now it’s on DVD.
As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


The Set Itself:
Just about every “CON” about Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume One can be filed under this category. Let me count the ways…
    The Number of Episodes: In a word… FOUR! DVD sets from most studios have gotten skimpier – but Warner sets have done so all the more! Previous WHV TV animated packages like Freakazoid!, Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, and What’s New Scooby-Doo have all had single season releases that usually average 13 episodes per set – but what’s up with this? FOUR?! REALLY? …ONLY FOUR?

(Okay, Freakazoid... We know you pack more episodes per set! You don't have to BRAG! Now, please stop interrupting the review!)

About the only good thing is that a SECOND VOLUME of FOUR EPISODES is scheduled for November – and perhaps there will be additional “quarterly releases” to come until the first season (…which SHOULD be a set of its own) is completed.
The Price: For this set of FOUR episodes, that you can knock-off in little more than 90 minutes of sitting time, Warner’s suggested list price is… (GASP!) 14.95! That’s 3.74 per episode, folks! Fortunately, this MSRP mockery is only “suggested”, and diligent searchers can find it for slightly below ten bucks.

By contrast, the Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries set (released by Warner less than a year prior) was packaged similarly but listed at 19.97 for 13 episodes. That’s a more reasonable 1.54 per episode …and “That’s All Folks!”
The Extra Features: There are NO extra features and, if ever a set cried out for at least one, it is Batman the Brave and the Bold! Have the usual panel of DC Comics and Warner Bros. animation luminaries that appear on most other DC related sets discuss The Brave and the Bold comic book and, in particular, the “Batman Team-Up” aspect of it, and how it inspired the show. The Brave and the Bold’s primary comic book writer Bob Haney could be profiled as well, let alone episode commentaries. But, no


Content Notes: I’ve complained about the total lack of CONTENT LISTINGS included as part of the packaging of a number of Warner Animation sets this year. Among them are Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection, Max Fleischer’s Superman and Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 1. The aforementioned Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries and What’s New Scooby-Doo collections also suffered similar instances of “listing-lack”. Now, really… Wouldn’t you like to know which episodes or individual short cartoons of a series are contained in an otherwise attractively packaged set?! I can’t memorize it all anymore, Warner! Help me out!
With equal parts of sarcasm and sincerity, I’m pleased to report that Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume One lists its episode content on the outside back of the package. Of course, with only FOUR EPISODES, how much package space could it actually take! I shouldn’t have to cite the inclusion of four episode titles incorporated into the set’s packaging as a “PRO”… but let’s give WHV its due, and see it they can manage a similar feat should the episode count climb to five and above. Hmmm… Maybe that “sarcasm part” wasn’t exactly equal after all…
Characters and Settings: With each succeeding DC Comics animated series from Warner Bros. (From Batman the Animated Series thru Justice League Unlimited), we see more and more “Characters-And-Settings-You-Never-Thought-You’d-See-Outside-Of-Comics” – and “Characters and Settings” (both new-to and re-imagined-for animation) are this series’ raison d’etre!
In this (Ahem!) FOUR-episode set alone, we have: Batman, Green Arrow (Silver Age, no beard), Clock King, Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes), Kanjar-Ro, Plastic Man (and Eel O’Brien), Gentleman Ghost, Fire, Kite-Man, Gorilla Grodd, The Island that Time Forgot (aka “Dinosaur Island”), Iron Heights Prison, The Atom, evil sorcerer Felix Faust, Aquaman, Mera, Ocean Master, Black Manta, the Domed City of Atlantis, Sportsmaster, Red Tornado, Martha and Thomas Wayne and Alfred (in flashbacks)… and, of course, Gotham City! Gosh, imagine what a 13-episode set would have had!
Theme Music: Bruce Timm’s Batman the Animated Series had a brooding, yet majestic, series theme that echoed the 1989 “Batman” feature film and its sequel, “Batman Returns”. Nice AND classic at the same time, but Batman the Brave and the Bold has a lively, action-oriented jazz theme that, once experienced, you’ll hear over-and-over in your head… and you won’t mind it one bit! Perfectly complements the tone of the series.
It’s Not TV: For the first time, viewers can enjoy the (Ahem!) FOUR episodes that make up Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume One with no “Network Identifying Bugs” in the corner of the screen, no pop up ads for other shows, and credits that you can “freeze-frame” and read. And, perhaps for the first time ever, viewers can hear the “extended version” of the show’s ending theme, which has probably NEVER played on TV because promos are always running over it!

How ironic! I’ll buy ‘60s TV shows on DVD to see them uncut. I’ll buy current TV shows (which ARE run uncut) on DVD to see them as I saw the old ‘60s shows… with no intrusive overlays, credits you can read, and ending themes you can hear!
Two For the (High) Price of One: Despite the retail price of 3.74 per episode (…someone should do a survey of price-per-episode on various sets – it might prove interesting), you DO generally get TWO “team-up” stories per show.
       The pre-opening credits teaser often has Batman and a “guest hero” teaming up for a (very) short story, before the actual adventure begins. Batman and Green Arrow vs. Clock King precedes a “space adventure” with Bats and Blue Beetle – or Batman and The Atom will take on Felix Faust before the Caped Crusader journeys to Atlantis to enlist the assistance of Aquaman. These are almost always great, quick, and to-the-point mini-tales that further spice up an already lively and exciting show.
And, the ultimate “PRO” for Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume One…

The Episodes:

The Rise of the Blue Beetle”:
Okay, it’s the current Jaime Reyes version” of Blue Beetle – and not the fan favorite “Ted Kord version” who was such an integral part of the landmark Justice League International comic book series of the 1980s, or even the older, more classic “Dan Garrett version” (though BOTH will have their moments later in the series!). That’s one strike. It smacks just a bit too much of the requisite ‘80s moralizing that made many a cartoon of the era unwatchable. That’s two strikes…
But, this series premiere episode never quite takes a “called strike three”, and manages to get through its teaser of Batman and Green Arrow vs. Clock King AND its main story of Batman and BB rallying a group of victimized gloopy aliens to stand up to the evil of Kanjar-Ro with just enough style to make me return for more. And was I ever glad I did, because up-next was…
“Terror on Dinosaur Island”:
Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Because I’m seeing GORILLAS… riding PTERODACTYLS… with HARPOON GUNS… stealing a BOAT!”

Plastic Man’s question sets the tone for the wonders that follow! After a teaser of Batman, Plastic Man, and Fire vs. the Gentleman Ghost, we quickly segue into this fun episode of Bats and Plas vs. Gorilla Grodd on Dinosaur Island – “A mysterious land that exists outside of time, where the laws of nature don’t apply!”

Plastic Man’s origin is brilliantly ret-conned to have BATMAN inadvertently responsible for petty crook Eel O’Brian’s transformation into a pliable pariah – and having Batman assume the not-so-easy task of O’Brian’s rehabilitation into a hero.

Grodd ends the episode suffering what would be, for him, the supreme indignity… but that is NOTHING compared to what Plastic Man endures when, trying to hide from some Gorilla workers, he transforms himself into a SHOVEL!
No spoilers here but, if you use your imagination, you’ll probably get it – and (unfortunately for Plas) you’ll be right! Oh, yuck! HINT: It wasn’t SNOW those gorillas shoveled!

“Evil Under the Sea”:
The teaser pits Batman and The Atom against Silver Age Sorcerer Felix Faust, but the REAL delight here is John DiMaggio’s over-the-top re-imagining of Aquaman!

This Aquaman revels in the “BIG-NESS” of being a hero. A role he relishes with great gobs of gusto. Witness the recounting of his adventures to Batman:

“…And that’s how I recovered the STOLEN STATUE! I call that adventure… The Mystery of the Stolen Statue!” (He continues on for a few more such instances)
“…and the time I wore an EYE-PATCH to infiltrate a crew of PIRATES, I call that…”

(Batman interrupts) “Aquaman’s Undercover Adventure?”

“No… ‘The Time I Wore an Eye-Patch to Infiltrate a Crew of Pirates’… but, what you said was GOOD TOO!”

There are also nods to the 1967 Filmation animated version of Aquaman, as ATLANTIS takes Filmation’s domed-design and the MODULATED HUMMING SOUND Aquaman uses to call or communicate with undersea life is lifted directly from Filmation’s version.
“Invasion of the Secret Santas”:
Bats and Blue Beetle defeat Sportsmaster in the teaser. In the main story, the android Red Tornado tries to fathom the spirit of Christmas, while we simultaneously learn why Batman does his best not to acknowledge the season. And, original villain Fun Haus – a malevolent amalgamation of Toyman and The Joker – does his best to wreak holiday havoc.
Great Moment: Batman knocks the head off of one of Fun Haus’s “Santa-Bots”. Two children scream as the sparking head falls to the ground…
    Batman:Pretend you didn’t see that!”
Greater Moment: We find out precisely WHY Batman shuns Christmas. No spoilers – but one of the most effective (and serious) moments of the series, executed surprisingly well! Even Bruce Timm never got to do this!
Overall: Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume One succeeds in ways both expected and delightfully unexpected. It’s not simply reflective of the lighter (but extremely imaginative) Silver Age DC comic books – but takes that tone and squarely hits every point in time of the DC Comics Universe.
Despite the severe and obvious flaws in it’s “Three-P’s” – Packaging, Presentation, and PricingBatman the Brave and the Bold: Volume One is highly recommended to fans and enthusiasts of Batman, DC Comics and the Warner Animated Series based upon them, the Silver Age of Comics Books in general, and anyone who just wants to kick back and have a good time!

Oh, and will you ever LOVE the way this series eventually handles the dreaded Bat-Mite!


Kneon Transitt said...

The Bat-Mite episode was AWESOME. Easily my favorite (of the handful I've seen.)

Joe Torcivia said...


Yes, that was the BEST!

Haven’t seen them all, but other great ones are The Music Meister, Journey to the Center of the Bat (Aquaman and The Atom), and the two-parter with Owlman and the parallel Earth!

Just read today that VOLUME THREE will be out in February, 2010 – and will have FIVE episodes (instead of the customary four), including the Aquaman/Atom and Owlman episodes!

So, August, November, and now February puts Brave and the Bold on a QUARTERLY release schedule, as I surmised!

STILL, would much rather have ALL of Season One in a single volume!

And I want “Legends of the Dark-Mite”! ASAP!


Kneon Transitt said...

Best. Scene. Ever.