Tuesday, November 17, 2009

DVD Review: Batman the Brave and the Bold Volume Two

Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Two

(Released November 10, 2009 by Warner Home Video)

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia
Sometimes, these reviews just write themselves!

It’s especially true when you’ve written a detailed review for “Volume One” of a series, and little or nothing changes in subsequent volumes. So it is for Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Two. Perhaps fittingly, I’ll go on the “same auto-pilot” to write this review that Warner Bros. did in creating this DVD set.

Both my readers and the DVD consumers deserve more – but here goes:

You can read most of the background and the specifics of Volume One HERE.

Once upon a time, in the long-ago and far-away “Silver Age of Comic Books” (roughly defined by the 1960s), there was a notable series from DC Comics called The Brave and the Bold. It ran from 1955 thru 1983, and 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 Comics Universe.

And so follows this superb animated series, which teams Batman with both heroes and villains from every known corner of the DCU.

The tone is lighter than the contemporary comic books, its predecessor Batman the Animated Series (1992-1999), and the current crop of Batman feature films. In both style and content, it owes much to the imaginative comic books of the Silver Age.

Diedrich Bader is quite good as Batman, for someone not named “Kevin Conroy”, and guest hero voices like Will Friedle (already a DC Animated veteran as “Terry McGuinness” on Batman Beyond) as Blue Beetle, Tom Kenny as Plastic Man, James Arnold Taylor as Green Arrow, and particularly John DiMaggio’s reinvented version of Aquaman make this a winner all the way!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

Oh, and if you’ve seen these EXACT CONS and PROS before, in the review of Volume One, just know that virtually nothing has changed, save the episodes.


The Set Itself: Just about every “CON” about Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Two can be filed under this category. Let me count the ways…

The Number of Episodes: In a word… FOUR! JUST FOUR! REALLY? ONLY FOUR? YES, ONLY FOUR! Have I said “FOUR” enough to make the point?

About the only good thing is that these volumes appear to be on a quarterly release schedule (Hey, just like some Silver Age comic books! Talk about “authenticity”! Imagine, a comic-book-based DVD series that IS RELEASED like a comic book!).

The FIRST VOLUME of (again) FOUR EPISODES was released in August – and a THIRD VOLUME is scheduled for February – and this upcoming THIRD VOLUME will have… will have… will have… FIVE EPISODES!!!!! YES! YES! YES! YES!! (One more for effect… YES!) Okay, sarcasm off.

Yes, it will take THREE VOLUMES to reach the standard number of 13 episodes that would comprise something resembling a typical single season for an animated program! Them’s the “Bat-Breaks”, boys!

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!) 14.98! That’s 3.75 per episode, folks! Fortunately, this MSRP mockery is only “suggested”, and diligent searchers can find it for less.

The Extra Features: There are NO extra features! No commentaries. No DC and WB folks discussing the show and the comic book that inspired it. NOTHING!

Robo-Promos: This is a new item for my “CONS” list, but one that is making me increasingly annoyed. Pop in a DVD and you are assaulted by what I call “Robo-Promos”… those that play automatically before you even reach the initial menu.

Warner, more than any other studio, seems to make this a standard practice. Yes, I know you can “zip” through them, but they’re annoying all the same – all the more so when you consider that you’ve PAID Warner for the privilege of owning a digital copy of the program. There are FOUR (That number again!) of these Robo-Promos, totaling about 05:25.

…And, in the ultimate gall, MORE such promos are also offered as an option on the Main Menu! At least these are completely optional, and are usually for related DVD product that could be of interest to those purchasing the set.


Content Notes: In previous reviews, 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 those in my collection alone are Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection, Max Fleischer’s Superman, Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 1 AND Volume 2, and Ruby-Spears Superman. Notice how that list GROWS each time we visit this topic!

But, as with Volume One, I’m pleased to report that Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Two 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 continue with Volume Three, when episode count climbs to a stratospheric and unwieldy FIVE. …Oops, Sarcasm seems to have slipped back on!

Characters and Settings: If there’s one thing you can count on from Batman the Brave and the Bold, it is new animated interpretations of “Characters-And-Settings-of DC Comics Lore”. Needless to say, we are not disappointed…

In this (Ahem!) FOUR-episode set alone, there are so many characters to consider, that we’ll break it into “Featured Characters” and “Cameos”:

Featured Characters: Batman, Guy Gardner (Green Lantern), Kilowog, Green Arrow (Silver Age, no beard), Jason Blood and Etrigan the Demon, Kamandi “The Last Boy on Earth”, Dr. Canus, Wildcat, Black Lightning, Metamorpho, Katana, Black Manta, B’wana Beast, Deadman, Gentleman Ghost, Speedy, Blue Beetle III (Jaime Reyes), Blue Beetle II (Ted Kord), Blue Beetle I (Dan Garrett), Doctor Polaris.

Cameos: Green Lanterns: Tomar-Re, C’hp, Saalak, Arisia, Katma Tui, Boodika, the “Diamond Green Lantern”, the “Robot Green Lantern” Xax (the insect GL), and many other familiar faces and shapes from years of Green Lantern comics. Villains: Clock King, Kite-Man, Felix Faust, Mr. Zero, Punch and Jewlee, Mad-Hatter, Bookworm, Shame, King Tut, The Archer, Ma Barker, and Black Widow.

…Just imagine what a full-season set would have had!

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 Two 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 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!

Indeed, one of the best reasons for collecting ANY contemporary TV show on DVD is that is has probably never been seen in this particular way ever before!

And, the ultimate “PRO” for Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Two…

The Episodes:

“Day of the Dark Knight!”: Story by DC Comics writer J.M. De Matteis.

Teaser: Guy Gardner taunts an alien prisoner and gets his! I was hoping for an animated recreation of one of the most famous comic-book moments of the ‘80s – “Batman takes Guy Gardner down with ONE PUNCH”! Didn’t happen, but all those Green Lantern cameos make up for it.

Main Story: Batman and Green Arrow thwart a mass prison escape (hence the villain cameos), and are transported to 5th Century England by Merlin the Magician, who was posing as a prisoner and triggered the escape to attract the attention of Bats and GA. Our two heroes are thrust into the story of the “Sword in the Stone” vs. Morgaine LeFay, and with Jack Kirby’s Etrigan the Demon thrown in for good measure. One-time Man from U.N.C.L.E., David McCallum, is um… “magic”, as the voice of Merlin.

The competitive nature between these heroes takes shape here, with Batman acknowledging the immaturity of it all, though he fully indulges nonetheless. The BACKGROUNDS in this show are fantastic – well in excess of WB animated standard!

“Enter the Outsiders!”:

Teaser: B’wana Beast, a Silver Age character so bad even DC was ashamed of it, assists Batman in capturing Aquaman’s foe Black Manta – who’s escaping to the sea, carrying off an armored car by operating a large multi-legged robot. (Um, what’s “BM” gonna use that money for under the sea… and can I even CALL him “BM” in a “family review”?) Suitably, Batman describes the outcome of this misadventure as “Gross!”.

Main Story: Batman and Wildcat turn the “teen-age Outsiders” (!) away from a life of crime and urban terrorism. A rare stumble results in this being my least favorite of the series – at least of those seen so far. Wildcat is superbly characterized, as a hero of a bygone era (Comics’ Golden Age: 1940s-early 1950s), but it’s not enough to balance of the grossly mischaracterized Outsiders!

Black Lightning, Katana, and Metamorpho (who was properly characterized as the adult Rex Mason in JUSTICE LEAGUE) are misfit teens, who commit bad deeds in the service of The Slug – a grotesque mutant reading in Gotham’s sewers.

This is just WRONG! I get the same crawly feeling as when seeing characters like Raven and Starfire depicted as “little girls” on the best-forgotten TEEN TITANS series of 2003.

Just imagine what a “lighter show” like Batman the Brave and the Bold could have done with an “anything-goes” character like Metamorpho, depicted as he would have been in the Silver Age. There is no Geo-Force, Halo, Looker, etc. And, if we had to have “troubled teens” for Bats and Wildcat to rehabilitate, they could choose from the aforementioned Halo (an original Outsider), Terra, Raven, Jericho, maybe even Damage and others I no longer recall. Whether you like your DC characters “light or dark”, one thing this series has always done well is characterization. Here, they sadly misstep.

“Dawn of the Dead Man!”:

Teaser: In Jack Kirby’s post-apocalyptic world of tomorrow, Kamandi helps Batman recover a “future-vaccine” to halt a present-day plague. This short bit has enough potential to have been a half-hour episode on its own.

Main Story: Begins with an eerie, semi-transparent Batman rising from his grave! “You’re probably wondering who finally got me. The thing is, I’m NOT DEAD… not YET, at least!”

How do you not love a story that starts like THAT?!

An “astral projection” of Batman (who will soon suffocate, trapped in a buried coffin) teams up with Deadman, Green Arrow, and Speedy to foil Gentleman Ghost, who is raising an Army of the Dead to take his revenge on the city of London! This is perfect Silver/Bronze Age Batman, as he would have appeared in The Brave and the Bold comic book of the time! It’s also my personal favorite episode of the set!

“Fall of the Blue Beetle!”:

Teaser: Batman and Silver Age Blue Beetle Ted Kord break into a heavily fortified, top-secret installation – eluding guards and automated defenses – talking “shop” and comparing their respective gadgets and equipment all the way. Nicely sets up the main story.

Main Story: Novice hero Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes) learns of the past history of the Blue Beetle line – and the fate of former Beetle Ted Kord, which involved Batman. Another excellent entry!

Overall: Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Two 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 Pricing – Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Two is highly recommended to fans and enthusiasts of Batman, DC Comics and the Warner Animated Series based upon them, the Silver and Bronze Ages of Comics Books in general, and anyone who just wants to kick back and have a good time!

Told ya, this review could write itself! Now, bring on Bat-Mite and the Music Meister.


Nobius said...

Joe, we'll be talking more at Grassroots as I've now joined but I'd like to say I love your blog.

Being a huge BATMAN fan, I have been very disappointed with the Brave and the Bold Series, the only episode I enjoyed was the Aquaman one.

Until Arkham Asylum becomes a movie... :)

Joe Torcivia said...


Looking forward to your contributions to Grassroot Reflections. (An APA we belong to – for the rest of you readers!).

Do you object to the lighter tone of Brave and the Bold? Consider that, for all the light moments, they dealt more explicitly with death than did Bruce Timm’s series – in view of the treatment of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s fate – and that of the “Ted Kord Blue Beetle”.

The Batman comics of the last decade and a half or so – the Kelley Jones’ Batman series, “Knightfall”, “Knightquest” and “Knight’s End” And the later “Contagion”, “Legacy”, “Cataclysm”, “No Man’s Land”, “Bruce Wayne Murderer / Fugitive” were some of the greatest comics-reading experiences of my life (Never mind the Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams classics) …but that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying B&B’s version of Bat-Mite or The Music Meister, Guy Gardner, Aquaman, Plastic Man, etc.!

There’s room for all of it, I say!


Nobius said...

Yes, I truly enjoy the Frank Miller type take on Batman. If I wrote him, he'd be darker than night.

But I'm with you, the lighter side can be fun if it's done right. For example, I love the Teen Titans cartoon and Teen Titans GO comic series...and so do my kids.