Monday, February 8, 2010

DVD Review: Batman the Brave and the Bold Volume Three

Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Three
(Released February 02, 2010 by Warner Home Video)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia.

Batman the Brave and the Bold on DVD has become one of the easiest products to review. That’s because little has changed over the three releases to date.

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

Briefly, the animated TV series is based upon the notable comic book series from DC Comics called The Brave and the Bold. It was best known for its team-up stories that paired Batman with virtually ALL the heroes and villains of the DC Comics Universe.

The voice cast of Diedrich Bader as Batman, Dee Bradley Baker, Will Friedle, Tom Kenny, James Arnold Taylor, Corey Burton, Jeff Bennett, John DiMaggio and others are first rate, and superbly walk the delicate balance of adventure and surprisingly good humor that the series has become known for.

A particularly endearing quirk of the series is that the TEASER of most episodes tells a short and completely different story than the main body of the program. This way, you get even more DC Heroes and Villains per show.

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

Pretty much the SAME CONS and PROS you’ve seen before!


The Number of Episodes: Previous volumes offered only FOUR episodes, but this one offers FIVE! Probably for no other reason than, in original aired order, the set ends with a rare TWO-PARTER, and it would make no sense – even in sets produced as cheaply as these – to break up the final story of the set.

Combined with the previously released Volumes One and Two, we now have 13 episodes in total, comprising something resembling a typical single season for an animated program!

The Price: The MSRP is once again 14.98, but at least this is for FIVE episodes instead of FOUR. Diligent searchers, of course, can find it for less.

The Extra Features: Once again, there are NO extra features! A pity for a series with such a rich heritage!

Robo-Promos: Robo-Promos” is my term for advertisements that play automatically before you even reach the initial menu. Volume Two inflicted FOUR of these upon the viewer before “getting on with the show”, prompting me to add this new category to my CONS list. This was particularly annoying, given the small amount of actual program content that comprised the set, even though you can “zip” through them if you wish.

Warner, a studio that makes this too much of a standard practice, seems to have relented the onslaught a bit by limiting the “Robo-Promos” to TWO. The annoyance factor is also diminished because both promos are DC Comics-related. So, this is less of a CON than before… but still a CON.


Content Notes: In other reviews, I’ve complained about the total lack of CONTENT LISTINGS included as part of the packaging of a number of Warner Animation sets released over the past year. Those in my collection include Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection, Max Fleischer’s Superman, Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 1 AND Volume 2, and Ruby-Spears Superman.

But, all three volumes of Batman the Brave and the Bold list episode content on the outside backs of the packaging. With only FOUR OR FIVE EPISODES per set, this is hardly a Herculean effort… but, with 13 episodes spread over three sets, I’d say it is a very necessary effort just to keep the shows straight.

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…

Featured Characters: Batman, Plastic Man, Elongated Man, Babyface, Aquaman, The Atom, Chemo, The Brain, Doctor Fate, Wotan, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Green Lantern G’nort, Sinestro, Despero, Mogo the living planet Green Lantern, The Guardians of the Universe, The Cavalier, Jonah Hex, Bronze Tiger, The Top, The Red Hood, Owlman and the Injustice Syndicate, Green Arrow (Silver Age, no beard), Blue Beetle III (Jaime Reyes), Red Tornado, and The Joker.

Green Lantern Corps Cameos: Kilowog, Tomar-Re, C’hp, Saalak, Arisia, Katma Tui, Boodika, Arisia, the “Diamond Green Lantern”, the “Robot Green Lantern”, the “Big Head Green Lantern”, Xax (the insect GL), and many other familiar faces and shapes from years of Green Lantern comics.

Villain Cameos: Black Manta, Gorilla Grodd, Gentleman Ghost, Dr. Polaris, and Clock King.

It’s Not TV: Viewers can enjoy Batman the Brave and the Bold 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. 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!

Image Quality: This is a new category for me, added mostly because I now have HD TV and a Blu-ray DVD player. Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Three is not offered as a Blu-ray release. However, the standard definition release is presented in wide-screen and, when upconverted by the Blu-ray player, the image is so rich and vividly colorful that it looks just as good as a Hi-Def broadcast of the show!

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

The Episodes:

“Journey to the Center of the Bat!”:

Teaser: Plastic Man and Elongated Man argue over which of the two heroes with redundant powers Batman would prefer to work with!

An aside: This accurately reflects the “Real-World” situation between the characters over the years. The POPULARITY and USE of the characters of Plastic Man and Elongated Man, relative to one another in the pages of DC Comics, rose and fell and rose again over the years. In the ‘90s, Grant Morrison’s JLA put Plastic Man ahead for good, and in the 2000’s Elongated Man became a tragic figure that met an underserved fate.

Main Story: The colossal sentient toxic compound “Chemo” walks across the ocean bent on destruction. In combat, Batman takes a direct shot of Chemo’s poisons and, as Aquaman so delicately puts it “…is shipping some bilge!” The Atom is called in to help. He shrinks himself and Aquaman small enough to enter Batman’s bloodstream in an effort to destroy the toxins from within.

John DiMaggio’s heroically enthusiastic characterization of Aquaman is one of the highlights of the series, and the way he plays off the more businesslike Atom makes for great fun. Personally, I would have called this one “Bat-Tastic Journey”!

Another aside: To my knowledge, this is the first time Chemo has appeared outside of comic books and, therefore, his name has never been spoken aloud in any sort of “official” way. I’d always read it as “KEE-MO”, pronounced as in the word “chemotherapy”. Here, it is pronounced “KEMMO”, as in the word “chemistry”.

Thus, Chemo joins a list of comic book creations, that includes Sub-Mariner, Magica De Spell, Darkseid, Ra’s Al Ghul, and doubtless others, whose names have been read or pronounced in various and differing ways.

“The Eyes of Despero!”: Story by DC Comics writer J.M. De Matteis.

Teaser: Batman assists Doctor Fate battle Wotan at the Library of Infinity. The backgrounds for this short sequence are beautifully – and dizzyingly – designed in an M.C. Escher sort of way.

Main Story: Despero has conquered the Green Lantern Corps, save hot-headed Guy Gardner, dim-witted G’nort, and villain-to-be Sinestro who, for various reasons, were locked in cells at the time of the conflict. GL Hal Jordan’s Power Ring enlists Batman to help. Bats frees the trio of imprisoned GL’s and mounts an attack on Despero. Sinestro is still a member of the GL Corps at the time of this story, and not yet a full-fledged villain, but begins to betray his true motives.

Great scene: After conflict with Guy Gardner and frustration with G’nort, Bats declares that Sinestro is the only one he can trust!

Greater scene: Writer J.M. De Matteis recreates the “Batman takes-out Guy Gardner with ONE PUNCH” scene he had a hand in originally crafting, way back in 1987’s JUSTICE LEAGUE # 5!

“Return of the Fearsome Fangs!”:

Teaser: In the old west, Batman saves Jonah Hex from being “pulled apart” by four horses (one roped to each arm and leg) by a precursor to The Royal Flush Gang. This is a tribute of sorts to the famous comic book story “Ride, Bat-Hombre, Ride!” from BATMAN # 56 (December, 1949)

Main Story: The old Tibetan martial arts master, who was instrumental in young Bruce Wayne’s training, is killed (!) by three former students who have turned to the dark side. The trio, who have assumed the guise of their “spirit animalsFox, Shark, and Vulture – as Bruce assumed that of the Bat, are after an ancient totem that will transform them into powerful mystic manifestations of the creatures they represent.

In death, the master contacts Batman who, in turn, enlists the assistance of another former student, the man known as Bronze Tiger – who assumes the guise of a “tiger”, natch! This is a story of well-staged battles and beautifully rendered backgrounds. The opening scene, where a near-infinite number of arrows arc across the moonlit sky and rain down upon the Master is breathtaking! I was never a big fan of “martial arts” stories in the BATMAN comics, but I like this one – a lot!

“Deep Cover for Batman!”:

Teaser: A break with “tradition” has this teaser function as the start of the episode! The heroic Red Hood of a parallel but opposite Earth, tries to escape from Owlman and his Injustice Syndicate to “our” Earth. There, he hopes to enlist the aid of its heroes. Red Hood is overpowered, and Owlman uses RH’s “phase-oscillator” device to make the trip instead.

Main Story: In Part One of a rare two-part story, Owlman appears in the Batcave, Red Hood’s intended destination. He is dispatched by Batman and thrown into a cell. Batman makes the return trip to the other Earth costumed as Owlman (his opposite) and infiltrates the Injustice Syndicate. There, he finds evil opposites of Green Arrow, Blue Beetle, Red Tornado and other familiar faces, and a host of imprisoned heroes-who-look-like-our-villains, including the Red Hood.

An eventual free-for-all ensues, which becomes so delightfully confusing that Batman stops short of taking a punch at this Earth’s “good” Gorilla Grodd. The heroes prevail and the Red Hood is revealed as being a familiar face to Batman. (No Spoilers – but regular DC Comics readers will all know who!) Batman returns to his Earth, to another surprise – also not spoiled here.

This is a superb presentation of the parallel / infinite Earths concept that has been a cornerstone of DC Comics mythology for decades. The “overlapping Earths in sequence” image that punctuated the 1985 comic book epic CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS makes an appearance in this episode. Ironically, an ad for the upcoming DC / Warner direct-to-DVD production “Crisis on Two Worlds” appears on this disc as a Robo-Promo!

“Game Over for Owlman!”:

Teaser: Another break with “tradition” has this teaser function as recap of the previous episode.

Main Story: In order to defeat Olwman circumstances lead to an unthinkable alliance with… THE JOKER! This version is a wonderful recreation of Dick Sprang’s version of the character from the ‘40s/’50s, and is magnificently voiced by Jeff Bennett!

Among the other delights to be found in this episode are the Golden Age Batman costume (Spiky ears, no yellow oval), the Golden Age Batmobile (with Big Bat-Head as a front grille), the Silver Age Jokermobile, and various alternate versions of Batman seen over the years – Bat-Hulk (from 1966 The Brave and the Bold # 68 the first issue of the comic book title that I ever owned!), Bat-Hombre, Big Brained Batman, Red Rain (vampire) Batman, Captain Leatherwing, and an approximation of Batman One Million – and even three Batman/Joker flashback sequences lifted from the 1966 TV series! Have I piqued your interest yet?

How I wish I could spoil this one… but I won’t! You’ll have to see it for yourself. Suffice it to say that it is one of the finest examples of “Animated DC Comics storytelling” – and, that there is something in it to like (if not LOVE) for everyone! It is literally a DC Tour (de force) of the decades in forty-something minutes!

Overall: Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Three succeeds in its mission. By now, we know exactly what to expect – grand adventure, great fun and an outstanding cast of comic book characters – and it almost never lets us down! At its core are the lighter, but extremely imaginative, Silver Age DC comic books – but this clever series spreads its (Bat) wings over every point in time of the DC Comics Universe.

Despite the now-usual list of flaws, Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Three 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 Comic Books in general. And give it EXTRA POINTS, if you are a comic book enthusiast with any degree of historical perspective!

In short, there is something in the series for “DC Geeks” of every stripe – from Gold and Silver Age onward! And, if your heart and mind belong to the DC comic books of the ‘60s thru ‘90s (as do mine), this is especially for you!
Though this may be Volume Three, if you’ve yet to begin viewing or collecting Batman the Brave and the Bold on DVD, this would be the ideal volume to start with – due to the extraordinary selection of episodes contained herein.

Wonder how many volumes of four or five episodes it’ll take to get to Bat-Mite and the Music Meister.

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