Thursday, May 17, 2012
Top 15 Batman: The Brave & the Bold episodes
A few months ago one of my favorite cartoons of the last decade aired its very last episode. Batman: The Brave and the Bold was the best small screen adaption of everybody's favorite Caped Crusader since Batman: The Animated Series, in that they were both extraordinary good at being what they were trying to be, even if they were trying to be very different things. BTAS, which introduced what must constitute at least half the fanbase by now to the character, drew most of it inspiration from Bronze Age Batman, the era of Dennis O'neil and Neal Adams. BTBATB, on the other hand, is clearly a product of the Silver Age and the works of Dick Sprang. Wildly creative and oftentimes hilarious, this show was the very definition of Saturday morning fun done well. So as a demonstration of my love for this show, I've decided to memorialize it with a list of my top fifteen favorite episodes (because I couldn't bring myself to trim it down to ten).
15. Triumvirate of Terror!
For a show whose structure was built around guest stars and team ups, it took quite a while for Batman to be meet up with Superman and Wonder Woman (They didn't appear until season 3). But once they did it was glorious. Unfortunately this was the only episode to feature all three of them together, but it made the most of it. Bringing together all their respective archenemies and having them switch dance partners? Classic supervillain team up stuff. But I think the moment that sums up why I love this episode is when Lex Luthor is transmitting the footage of their final battle with the heroes around the world, then says "the world is not enough" and proceeds to broadcast to EVERY SENTIENT SPECIES IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE. It's that kind of go-for-broke goofiness that made this show special.
14. Bat-Mite Presents: Batman's Strangest Cases!
Any episode that features something as awesome as Scooby-doo fighting the Joker had to make it one this list. One of the precious few episodes written by Paul Dini (all of which made it on this list) this anthology episode is a collection of shorts devoted so some of the bizarre takes on Batman ever. But recreating Mad Magazine's Batboy and Rubin and an adaptation a Batman manga are just the warm up for the show stealer: a team up with Mystery Inc...guest starring WEIRD AL YANKOVIC. Yes, that's how nuts this show is. Even Hanna-Barbara never dreamed of throwing Weird Al in there.
13. A Bat Divided!
I'm cheating a bit on the one because this episode earned its spot almost exclusively because of one line. But it was such a meme-tastic line, I couldn't resist. Fortunately the rest of the episode is equally funny. It uses the opportunity of Firestorm's origin (which involves fusing two people into one) to split Batman into three separate Batmen with three separate Bat-personalities: The smart one, the angry one, and the Bill and Ted one. This episode really gave Diedrich Bader a chance to show his comedic talents. There's not a lot about the episode that stands out besides the hilarity of watching the three Batman interact, but it's so damn funny what more could you want?
12. When OMAC Attacks!
One of the few original characters created by the series was the villain Equinox, who has a surprising amount of complexity. His goal was not conquest or destruction, simply maintaining his own twisted definition of "balance". As such he was just as likely to perform a good deed as an act of villainy. And unlike most villains on this show he's never once the butt of the joke, so you know he's bad news. The only other villain to earn such an honor I remember was Darkseid. This was his first full appearance (unless you count teasers) and probably his best. Plus it was a chance to show off one of Jack Kirby's more obscure creations, always a plus.
11. Duel of the Double Crossers!
Jonah Hex is much like Batman in that over the years he's been elevated to such a ridiculous level of badassery as to be laughable. Fortunately, he's a time-traveling cowboy, so I can overlook that. This episode really highlights the difference between BTAS and BTBATB. When BTAS wanted to do a Jonah Hex episode, they just had Batman read of old account of one of Hex's adventures. When BTBATB wanted to do a Jonah Hex episode? Time travel! Robotic horses! Alien gladiators! Why the fuck not!?
10. Battle of the Superheroes!
I can't say I've seen any other show pays tribute to both Frank Miller and Superdickary.com in the space of 20 minutes. Superman's debut on the show was handled perfectly, paying tribute to Silver Age Man of Steel while poking fun at it as well. Little touches like Lex Luthor's hall of heroes, the re-purposed Supermobile design, and the El Gar-Kur cameo really make this episode a joy to watch. Although after all the Silver Age stuff it's rather jarring that the finally battle revolved around the Bat-armor from The Dark Knight Returns. Still an awesome fight, though.
9. Hail the Tornado Tyrant!
This is one of those semi-serious episodes, and while it treads a path well trodden it's still surprisingly touching. It plays out like one of the Data-centric episode of Star Trek: TNG, except Data couldn't shoot cyclones. Red Tornado, the android superhero, in his ongoing quest to be more human (because what else does an android want?) has decided to build himself a son, dubbed Tornado Champion. Needless to say, things inevitably go wrong, leading to the inevitable "aww, the tin man DOES have a heart!" moment. Predictable, to be sure, but heartfelt.
8. Death Race to Oblivion!
This is one of those episodes I love just for the concept. It's an obvious tribute to Wacky Races (somebody on the writing staff LOVED Hanna-Barbara cartoons), but is the perfect excuse to bust out all the nutty Silver Age vehicles they that the comics don't show so much anymore: the Jokermobile, the Catmobile, the Arrowcar, not to mention new stuff like Gentlemen Ghost's sweet Munsters-style ride. Not much more to it than that, just a fun Wacky Races send-up.
7. The Last Patrol!
Goddamn, I love the Doom Patrol. Even if only for being so consistently bizarre and unpredictable, they manage to always bring a smile to my face. Considering the kind've goofy shit that goes on in superhero comics, you've gotta be a deranged kinda creative to make even comic-fans look and go "that's weird". This episode earns its place purely for it refusal to back away from any of that weirdness. They even included the villainous Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man! (Laugh all you want, a guy with a T-Rex growing out've the side of his face is scary shit.)
6. Legends of the Dark Mite!
If DC Comics learns anything from this show, it should be that's it's time to bring back Bat-mite. Played by the perfectly cast Paul Reubens, Bat-mite became enough of a breakout character for the show to appear in the advertising. So it's only appropriate that his first episode be on this list. On top of all the fourth wall jokes and general nuttiness, it also makes time for an great rebuttal to all the "grim 'n gritty" hardliner Batman fans who were preemptively down on the show for being too light-hearted.
5. The Mask of Matches Malone!
Move over Jessica Rabbit, you've just been upstaged. In terms of hot animated women serenading a nightclub full of lowlifes, it does not get any sexier than this. Although a huge part of that is that the song is just so damn fun, memorable and surprisingly naughty (I mean, do you even remember what Jessica sang?). Seriously, just watch this thing and marvel at how many sexual innuendos they managed to slip into a KID'S SHOW.
4. Joker: The Vile and the Villainous!
This show's Joker deserves more respect. True, Mark Hamill is a tough act to follow, but unlike the Joker in the less-than-stellar The Batman, Jeff Bennett wisely does not attempt to simply mimic the Batman: TAS version. The difference is subtle, but Bennett's voice perfectly matches the Dick Sprang-esque design this Joker sports, and he's always a joy to listen to. That alone would make this episode, which gives the Joker center stage, a great one. But add to that a clever script that completely reverses the show's formula and plays on Batman's tendency to come across as rather Machiavellian, and you've got one hell of a good episode.
The very last episode of the show and one of its best. Not since the end of Freakazoid! have I seen a cartoon put so much heart and humor into its finale. Our old friend Bat-mite succumbs to the same mindset he once preached against and decides to get the show itself cancelled to make room for a darker Batman show. And the only hero who can stop him is Ambush Bug. Yes, freakin' AMBUSH BUG. The result? A bunch of clever jokes about tv "jumping the shark" tropes, ending with a rather somber existential end for Bat-mite. The show closes with the entire cast saying goodbye to each other (and the audience) at a wrap party as the bat-cave set is disassembled around them. It's enough to make a guy weep.
2. The Mayhem of the Music Meister!
You knew this one was coming. If this show had a breakout character other than Bat-mite, Neil Patrick Harris as the Music Meister was it (impressive considering this was his sole episode). When done properly, musical episodes often are remembered as among the best of their show's run, because I think deep down EVERYONE loves a good musical even if some deny it. Every single song here is memorable and endlessly addicting. What more can I say? This episode just driiiives meee baaaaaaats!!! (in a good way)
1. Chill of the Night!
If you follow the show, this pick is no surprise. Even Mitefall! acknowledged this as the fan favorite. Part of me considered bumping this own down a notch or two for being darker and therefore not in keeping with the spirit of the show, but a bigger part of me knew it was bullshit. Tonally speaking, this is quite possibly the most quintessential Batman story ever told, the perfect balance between the campy absurdity and gothic melodrama that have both defined the franchise during its long life-cycle. Retelling the Silver Age tale of Batman confronting his parents' killer, the main alternation to the story is the brilliant insertion of the Phantom Stranger and the Spectre as the angel and demon on Batman's shoulders (voiced appropriately enough by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill). The story highlights and examines the most essential conflict of Batman's character: Why did he don the cowl? For justice, or for vengeance? It's the eternal question that is the central theme of the Batman mythos, and it's what makes this episode nothing short of a classic.
Honorable mentions: The Malicious Mister Mind!, The Knights of Tomorrow!, Emperor Joker!, Fall of the Blue Beetle!, The Color of Revenge!, Gorillas in Our Midst!, Trials of the Demon!, Requiem for the Scarlet Speedster!, Inside the Outsiders!, Aquaman's Outrageous Adventure!, The Siege of Starro!