There's a gloriously meta moment in the back half of this season of Batman: The Brave and the Bold where the show's
producers are raked over the coals at Comic-Con. One of the twentysomethings in the crowd grouses and groans about how the Caped Crusader in the cartoon isn't his Batman, and...well, he's not wrong. DC's comics anymore are joylessly grim and gritty...22 monthly pages of misery and scowling and torture and dismemberment and death and high collars and way too much crosshatching. Batman: The Brave and the Bold, meanwhile, is defined by its vivid colors and clean, thick linework. It's a series whose boundless imagination and thirst for high adventure make me feel like a six year old again, all wide-eyed and grinning ear to ear. There's a reason why this lifelong comic fanatic had to turn his back on DC earlier this year, and it's the same reason I'm giving this long-overdue Blu-ray release of The Brave and the Bold a five star review.
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You know all about The Dark Knight's war on crime, and in The Brave and the Bold , he'll duke it out against any badnik, anywhere. He doesn't go it alone, either, with every episode pairing Batman up with at least one other DC superhero. Heck, to keep it interesting, The Brave and the Bold shies away from the obvious choices like Superman and Wonder Woman. Instead, you get more interesting team-ups like Blue Beetle (more than one, even!), Elongated Man, Wildcat, Mister Miracle, Kamandi (y'know, the last boy on Earth), and B'wana Beast. Heck, if one team-up a week isn't enough for you, just about every episode has a mini-adventure with a different pairing before the opening titles.
Other animated incarnations of Batman have been rooted in something close enough to reality. Sure, you might have androids and the occasional Man-Bat, but they tried to veer away from anything too fantastic. The Brave and tbe Bold has free reign to do just about whatever it wants. One week, maybe you'll get an adventure in the far-flung reaches of space with a bunch of blobby alien amoebas who mistake Batman for Blue Beetle's sidekick. The next might offer up Tolkien-esque high fantasy with dragons and dark sorcery. Later on, Aquaman and The Atom could play Fantastic Voyage inside Batman's bloodstream, all while the Caped Crusader is swimming around in a thirty-story walking pile of toxic waste. He could be in a Western or a post-apocalyptic wasteland or a capes-and-cowls musical or even investigate a series of grisly something-or-anothers alongside Sherlock Holmes in Victorian England.
The team-ups aren't just weekly rounds of Superhero Mad Libs. The nerdy movie reviewer in me sees all sorts of stuff to write about there, such as how Batman has markedly different relationships with every one of those masked heroes. There's the gadget geekery with an earlier incarnation of the Blue Beetle. With the younger, greener-but-still-blue Beetle, Batman takes on more of a mentor role. He's a babysitter
for Guy Gardner, more of a stern paternal figure for Plastic Man, and a rival for Green Arrow. Sometime it might not even be the most pleasant dynamic, such as a decidedly adult Robin who doesn't feel like he can fully step outside the long shadow that Batman casts. There are some really unique takes on iconic (and not so iconic!) DC superheroes here, and far and away the standout is Aquaman. This barrel-chested, adventure-loving braggart is my favorite incarnation of the king of the seven seas, and if Aquaman ever scores a cartoon of his own, I hope he looks and acts a lot like this. Oh, and The Brave and the Bold does a spectacular job mining DC's longboxes for villains too, and along with some of the familiar favorites, you get a chance to boo and hiss at the likes of Kanjar Ro, The Sportsmaster, Kite Man, Gentleman Ghost, Chemo, Calendar
|[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]|ManKing, Crazy Quilt, and Shrapnel. The Brave and the Bold delivers its own versions of Toyman, Vandal Savage, and Libra while it's at it, the latter of whom has the closest thing to a season arc that the series inches towards.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold is every bit as fun and thrilling as you'd expect from a series where every episode's title ends with an exclamation point. Each installment is fat-packed with action, and the series has a knack for piling it on in ways I never saw coming. Even with as imaginative and off-the-walls as The Brave and the Bold can get, it still sticks to its own internal logic, so the numerous twists, turns, and surprises are all very much earned. I can't get enough of its sense of humor: clever wordplay, quick cutaways to gags, or...y'know, B'wana Beast transforming into a shark-pelican or a T-rex chewing Plastic Man like a pack of Bubblicious. This is a lighthearted take on the Caped Crusader but isn't strictly a kids' show. The Brave and the Bold is one-size-fits-all! I'd have loved the holy heck out of this series when I was six or seven, and I want to give it a big ol' bear hug now in my mid-thirties. Parents can take heart that there's not a drop of blood, the action is plentiful but not intense in the wrong way, and there's not really a body count. A tiny handful of deaths are suggested off-screen, such as the loss of one hero in the line of duty and the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents, but it's done in a very tasteful way that shouldn't rattle any younger ones.
Geez! I just want to keep going. There's not a single disappointing episode out of the 26 (!) on this Blu-ray set. If I had to pick a favorite, it'd probably be the dimension-hopping two-parter which teams Batman up with a very unexpected partner to take down an evil incarnation of the Justice League, with just about the most endless assortment of heroes and villains ever. An off-the-rails appearance by Bat-Mite, complete with an extended Duck Twacy homage, ranks a close second. The fanboy in me keeps going nuts about the obscure superfolk showcased here, not to mention stuff like the homage to Bob Haney and Jim Aparo or J.M. DeMatteis' nod to his own "one punch!" moment from Justice League #1. I love, love, love the character designs and dynamic visual style too, to the point where you could hit 'Pause' at any moment and whatever's on-screen would be poster-worthy. I've been aching for ages to get my hands on a season set of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and I can't begin to tell you how much of a thrill it is to finally be able to shout "mission accomplished!" up here from the rafters. I'll say Highly Recommended, then hope that the other two seasons -- and Justice League Unlimited! -- aren't too far off on the horizon.
I've gotta admit to being a little leery when I first cracked open this Blu-ray set. Just run the numbers. Twenty-six episodes. Right at ten hours. Two discs. That's...wait, where did I put my calculator again?...five hours of video a disc! Thankfully, the series' bold linework (no pun intended) and uncluttered visual style makes for easy authoring. Even during its most challenging moments -- say, Red Tornado's frantic cyclone spin or Black Lightning crackling with electricity -- the AVC encode never sputters or stutters. In terms of technical flaws, some infrequent, barely noticeable banding is about it. The Brave and the Bold is straight-up gorgeous on Blu-ray, and I can't imagine that its colors would look anywhere near this eye-popping on DVD. Zero complaints on this end.
If you were skimming and missed it earlier, this season of Batman: The Brave and the Bold is spread across two BD-50 discs. Each episode is delivered at the expected 1080p24 at its broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
Every episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold whips out a 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio stereo soundtrack. It's exactly what I was hoping for, too. Every element in the mix is wonderfully clean, clear, and distinct. The terrific voice
acting never struggles for placement. Even without a discrete LFE channel to lean on, The Brave and the Bold still packs a respectable low-end to beef up all those explosions, haymakers, and giant stomping robots. I'm happy, anyway!
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There aren't any dubs or anything this time around, although optional English (SDH) subtitles are along for the ride.
Whole lotta nothin'.
This first season of Batman: The Brave and the Bold arrives courtesy of Warner Archive. It's completely indistinguishable from a retail release, though, sporting full cover art, BD-50 discs that sure don't look M.O.D. to me, nice lookin' menus, and even oodles of chapter stops within each episode. You're getting your money's worth.
Okay, Wrap It Up!
Both Batman: The Brave and the Bold and DC Comics of late look to the past. As part of that whole New 52 debacle, DC embraced just about everything that was wrong with comics in the '90s, so dour, depressing, and a fourteen-year-old's-definition-of-"adult" that I finally gave up on their entire line of books a few months back. The Brave and the Bold was daring enough to look to an unrecognizably different era in comics, though. At a time when DC's printed counterparts were more interested in death and dismemberment, The Brave and the Bold embraced the off-the-walls insanity of the Silver Age, and...oooohhhh, I love it to pieces. You could even pretend that I didn't write that whole long, rambling review and just typed three little letters instead. F-U-N. Highly Recommended, and fingers crossed that we won't have to wait too much longer for the other two seasons.