Monday, November 21, 2011

Requiem For "Batman: The Brave And The Bold"

So the last episode of Batman: The Brave And The Bold has just aired -- and, as I've watched it right after viewing the first episode of the new Green Lantern animated series, I have a bit to say (spoilers ahead).

First of all, there were parts of the one-hour Green Lantern season premiere that I really enjoyed; but I am not enthusiastic regarding a possible future of animated TV series where everything is done in a standard CGI format. The CGI in Green Lantern was certainly better than some of the utter atrocities (or is that Atrocituses) I have seen elsewhere, but compare it to the epic world-building and design of the new ThunderCats, or the relatively limited but visually striking and effective animation on a show like B:TBATB.

That being said, it is obvious to me that a lot of the future of animated television lies in the Green Lantern approach. It must be far more cost-effective, and to a generation of children literally raised on video games, this 3-D look fits right in. This is not a judgement on Green Lantern The Animated Series, the same way the last episode of B: TBATB, "Mitefall!," was totally not a judgement on the future of animation at all (oh no not at all).

In "Mitefall!" 5th-Dimensional imp Bat-Mite thoroughly knocks down the 4th wall and tries to get B:TBATB taken off the air so it can be replaced by a grittier Batman series. Bat-Mite feels that the series has thoroughly "jumped the shark" and thus needs to be put to a dirt nap -- and who more appropriate than the man who "originated" JTS, The Fonz himself (Henry Winkler), to challenge Bat-Mite's plans in the form of Ambush Bug (no stranger to breaking the 4th wall himself)?

Along with Ted McGinley (who of course makes an appearance in the episode) and cute and pointless new kiddie castmembers, one of the most telling signs of a series that has jumped the shark is hopelessly self-referential storylines -- and "Mitefall!" gleefully wallows in that last category. In fact, the episode literally runs through all the possible flaws of B:TBATB that has led to its own cancellation, #1 being it was essentially one of the biggest "fan-service" in-jokey TV series (outside of Smallville) of all time. (But-but-but that's why I liked it!)

However, I realize that a show like that just isn't going to retain the attention span of the kiddies, who apparently want to see more of the heroes and villains punching each other and less references to a kinder, gentler, older period in comic (and pop-culture) history. And "Mitefall" realizes this too. Sort of. Actually, it was really hard to figure out how this episode (or its writer Paul Dini) really felt about the future of animation, or its recently-announced replacement series Beware the Batman -- it sort of bounced around between agreeing it's time for a change -- accepting that we need a darker gritter Batman, like the one from the episode "Chill Of The Night!" -- and worrying that it might actually be too dark.

The breaking-point for Ambush Bug in this story is when Bat Mite gives Batman guns to use. A Batman who uses guns is not Batman -- these are the weapons that killed his parents and no way is he OKing their usage. Does this reference the controversial promotional image from Beware The Batman of Alfred holding (and firing) guns?

A key character in "Mitefall!" is of course Bat-Mite. Having also re-watched the B:TBATB episode "Legends Of The Dark Mite" (which includes a scene in a comic book convention), it is clear that the character is the stand-in for the Fickle Fanboy ("Batman's Greatest Fan") -- the one that spearheads the criticism of B:TBATB and pushes for the gritter Batman. When the show is finally cancelled by the network (in the episode itself), Bat-Mite is overjoyed to have a whole new collection of swag to buy, and unsentimentally throws out all his B:TBATB merchandise. Then he gets his preview of the NEW Batshow, which is CGI (natch) and stars -- Batgirl?! Bat-Mite is, predictably, unhappy with this particular arrangement. Yes, the gritty realism is there -- but she's the wrong gender.

"Mitefall!" ends with Bat-Mite disappearing from existence (ironically, geeky characters like him can't exist in a gritty Batman universe), and Ambush Bug arranging one last party in the Batcave for everybody who appeared in B:TBATB. In the last shot, Batman looks directly at the camera and promises the audience he will always fight for justice and defend the innocent. And thus an amazing and amazingly self-referential final episode comes to a close. I'm expecting similar types of stories on Community as the clock ticks down for that show as well -- though it could be argued that references to Dan Harmon's conflict with the network and critics/fans over Community's fate have been there since the first episode of the 3rd season (a post for another day).

I love the freedom these shows have to comment on their own situations, to acknowledge the bigger forces at work that impact their content and longevity. That said, taking into account the bored TV viewers in "Mitefall!" who want to see more punching and less talking, I acknowledge where the real priorities in any form of entertainment should be. And, having done my obligatory bit of pragmatic and realistic acknowledgement, may I just say how fantastically wonderful this episode was, and how grateful I was to see it.

Remember, kids:

1 comment:

  1. I had to skip the whole article and leave a comment as to avoid spoilers (waiting to watch the whole she-bang at once, due to lack of cable).


    For all the crap DC Comics has dished upon me as a fan in the last decade, the animation dept has absolutely killed it and kept the true spirit of DC Comics alive!