Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Comic Book Wednesday: Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel

The unpleasantness of the last few days is a memory. Let us comic, like the Greeks of yore.
(You know which ones I mean.) Today, we will look at Batman 681, and an extended review/ramble on the new DC Cartoon series, Batman: the Brave and the Bold.
Batman 681.
By Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel. This issue marks the final chapter in the "Batman RIP" sequence. And I know with the "Final Crisis" event currently going on at DC, it's internet-fashionable to rag on the perceived obtuseness of Morrison's work. But honestly.... I'm really not sure what happened. There's the Black Glove revelation, some cool moments such as Batman's death-defying moment and Nightwing's escape, but... I don't know. It's missing that "moment," that revelation that makes it all worthwhile. Rather than being left with the feeling that we've entered a bold new era, I'm just left feeling... that's it? That's what's supposed to change things? There's no real drama here--the only thing really at stake doesn't seem at stake at all. There may be huge reveals, and layers within layers of meaning I just don't get, but it seems like Morrison's just obscuring a picture that doesn't really show us anything we haven't seen before, and certainly doesn't live up to the hype.

Batman: Brave and the Bold. The Brave and the Bold is something of a legacy title at DC, so I'll try to do it some justice by telling what I know about it, and making the rest up. In the 60s (70s? 80s? Before I was old enough to be literate, at any rate), Brave and the Bold was a DC Showcase title in which each issue featured two DC heroes teaming up. The series stopped years ago, but a new volume started up more recently, still featuring the ever-changing cast, but trying to maintain an overarcing story. The first arc was a big success, in my opinion: it managed to rotate through a huge cast, stay true to the individual characters, and still tell a cohesive story of epic scale. Since then, the title seems to have fallen into hard times. I'm not completely sure, and far too lazy to check, but I think it may have been cancelled. (Person of Consequence: not just uninformed, but willfully uninformed. It's the effort that makes the difference.)
More recently, the new DC cartoon Batman: Brave and the Bold began this month on the Cartoon Network. It's following the Brave and the Bold format of rotating partners, but one side of the partnership is decided: every week, Batman will team up with another DC character to fight evil. (Or go shopping, or anything else. It's not set in stone.) I think this decision is a really good one for DC--if for no other reason that they save big money on voice actors, since there's only one voice that HAS to be there. More signficantly, if the series is going to be a showcase for the DC Universe, and change on a weekly basis, it's a good idea to have a single anchor character, a known value that serves as the "known." In the DC stable, there's basically two characters that EVERYBODY knows: Batman and Superman. Superman wouldn't work, simply because of his established power levels. He certainly has the justification for travelling into the exotic locales, but every week, they'd have to justify why the most powerful man on the planet needs help.
Batman doesn't have that problem. It's perfectly conceivable that Batman could ask for help--not because he needs it, of course, but because it's convenient for him. With Superman, extra people just get in the way. The early episodes have also used Batman as the authority figure--he knows what's going on, he figures out the situation, and the other character has to follow his lead. This works quite well as a story-telling technique: it casts the other character in the role of the uncertain fish-out-of-water, which makes him/her the POV character for the viewer, and serves as a quick and easy way of connecting the viewer to unfamiliar characters. This could change as the series goes on--in fact, reversing the situation so that it's Batman who is out of his element is the logical, if temporary, inversion of the formula--but it works for now. (And frankly, it would be hard to justify Batman acting like he's out of his element. We're two episodes into the series, and he's already shown sangfroid while walking through an alien armada and strolling around Dinosaur Island on the hunt for a sentient gorilla. The guy's not easily phased.)
Batman is voiced by Diedrich Bader, probably best known by adults for his role as Oswald on the Drew Carey Show. He has done a fair bit of voice acting though, so he's not new to the genre. He's certainly not the first guy I'd think of to do Batman, but given the tone of the show, they're going for a lighter, more easy-going Batman than most incarnations, so while it takes a few minutes to get used to, he fits. I think a lighter Batman is a good move for DC--given the brooding Batman of The Dark Knight, the recent lunatic in the comics, and even the dour figure that appears in the other animated series, a move towards a more kid-friendly (and just friendly period) version will protect the line for the next generation and indoctorate a whole new set of fans for the caped crusader. (They still call him that, right?)
So after all that, how's the show? Good. Surprisingly good. Again, we're only two episodes in, but it's been promising. Episode 1 has Batman teaming up with the teenage hero Blue Beetle to fight aliens, with Beetle learning a valuable lesson about being a hero. Episode 2 has Batman teaming up with former criminal turned Plastic Man to fight Gorilla Grodd at dinosaur Island, with Plastic Man learning a valuable lesson about being a hero. (But a different lesson.) Yes, there's a definite gear towards children, but it's not so dumbed down that it can't be enjoyed by all ages. It certainly doesn't have the epic scope of the Justice League Unlimited Series, and it still has a way to go to reach Dini's Batman: the Animated Adventures level, but it's good, it's holding its own, and here's hoping it gets better.

Later Days.

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