Director: Ben Jones, Michael Chang, Michael Goguen
Cast: Diedrich Bader, Jeff Bennett, Corey Burton, John DiMaggio, Will Friedle, Tom Kenny, Grey DeLisle, Neil Patrick Harris
Watch Batman: The Brave and the Bold online in the UK: iTunes / Google Play
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through DC’s animated superhero collection on Amazon Prime Video UK. We call it Superhero Sundays.
The key gimmick behind the first season of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, in keeping with the long-running comic that bears the same name, was that Batman would team up with a lesser-known hero in every episode. To that end, the first season limited those guest appearances to the likes of Blue Beetle, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Red Tornado, Guy Gardner (a minor Green Lantern) and Plastic Man, all of whom made repeated appearances. The second season dramatically expands the roster of characters, bringing in some more familiar faces from the Justice League cartoons, such as Martian Manhunter, The Flash and The Question, as well as more obscure characters, such as the Doom Patrol (now the subject of their own live-action TV series) and the Metal Men, in addition to detailing the origin of Firestorm.
The first season also held off on including many of Batman’s own supporting cast, restricting the Batman villains to just The Joker and a brief appearance from Catwoman, and only having Robin / Nightwing appear in a single episode. The second season relaxes that restriction, allowing for appearances from The Riddler, The Penguin and Poison Ivy (among others), while also freely bouncing around the Bat-timeline to include appearances from Robin / Nightwing, Batgirl and Alfred.
The second season maintains the lightness of tone that distinguished the first season, but it’s also not above delivering some powerful emotional punches – several characters die in this season, for example, to the point where you might want to vet certain episodes beforehand if you have young children (steer clear of Emperor Joker!, for example).
Finally, the animation remains as gorgeous as ever, emulating the style of classic comics, particularly in the fight scenes, which have freeze-frame punch moments that might as well come with captions that say “POW!” and “BAM!” However, even here, the boldness of the show allows for a little experimentation, most notably in an episode towards the end of the season (Episode 25 – Bat-Mite Presents: Batman’s Strangest Cases!), which has Batman cartoons in the style of Mad Magazine sketches, Japanese animation and a Scooby-Doo story.
As with the previous season, the best episodes of Season 2 combine superb animation, inventive comic-book plots, enjoyable action sequences and laugh-out-loud humour. Below, we’ve picked five of the best episodes of Season 2 (which wasn’t easy, as there are 26 in total) and we’ll be doing the same for Season 3 next month.
Note: The list of episodes differs slightly between Amazon Prime and other sources, such as Wikipedia. For the purpose of clarity, the episode numbers below refer to their listing on Amazon.
A Bat Divided! (Episode 8)
While serving primarily as an origin story for Firestorm, this very funny episode is a great example of the sort of fun Batman: The Brave and the Bold intends to have this season. While battling the fiendish Doctor Double X (Ron Perlman, no less), Batman is caught in a lab explosion, along with coach-turned-science teacher Ronnie Raymond (Bill Fagerbakke) and brainy student Jason Rusch (Tyler James Williams). The explosion transforms Ronnie and Jason into Firestorm (familiar to live-action DC fans from TV’s Legends of Tomorrow), but it also splits Batman into three different personas: Science Batman (or, as Ronnie calls him, Nerd Batman), Physical Batman (Bully Batman) and Slacker Batman. Full credit is due to Diedrich Bader for the terrific job he does of making each side of Batman so distinctive and funny. The episode might be mostly concerned with laughs, but the split also allows the show to make an astute point about Batman’s character.
The Super-Batman of Planet X! (Episode 9)
This inspired episode works on two very clever levels – it simultaneously has a lot of fun with the basic idea of ‘What if Batman was Superman?’, while also doing some very funny riffs on an alien planet version of Batman’s origin. The plot has Batman pulled through a wormhole in space, which sends him to the distant planet of Zur-En-Arhh in the city of Gothtropolis. There he meets his doppelgänger, the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh (voiced by Kevin Conroy – who voices Batman in most other DC cartoons). However, he also discovers that he has superpowers akin to those of Superman, so he teams up with Zur-En-Arrh Batman to fight the mad genius Rohtul (Luthor backwards). There are a number of great jokes, such as the fact that Zur-En-Arrh’s red-and-yellow Bat-costume was inspired by the planet’s red and yellow bat beast (a brilliant, perfectly timed visual gag), or the fact that Zur-En-Arrh Batman has a robot Alfred. There are also some clever comments on the nature of Batman’s relationship with Superman, first in Batman’s obvious glee at discovering his super-powers (“I could get used to this”) and second in his pointed comment to an increasingly annoyed Zur-En-Arrh Batman: “I wouldn’t like it either if an alien with super-powers came to Earth to do my job.”
Chill of the Night! (Episode 11)
Written by Paul Dini (Batman: The Animated Series), this is an exceptional episode that’s up there with the all-time great Batman cartoons. It’s much darker in tone than the rest of the series, and the fact that the show pulls it off so perfectly is indicative of the general confidence in the writing on the second season. The plot has mystical figures The Spectre and The Phantom Stranger making a bet on Bruce Wayne’s soul, concerning his likely reaction on discovering the identity of the man who killed his parents. After travelling back in time, Bruce has an emotional, if incognito, reunion with his parents (his just-a-bit-too-long hug with his mother speaks volumes) and fights alongside his father, who happens to be wearing a bat costume to a party. Later, he learns that the man who killed them is a crook named Joe Chill, and he obsessively pursues Chill in the present day, with The Spectre and The Phantom Stranger eagerly watching to see if justice or vengeance will prevail. The episode digs deep into the core of what makes Batman Batman and the result is extremely moving. The story is also given extra power, because Batman revealing his secret identity to Chill also marks the first moment that we see Bruce Wayne’s face in the show, after one and a half seasons of just seeing him in costume. There’s also a touching tribute in the voice cast for this episode, which includes: Adam West and Julie Newmar (the 60’s show’s Batman and Catwoman) as Thomas and Martha Wayne; Conroy (another sweet touch) as The Phantom Stranger; Mark Hamill (the voice of The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series) as Spectre; and Richard Moll (the voice of Two-Face in Batman: TAS) as Moxon.
The Mask of Matches Malone! (Episode 17)
The show had previously experimented with musical numbers in the Season 1 show-stopper Mayhem of the Music Meister (Episode 25), which had multiple characters bursting into song. The Mask of Matches Malone only has the one song, but it’s so much fun that it single-handedly earns the episode a place on this list. The plot has Batman teaming up with Black Canary (Grey DeLisle), The Huntress (Tara Strong) and Catwoman (Nika Futterman) to fight Two-Face, during which Batman goes undercover as a mobster by the name of Matches Malone. However, during a battle, Batman gets conked on the head and gets amnesia, believing he is Matches Malone, so the trio (calling themselves the Birds of Prey, as in the comics) have to snap him out of it. To complicate matters, “Matches” has got hold of a cloak that gives him nine lives, which he uses to embark on a city-wide crime spree, frequently getting killed off and resurrected. (Batman “dies” several times in this season, suggesting some subliminal issues on behalf of the writers.) The highlight comes when the women perform the afore-mentioned song, The One and Only Birds of Prey, which cheekily out-lines the various shortcomings of other male heroes, in the style of a 1940s nightclub act.
The Criss Cross Conspiracy! (Episode 20)
It had to happen eventually – The Criss Cross Conspiracy! is basically a Batman body-swap episode and the results are as wonderful as you might imagine. The episode begins with a flashback in which Batwoman (she’s never named as such, due to DC interference, but it’s clear that’s who she is), aka. thrill-seeker and circus fortune heiress Katrina Moldoff (Vanessa Marshall), is forced to give up a life of superheroing after The Riddler (John Michael Higgins) callously unmasks her in front of the police, after she’s fought alongside Batman and Robin. A decade later (with Robin now Nightwing and Batgirl part of the team), Katrina decides to get revenge on The Riddler, so she gets a magic spell from Felix Faust (Dee Bradley Baker) and swaps bodies with Batman. Once again, full credit is due to Diedrich Bader, whose portrayal of Batwoman-as-Batman is genuinely hilarious, particularly when she pulls Nightwing aside and asks, “Do I look fat in this outfit?”. The animation is beautifully done in this episode too – aside from the striking Batwoman costume, the physical movements on Batwoman-as-Batman are the icing on the cake of the central joke. There’s also a slightly less successful running joke where Felix Faust is clearly attracted to Batman-as-Batwoman, but that does at least get an amusing pay-off in the form of a tribute to Some Like It Hot.