Dig that theme music. The whole vibe takes you right back to the Adam West/Burt Ward 1966 series, as if the orange detailing on the Batmobile (and every other piece of Bat-gadgetry) didn’t give it away. And this is what Batman: The Brave and the Bold isa fun, fast and furious farce. Inspired by the classic team-up comic book, there is very little Dark about this Knight. Diedrich Bader does a good Batman voice too, almost as goodand possibly more appropriate herethan the great Kevin Conroy. He oscillates between straight man to the antics of sidekicks like a teen-aged Blue Beetle and Plastic Man and a wiseguy delivering gruff one liners. Adventures so far have seen him rocket across the galaxy, visit a lost island of dinosaurs, and take a quick dive down to Atlantis. This is Batman with the atomic batteries set to ludicrous and the turbines to speed. Anyone coming in expecting The Dark Knight version of the character, or even the level of sophistication of the excellent Batman: The Animated Series and its related shows, had better not bother. But for those of you who like it when your villains skulls go BIFF, ZONK and KA-POW when they are (frequently) thonked, this is the show for you.
Even when I was a child, I knew there was more than one Caped Crusader. I was watching Super Friends, The New Adventures of Batman (with Bat-Mite as a regular no less!), and the 1966 live-action, while at the same time scouring flea markets and out of the way shops to complete my collection of the Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams run on the character. The dichotomy didn’t bother me thenI was on the edge of my seat every time William Dozier told me to turn in next week at the same bat channel, while at the same time explaining to anyone who would listen that “Batman is serious!” and that Ra’s al Gul was my favorite villain. I’d explain how Robin was packed off to college, the current Batmobile looked as subdued as a black corvette, and the Dark Knight was a detective who fought more mobsters and terrorists than he did costumed crooks (because, after all, that’s what was happening in the O’Neil days.) When I got older, and Frank Miller was showing us just how dark a Dark Knight could be (this is 1986 now, not the contemporary Frank Miller, who seems determined to show us just how lamentably far he’s sunk), I disavowed the 1966 television series with all the vehemence of an ex-smoker. But these days, I’ve come to have a deep appreciation for it.
For one thing, there wouldn’t even be a Batman today without it. At a time when a lot of superheroes were hanging up their capes forever, the television show caused a boom in the sale of Batman comics, raising the titles circulation to almost 900,000 for a time. It was also responsible for aging the Boy Wonder to a respectable older teen, introducing Batgirl, and reintroducing Alfred. And really, if you’ve got to have a Riddler, who else could play him but Frank Gorshin? Same again for Burgess Meredith. (Not so much so Cesar Romero.)
For another, it’s just a lot of fun. I’m already showing selected clips of it on YouTube to my son, and I can’t wait until he’s a little older and (hopefully) it’s finally out on DVD so we can watch it all start to finish. And it’s that vibe that Batman: The Brave and the Bold has managed to capture. Now, let’s be straightthere are episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited that you can watch again and again and again. I won’t watch any of this again until I do it with my child, and never once he outgrows it, because this really is a kid’s show, unapologetically. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Batman uses a personal jetpack to achieve near-Earth orbit, where he only requires an oxygen mask to breath. He’s turned into Bat-Ape by Gorilla Grodd in the second episode (penned by Steven Melching, and easily the best of the three that have aired thus far). In the third, his Batplane can turn into a Batsub at the touch of a button. But don’t the kids of today deserve their Batman, too? And with the Christopher Nolan film franchise grossing half a billion dollarscurrently the second highest grossing US box-office of all timeand the late Heath Ledger’s performance a shoo-in for an Oscar nod, I think the Batmaniac in me can finally relax in the knowledge that Bats has proved he can be sophisticated, adult entertainment. Meanwhile, for today’s children, here’s a Batman aiming to hook ’em when they are young. And how lucky they arethere’s a Batman for each age level, stretching out from The Brave and the Bold, to The Animated Series, to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Batman can grow as they do, evolving from the Caped Crusader to the Dark Knight, and why begrudge him that here? It’s what he did for us after all. So relax, dig that retro-music and all that orange detailing. Let’s set those atomic batteries to power, those turbines to speed. All that’s missing now is Vincent Price in a bald wig.