I am not going to call myself a Batman expert or historian, but I have lost count of how many Batman related comics, games, and television shows I have consumed in appreciation for one of my favorite heroes. There is very little Batman-based media I will not try, but one show had alluded me for quite some time. Batman: The Brave and the Bold is an odd series—even among a list of shows about a man who dresses up as a giant rodent—this cartoon is a polarizing anomaly that I suffered through to tell the world about.
I, like most my age, see Batman: The Animated Series as the pentacle of the Caped Crusader’s cartoon adventures, and maybe beating out even the live action shows and films. The series is amazing without question and was even followed up by two other good outings, Batman Beyond and The Batman. The show that I started with was the 1966 live action Batman show staring Adam West as the titular character. The show mimicked an exaggerated version of Batman at the time that most now look back on as too vibrant and goofy, nothing like what the other shows I named above even touched really. This is interesting because I hold Batman ’66 fondly in my memory. It is the show that is compared mostly to The Brave and the Bold, which I was not too high on.
The premise of Batman: The Brave and the Bold is similar to the comic of the same title, in the sense that it pairs up different DC Comics superheroes for various adventures outside of the heroes’ normal comfort zone, but in this case, everyone teams up with Batman. It is a neat idea in a way, exposing fans to an array of characters most have never heard of. Even those somewhat familiar with the comics will encounter several characters they may not recognize, and the show does not focus on DC’s other mainstays like Superman and Wonder Woman much at all. Even Batman himself takes a back seat in a rare few episodes that help build this show’s version of the Justice League. The show often takes Batman away from Gotham, showing off many familiar comic locations and new exciting places, but most of these episodes follow a predictable formula that wears thin before the first season is done.
The big problem with the show is that it focuses on an older version of the Dark Knight, taking a lot from the silver age of comics and building a different world for Batman that had not been seen in animation yet. This version of Batman is more colorful, stiff as a board, and full of horrible one-liners. If I ever hear anyone call their fists hammers of justice again, it will be too soon. There are outlandish gadgets from mechs to laser swords and some narrow escapes that are just laughable. Part of the problem is that he is too Batman—too perfect—rarely looking like he actually needs the help of his partners, with his only flaws being his devotion and emotionless state of mind.
The three seasons of The Brave and the Bold are hard to get through, or at least they were for me. I am used to binging shows, but I had to take multiple breaks before I could finish it. Season two is the best of the show, with season three ramping up the camp and further-out stories. I did not dislike all of the episodes, as the campy tone worked well with adventures like the Mayhem of the Music Meister! episode, featuring Neil Patrick Harris as the voice of a villain who controls people with singing. That felt like a Batman ’66 plot right there. Also, certain guests seem to fit the show better, like the JSA and Space Ghost, who fans expect to see in the cheesier old school action. There are also some genuinely good episodes, like The Mask of Matches Malone! and fan favorite Chill of the Night, which could rank up there with some Batman: TAS moments.
The majority of each episode though is played for laughs, and it is easy to see that the creators had a lot of fun doing it. The Brave and the Bold is incredibly self-aware of what it does, even up to the last episode, which makes fun of Batman’s tropes and calls its own fans out about how they perceive the show and the character’s legacy. It was one of the best episodes in its humor but unfortunately reminded me of all of the things I did not like about the show overall. Though it was not for me, I keep running into people who like this show, even if they cannot explain why. Someone had to like it though because there was even a game release to go along with the show for the Nintendo Gamecube, which I momentarily considered trying for research purposes.
The voice acting was top notch, decent music, and the art was well-done, even if the vibrant style did not feel right for some fans, but I cannot help but feel that The Brave and the Bold was the first Batman cartoon I did not enjoy. It made me think a show that did not center on the Caped Crusader might be better, throwing random teams of superheroes together in a bit more serious setting. Or perhaps having a show based off of Green Arrow or The Flash, both of which look good in this show, but play a serious second fiddle. Batman is honestly just too much of a money draw for the company, and his cartoons will draw an audience on name alone, but I think for the purpose of quality it may be time for him to take a break and let someone else do the crime fighting. The Brave and the Bold wanted to stand out among all of the Batman shows, which is why the creators chose its direction, and I cannot fault them for that, even if I do not agree with the results. These adventures are meant for someone else, but it was a bold direction to try for.