There’s a cavalcade of DC Animation on HBO Max now, from Static Shock to Justice League, and, of course, more Batman than you can shake a batarang at. But instead of re-indulging in the giddy highs of The Animated Series, why not check out the finest of Batman’s animated hidden gems, Batman: The Brave and the Bold?
Running for three seasons on Cartoon Network between 2008 and 2011, Batman: The Brave and the Bold had to escape from the long shadow of Batman: The Animated Series’ success and the hero’s resurgence in the pop culture mainstream with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Brave and the Bold. It managed to, and it was a breath of fresh air.
Created by James Tucker and Michael Jelenic, the animated series veered away from what we’d come to know from Batman’s animated adventures and instead presented a more retro-inspired, lighter, and wilder take on Batman as we’d come to know him—embracing the wider DC Comics world in the process. In a world that saw the key to adapting Batman out of the comics in his darkness, the show remembered that Batman has had a long, strange, and often silly history, and embraced it wholeheartedly—while also never forgetting the nuanced tragedy that underpins the character. Now that the show’s on HBO Max, it’s well worth a watch, but here are a few of our favorite episodes to check out.
An episode that’s less about Batman as you might guess by the title, this wonderful team-up between Robin, Aqualad, and Speedy is an action-packed blast. They’re given the choice between two cases to prove themselves, taking on one while their adult mentors deal with the other. But it also sweetly draws parallels between the young heroes and their adult counterparts, leading to some big character work for Robin too.
To many (io9 included), Kevin Conroy will forever be the definitive bat-voice. But Diedrich Bader does such a great job in Brave and the Bold, the chance to see him voice-off against Conroy—here playing the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh in a wild rip from the comics—is a delight. It’s not even just a BtAS love affair: Zur-En-Arrh is cast here as a riff on Metropolis as much as it is Gotham, giving the chance for a host of Superman: The Animated Series stars to return as Space-Batman stand-ins of their past performances.
Brave and the Bold’s willingness to touch on as many aspects of Batman lore as possible is one of its greatest strengths, and by going to Bat-Mite, the Dark Knight’s answer to Superman’s Mister Mxyzptlk, you get the keys to touch on basically all of it. A wild, fourth-wall splitting journey through alternate Batmen—from Jiro Kuwata’s Bat-Manga to the Hanna-Barbera team-up master that hung out with Scooby-Doo so much—this is a love letter to corners of the Bat-canon that mostly go untouched.
What if you did Fantastic Voyage but a) it’s inside Batman and b) it stars the Atom and Brave and the Bold’s incredibly enthusiastic Aquaman? (Remember, this as in the pre-Jason Momoa years, when public perception of Aquaman was that he was a loser—BatB’s version was anything but, a swashbuckling himbo of a hero.) You get this absolute cracking double act.
A wild Elseworlds tale that imagines a timeline where Batman and Catwoman retire, get married, and start a family of new crimefighters together, this is an episode that really stretches what Brave and the Bold could do with its world, and its love of the comics in the process.
We remember Brave and the Bold as the Batman show that leaned much more toward Adam West’s Bright Knight than it did the brooding Dark Knight we’ve come to associate with the character at large. But when it wanted to hit you where it hurt? It could. Using a metatextual framing device of the Spectre and Phantom Stranger (voiced by none other than Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill) making a bet over what Batman would do given the chance to face the man who murdered his parents, you get a bittersweet look into Bruce Wayne’s past—and why he grows into the man he is.
Now that we live in a world where we have an earnest, wonderfully bittersweet Doom Patrol adaptation, the team’s starting to get the recognition they deserve. But before that, they had this wonderfully touching episode. Niles “The Chief” Caulder brings the team out of retirement one last time when they’re targeted by assassins, only to see them reflect on what being heroes meant to them.
At this point in Batman’s animated history, we were more than used to the idea of him teaming up alongside Superman, of course. But Brave and the Bold’s spin on the team-up leverages the Man of Steel’s Golden and Silver Age comics history to give us a Clark Kent who is...well, amazingly, kind of a massive asshole. In this instance, it’s because Superman has been exposed to Red Kryptonite, forcing Batman to work with Superman’s friends to calm him down while it wears off. But also: old Superman was kind of a massive asshole, anyway!
The final episode of Brave and the Bold is bittersweet, as Batmite takes his meta eye to the show’s cancellation by...trying to get it canceled himself. It’s a zany metatextual riff on all the things you hear about behind the scenes on making cartoons—out of character decisions for “shocking” twists (like Batman suddenly being a gun-toting killer) or an over-reliance on one-off, extremely toyetic costume designs and accessories to sell to the audience. But beneath the layer of metatext, it’s a fond farewell to this entire cast of characters built up over the course of the series and as it comes to an end, you’ll find yourself surprisingly touched by its sympathy.
This show. Only this show could get away with Neil Patrick Harris turning it into a musical theater spectacular for 20 minutes. Harris plays the titular maestro of villainy, enthralling Batman’s foes and friends with his mind-controlling pipes, forcing Batman to battle his foe, and an entire soundtrack’s worth of legitimately brilliant show tunes. Step aside, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, this is Superhero broadway done right.
This a great, not-quite-bat-centric episode, following the Birds of Prey as they have to help Bruce Wayne after an impromptu bout of amnesia leads him to believe he’s really his mobster disguise persona, Matches Malone. It’s a goofy laugh, but it shines for an absolute bop of a song the Birds of Prey break into, in which they celebrate the sexual proclivities of various DC stalwarts like Plastic Man, Green Arrow, and, of course, Batman. It’s...incredible. It’s a miracle this aired in a TV show for kids. It’s also just kind of an amazing musical bit, to boot?
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