I’m sure I loved the Adam West Batman TV series when it was repeated during my youth, with the colourful characters, the silliness, the catchphrases and action. However, I have to confess that I don’t have any love for it any more – I now think it’s silly and stupid and childish. You can probably blame Frank Miller – his Batman: Year One storyline was the catalyst to changing my view of who the character of the Dark Knight is (a troubled man who dedicates himself to conditioning his body and mind to the ultimate degree to undertake a physical and mental battle for no reward) and how it jars so intensely with the jolly Batman with his shark-repellent Bat spray.
This viewpoint alters the way I enjoy the portrayal of Batman now, which means that the happy Batman of Batman: The Brave and The Bold seems oddly anachronistic. Paul Dini has gone back to the Dick Sprang era as the inspiration for this Batman: square of jaw, blocky of chest, occasional smiling. This means we have a Batman who flies around in his Bat-plane or goes underwater in his Bat-sub, who makes jokes, who fights aliens on the other side of the universe.
This feels strange to me, but it is necessary for the premise: each episode sees Batman team up with a wide variety of DC characters, some from bizarre areas of the DC universe: avoiding Superman, but including Aquaman and Green Arrow as semi-regulars, the series has seen Plastic Man, Red Tornado, the Atom, Guy Gardner, the Demon, Kamandi, OMAC, the Outsiders, Doctor Fate, Deadman, Adam Strange, Jonah Hex and even Bat-Mite appear. It is this aspect that appeals to me; I love seeing obscure DC comic characters being animated in a mainstream cartoon (even if it is sometimes difficult to explain them to my girlfriend). I hope that it inspires new generation of kids to discover and enjoy the richness and diversity, and keep the comic books alive.
The stories are light and fun but not afraid of having occasional dark moments in them, but the action scenes can have a very illogical feel to them – villains capture Batman but don’t unmask him and then put him in death-traps – which rob them of any emotional resonance. Still, I was impressed when they put the new Blue Beetle in an early episode, enough that I almost forgave them for the offence to science in the episode with the Atom where they were inside a human body and used a white blood cell as a horse (by the annoyingly bombastic version of Aquaman they use in the show). On balance, I’m happy to see the show and its spotlight on the rich diversity of characters, even if I don’t necessarily enjoy the mechanics of the episodes themselves for the most part.