Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Batman: Brave and the Bold Bids Farewell, while Young Justice has a Haunting Halloween



Last weekend, Cartoon Network aired the series finale of Batman: Brave and the Bold. The final episode, titled "Mitefall!", was written by noted DC vet Paul Dini. In "Mitefall!", inter-dimensional fanboy Batmite has grown tired of Brave and the Bold and decides to sabotage the show so that it will be cancelled and replaced by a darker, more dramatic Batman series. In a curious twist, this is the only episode of Brave and the Bold that isn't so much of a tribute to the Silver Age of DC Comics as it is a satirical jab at how TV shows--both live-action and animated alike--"jump the shark". Each of Batmite's strategies to undermine Brave and the Bold are textbook examples of shark jumping, such as the addition of cute yet superfluous characters, needlessly changing central locations, and casting Ted McGinley. Yet for as unusual as this episode is, it still makes for a fitting finale to one of the smartest Batman shows to air on TV. Adding to the finale's fun is Henry Winkler, who provides the voice of Ambush Bug. It's a shame they saved Winkler for the last episode, because his take on Ambush Bug would have been great to see in more Brave and the Bold episodes.

I've written before about how skillfully Brave and the Bold has paid tribute to the Silver Age (see my previous Brave and the Bold post here) and while this attribute is directly recognized in the show's finale, I think that Dini is trying to make a larger point outside of his shark jumping gags. Some comic book fans begrudge the campiness of many Silver Age superhero stories, but that period of time was an integral part of superhero history. Not only did that era see the birth of Marvel Comics, but it also featured significant and lasting revisions to several classic DC superheroes, superheroes such as Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and the Atom. Most importantly, the sense of creative, colorful playfulness that permeated the Silver Age played a major role in building most of the DC universe. (It seems that no matter how many reboots DC does, many of their superheroes retain backgrounds and traits that originated in the Silver Age.) If I didn't know any better, it would seem that Dini's underlying message in "Mitefall!" is that even though darker and more dramatic superhero stories are the current style of choice, it would be a mistake for comic book fans to forget the Silver Age, what made it work, and its many contributions to the superhero genre. I couldn't agree more.

Shortly after the Brave and the Bold's finale was "Secrets", the Halloween episode of Young Justice that somehow got pushed back to November. I've been impressed with Young Justice since its first episode, and it continues to hold my hold my attention. Instead of basing a cartoon on some pre-existing teenage superhero team from DC's comic books (such as Teen Titans or the Legion of Super Heroes), Young Justice assembles a cast of sidekick characters in a way that allows for a different approach to the DC universe.



Along those lines, "Secrets" is a stand-alone adventure that places Artemis and Zatanna in Manhattan, where they encounter a bizarre sword-wielding villain named Harm who harbors a gruesome secret. "Secret" starts off as a standard superhero adventure and then grows into a memorable ghost story--a rare feat for any superhero cartoon. As an added treat to this nifty trick, "Secrets" also has a subplot featuring Superboy, Miss Martian and Kid Flash that makes clever references to Orson Welles' notorious Halloween prank of 1938 and to two cartoon Marvins--one a Martian, the other a superhero wannabe who's familiar to die-hard DC cartoon fans.


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