Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Brave & the Bold & The Wacky

The first issue of the original run of the comics series "The Brave and the Bold" I read, nearly 30 years ago, was issue #150.

Although the art, by Caniff-inspired illustrator Jim Aparo, was fairly modern, I could tell that the writing was more old-fashioned than the other Batman comics coming out at the time. Seventies Batman comics stories by such writers as Denny O'Neil, Steve Engelhart, Archie Goodwin and Len Wein made an attempt to feature fairly modern and realistic (albeit stylized) dialogue. Writer Bob Haney, however, was quite willing to throw in such silliness as Commissioner Gordon addressing Batman as "World's Greatest Detective" in casual conversation, without a hint of sarcasm.

Upon reading back issues of B & B -- which, in the last approximately fifteen years of its existence, was a team-up book teaming Batman with whichever guest DC wanted to promote -- revealed that Haney's stories often tended toward the wacky. He wrote one story in which miniature superhero The Atom jumps inside the head of a brain-dead Batman; and animates him by dancing on the Caped Crusader's brain. (And yes, Batman is restored to normal at the end of the story -- after solving the case!) In another, Batman and the guest hero were battling a gang of terrorists when suddenly a group of the bad guys attempted to kidnap Haney and Aparo and force them to write an ending in which the terrorists won. Really.

Now Cartoon Network has turned "The Brave and the Bold" into a cartoon series. The first episode aired last night. And the creators are plainly dedicated to bringing to life the wackiness of the show's comic book predecessor. They have eschewed the current Dark Knight incarnation of Batman, and have turned for inspiration to the character's late fifties and early sixties comics incarnation -- a period when Batman might head off to an alien planet for an adventure, or travel in time, or volunteer for a scientific experiment, or perform for charity in broad daylight. Thus, in the premiere episode, Bats and the latest incarnation of The Blue Beetle (a character who, in various iterations, has been around almost as long as Batman) is rocketing into space to stop a meteor when a wormhole transports the two heroes to an alien planet. Batman, of course, takes this in stride. "Judging by the position of the stars," he observes, "we're on the other side of the Milky Way." The two B-heroes then square off against old Justice League villian Kanjar Ro to save a race of intelligent protozoa. Yep, wacky.

The series's challenge is to give full reign to this wackiness, while retaining the coolness-ratio of the character -- something those fifties-to-sixties stories had trouble doing. Judging from the first episode, the creators are managing to do so, by both playing Batman straight and using the Dick Sprang version of the character --replete with muscles, dramatic shadowing, and sharp angles.

If the rest of the series is handled as well as the first episode, this show should be wacky fun.

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