Batman: Brave and the Bold certainly lived up to its name. Not just as a cartoon where Batman teams up with another DC superhero, in the vein of DC’s classic team-up comic, but in content. It was brave in the sense that it presented a Batman universe that wasn’t always dark or gritty or super-serious, but instead harkened back to the craziness of the Silver Age — a Batman that hadn’t been seen since the ’60s. It was bold because instead of segregating Batman to his Gotham City comfort zone, it
immediately threw him into the whole of the meta-human filled DC
universe — often while spotlighting obscure DC heroes and villains, from B’wana Beast to Kite Man, and making them as entertaining as Batman himself. Also, the show ended every episode title with an exclamation mark, which was also pretty bold.
After 65 episodes over three short years, Brave and the Bold ended, having proved it was far more than just an exercise in silliness; it could be dark, it could be epic, it could be hilarious, and it could be meta, but it could be and always was entertaining. Here’s our pick for the 10 greatest episodes from the Batman cartoon that wasn’t just the one fans deserved, but the one they needed, too.
10) Terror on Dinosaur Island!
?Batman teams up with rookie superhero Plastic Man in both the teaser and the main story of this early episode. Plastic Man, a former henchman of evil aerialist Kite Man, is torn between living up to Batman’s high expectations as his sidekick du jour and his inclination to pilfer the ill-gotten loot of supervillains for himself. The episode starts off with Gentleman Ghost tearing up the streets in “Dia de los Muertos” on a skeletal horse while wielding twin ectoplasmic flintlocks, until Batman punches him in his nonexistent face with anti-magic Nth metal knuckles. The main villain of the episode is Gorilla Grodd, whose scheme is unbridled lunacy — involving gorillas riding pterodactyls to harpoon a cruise liner and transmogrify its guests into apes. Thankfully, there are absolutely zero attempts to ground the proceedings under a veneer of realism, and even Batman is turned into a gorilla for a bit. This early episode set Brave and the Bold‘s tone perfectly, eschewing darkness and grittiness for anything-goes Silver Age insanity and massively entertaining weirdness.
9) The Mask of Matches Malone!
When Bruce Wayne catches a bit of amnesia in his Matches Malone gangster guise and he decides he’s a real gangster, it’s up to Catwoman, Huntress and Black Canary to help Batman regain his memory. While the overall episode is simply good, it will forever be remembered as “the one where the Birds of Prey sing a song about the sexual prowess of various superheroes,” and for that alone, it deserves to be on this list. We’re still boggled that this amazingly unsubtle, innuendo-laden song actually aired on Cartoon Network… in a good way.
8) Journey to the Center of the Bat!
Aquaman was undoubtedly the breakout star of Brave and the Bold. The show’s creators made this perpetual butt of fan jokes into the greatest, most entertaining hero in its world. This installment is the best showcase for the swashbuckler of the seven seas, as he and the Atom shrink down and enter Batman’s bloodstream to save the poisoned Batman, Fantastic Voyage-style. The straight-laced Atom is the perfect foil to Aquaman’s infectious bravado. Meanwhile, Batman stubbornly refuses to let his wasting health stop him from hunting down Chemo and the Brain, although Batman thwarts the Brain in the least dignified way he can: by fainting on top of him. Did I mention Aquaman rides one of Batman’s lymphocytes like it’s a giant seahorse? Or that he names it “Platelet”? It’s outrageous that this BatB Aquaman wasn’t made into the official Aquaman in the New 52.
7) Legends of the Dark Mite!
In the first of the show’s meta episodes, nigh-omnipotent
fanboy Bat-Mite stalks Batman in order to make Batman “cooler,” much to his idol’s chagrin. A wide swath
of Batman incarnations and stories get acknowledged, ranging from Batman & Robin
to A Death in the Family. This allows for a sequence where the show’s creators, thinly disguised as fans at a comic convention,
vicariously tell off fans that think Batman should only be humorless and
dark. This sequence could’ve come off as obnoxious, yet it manages to
be hilarious and sincere. Bite-Mite’s magic allows for some of the
show’s trippiest visuals, including an appropriately insane homage
to the classic Looney Tunes’ cartoon “Duck Amuck.” Bonus points
are awarded for featuring the criminally underused Killer Moth. This
episode also features the only time that Calendar Man will ever be cool.
6) The Siege of Starro! Parts 1 & 2
After several Starro the Star-Conqueror teasers early in season two, we finally get a full-on Starro invasion. Batman only has a handful of second-string heroes, including the comedic duo of Booster Gold and Skeets, to remove a ton of mind-controlling alien starfish from the faces of every other superhero in the DC universe. The episode even spices up the standard Starro plot by having a giant monster fight between a massive pile of agglomerated Starro spores and the amalgamated Metal Men. The story takes another turn when goofy D-lister B’wana Beast nobly sacrifices his life to end the alien infestation. This is easily the show’s most affecting death (there’s about six permanent deaths that happen throughout the course of the series) as it comes out of left field in a story that wasn’t set up at all like a grim tragedy. The fact that it even got people invested in B’wana Beast at all is a testament to the quality of the series.
5) Deep Cover for Batman! and Game Over for Owlman!
?The early episodes of B:BatB were light on Batman’s iconic rogue’s gallery so they could broaden viewers’ DC Universe horizons. That’s why it was already a special occasion when we were finally introduced to the Joker. He first appears as the noble Red Hood from a parallel universe ruled by an evil Crime Syndicate, including Batman’s doppelganger Owlman. It’s a keen twist that’s artfully handled with shadows in the teaser, especially if you weren’t aware of the Joker’s origin as the Red Hood. Batman infiltrates this mirror-verse to help the Red Hood free his captured superhero teammates (all counterparts of Batman’s rogues gallery in the main reality) while preventing Silver Cyclone’s universal genocide. In the second episode of this unofficial two-parter, Owlman pops over to Batman’s universe, steals Batman’s original costume, and goes on a crime spree in regular Gotham City. The impostor also assembles a gang of Bat-villains to put Batman’s allies into a series of custom tailored deathtraps. Upon his return, Batman has no choice but to team up with the Joker (this time, the insane arch-nemesis version) to clear his name and vanquish his criminal counterpart. And when that goes poorly (go figure), he brings in various Batmen from other universes to defeat the Batman gone bad.
4) Chill of the Night!
Many people wrongly believed B:BatB was pandering to kids, but this dark, vengeance-fueled episode clears up any such misconception. The story revolves around Batman hunting down his parents’ killer, Joe Chill, while being supernaturally observed by the Spectre and the Phantom Stranger. Not only do we get to see Batman’s parents gunned down without any sugarcoating, we also get a flashback to one of his parents’ costume parties, which helps flesh out Thomas (wearing a proto-Batsuit) and Martha Wayne as real characters. In the present, Batman tracks down present day Chill just before he’s about to auction weapons off to Arkham’s finest, and lets him know exactly what he’s done to him. Batman chooses justice over vengeance, but when Chill asks the villains to protect him from the hero he inadvertently created, it goes as badly for him as you’d expect — and Joe Chill gets his just deserts without Batman having to break his anti-murder oath. This episode is a great Bat-nostalgia trip as it combines voices from B:TAS, including Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Phantom Stranger and the Spectre, and the ’66 TV show, as Adam West and Julie Newmar from portray Thomas and Martha. And because this is a Paul Dini episode, we’re treated to Zatanna in the opener.
3) Mayhem of the Music Meister!
It was likely no coincidence that Brave and the Bold decided to do an all-musical episode right when Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was at its most infamous as a superhero musical debacle. Thankfully, “Mayhem” is leagues above Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. with catchier songs and ad a terrific performance by Neil Patrick Harris as the titular Music Meister, a former marching band geek turned hypnotic supervillain, who is much more interesting than DC’s usual sonic super-criminals. He even possesses the power of the mid-song costume change! This is just a fun romp that you don’t need any knowledge of the DC universe to enjoy (but it doesn’t hurt either). It was so successful that the show added musical numbers to later episodes, proving you don’t need a special occasion to mix superheroics and songs.
2) Battle of the Superheroes!
If there’s one thing that’s absolutely true about comics, it’s this: Superman abusing
his powers to humiliate his friends will always be hilarious. While Superman had a wide variety of excuses to be an asshole back in the Silver Age — as chronicled by the wonderful website Superdickery — “Battle” simply gives Supes a dose of red kryptonite and let’s the fun begin. Batman and Krypto the Super-Dog try to keep Superman busy until the kryptonite wears off, while Superman re-enacts some of his most famous asshole moments from his Silver Age comic covers. The episode ends with Batman in armor that would be familiar to anyone who’s read Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, except BatB doesn’t throw Superman under the bus as a cheap way of
making Batman the ultimate badass. It’s got everything you want out of a
Superman-centric story, except Lex Luthor stealing 40 cakes, which is
as many as four tens. And that’s terrible! But luckily everything else
makes up for it.
This series finale kicks off with Batman and an alt-verse Abe Lincoln kicking the ass of steampunk-cyborg John Wilkes Booth. Meanwhile in the 5th Dimension, Bat-Mite feels B:BatB has become stale and tries to get it canceled in favor of a grim and gritty reboot. To ruin the show, he gives Batman a wife and precocious child, puts him in ludicrous outfits and incarnations like a surfing, gun-toting Batman and Street Strike Batman with a talking Lightning Luge, and, most direly, recasting Aquaman with Ted “Show Killer” McGinley. The only being capable of thwarting Bat-Mite’s mad plan is the Fourth Wall-breaking Ambush Bug as voiced by the original shark jumper, Henry Winkler. (AMBUSH BUG TALKED DIRECTLY TO ME! IT WAS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE!) Bat-Mite’s victory proves pyrrhic, as he (and the audience) are unable to see the cool looking CGI Batgirl cartoon that replaces B:BatB. The show ends with a bittersweet wrap party featuring numerous guest stars and a personal address from Batman himself. An old proverb goes, “Good to begin well, better to end well.” Batman: Brave and the Bold certainly goes out with style.