Saturday, November 29, 2008
SPECIAL EDITORIAL: BRAVE AND THE BOLD Pilot Recap
Okay, so let’s get this thing started.
I endured the experience of seeing the kiddie-fied design of one of my most favorite Bat-villains—
No, what I got here was Dee Bradley Baker’s grating performance as the clock fetishist who bids our imperiled heroes by saying “Auf Wiedersehen” then flies away standing straight up on a giant clock-copter along with his thuggish-looking goons. Didn’t have a problem with James Arnold Taylor’s performance as the Green Arrow—really liked the following exchange:
“Like you never made mistakes before, Bats!”
“The only mistake I made was thinking you could help me!”
I’m not claiming verbatim accuracy with those above written lines, so, word-for-word to get the proper character-to-character exchange, I suggest downloading the pilot from any number of the file-sharing websites or peer-to-peer channels in operation. Plus, if any of you saw the pilot, you’ll know what I’m talking about here.
To get back to
I wasn’t as angry as I thought I might be. Bader did an okay job, considering the tone of the show, the lines he got saddled with and the time with which he had to prep himself for this performance. He did okay. Not great. Not good. But, you know, alright.
When I first learned that Brave and the Bold would exist in some fashion and would serve to soften the Dark Knight character, I felt simultaneously a wan bemusement and, well, disgust. I kept going over and over to myself, “How fucking dare they!” Watching the first five minutes of the pilot, I’m still going “How the hell dare they!” But this time, with less fervor and vitriol. No, my virulent protests wouldn’t get gassed up until the primary plot of the show kicked in, which it did after the theme—the theme, which reminded me somewhat of the intro Cowboy Bebop theme—certainly not its end theme, The Real Folk Blues from the fantastic Seatbelts. Oddly enough, when you consider that in the minutes before the pilot was to air, I immersed myself in a certain amount of meditation, with focus on hating this show as much as a work produced by an artistic team can be hated on by an audience—when you consider that, none of my urge to throw the remote at my TV materialized—as I had predicted to myself—would happen when the very vibrant theme sequence exploded (I felt it seemed like an explosion, because after all, there was no buildup, no “smoke” before the “fire” if you will—there were just loud big band brass music accompanied by 60’s Batman fonts imposed against different colored backgrounds, or superimposed against character action) onto my and millions of other TV sets and computers. And I went to myself, “Interesting!” Never, really, great—similar, again, to Bader’s performance. On its own, I found that it worked. On me, it got me ready for the show.
Then, the show went insanely downhill for me after its title card “Rise of the Blue Beetle” flashed on the screen. This is where I will start my rip of Brave and the Bold.
So, okay, Michael Jelenic is credited as the writer primarily responsible for the upchuck-worthy dialogue our well-liked actors Bader, James Arnold Taylor and Will Friedle are saddled with. Let me once again indulge myself with a brief aside here.
I’m ecstatic to hear Friedle voicing animated characters again. To me, Friedle will always be the excellently written Terry McGinnis. Even if I have to sit through episode after episode of his stomach-churning, Y7-FV dialogue courtesy of Mr. Jelenic, it will be Friedle’s voice delivering them. That’s the way I hope it will always be, that he’ll never lose what is clearly a passion for voice acting. He’s good at it.
Okay, back to the lousy story. We’re introduced to Jaime, this post-puberty fan of Batman, the type who savors every news clipping of the Dark Detective’s exploits through Gotham, and who especially loves analyzing miraculously captured extended news footage of Batman laying the smack down (with a partner, no less—ugh) on some campy villain who’d be totally raped repeatedly in jail by criminals half their size. Guys, it’s to the point where he and his chubby friend, the name of which I don’t care to remember despite the fact that I sat through this hoe-down of a pilot three times, are making cheesy play-by-play calls of Green Arrow’s activities regarding the Clock King’s henchman, then watching Batman tear the Clock King a new asshole before finally throwing him over to hang on the long hand (or the short hand? Ah well . . .) of a life-sized outdoor clock. Oh, and we have to sit through, at the beginning I think, some predictable one-liners about getting the Clock King’s time right or fixing his clock or somesuch nonsense.
After the news, Jaime’s friend teases Jaime about his “geek level”. Here on out, it should become a fucking mandate that all character exchanges featuring teenagers should be constructed to mirror, even within the suffocating constraints of episodic animated television for Saturday mornings (this was a prime-time premiere, but its still a Saturday morning cartoon that just happens to be airing in a weeknight primetime slot), real-world dialogue shared amongst human adolescents. Hell, Batman Beyond and Invasion: America were relatively successful at doing this, so BatBold doesn’t even have that hook to be let off of. Come to think of it, even The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest was more successful at ingraining its teen characters with believable dialogue. You know what, I’m having fun here—I’ll take this one-step further. I have heard more believable dialogue from the direct-to-video Scooby-Doo features, featuring teens, than the few on Brave and the Bold. Between those two teen characters, there were two funny lines. Both effective lines belonging to Jaime with an assist from the inflexion Friedle’s voice provided them—and an another assist from voice director Andrea Romano.
In one of the least credible story arcs ever animated (in my opinion), Batman shows up to Jaime’s window and recruits Jaime for what will soon become a galactic space adventure (?). Jaime wears his Blue Beetle costume, his transformation sequences taking up an entire human era, during which I yelled out, “This is not fucking Power Rangers, you dicktards!”, before joining Batman on his journey into deep space.
They soon find themselves in the middle of yet another galactic struggle for power. One race finds themselves teetering on the edge of extinction because their bodies are harvesting crazy amounts of naturally-occurring energy—and the other race wanting to kill them by extracting that energy using the most brutal methods conceivable. Kanjar Ro, another bipedal extraterrestrial villain archetype we have come to know if not love, reminds me, a bit, of Khan from the second Star Trek film. That’s higher praise than his one-note characterization deserves, I am aware, but Jelenic did well enough by him to not make Kanjar a complete ass-clown.
Anyhoo, after Jaime-as-Blue-Beetle gives a less-than-rousing speech to the blob-like race (during which, he cuts together a hilarious statement about this not being a football film) known, I think, as the Gibbles (yeah, Gibbles) they proceed to attack the enemy floating ship fortress. He takes Kanjar Ro down faster than Tyson took out Lou Saverese, though this is due largely to plot constraints. Blue Beetle then gloats, rather predictably when you take into account Jaime’s maturity level, about his quick victory over Kanjar, prompting some groans and headshakes from Batman. What Batman was doing is what I was doing from the very minute the crime fighters left Earth’s atmosphere.
Then Kanjar Ro gets up to prove that Blue Beetle isn’t the badass that he wants those little extra-terrestrial blobs to believe, and proceeds to lay the smack on BB as the Team Kanjar henchmen dispatch a couple Gibbles. Kanjar gets the magikal scarab (through one of the most ridiculous plot contrivances I’ve seen anywhere, and for my money a rip-off of Spidey 3’s device for defeating Venom) and uses it on himself, as he wished he had done the first time he took down the Blue Beetle (when apparently another guy was wearing the suit, and was killed off by Kanjar). Batman gets beat up, tied up (again!), then saved by one of those alien blobs who says something like “I’ve discovered the power within” or something to that effect—I’m writing this for the people who did put themselves through the pain of watching this tripe, so y’all know what I'm talking about here. If not, go illegally download this off some bit-torrent. If you care that much.
Jaime uses the same lame plot device that caused him to lose his power to defeat Kanjar, and learns a couple lessons about Teamwork and Humility, and off they go to the Gibble-Alien-Blob territory to be formally recognized and honored with larger-than-life statues which look composed of Earth-like material but is obviously primarily made up of foreign substances. At first, I was arching back my hand to hurl the remote at my TV in anticipation of another nonsensical speech by Jaime the Blue Retard Beetle; I was spared of that wretchedness, thankfully. It also happened to be one of the things I was thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner, as well.
One final thing about this first episode (I’m of two minds as to whether I should even insult the concept of a series pilot by bestowing such a distinction upon this first Brave and the Bold episode) was the freeze frame at the end. Yeah, they went there, didn’t end the ep right as far as I was concerned (would’ve liked to see what they were able to do with that asteroid), but it wouldn’t be quite like polishing a turd if they gave us a minute more of Jaime on Earth, thinking this whole superhero thing over—and at least making some effort to demonstrate how Jaime’s character was affected (while still making the tone of the show) by his experiences fighting for this alien race, against what could have been his killer. That he narrowly avoided the fate of the last hero to wear the Blue Beetle get-up doesn’t faze him in the least, and that my friends compromises his entire character arc—to the extent Jaime was allowed to have one. And then, the freeze frame, seemingly just to spite us. I’m thinking at this point, there hasn’t been an episode of episodic television that has closed out with anything other than a fade straight or jump cut to black in at least a decade! And this crapper, to be followed nearly immediately by the equally-wretched Star Wars: The Clone Wars, thinks that it can get away with a fuckin’ freeze frame and not get called out. Well, maybe if this were World’s Finest, but James Harvey or Zach Demeter I am not. I’m emphasizing that shit—Rise of the Blue Beetle ended with a motherfucking freeze frame!
In conclusion, Batman: The Brave and the Bold is colorful, energetic, relentlessly eager to please but ultimately empty even by the low standards of budget children’s entertainment. I’m not criticizing this show (as I hope is clear by now) because it contains elements of camp and flights of fancy—there are some shows (Fringe and the animated Secret Saturdays come to mind) that do that kind of thing well. But that Warner Bros. Animation tried to pull that kind of thing off with Brave and the Bold, with Batman at the helm, a show that should’ve stayed on the comics page, a character that had no fucking business going into outer space (and, no, I don’t mean to the Watchtower or a neighboring planet—I’m talking the other damn solar system-kind of adventure) and he had no fucking business fighting a guy with an actual functioning clock for a mask and being stuck (with the exception of Green Arrow) with partners who for the most part aren’t worth a shit—hell, we just saw Mumbai’s human antiterrorism squad embarrass the hell out of these overly super-powered hero wannabes. Just goes to show you, special powers don’t mean a damn thing if you’re not using them the right way.
I’ve decided that I’m going to take Brave and the Bold on an episode-by-episode basis. The only reason why I’m putting myself through further pain is that there were reports, on Newsarama and Toonzone and a couple other reputable sites and forum boards, that claim there were some Brave and the Bold episodes that were going to take a serious turn or two. That the tone of each ep would vary—largely based on the plot. Now, personally, I should probably surf World’s Finest and wait until some of these eps air and judge from the review whether I should give time I will never get back to these episodes. But, masochist that I am, that choice seems to me like a cop-out. If I decide to write another editorial, it will contain my reactions to about five or six Brave and the Bold episodes up until the no-bullshit “serious” episodes, after the airing of which I’ll likely stop watching. Let it be written here. It is not a matter of if I will stop watching, but when. And after I stop watching, I will go back and view some of the WB’s more sophisticated animated masterworks (season-packs of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited), using them as a soothing tonic antidote to the afflictions I contracted as a direct result from exposure to Brave and the Bold stories.
And I’ll go on pretending that the only Batmans that exist (or deserve to exist) in our universe and parallel universe are the ones that Burton, Nolan, Kevin Conroy, Jeremy Sisto, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Randy Rogel, Alan Burnett and Boyd Kirkland and above all, Bob Kane, gave us.