Something unusual happened on Go! on Sunday morning. It aired the final episode of the animated kids action cartoon Batman: Brave & the Bold. What made it noteworthy was just how clever and emotionally effecting the final episode of the series was. After 65 episodes (a standard run for most of the cartoons produced by Warner Bros), Batman: Brave & The Bold concluded with an episode that is best described as a love letter to both the series itself as well as the history of Batman as a cross-media character.
For those unfamiliar with the show, Batman: Brave & The Bold stripped Batman of much of the grim & grittiness that surrounds the character and infused him with the same pop-art sensibility that the character had during the mid-60′s at the time of the live action Batman TV show starring Adam West as the caped crusader. Each episode would open with Batman teaming up with a lesser known DC superhero as they fight crime together. Following the opening title sequence, the episode itself would then feature another team-up with other DC superheroes. With the show favouring camp showiness over the dark shadows of recent incarnations of the character, no team-up was too silly. As such, the writers of the series explored as many of the ridiculous characters published by DC over the past 80+ years as they could. The result was a very charming and fun cartoon that was enjoyable for kids of all ages.
The final episode of Batman: Brave & The Bold took the sheer fun of the show into an entirely new metatextual space.
The episode itself was named “Mitefall”, the title itself is a reference to a well-known storyline from the comics “Knightfall”. On face value, this is a bit cute, but with this episode showing the end of the current incarnation of the character, it echoed the Knightfall storyline with its tale of Batman having his back broken and replaced by a grittier character taking over the Batman mantle.
Following the cold open to the episode that has Batman teaming up with Abraham Lincoln to fight the cyborg John Wilkes Booth, the episode itself starts up with Batmite watching the Batman: Brave & The Bold cartoon on his TV. Batmite, an imp from the 5th Dimension who idolises Batman, is bored by the current incarnation of Batman. He laments the fact the current show just isn’t gritty enough and so hatches a plan to get the show cancelled by using his magic to alter the show in such a way as to upset the fans of the show. Part of the plan involves having sitcom staple Ted McGinley added to the voice cast.
Meanwhile, the obscure DC character Ambush Bug (a comic character well known for breaking down the fourth wall and going potty on it) is watching TV himself – a show starring Batmite (seemingly) and resolves to stop Batmite from ruining Brave & The Bold.
What follows over the next 20 minutes is Ambush Bug trying to convince Batman that the reality he believes he lives in is fake, which leads to a number of loving, homage-intended jokes at Batmans expense. Highlights included:
- Batman is given dialogue even more ridiculous than usual, as he fights the ape-villain Gorilla Grodd who is seeking to turn all of Gothams residents into giant bananas. “Be careful not to slip on the citizens, Aquaman”.
- Aquaman himself is no longer voiced by the great John DiMaggio, but rather the aforementioned Ted McGinley.
- Batman, at one point, scales the outside of an apartment building as he abseils up it, a la 1966 Batman.
- The seemingly endless variations on the Batman costume to produce thousands of different action figures is parodied, with Batman given an Alpine Snow costume.
- A Scrappy-Doo inspired nephew ‘Punchy Gee’ is given to Batman’s dog Ace The Bat Hound.
- Batman is relocated from Gotham to Miami where he fights Gorilla Grodd on a surfboard while wearing board shorts.
It was all ridiculous fun that incorporated the long history of Batman, while having a great deal of fun with it. Where the episode went from being a great way to wind down a kids cartoon into being something of greater emotional heft was with its final scenes.
Batmite, finally happy that he’s gotten Batman: Brave & The Bold cancelled, finds that the next Batman cartoon may be much grittier and feature some exciting CGI animation, but is horrified to discover that his beloved Batman character will act in a second tier role to Batgirl. He is then met by Ambush Bug who advises him that a character like himself simply cannot exist outside of a light-hearted cartoon like Batman: Brave & The Bold. With a grittier Batman-esque cartoon on the air, there is no longer a place for Batmite and so he joyfully fades from reality.
But in the scene that is a real kicker, Ambush Bug throws a going away party for Batman. Meeting in the Bat Cave is every hero and villain guest star from the previous 64 episodes of the show. As they all drink and eat snacks as they chat among each other, Batman watches as the Bat Cave sets are dismantled and his reality is taken away from him. Turning to the camera, he farewells his viewers with a cheerful speech that is made all the more sad as you, the audience, realise that this joyous character will never again exist following his monologue.
“And until we meet again, boys and girls, know that wherever evil lurks in all of its myriad forms – I’ll be there with the hammers of justice to fight for decency and defend the innocent.
With those closing words, Batman: Brave & The Bold is gone. It was a slight cartoon that will never be more than a footnote in the ever-increasing library of Batman cartoon series. But, with the closing moments of this cartoon, the life and vibrancy of the characters that inhabit the show adopted a sense of finality that cartoon characters are so rarely ever given.
And it’s heartbreaking.