Sunday, September 1, 2013

Recap/Review: Batman TBATB, "Legends of the Dark Mite!"

Hello again, readers of the NewtCave! Well, we had another poll, we did.  And all of… nine people voted!  A new record high! And so, without further ado….

Wait, you all voted for “Legends of the Dark KNIGHT?” 

Smeg, I reviewed the wrong episode. Um…  well, don’t worry, Batman TAS: “Legends of the Dark Knight” is coming within the next few days, and that’s a promise! Until then, I present to you a near-homonym!

Ladies, gentlemen, and Kryptonians, a Recap/Review of Batman: the Brave and the Bold, “Legends of the Dark Mite.”

Contains 95% of the recommended daily allowance of Silver Age.
The episode begins with the series’ customary teaser.  We open on a rare Sumatran Tiger in a cage in the middle of the jungle, as a vile villain by the name of Catman is auctioning it off to the highest bidder among various criminal scumbags.  Why, yes, Catman does look like an orange and yellow Batman.  That’s an odd question to ask.  After the bidding passes the four-million mark, Batman’s voice and fist both chime in.
Batman:  “Twenty!”
Batman:  “Years to Life!  Up the river!”

Meh, not a great pun.  In this series, Batman makes a LOT of puns pertaining to the length of jail sentences, so I’ve gained a discriminating palate when it comes to that particular brand of wordplay.

This dog is manlier than you.
Catman retaliates by rallying the various black market scumbags to bum rush Batman, but the Dark Knight quickly begins taking them all out before demanding that Catman release the tiger.  Catman obliges, and the tiger instantly goes after Batman.  Batman dodges the beast and whistles for backup.  It arrives, in the form of Ace, the Bat-Hound!  He’s got a little mask and everything, it’s really cute.  Ace leaps into action and actually tackles the tiger.  Literally tackles.  Following that, it delivers a devastating flurry of attacks that lead the tiger to flee back into the jungle.

As Catman tries to flee, Ace catches up with him and corners him up a tree, where he surrenders.  Batman gives Ace a bat-shaped dog treat, and the teaser ends.

Ace the Bat-Hound was a fairly regular staple of the Batman comics during the goofiness of the Silver Age.  And if you think that was ridiculous, you must’ve never read a Silver Age comic.  The weirdest is yet to come….

After the opening titles, the episode proper begins on an establishing shot of a Gotham City bank, before quickly cutting to the exploding bank vault contained within.  A couple of two-bit crooks rush in and start looting, then suddenly, dramatically framed in the doorway, is the Dark Knight himself!  Oddly enough, the show seems to have a narrator now, as everything in that last sentence after “start looting” was said by a disembodied voice in the episode itself.  What’s even more interesting is that Batman himself seems to have heard the voice, as he comments that he doesn’t need a play-by-play.

The confused robbers surrender to Batman right away, causing the same voice to demand that they grab the bags and attack him.  As if moved by some outside force, they confusedly oblige against their will.  Batman starts to realize that something’s up, and the criminals surrender again.  The disembodied voice cries out in despair, and decides to “raise the stakes.”  Suddenly, more goons poof into existence along with enough Tommy Guns to go around.  Deciding that they like them odds, they open fire at Batman, who leaps out of the way.  The voice is utterly pleased, and demands to see the same trick pulled on several of the goons who transform into ninjas.  To even the odds, swords suddenly appear in Batman’s hands.

Careful, Batman, you're taking a -2 penalty to both rolls. (It would be more, but he has the 2-Weapon Fighting feat.)
The play-by-play continues as Batman makes quick work of the ninjas, before throwing down his swords and demanding that the voice show himself.  After teleporting to the top of a building, Batman is introduced to… his number one fan!

 Yep, that little guy.

Bat-Mite:  “My real name’s unpronounceable to humans, but you can call me… Bat-Mite!”

Unpronounceable?  Not really, 5th dimensional names just have no vowels.  Most of the time.  I mean, Bat-Mite’s equivalent for Superman is called Mr. Mxyzptlk.  That’s hard to figure out, but once you know that it’s just "MIX-yes-SPIT-lick," it’s no trouble at all. Perhaps I should back up real quick. 

Okay, much like Ace the Bat-Hound, Bat-Mite was a product of the Silver Age Batman books.  Because of the newly-introduced Comic Code censoring the gritty crime-related content, comic books got really… goofy.  Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen started gaining random super-powers, the Joker became a prankster, and Batwoman was introduced to persuade parents that Batman and Robin weren’t gay for each other.  It was an odd time.  Out of this strangeness, Bat-Mite was created.  Bat-Mite is an omnipotent being from the fifth dimension, and for some odd reason he’s obsessed with Batman.  And in this episode, he’s voiced by Pee Wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens.

Back in the episode, Batman politely brushed off this cosplaying little weirdo, and ziplines away.  Bat-Mite follows him and begins geeking out about Batman’s ninja fight.  Again, Bats zips away.  Again, Bat-Mite follows with ease.  Batman questions Bat-Mite, who reveals that he’s from the 5th Dimension and explains that his higher-dimensionality gives him abilities that seem magical to 3D-ers.  Batman’s quickly reminded of Mr. Mxyzptlk, and is no doubt trying to figure out how to get Bat-Mite to say Etim-Tab.

Bat-Mite professes his admiration of Batman again, and Bats zips off again.  Has anyone noticed a pattern, yet?  Landing near the Batmobile, Batman is again followed by Bat-Mite, who states that he got sick of all the guest characters take up valuable screen time (not a joke, that’s really what he says) and that he’s here to help Batman become the greatest hero of all time.  Batman tells him to leave, but Bat-Mite immediately starts coming up with ways to improve Batman, starting with the costume.

In quick succession, Bat-Mite snaps his fingers and changes Batman into: 
  • The Batman from the Red Rain graphic novel (dismissed by Bat-Mite for being “too Dracula”)
  • A horse-mounted Don Quixote (“Too dashing”) 
  • Adam West as Batman (“Too campy”) 
  • George Clooney as Batman, complete with nipples on the Bat-suit (“Too icky”) 
  • “Zebra Bat-Man” from a Silver-Age story (“Too confusing”) 
  • Batman as drawn by Frank Miller (“Too psycho”)  
After the last one, Batman tells Bat-Mite to stop.  Bat-Mite changes him back to normal, and Batman explains that he’s not in it for the glory; he fights crime because it’s the right thing to do.  This, however, just gives Bat-Mite ideas.  Bat-Mite prepares to summon a real challenge for Batman to fight, considering Gorilla Grodd, Solomon Grundy, and Shaggy Man, but Batman tricks him into summoning a very confused Calendar Man.

Batman tells him to take a dive, and pretends to hit him.  Calendar Man overacts fainting, and Batman tries to get Bat-Mite to leave.  

Bat-Mite:  “That wasn’t a fair fight!  You’ve got skills and weapons!  All he’s got is a daily planner.”

"Oooh!  I could summon a horde of angry secretaries
 demanding to be called 'Administrative Professionals!'"
So Bat-Mite takes it upon himself to beef Calendar Man up, turning him into the Calendar King, complete with both muscles and the ability to summon any holiday mascot to fight for him. 
Okay, I’m going to apologize in advance to anyone that I might offend with this... But Calendar King should totally summon zombie Jesus.  Wielding his cross in one hand, throwing his thorny crown like a boomerang with the other. 
You know what?  Why limit ourselves to American, or Christian holidays? 
Calendar King could use the powers of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha to summon Abraham to sacrifice Batman to his God!  Heck, he could use the powers of the Day of the Dead and summon EVERYONE WHO EVER DIED.  Or even the Hindu holiday of Ganesh Chaturthi, summoning Ganesha, A FRICKIN’ GOD to fight for him!  Or Hanukkah and summon…  I don’t know, a dreidel, mayhaps?

Now that I’m going to hell for my blasphemy in several different religions, let’s continue. 
Calendar King summons an army of Halloween jack o’ lanterns (nice), a legion of biker Santas (interesting choice), and a few super-strong Uncle Sams (not a bad choice, I would have had them riding giant eagles, like a hobbit).  They all rush Batman as Bat-Mite erupts in fits of fanboy glee.  Batman takes out the jack o’ lanterns with explosives as Bat-Mite cheers him on, before getting roped up by a Santa’s jingle bells.  He escapes, and manages to take the fat man out.

Bat-Mite tells Calendar King that he might want to send in reinforcements, and he considers robot leprechauns and angry leprechauns, before deciding on mutant Easter bunnies.  So close, and yet so far.  Even Bat-Mite questions this decision, wondering if this is all getting to be over-the-top, and so he pauses the episode to get the opinion of other Batman fans.  No, seriously, he even goes to a convention hall.  Specifically, the "Fifth Dimension 267th Annual Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Animation, Anime, Gaming, Action Figure, Role-Playing, Vintage Toy, Collectible Card Game, Pop-Culture, & Tiddlywinks Convention."  No, seriously.  Bat-Mite’s at the podium, like it’s a Comic-Con Panel, and the room is filled with people in Batman-related costumes.  People are dressed up as TAS-style Batman, The Batman Batman, Adam West Batman, Christian Bale Batman, and more.  A guy in the back raises his hand, and Bat-Mite calls on him.  The Bat-Fan (strangely enough, also voiced by Batman’s voice actor, Diedrich Bader) gives his complaint on the Brave and the Bold series.

Bat-Fan:  “I always felt Batman was best suited in the role of “gritty, urban, crime-detective,” but now you guys have him up against Santas?  And Easter bunnies?  I’m sorry, but that’s not my Batman!”

After deliberation at the panel, Bat-Mite responds with the following quote that you may have seen on my site before:

Bat-Mite:  "Batman's rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways. To be sure, this is a lighter incarnation, but it's certainly no less valid and true to the character's roots as the tortured avenger crying out for mommy and daddy. AND BESIDES, THOSE EASTER BUNNIES LOOK REALLY SCARY, RIGHT?!"

To which Bruce Timm and Paul Dini (the people behind the fan-favorite Batman, the Animated Series), dressed as the Joker and Harley Quinn, simply respond: 

Bat-Mite declares mutant-bunnies a go, and the action resumes!  Batman swiftly takes out all the holiday icons, and uppercuts Calendar King to the ground, where he reverts into the small, frail, Calendar Man.  Bat-Mite celebrates the victory, and starts planning to bring in more villains, but Batman stops him.  He suggests that, if Bat-Mite truly values Batman’s abilities, then he wouldn’t want Bats to waste them fighting criminals for no reason.  Bat-Mite sadly agrees, and Batman basically politely tells Bat-Mite to shove off.  He also bribes Bat-Mite by autographing a Batarang for him.  (I love how the pen he uses has a bat-symbol on it.)  Bat-Mite takes his souveneir, squees, and poofs away, leaving an exhausted Batman behind in the bank vault he started in with the original two criminals.  He punches them out, and goes off on his way.

After he arrives back at the BatCave, he starts complaining about Bat-Mite to his dog, Ace, as another Ace shows up in the background.  Turns out that the “Ace” he was talking to was actually Bat-Mite in disguise.

Batman:  “Uh-oh.”

Bat-Mite decides to learn Batman a lesson, so he zaps them both off to… Acid-trip-land, presumably.  Flying saucers,  and various monsters from assorted Batman comics making cameos assault Bats, and Bat-Mite declares that if Batman won’t be his hero, he’ll be his toy, instead.  After we come back from commercial, Batman flees his various foes, and tries to flee a giant Bat-Mite, unsuccessfully.  Getting an idea, Batman sits on a mushroom, and does nothing.

Bat-Mite poofs down from above and begins to beg Batman to keep fighting.  He doesn’t.  Instead, Batman suggests that instead of blindly worshiping him, Bat-Mite should be Batman.  Bat-Mite ponders this possibility that he’s never considered before, and approves.  After he transforms himself into a Super-Bat-Mite, Batman begins to narrate a situation for him.  (In classic Batman: TAS style!)

Gorilla Grodd has just stolen some technology, and Bat-Mite gets his butt kicked for a bit.  With some coaxing by Batman, Bat-Mite defeats him by making him slip on a banana peel.

Batman:  “Irony.  Good.”

In the ensuing explosion, Bat-Mite falls down a hole and is quickly surrounded by Silver-Age Batman villains.  He beats them up in a manner echoing the Adam West show’s animated intro, but they’re just too powerful.  They all begin to attack him (in a sequence paying homage to the Looney Tunes short “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery), and Bat-Mite find himself unable to cope.  After a few minutes of Looney Tunes and Silver Age-inspired fleeing, Bat-Mite begs for help, so Batman comes in and quickly curbstomps each villain in turn, with Bat-Mite even joining in for the last few.

Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, Bat-Mite!
As the imaginary world around them crumbles, Bat-Mite apologizes to Batman and puts himself down.  Batman tells him that instead of blindly following in another’s footsteps, Bat-Mite should go his own way.  Bat-Mite thanks Batman for the advice and for the time they spent hanging out, and poofs away, leaving Batman back at his cave with Ace (the real one).

Meanwhile, Green Arrow foils a robbery by Copperhead, and hears a voice from the shadows.  Turning around, Green Arrow finds a familiar-looking short guy in a Green Arrow costume, telling him that he’s Green Arrow’s “biggest fan.”

And with Bat-Mite telling the audience, "That's all, Folks!" a la Porky Pig, the episode ends.

"Th-th-th-th-it's over!"
Final Thoughts/Review 
This episode was really good, but perhaps its quality is lessened if all the continuity cameos and references go over your head, I wouldn't know; I'm too busy geeking out.  Still, the episode’s message of “Go out and make something of yourself” is a good one, especially in this day and age of people sitting on their lazy duffs and playing video games.

The animation was above average for the series, with many nice touches to be found throughout the episode.

In order to explain why this episode needed to explicitly defend the series itself, let me tell you all a story.  Before Batman: TBATB came out, when fans of the character heard that the next cartoon would be lighter and softer, they (myself included) panicked, and understandably so.  Although many love the Adam West series, it cemented the idea of Batman as the goofy “Biff, Zap, Pow,” bat-shark-repellant, Holy-Guacamole-Batman character.  It took the combined efforts of creators like Neil Adams and the Tim Burton films to undo a lot of that damage, turning the once-laughing-stock character into a complex, well-respected, 3-dimensional character, paving the way for powerhouse adaptations like the Dark Knight Saga.  This is why less-serious adaptations of the character are often met with an instant hatedom.  However, early suspicions were that this lighter and softer adaptation would just be kiddified to the detriment of the source material. 
It wasn’t. 
Batman: the Brave and the Bold is, in fact, a love letter to the Silver Age.  All of the goofiness, strangeness, and trippy-ness of the 60’s comics, along with the modern respect for the character as well as his roots.  In short, Batman: the Brave and the Bold is my favorite Batman series because it respects the character’s history and it can still deliver great story-telling and occasionally tear-jerking drama while portraying an oft-overlooked time in Batman’s publishing history.

Besides, those Easter bunnies were really scary, right!?

See you next time!

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