Monday, January 12, 2015

Recap: Batman: TBATB "The Rise of the Blue Beetle!"

As I’ve said many times before, nothing quite polarizes a crowd quite like Batman. There are fans of Adam West, and there are those who consider him a disservice to the mantle of the Bat. There are some who try to boycott any vocal performance other than Kevin Conroy, and there are those who consider Bruce Greenwood to be the final word. Agree to disagree, blah blah blah; I’ve talked about this already.

But I told that story to tell you this story.

You know that group that claimed that Batman: The Brave and the Bold would be the worst thing since Batman and Robin? And vowed to never watch it (but did anyway just to complain about it)?

I was one of them.

I know, right? Looking at the praise I’ve heaped upon it for the past couple of years, it’s kind of hard to believe. But, surely, after watching the first episode, I changed my opinion, right? Nope. Still hated it. It wouldn’t be until I saw “Invasion of the Secret Santas!” that I changed my mind about this show. So surely, if I look at this episode without being determined to hate it immediately, it will prove to be a classic, right? We’ll see.

Ladies and gentlemen, the premiere episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

Because the Silver Age is not a skeleton to be locked in a closet.
Our episode begins with the Clock King watching the seconds tick away while…. Oh. Right.

The costume.
So, now’s as good a time to mention it as any. This show loves the Silver Age of comics. You know, the ridiculousness of the 60's-70's? "Biff, wham, pow," and all that jazz? The first place you can see it is in the costume designs. Clock King, Green Arrow, even Batman himself; their getups are taken almost directly from the 60’s comics. But it doesn’t stop there. Many plot elements, backstories, and general aesthetics are Silver Age-based. Heck, just consider what’s going on. Clock King is marking the seconds that pass until his clock-themed deathtrap activates and kills Batman and Green Arrow. Why, yes, a vat labeled “ACID” is involved.

Clock King: “At ze precise stroke of midnight, you two shall be… how shall I say? Kaput!”

And in classic bad guy fashion, he leaves to commit another crime instead of making sure they actually die. And in classic Silver Age insanity, he uses a clock that turns into a helicopter platform to make his escape. Now, you might call this ridiculous and cliché. You would also be absolutely right. And it was also ridiculous and cliché on the old Adam West series that this part is a reference to. You know, where Batman and Robin would get tied to a deathtrap only to easily escape it the next day at the same Bat-Time on the same Bat-Channel? The main problem here is that if you either don’t get the reference or don’t know that this is supposed to be a reference, it can come across as just dumbing it down for the little kids.

As the trap activates, though, the dialogue begins. This is where a bit of the irony begins to show up. Instead of an irony-free “Quick! Get my acid-repellant Bat-Spray!” that a truly dumbed-down show would bring us….

Batman: “What is this now, the fifth or sixth deathtrap I’ve been tied up to because of you over the years?”
Green Arrow: “Uh, seventh one. Sorry.”

With some routine teamwork, Batman hits a button on Green Arrow’s belt that activates an arrow in his quiver (high above them because Clock King had the sense to take GA’s quiver and Batman’s utility belt). A remote-controlled arrow activates and splits our heroes’ ropes.

Green Arrow: “Who knew his wristwatch was equipped with knockout gas?”

Batman pulls the Bat-logo off his chest and… wait a minute… a Superman II reference?

You’ve got to have cajones of steel to reference this oft-criticized weapon.
Anyway, he uses it as a Batarang to jam the gears and reverse deathtrap, allowing our heroes to escape and destroy the mechanical bell-ringers. Also, Batman has a lightsaber in his utility belt.

An elegant weapon for a more... Silver Age.
The two agree to clean the King’s clock and leap after a heavily-armed cuckoo as the teaser ends.

"Green Arrow, are we sure that was just knockout gas?"
As teasers go, this is a good one to set up the series. It establishes both the characters and the tone: ridiculous but fun. But if you’re afraid that this show wants to make Batman kiddified and toyetic… it won’t alleviate your concerns. Let’s see what the meat of the episode has in store for us.

Whoops, almost forgot about the theme music. I must be getting used to shows not having intros. It’s a pretty okay title sequence; Batman does random crime-fighting stuff with the names of a bunch of guest heroes in the background. But what’s really great is the music itself. It’s a big band number, similar to the 60’s Batman theme. Or even the James Bond theme. It’s bombastic, fun, energetic, and has a little bit of the 60’s spy vibe to it. Maybe not the most memorable, but I’d rank it up there with pretty much every other Batman theme.

Our story begins in a bedroom filled with Batman memorabilia. Two teenagers are doing what fans do best: arguing over who would win in a fight.

Jaime: “Poison Ivy has used her mind-control spores on Superman to pit her against Batman. Oh! And Batman has no Kryptonite. Who wins?”
Paco: “Easy. Superman.”

Did they just whip out another Superman reference?

You’d think there’d be more, you know, Batman references.
Jaime: “Batman. By using his Kryptonite.”
Paco: “You just said he had no Kryptonite.”
Jaime: “Trick question. Batman always has Kryptonite.”

This is honestly like every Superman vs. Batman message board ever. Unless you’re talking about message boards for the Superman vs. Batman film, which are mainly filled with people talking about the casting. Not that I’ve ever talked about that….

Anyway, they flip through a few TV channels until they find one featuring a news feed of Batman stopping the Clock King.

Jaime: “Punch the clock, baby!”

The day is saved by Batman and Green Arrow, and Jaime gets serious for a second.

Jaime: “Think you could ever see me being a hero, Paco?”

Well, your voice actor, Will Friedle, played the second Batman in Batman Beyond.

Paco:Beep beep beep! Detecting high levels of geek.”

Paco leaves for home, and Jaime gets ready for sleep. But as he turns out the lights, Batman makes his presence known.

Jaime: “How long have you been there?”
Batman: “Whoa. Geek detector’s off the charts.”

I like to think that’s not an answer, but that Batman actually has a geek detector. But Jaime’s still a bit down in the dumps.

Batman: “Secret identity thing’s a bummer, huh?”

Wow, Batman. You sure are hip with the kids these days, boy howdy. As it turns out, there’s a meteor headed for an Earth space station. And Batman needs Jaime’s help. So Jaime activates the alien scarab embedded in his back and suits up to become… the Blue Beetle! Also, if you didn’t already know that going in, shame on you for not reading that Character Study I did two years ago. I write those so you guys will know these things. I am disappoint.

Anyway, they jetpack into space. On the journey, Batman’s inner monologue reveals why he chose Jaime. He could have asked anybody for help. Superman, Green Lantern, anyone. But he chose Blue Beetle to see if he had the right stuff to be a hero. The problem is that it’s not just Jaime that makes up the Blue Beetle. Batman tries to provide a plan of attack, but Beetle’s suit literally has a mind of its own and heads off without instruction. As they fly towards the meteor, they suddenly teleport to an alien planet, where a warlord’s airship rains death upon the local population of giant eukaryotes.

So... I guess this is happening now.
As they go survey the damaged city, Batman surmises from the position of the stars that they’re on the opposite side of the Milky Way.

Blue Beetle: “And you know that just by looking at dots of light in the sky? …Of course you do.”

The three-foot amoebas emerge from their hiding places and greet the strangers, particularly Blue Beetle, whom they call “the great one.” Why, they’ve already got a statue of him built. The aliens (called “Gibbles”) explain that the space pirate Kanjar Ro harvests them every season to use as fuel. Luckily, Blue Beetle stopped him for a while! Well, a Blue Beetle. Though the Gibbles don’t realize it, he’s probably dead now.

Batman: “Or… uh, retired.”

One of the Gibbles goes up to Batman and asks the important question.

Gibble: “Sidekick, why do you not bow?”

Heh. That was funny.

"Don't worry, great one. He shall be put to death as is our law."
Though Beetle wants to set the record straight, Batman actually doesn't. In fact, he whips up a speech praising Blue Beetle which does an amazing job of boosting morale for the little blobs.

Later, on a ridge overlooking the town, Beetle expresses his doubts over his ability to live up to the hype. Batman counters that if he wants to save these little guys, he’ll have to. And Batman believes he can. Batman’s plan is to rely on strength in numbers. Overwhelm the attacking forces through determination while he and Blue Beetle strike at Kanjar Ro himself. All that’s needed is a rousing speech from Beetle.

Blue Beetle: “What, like in a football movie?”

Though he stumbles a bit, Beetle raises the point that he can’t always be there for them, they need to discover the power in themselves, etc.

Blue Beetle: “And so, in conclusion, find the power within and, uh, it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.”
Batman: “They don’t have knees. Now wrap it up.”
Blue Beetle: “Now wrap it up!”
Gibbles: “Now wrap it up! Yaaaaaaaaah!”

Wow, there are actually some good lines in this. I completely forgot.

Night falls, and the Gibbles prepare for war. There’s some Helm’s Deep-ish tension, but Batman reminds Beetle that his head is the best tool he has. Although the shapeshifting armor's pretty good, too.

They attack Ro’s flagship as Kanjar Ro himself sticks a Gibble in the engine, extracting its energy and leaving its remains in a pile of Gibbles in agony. But he emerges from below deck to find Batman, Blue Beetle, and the Gibbles attacking his crew of DC alien cameos.

Kanjar Ro: “You’re looking well for a dead man, Beetle.”

"Seriously. You been working out?"
Kanjar Ro gets his weapon out and starts a-swingin’. Beetle manages to get his suit to work better than usual, and the fight continues as Blue Beetle even saves Batman and lay a smackdown on Ro, to the astonishment of the Gibbles. He even wins, to his own amazement. But because we’re only halfway through the episode, Kanjar Ro survived and escaped into his ship’s armory. He interrupts the premature victory celebrations with the weapon that killed the last Blue Beetle, the Gamma Gong. Its sonic waves disable Beetle’s suit, and Ro easily takes down both Blue Beetle and Batman.

As the armor breaks off of Jaime, Ro takes pleasure in realizing that he succeeded in killing the previous one. He casts Batman and some Gibbles into space, tied to a satellite, as prey for some space monsters. The Gibbles lament that they’re unable to find their “power within,” which gives Batman an idea. He grabs a power cable and hooks it up to one of the gooey little battery-aliens, which fills him with literal power that overwhelms an attacking monster.

Gibble: “Power within!”

Meanwhile, Ro is busy banging his gong, trying to find the correct frequency to separate the blue scarab from Jaime’s spine. Batman and the Gibbles return and take out the crew one by one until they reach Kanjar Ro, who succeeds in separating it. Immediately, Ro grabs it and puts it on to take its power as his own and use it to fight Batman. Jaime, still alive, realizes that it might be a good time to use his head.

Jaime: “What would Batman do?”

Find the nearest twelve-year-old orphan and dress him up in tights?
The answer, apparently, is “hock a loogie on a control panel to short it out and then escape.” Obviously.

As Batman barely manages to survive K-Ro’s onslaught, Jaime unleashes a Gamma Gong blast of his own, separating the scarab. Before Kanjar Ro can use his emergency laser gun, he gets blasted by… a Gibble with a gun hooked up to his body.

Gibble: “I believe we have found the power within.”

Insert putting on of sunglasses here.

There’s a big ceremony for the heroes, and they’re thanked for the knowledge of how to save themselves. Teach a man to fish, and all that. Blue Beetle opens up another wormhole to take them back home, and they arrive just in time to continue to stop the meteor from earlier.

Blue Beetle: “It’s like no time’s passed since we left!”
Batman: “Due to the quantum anomalies of wormholes, none has.”
Batman (voiceover): “Of course, that’s just a fancy way of saying ‘That’s weird.’”

Yes. That's the only weird part of all this.
And as our heroes fly off to finally stop that meteor, Batman monologues internally about what a great hero Blue Beetle will make some day. And so our episode ends. Now let's talk about how this episode holds up.

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