April 9, 2008
I've been catching up on what's been going on in the entertainment world and just discovered today that Warner Bros. Animation's Batman: The Brave and the Bold is premiering on Cartoon Network this fall. Featuring weekly team-ups with characters from the DC universe, Mediaweek describes the new show as "a more lighthearted throwback to the Batman of the 1960s and '70s, before The Dark Knight franchise turned the cowled crime fighter into an angst-ridden existentialist."
Well. As any Bat-fan worth their salt knows, the lighthearted phase of the caped crusader's career was an aberration (albeit one that lasted about 20 years) in the character's 69-year history. Prior to the evisceration of superhero comics after World War II, Batman's roots were firmly in the pulps, a "weird creature of the night" in the spirit of the Shadow.
Now, I'm a firm believer in the malleability of even established characters. None of the currently popular superheroes in comics or onscreen is exactly as they were when they made their debuts. And witness my praise of derivatives like Batman Beyond, among other things. But this still strikes me as a curious step. As a brand—and marketing people and execs are always all about the brand—Batman has been the Dark Knight for over twenty years now. In comics, he gradually started returning to his more grim roots in the 1960s; in animation, his last appearance as "chummy Batman" was in 1986.
So at this point, everyone of voting age pretty much knows Batman in his new (or, if you like, old) persona. How exactly does it promote the Batman brand to make him more "lighthearted," especially on the heels of a new Christian Bale movie? For this they axed The Batman, which I thought walked the line between Saturday morning-light and Dark Knight-sombre pretty well?
I guess we'll have to wait and see how this latest incarnation of Batman turns out. Handled well, it could work out. There's a precedent: when the Justice League comic was rebooted in the 1980s with Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis at the helm, it featured as much comedy and slapstick as it did action. Batman's character (or, in marketspeak: brand) was completely intact, and the contrast between him, his teammates and the situations they found themselves worked brilliantly. Let's see the Brave and the Bold team can be as creative as that when they go "lighthearted."