If You Meta the Batman, Kill the Batman
The seemingly paradoxical nature of the Zen koan adapted for this post’s title is reflected in its subject: Friday night’s series finale of Batman: The Brave and
Screencap from “Mitefall” © 2011 Warner Bros. Animation. Characters TM/® DC Comics.
I expect that fans who loved the series loved the episode, “Mitefall”, whose title is a reference to Bat-Mite, the magical imp who appeared regularly in the often-goofy Batman comics of the early 1960s, and to Knightfall, the grim-’n’-gritty Batman storyline of the early 1990s. (A Mitefall one-shot parodying that era was published in 1995.) It spotlights many of the show’s most popular traits and co-stars B:TBATB’s breakout version of Aquaman — less rooted in past depictions of DC’s sea king than in his pompous Marvel counterpart Namor the Sub-Mariner, with a big nod to Gaston from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Yet “Mitefall” should also appeal to fans who didn’t care much for the series and watched anyhow, as well as those who never saw it — whether by design, indifference, or (my situation for the bulk of its run) lack of access to Cartoon Network — but are aware of its general tone, due to the episode’s grandly deconstructionist premise. The way it calls out many of the specific complaints about the series from those who prefer their Batman in Dark Knight rather than Caped Crusader mode, and the way it references TV tropes in general, are a metafiction aficionado’s dream. My own favorite fourth-wall-breaking antihero pops up (literally) to help save the day, as we see him watching the episode we’re watching, in which Bat-Mite is watching (and tampering with) the episode as we’d been watching it, making the show a self-referential set of Russian nesting dolls.
The bittersweet final scene is a coda that will mean the most to loyal viewers but touched me, too, and certainly makes me want to catch up on the vast swath of The Brave and the Bold that I haven’t seen. Despite my ambivalence over certain components of the show, largely revolving around its tongue sometimes being too firmly in cheek, I can’t deny that its heart is in the right place and the fundamental thrill of seeing so many obscure characters brought to animated life is almost overwhelming. I certainly hope that the art-imitating-art-imitating-art companion series from DC Comics — now drawn by Rick Burchett, who bends his natural style to the designs of B:TBATB producer James Tucker, and written by Sholly Fisch with obvious affection for DC history — will continue publication for a spell.
“Mitefall” was directed by Ben Jones, written by Paul Dini, and storyboarded by
Jones, Andy Suriano, Chuck Patton, Tim Eldred, Jake Casorena, and Lauren Montgomery. Montgomery, frequent director of the DC animated features in Warner Premiere’s straight-to-DVD line, was in charge of the CGI segment that ran as a fake teaser within the episode for the next Batman series on Cartoon Network. Voice talent includes Diedrich Bader as Batman, John DiMaggio as Aquaman and Gorilla Grodd, Paul Reubens as Bat-Mite, Peter Renaday as Abraham Lincoln, Henry Winkler as Ambush Bug, and renowned series killer Ted McGinley as kinda-sorta himself.
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