Here's a perennial headline that pops up in the mainstream press from time-to-time: "Comics aren't just for kids anymore."
Oftentimes that headline may be prefaced with "Biff! Bam! Pow!"
In many ways, these headlines are part of the legacy of the 'Batman' TV series of the 1960s. For decades it was that version of Batman, Adam West's self-serious, yet terminally doofy caped crusader, that many people knew and enjoyed.
Comic readers, though, knew a different Batman. A Batman played straight. A strategic genius and master detective with a tortured psyche taking on sinister and psychotic criminal threats.
Slowly but surely, over time, the stigma created by the TV show was chipped away. In the 1980s Frank Miller's 'The Dark Knight Returns' showed a violent and determined Batman and ushered in the era of "grim and gritty". Alan Moore's 'The Killing Joke' explored the deep parallels of the psychological torment that drives both Batman and the Joker. Grant Morrison's 'Arkham Asylum' rendered the world of Batman with exquisite artistry.
And this summer Christopher Nolan's dark, dramatic psychological thriller, 'The Dark Knight' put the last nail into the coffin of the 1960s 'Batman' legacy...
It's easy to understand fan trepidation over the new Cartoon Network TV series 'Batman: The Brave and the Bold'. It is, in every way, the antithesis of Nolan's movie, and very directly inspired by elements of the Adam West series.
Episode 1, "The Rise of the Blue Beetle" opens with Batman and Green Arrow held captive by Clock King and suspended in an elaborate death trap over a vat of acid. The Clock King here has the full-on clock face, like he originally had in the comics, and not the more subtle designs introduced in later animated shows. His henchmen have the giant words TICK and TOCK on their chests.
If you had any doubts the new show is influenced by the old show, this scene plants a flag in the ground to let you know exactly where it stands.
Bats and G.A. trade gruff banter each slamming the other for the situation they're in, even as they use their super-resources to escape and turn the tables on the villain.
Just as they gain the upper hand we cut to the show's swingin' new Jazz theme song! The opening titles show Batman amid a "city" of typography, running around and rope climbing up buildings, also an homage to the old 1960s show.
By now you get the point. The makers of the new 'Batman: The Brave and the Bold' clearly don't hold the old 60s series up to scorn the way many fans might.
Yet, there's a very important distinction between 'Batman' of the 1960s and 'Batman: the Brave and the Bold' of 2008: While the new animated series is all about having fun, it doesn't make fun of the character.
Yes, this is a Batman who will walk in the light and employ super-sci-fi gadgets. He'll fight the good fight all over the DCU, and not just Gotham City. He'll even crack a joke or (heaven help us) a smile if the situation calls for it.
But the humor of 'Brave and the Bold' grows from the way Batman sees and interacts with his guest heroes. Which makes the nerdy, nervous Blue Beetle the perfect partner for episode one.
This is, of course, the Jaime Reyes flavor of the character, who we find (along with his buddy Paco, looking exactly like Rafael Albuquerque drew them), watching the capture of Clock King on TV news. Paco leaves and Jaime realizes Batman is looming outside his bedroom window.
The show doesn't waste time with any first meetings or origin stories here. The pair have already met and Jaime is already the Beetle. Batman is here to enlist his aid in stopping a meteoroid from destroying a space station. The pair promptly jet into space to stop the crisis.
In his internal monologue, Batman admits he could've asked Green Lantern but he wants to see if Jaime has what it takes to be a true hero.
Jaime's scarab suit unexpectedly opens a worm hole and transports the pair to an alien world, where a previous Blue Beetle was a planetary hero. Batman sees an opportunity to test Jaime and prods the boy into leading his alien fan base to find the power within themselves to stand up to the villain Kanjar Ro.
The interactions between the ever-cool Batman and the jittery and sometimes out-of-control Blue Beetle are nothing short of hilarious. The episode has several laugh-out-loud moments and enough action and plot twists to keep most viewers engaged.
Batman isn't the self-important buffoon that Adam West made him out to be. But he is light-years ahead of Blue Beetle in terms of experience, intelligence and presence. That's what makes the humor work.
In fact, what I was reminded of was the early issues of Grant Morrison's JLA. There was plenty to laugh at whenever Batman interacted with junior members of the team like Wally West and Kyle Rayner. Batman would drop a dry one-liner, clearly meant to mess with his young students' heads. Their awe and fear of Batman was a great source of charm and humor in those comics, and it shows up in this episode of 'The Brave and the Bold' as well.
This first episode definitely had me wanting to watch the next one.
If you can't abide an animated Batman that doesn't look like Bruce Timm drew it, if you can't tolerate a Batman with cool gadgets and colorful sidekicks, if you can't smile along with a Batman that finds humor where it exists, then there is no way for you to enjoy this show.
But if you like great animation design, if you like free-wheeling superhero adventure, if you like to laugh, if you can dig down and find the kid inside yourself, then you'll get a kick out of 'Batman: the Brave and the Bold'.
Comic and cartoons aren't just for kids any more, but every once in a while it's good to find one that is. 'Batman: the Brave and the Bold' most certainly fills the bill.
'Batman: the Brave and the Bold' debuts November 14th at 7:30pm on Cartoon Network.