Double Review: The new Batman and X-Men cartoons

I recently had the chance to catch some episodes of these new series, and thought I’d share my feelings on them here.

Let’s start with Batman: The Brave and the Bold

This is the latest Batman TV show; they decided to give things a new spin this time, by adopting the format of the old 'The Brave and The Bold" comic book series, in which two DC comics characters (usually Batman and somebody else) would meet for a single adventure each issue. It was quite good; I have several of them. This is a great idea for a cartoon; on the one hand, you have the same main, recognizable character (Batman) every episode, and at the same time, you can use any other characters from the DC Universe that you please, and tell some stories that Batman would not usually get involved in (with magic, aliens, etc.)

The series’s format, however, is a bit strange. It actually features TWO stories each episode, one of which goes in the show’s “opening” segment, which is only like FIVE MINUTES LONG! This is usually enough time to show ONE scene of the story, which is exactly what they do; they don’t explain how it the adventure started, or who the guest hero (and the villain) is, they just show Bats and his temporary partner beating him. Why are they doing this? I don’t know for sure. One reason I’ve heard is that they want to introduce to the public heroes that they will use again later (that was the case with Green Arrow, for example) but that doesn’t really work since you don’t learn much about the characters anyway. (My feeling is that they have just TOO many characters to use, and the mini-episodes are a way of squeezing the least important of them in.) I think most people will find this confusing, since the main story that follows the opening almost never has anything to do with it.

As for the stories themselves, they vary wildly in quality- from good enough to silly to even, sometimes, shocking- sometimes within the same episode! For example, in “The Fall of the Blue Beetle” the new Blue Beetle investigates the fate of his predecessor against Batman’s wishes, eventually finding out that he had died in action (and stumbling into the hands of a villain in the process.) It was a good episode, and more serious than most of the others so far, but it DID feature a really absurd moment where BB tries to talk with Batman while Bats was fighting a powerful villain, basically saying “Aww you can handle him easily” DESPITE the fact Bats was obviously getting his ass kicked! Even worse was the Christmas episode where, instead of the seasonal message of joy you’d expect, we find out that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed on Christmas Day. Yeesh.

The series doesn’t do its scientific research well either- in the episode “Journey to the Center of the Bat!” featuring Aquaman and The Atom (a hero who can shrink down in size) the two of them go into Batman’s bloodstream in order to find and destroy some parasites. Cool, except, HOW where they breathing in the blood? Not to mention even speaking! Maybe Aquaman could do it -blood is mostly water after all- but what about Atom? He didn’t even put on scuba gear! Hey, this is something I would have wondered about even as a kid, and I’m sure kids today would too. Not to mention that this episode had a VERY odd “when in trouble, don’t think, use violence!” message that I’m sure parents won’t appreciate.

In general, they’re all typical superhero stories- though without the amount of detail we’ve come to expect from previous Batman cartoons. Its weird- almost as if the show was written by a team of writers with very different ideas as to how it should be done. That the series features a great variety of themes should not be an excuse for inconsistency in the quality of the writing.

Another thing that bothers me is that, while some characters are pretty much the way they are in the comics (or in previous cartoons) others have been redesigned- sometimes radically. Black Lightning as a street thug? Katana wearing a schoolgirl dress? Aquaman talking like Portos of the The Three Musketeers?? Hello? I can understand a writer wanting to put his own “spin” on some of the characters, but some have been changed so much, they might as well be completely new ones.

In summary: The new show is NOT like other Batman cartoons. If you watch it expecting The Dark Knight Batman, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re more open-minded, however, you might enjoy the variety and the humor. The show does need a stronger editorial influence over the quality of its writing, though.

Wolverine and the X-Men

Now this was a surprise. I was not intending on watching this show- I burned out on the X-Men years ago, and Wolverine was never my favorite character in the series. But after catching the first few episodes basically by chance, I’m actually impressed with its quality.

It turns out that the series has a different premise than the average X-men series. It starts with the team disbanded, following the (apparent) death of Charles Xavier. Wolverine discovers a government conspiracy to persecute mutants, and tries to get the team back together. However, most of them have reasons not to return; Logan himself has doubts as to whether he should be the leader. The characters end up taking sides that you would not expect them to- Rogue joins the Brotherhood of Mutants, while the White Queen will (apparently) join the X-Men. The reasons for their choices seem well thought-out (the Angel, for example, feels he can help mutantkind better by working within the system along his rich father.) The villains show some surprising cunning- the Brotherhood tricks the X-men into causing an incident between humans and mutants! As for Magneto? He’s in Genosha, an island nation he’s establishing as a homeland where mutants can be safe, staying out of the main action- so far. While it is a safe bet that the team will soon stabilize into a more typical setup, the writing, especially the dialog, has intrigued me enough to continue watching the series.

The animation, too, is good -although I caught some jerkiness during scene changes in the first episode. Also, some of the character designs strike me as odd- The Toad now looks like a Rastafarian! In general, however, they are OK.

In summary: The show has a good starting premise, good characterization and writing (can we hire some of this show’s writers for Brave and The Bold?) and the animation is pretty good too. This might be the best X-Men cartoon yet (or at least, the one that best captures the atmosphere of the comics and movies.) Recommended.