Friday, October 18, 2013

Battle of the Superheroes

Today is the end of first quarter. Hurray, end of first quarter! Which also means we're halfway through Creative Reading class, which also means we're behind schedule, but that's a problem for another day.

The students finished up their test on the second half of Understanding Comics, and I collected their books. We've finished the theoretical portion of our reading; now it's time to read some good ol' fashioned fiction. Soon we'll be starting Batman Year One. And since we recently spent some time reading Superman stories, wouldn't it be an effective transition to watch something that includes both Superman and Batman? Yes. Yes it would.

So after we finished the test, I showed the class "Battle of the Superheroes," an episode of the cartoon series Batman: The Brave and the Bold from the Season 2, Part 2 DVD.

Brave and the Bold is a lighthearted series aimed at young viewers that ran from 2008 to 2011. Every episode features Batman teaming up with another super-hero, like Green Arrow or Aquaman or Blue Beetle. It's over-the-top, with extensive fantasy and science fiction elements, basically the opposite of the Dark Knight style Batman.

I don't know that I would have hated Brave and the Bold when I was a teenager, but I definitely would have disapproved of it. There is a time in a young man's life when he wants a grim, serious Batman who deals out brutal vigilante justice and then goes home and cries over his dead parents. And then there comes a day when that young man must put his adolescent angst behind him, and admit that maybe, just maybe, fun is not such a bad thing. I used to think that Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns was the definitive version of Batman. Now I think that Batman was invented to entertain children, and while there may be a certain dark edge to the character, he shouldn't necessarily be a brutal sadist. Now that I'm old and wise, the Brave and the Bold Batman is my favorite Batman.

(I guess I should mention that there is no one definitive Batman; I'll talk about that more in the days to come.)

Anyway, there were legal issues that kept Superman from appearing on the show, until this episode. And the creators went all-out to cram in as much Silver Age Superman lore as possible. If you watch this episode, you get all the essential elements of Superman circa 1964, including:
  • Lois Lane trying to get Superman to marry her
  • Jimmy Olsen's signal watch
  • Jimmy Olsen undergoing strange transformations
  • Superman doing random, seemingly evil things
  • Krypto the super dog
  • The Fortress of Solitude
  • The Bottle City of Kandor
  • Green kryptonite
  • Red kryptonite
  • Toyman
  • Lex Luthor
  • Mr. Mxyzptlk
  • Brainiac
Superman inside the Fortress of Solitude, holding the Bottle City of Kandor. 

It's also funny. After Superman seemingly turns evil, there's a scene that goes like this:

Jimmy: "Superman's acting like a di-"
Lois: "-fferent person!"

My students found that wildly amusing. They were engaged throughout, and laughed in the right places, so I guess they're not as snobby about Batman as I was when I was their age.

That said, we'll be starting Batman Year One next week, which my teenage self would totally approve of.


  1. While I wouldn't hold a protest over your choice of corny, kid-friendly Batman as your favorite, I don't understand the appeal of a lesser character over a developed one. Things need not be simpler, illogical, and highly melodramatic to appeal to a younger audience. That may be the most commonly used method to draw them in, but I have only my own childhood to compare to as I am not a parent. My childhood was filled with horrror films, Stephen King novels, and the works of Alan Moore beginning around the age of 12 or so. I also do not have a need for something suitable for my emotionally unready offspring... I have only my own limitations to fret over. I do feel, however, that the reinforcement of Batman as children's fare inadvertently causes public resistance to his usage in a mature context. Using an example beside Batman, if I had to choose between reading Weapon X (for the millionth time) or watching the syndicated X-Men cartoon wherein Wolvie has metal claws to be used for absolutely nothing, I'm going with BWS' tale. You can use a Silver Age character's quaint historic trademarks without the overall quality being lessened as shown in Alan Moore's Superman story published immediately before Byrne's Man of Steel revamp. Mature does not have to mean fatalist, perverse, or hyperviolent... though I am not averse to those particular qualities.

    1. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Batman: The Brave and the Bold is my favorite just because it's kid-friendly. It's a really high quality show. I didn't think it could, but it's displaced the Bruce Timm stuff as my favorite animated version of the DC characters. Because of the team-up format, the show has included dozens and dozens of different characters, from the big-names to the obscure third-raters, and they've had really great interpretations of them. It's been extremely faithful to different eras and styles as well. The big difference is that, in the Bruce Timm Batman cartoons, there were genre restrictions in place that Batman had to deal with more street-level crime than the Justice League. This one puts Batman firmly into a larger super-hero universe, so he's more likely to deal with aliens or time travel than he is with muggers. I'm at a stage where I'm sick of seeing Batman beat up muggers and drug dealers, though, so that works better for me. The character of Batman is basically the same; he's hyper-competent, serious, and focused on his mission. He just has a much broader range of problems to deal with.

      And since the character is basically the same, I would disagree with calling the BtBatB version a "lesser" version. I love Dark Knight Returns and Year One, but in their wake we got a score of lesser writers who picked up on the grim and gritty tone but didn't actually write good stories. In particular I hate the whiny mopey tell-don't-show versions of Batman that go on and on about how tortured he is. And, to make things grim and serious writers introduced the idea that Batman is an unlikable jerk who can't get along with anyone, no matter how much it strains credibility. In recent times, I think most portrayals of Batman have not been particular well-developed or characterized so much as they have forced a one-note characterization and a single tone whether or not it is relevant to the story at hand.

    2. Also, I would say that "simple, illogical, and melodramatic" describes the super-hero genre in general. When people work too hard to make it realistic, I think it usually breaks down.