Like last week’s episode, “Night of the Batmen” is a stock imaginary plot that I’m pretty surprised Batman: The Brave and the Bold’s writers haven’t tackled yet. Thankfully, “Night of the Batmen” is significantly stronger than “Shadow of the Bat” largely because it’s more imaginative and more consistently entertaining.
Before I address why “Night of the Batmen” is the better episode, allow me to digress a while for the sake of providing some scanty context for tonight’s episode. If you’re allergic to pedantic discussion of a trend in the popular discourse on comics (I remain a contributing writer for The Comics Journal, after all), skim this next graf or just skip ahead to the one after it.
Ahem. The take-away message from “Night of the Batmen” is pretty much the same one that Grant Morrison has been toying around with in his Batman comics for a couple of years now (since 2006!). In Morrison’s hands, that message is “Batman can’t die!” In the hands of “Night of the Batmen” writer Paul Giacoppo, it’s “Gotham needs a Batman.” No matter who wears the mantle or what his costume looks like, Batman has, for all intents and purposes become a modern archetype. That concept is, generally speaking, rather self-serving coming from a professional comic writer. But in Giacoppo’s hands, it’s just another iteration of the staid and ineffectual, if intriguing, argument that contends that superheroes are the latest expression of the classical heroic tradition. Anyone that tries to make that argument is guaranteed an uphill struggle. Because it’s almost nigh-impossible to make flamboyant characters look respectable and immortal (Remember Frank Miller’s scattershot The Spirit adaptation? I thought not.). Which isn’t to say that it can’t be done: Morrison’s doing a great job with his never-ending mega-arc on Batman and all of its attendant titles.
“Night of the Batmen” doesn’t take itself too seriously but you can see it straining to make a light stab at relevance. Batman is essential, which is why Vigilante sings his praises in tonight’s episode’s B-story. In this opening number, which I kinda hoped was the opening number in an episode-long reprise of “Mayhem of the Music Meister,” the series all-singing episode (one of the best in the show, if not the best), Vigilante sings about how Batman fulfills a very basic imperative: “Someone’s got to stand up to all this sin.” And he does and he makes it all look so easy, too.
Which is entirely the point of the A-story of “Night of the Batmen,” wherein Batman gets injured and Green Arrow, Aquaman, Captain Marvel and Plastic Man all pretend to be Batman so that Gotham does not remain Batman-less while the Caped Crusader heals. The fact that none of these characters are working together to fight Batman’s rogues gallery is one of the reasons why the episode’s main narrative doesn’t move as briskly or as the show does when employing one of its usual team-up plots. Green Arrow fights crime as Batman, laments “How does Batman do this alone?” then back to Batman healing in the Justice League Satellite under the doting care of Martian Manhunter. Replace Green Arrow with Aquaman, Captain Marvel and then Plastic Man and you’ve got most of the episode.
For that reason, “Night of the Batmen” works best whenever the heroes set themselves apart and realize for themselves why they are not as good as Batman. In other words, the humor of tonight’s episode leavened its self-seriousness significantly, which is such a no-brainer that it should probably go without saying. It’s especially true about “Night of the Batmen” however because, in realizing their short-comings, the characters realize why they each can’t be Batman and what traits they have that make them almost as good as him. Plastic Man’s fight with Catwoman at the Gotham Zoo was especially effective as it was all about, well, flexibility. Wearing his usual speedo and oversized eyegoggle, Plas’s Batman can keep pace with Catwoman because, unlike Green Arrow, who lacks the stamina to take on a parade of Bat-villains all in a row, he thinks with his body: “But I’m just like the real Batman. Y’know, adaptable?”
The episode really starts to come together during the group finally confronts the Joker and he reveals his plans to take his giant organ-guided jack-in the-box-of-doom and fly around city to city destroying things. But by then, you realize just how limited the episode’s punchline is. They have to come together and fight as a group of Batmen in order to take Joker down, a feat that the injured Batman does almost instantly by episode’s end.
So to recap: the moral of “Night of the Batmen” is: “Batman can do everything four superheroes can do because he’s Batman! Zowie!” Which isn’t exactly a hard fact of life but it does stand to reason. So I can’t really fault Giacoppo too much for being modestly successful at achieving his myopic goal. There could have been more to “Night of the Batmen” but for what it is, it’s good enough.