I suppose Batman: The Brave And The Bold had to run with the idea behind “Shadow of the Bat!” at some point during its run. But the fact that the show is playing out this tired Elseworlds scenario now, during the show’s third and final season, is a little disappointing. There isn’t much to the episode: Batman gets bitten by Darla (hehe, Darla), a vampire queen, and winds up running around Gotham, then the Justice League Satellite, biting people and drinking their blood. As far as imaginary stories go, this one’s fairly standard. Batman is now actually more bat than man. I wish the episode had really run with that conceit and brought up characters like Man-Bat ,instead of just being lazy and haphazardly making Martian Manhunter and Etrigan the heroes of the episode. I get why Manhunter was given the spotlight under these circumstances—he is the most powerful one of in the Justice League after Superman, I guess—but there’s got to be a better supernatural foil for Batman other than Etrigan. Little decisions like that make “Shadow of the Bat!” a missed opportunity in spite of some good yuks.
The B-narrative in “Shadow of the Bat!” was passable but honestly felt like a poorly conceived sketch whose sole purpose was to get a gorilla to wear a bat-cowl and beat up a jungle cat. Which sounds like a reasonably bonkers excuse, but don’t be fooled—it’s not. So Jungle Batman and Jungle Robin take on Catwoman, and their fight devolves into a struggle between a jaguar and, uh, a gorilla. A Bat-gorilla. Cute, but I don’t really think that episode writer J.M. Dematteis quite got everything he could have out of the set-up to that fight.
That’s especially disappointing, since it’s not some nameless TV show writer, but rather J.M. freaking Dematteis we’re talking about. If the co-writer of the milestone Justice League Unlimited series, among many others (I’m rather partial to Moonshadow, Dr. Fate, and Brooklyn Dreams), can’t even produce a punchy set-up for a jaguar-gorilla fight, there’s really nowhere to go with that gag. Then again, I’m rather partial to the relatively sophisticated parting shot that Dematteis gave to Batman when Robin grumbles, “And Catwoman gets away unpunished… again.” Batman immediately rebuts, “Does she, Robin?” Catwoman’s last line is inconsequential: The alacrity of Bats’ proud, nonsensical response is worthy of the Adam West era of Batman. Still: an adequate punchline but a weak set-up.
“Shadow of the Bat's” vampire A-narrative was, on the other hand, a played-out scenario with an infrequently entertaining joke or two. For instance, it was nice to see members of Dematteis and co-writer Keith Giffen’s JLU series pop up. I especially liked that Fire and Ice, Booster Gold, and Blue Beetle—the Jaime Reyes Blue Bettle, unfortunately; nothing against Jaime but it's just not Booster Gold and Blue Beetle if the Beetle in question isn't Ted Kord—were there, though a guest appearance from G’nort, Rocket Red, or Guy Gardner would have been great. Which is to say: If you’re going to have Dematteis writing the Justice League into a Batman show, wouldn’t the logical thing be to have him trot out his JLI guys? Or is that too played out?
Regardless, Dematteis really turned out a fairly timid episode tonight. The guy clearly knows the DC universe and should have run with the show’s focus on jokey cameos and other nudge-nudge-wink-wink allusions (there was a freaking Underworld United reference two weeks ago! Come on!). But instead, he cranked out a fairly straight-forward take on an otherwise tired scenario. Once bitten, Batman takes apart the Justice League, member by member, until Martian Manhunter and Etrigan confront and take him apart. You can see the “It was all a dream” conclusion from a mile away (This really isn’t a spoiler at all because it’s such a formulaic staple to the genre).
That having been said, I realize that the key to enjoying an episode like “Shadow of the Bat!” and any episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold as an extension, is realistically focusing on the handful of colorful flourishes that make the show so memorable. There were a couple that I did get a kick out of in tonight’s episode, too, like Aquaman’s amazement at the coupon on men’s apparel that Booster Gold offers him: “15 percent off you say?! By Poseidon, those savings are outrageous!” Aquaman really is a can’t-miss character: There hasn’t been an episode where he hasn’t had a great line or two like that.
Fire and Ice were also given some very good material to work with, like when Batman compliments Ice in order to distract her from the mirror in her compact. She giggles, “I bet that you say that to all the Nordic ice goddesses.” That’s exactly the kind of clever line you should expect from Dematteis, a guy that’s been around the block with these characters many times by now.
I feel defensive for complaining about this already, because Dematteis is someone whose work I've really enjoyed over the years. But it’s not unreasonable to expect a standard level of quality from the show now that it’s almost done. So why not expect more from Dematteis, a guy whose credentials are much longer than even fan favorite Paul Dini, who scripted this season (and the first season’s) Bat-Mite episode? We expect the Dini name to come with certain levels of quality. And while I don’t necessarily expect Dematteis to do a sequel to “Revenge of the Tornado Tyrant” or anything, I did want to like “Shadow of the Bat!” more on its own than I did. As it is, it looked like Dematteis was on auto-pilot, and I expect a lot more from him than that.