Batman: The Brave and The Bold is a cartoon that only ran from 2008 to 2011. But in its short run, the show managed to take a fun and wildly imaginative look at The Caped Crusader that few have had the courage to do since Adam West’s Batman. Rather than embrace the darkness like The Dark Knight Trilogy that ran at the same time, the series eschewed those tones in favor of outlandish action, kooky villains, bright colors, and comedic themes.
The Dark Knight himself remained a brooding figure of justice, but he still managed to have fun and was surrounded by a colorful cast (including an amazing, boisterous version of Aquaman voiced by John DiMaggio). The show is a testament to the fact that Batman is a strong enough character to allow many different successful interpretations.
But one of the series’ crowning achievements is an episode that threw away the brightness for a brief but beautiful journey into The Dark Knight’s dark soul: “Chill of the Night!” (All The Brave and the Bold episode titles have an exclamation mark) When Batman finally discovers the identity of the man who killed his parents in front of his eyes, he has the chance to fulfill the dark desires he has longed for year after year. But will he choose vengeance or justice?
Getting to the Heart of Batman
Like all episodes of the series, “Chill of the Night!” begins with a cold open showing a brief adventure before the main titles. This time, Batman and Zatanna battle the wizard known as Abra Kadabra. It’s the typical fun and simple adventure that is commonly shown in the cold opens. But once it is over, one of the best Batman stories in recent memory begins.
The episode starts with young Bruce and his parents exiting a theater after watching “The Mark of Zorro” and entering a dark alley as the future Batman dreams of one day being a hero. The sweetness of the scene is cut short as a robber interrupts the happy couple, killing Bruce’s parents as he hopelessly looks on. From then on, Bruce is forever changed.
The short and simple nature of the scene is what gives it so much impact. We see a loving family, the devastation brought by murder, terrible sadness in a young boy’s eyes, and a mythical rise as he becomes Batman. It’s pure emotion with no pretense and it immediately gives the episode real storytelling heft. The fact that this episode comes halfway into the second season and shows tragic origins that had only been briefly mentioned before shows that the writer was ready to play hardball.
And who is that writer? None other than the incomparable Paul Dini, creator of a vast majority of Batman’s greatest television episodes. Including one I previously covered, “Heart of Ice.” The man knows Batman like few others.
Vengeance or Justice?
Now in present day, two supernatural beings, The Phantom Stranger, representing justice, and The Spectre, representing vengeance, know that Batman will soon confront the man who killed his parents. Each wager on the path they believe Batman will follow. Whatever Batman chooses will forever set his course in life, unrelenting vengeance or a commitment to justice.
As The Dark Knight makes progress in his investigation of the murder, The Phantom Stranger gives him the chance to interact with his parents in the past, sharing a brief but sweet moment with them. Afterward, The Spectre gives him the opportunity to discover the killer’s identity, Joe Chill. With his newfound insight, he embarks on a path with an end that even he is not sure of.
Batman doesn’t kill, especially not the version found in The Brave and The Bold. But when confronted with the opportunity to finally wreak vengeance on the man that shattered his life and took away the two people he loved most, the idea of Batman killing Joe Chill is completely understandable. On the other hand, taking a life would effectively destroy everything that Bruce stands for in the crusade against crime. It’s this tug of war that turns the episode into a fantastic look at what makes Batman truly tick.
The dark subject matter is matched by the color palette of the show. Most of the episode is drenched in shadow, a stark contrast to the typically bright look of the show in general.
It all culminates in a battle that not only involves Joe Chill, but leads to Batman fighting nearly every single members of his rogues’ gallery. It’s a daunting challenge, even for this seemingly unbeatable version of The Dark Knight. But this is a Batman propelled by both dark rage and righteous anger. So you better bet he wins decisively.
Deidrich Bader provides a great voice for Batman in every episode of The Brave and The Bold. His gravelly voice is mature and serious, but also intelligent and witty; allowing it to fit with every scenario The Caped Crusader finds himself in throughout the zany series’ run. He works wonders exploring Bruce’s emotions in “Chill of The Night!” and really brings it home when he finally confronts Chill. He’s unforgiving, determined, and convicting in his anger.
Bader himself was deeply moved while performing the episode’s climax for the first time at a table read, stating in an interview with Kevin Smith on an episode of the podcast Fat Man on Batman, “I was crying through the whole thing … He has tried to be the child of his father and his mother, who he loved so much, but this man really defined him. Tears were rolling down my face.”
Even after Batman finally confronts his demons and proves himself to be a good man, the episode refuses to end on a happy note. After all, no matter what happens to Joe Chill, Bruce’s parents are gone forever.
Beyond the amazing stand-alone story, there are also nods to previous incarnations of Batman that fill Bat-fans with giddy. Batman’s father and mother Thomas and Martha Wayne are voiced by Adam West and Julie Newmar, respectively. Kevin Conroy (Batman of Batman:The Animated Series) is the soft yet stoic Phantom Stranger, Mark Hamill (The Joker of B:TAS) is grimly happy as The Spectre, and Richard Moll (Two-Face in B:TAS) is the despicable Lew Moxon. They add to the many layers of respect the episode pays to Batman’s history.
Batman: The Brave and The Bold would rarely return to such dark territory, and would have success in many other types of episodes, but this story can stand with the best of TV, movies, and comic books.