Batman The Brave and the Bold- Four Star Spectacular
The final series of Batman The Brave and the Bold has been nothing short of astounding. The brakes are clearly off as the cartoon leads a mad foray into the realm of the absurd and uncanny. Featuring episodes with musical numbers, an international club of Jokers and even a team-up with Space Ghost, it is clear that nothing is too out of the ordinary. This week’s episode was an anthology-style adventure split between Adam Strange, the Flash, ‘Mazing Man and the Creature Commandos. Titled ‘Four Star Spectacular,’ this installment was a reference to the DC Comics mag from the late 70’s that featured an ever-changing line-up of heroes each time all in an over-sized book that was often difficult to fit in your back pocket.
In print, Four Star Spectacular was partly composed of reprint material but the animated homage was all new wall-to-wall action.
The first part starred Adam Strange, that star-faring Earthman who spends half of his life on the planet Rann, home of his beloved Alanna. Using the Zeta Beam, Strange is transported to Rann where he leads the life of an adventurer and hero to an alien culture. When the radiation wears off, he returns to his life on Earth. In ‘Worlds War,’ the bizarre Zeta Beam radiation that enables Adam Strange becomes a problem as it strikes random objects, transporting them to some foreign planet as he anxiously tries to reach Rann to celebrate his anniversary with Alanna. Finally hitching a ride on a Zeta Beam, Strange learns that the interplanetary pirate Kanjar Ro is attempting to use the beam to transport a bomb to Rann.
Picking up an ally in the unusual form of a puppy, Strange battles Ro across several alien worlds as they are transported via wild Zeta Beams, fists flying. In the end, the four legged friend defeats not only Kanjar Ro but serves as the ideal present for the shapely space vixen.
A celebration of the sci-fi comics of the 1950’s and 60’s, this installment was lots of fun. Oddly, it featured Batman only in a fleeting glimpse as the two planet-hopping combatants traversed the various realms of the cosmos. I quite like Adam Strange and this installment reminded me why he is so great. A few years ago, a magnificent modern take on the character surfaced by Andy Diggle and Pascal Ferry, but you can also enjoy the classics in a black and white Showcase Presents collection.
I am a big fan of the scarlet speedster, so I was especially happy to see that the second part of the four star spectacular centered on Barry Allen, the Silver Age (and current) Flash. In ‘Double Jeopardy’ we see the dark knight facing the cur known as Captain Boomerang. Even enamored by the Batman’s batarangs, Captain Boomerang is a murderous foe and driven to kill Batman with his own signature weapon. Before the killing blow can land, the human whirlwind arrives, two minutes late.
Feeling the need to explain the lack of an instantaneous reaction, the Flash weaves a tale of his battle with the Mirror Master, the Scots version (created by Grant Morrison). I weep for comics fans who cannot appreciate the genius of the Flash as he has the most bizarre rogue’s gallery this side of Batman or Spider-Man. The Mirror Master has developed a new ‘gimmick’ that allows him to create solid mirror image doppelgangers which he sets against his ruby foe. In the midst of his battle, Abra Kadabra arrives from the far future, gleeful that he will soon bear witness to his arch enemy’s death. Showing Allen a newspaper from the future depicting the Flash’s death, it all seems to be set in stone.
The ‘inevitable death’ trick has been used in comics for ages, no matter what the discouraged modern fan thinks. In each case it is shown that death is inevitable and each time our hero evades the reaper’s grasp. This is no exception and a great homage to the writing stylings of Bob Haney, that mad architect of the B & B comic book series.
The third part of the four part omnibus stars a hero that I must admit ignorance of. I recall seeing ads for the ‘Mazing Man comic book but as it arrived at the pinnacle of grim 80’s comics, I had no interest in a wacky comedy series. Shame on me, really, as the animated version is lots of fun.
An addle-brained miniature superhero, ‘Mazing Man takes up cat sitting and nearly destroys the entire dwelling of his clients through the course of a single night. It’s straight-ahead vaudeville done with pitch perfect humor. I must learn more about this character.
My favorite moment could be when our hero wonders to himself what his idol Batman would do upon losing a cat and imagines the caped crusader freaking out like a loon.
Despite the high quality of the first three segments, the final part of this episode is by far the best as it involves the Creature Commandos (enjoying a Renaissance of sorts in the pages of Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.). Targeting an island populated by dinosaurs, the Commandos fight a War that Time Forgot. A squad of experimental mutants, the Creature Commandos are a weird secret weapon in DC Comics’ WWII era. Criminally uncollected in any format, your only chance of reading about these characters is to hunt down the issues at a comic con or steal them online. Honestly, DC and readers alike are missing out on some big money by not collecting these rarities.
I’m sorry, but if a werewolf, vampire, gorgon and Frankenstein’s Monster versus dinosaurs doesn’t stoke your fire, you’re dead inside.
The segment gets more complex when Batman enters the fray against the body-swapping villain known as the Ultra-Humanite. Inhabiting the body of a T Rex, the Ultra-Humanite’s plan is to use mind control technology in a mad dream of world conquest. Using monster teamwork, the Commandos are able to strike a killer blow against the Ultra-Humanite’s plan, forcing him to reject his host body and crawl away like the brain in a jar that he is.
Immensely inventive, madly entertaining and unpredictable… there is no cartoon like Batman The Brave and the Bold. The world will be a poorer place when it concludes next week.