Thanks in part to Cartoon Network, there’s never been a better time to be an 8-year-old boy TV-wise, as the channel adds to its “Star Wars: Clone Wars” night with this stylish extension of the Batman franchise. Amid the film noirish turn of the features, this brightly colored, lighthearted series provides a throwback to pre-Dark Knight days, pairing Gotham’s favorite son with relatively obscure heroes, thus mirroring “The Brave and the Bold” comics. More youthful and comedic than such animated efforts as “Justice League,” it’s primarily for kids, but still good fun.
Indeed, compared with Cartoon’s other recent forays into the DC universe, what can be abbreviated as “B: B & B” possesses the least appeal to grownup fanboys, except for the fact that beyond the more familiar Aquaman, they can be properly smug about knowing who Plastic Man and the color-coded trio of Blue Beetle, Green Arrow and Red Tornado are.
Lightening up isn’t necessarily all bad, especially because the program incorporates wry humor as Batman (voiced by “Drew Carey Show” alum Diedrich Bader) improbably gets drawn into an outer-space adventure with Blue Beetle (Will Friedle), a teenage hero who’s still mastering his powers and is a trifle starstruck in the Caped Crusader’s presence. When the tables are turned by aliens they team up to defend, Batman actually has to deal with being referred to as the Beetle’s “sidekick.”
The look, character design and brightly hued palette represent an exuberant departure from the darker turn that has allowed the comicbook property to thrive theatrically, although that doesn’t mean this is another childish “Superfriends.” Rather, the show reflects a conscious desire to try doing a reasonably smart series that clearly targets a younger crowd, while still showcasing solid animation and generous dollops of action.
The premiere, frankly, doesn’t put the show’s best foot forward, inasmuch as Blue Beetle is seemingly the least interesting of Batman’s rotating companions. Nor will child-free adults be as tempted to tune in as they are for harder-edged animated fare.
Even so, this latest permutation on Bat-mania marks another signal highlighting the robust state of comicbooks on screens large and small: With so much big-ticket stuff in the pipeline, it’s actually news when a channel takes the daring step of scheduling something aimed squarely at kids.