Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Sixth Day of Comic-mas: Sick Secret Santas!

Made-for-television Christmas specials are a holiday season staple, from stop-motion animation classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to more traditionally animated shorts like A Charlie Brown Christmas. Considering how quickly these specials and their featured characters have become household names in the grand scheme of holiday mythology, it makes sense that other similarly popular characters would try to make their impression during Christmastime -- characters like the Powerpuff Girls with their 'Twas the Fight Before Christmas, or Batman in the recent The Brave and the Bold episode "Invasion of the Secret Santas!" Originally aired on December 12, the episode has been saved in my girlfriend's TiVo since, and I recently watched it again with her . . . which became a gift in itself, as the show introduced her to aspects of the DC Universe she'd never otherwise experience.

So, yes, I'm going to review "Invasion of the Secret Santas!" for my patented Twelve Days of Comic-mas. I know it's not a comic book, but it's a definitively comic-based property, and I don't mind braving the deviation. Heh.

First of all, I think I've seen every The Brave and the Bold episode so far (thanks to the aforementioned TiVo), and I've enjoyed the series' campy look -- a welcome alternative to the Dark Knight's other most recent animated incarnation, The Batman. While that show set the new standard for rockin' opening credits sequence, even riffing the Adam West "biff"/"pow" effects via electric guitar, it suffered from comparisons to its beloved predecessor, Batman: The Animated Series, whose continuity ran concurrent to The Batman through Justice League Unlimited anyway, thus perpetually overshadowing it. In my opinion, The Batman's greatest nemesis was its inconsistency between kid-friendly, action-oriented stories and its shallow attempts at continuity-oriented character development, two aims not necessarily exclusive but difficult to balance in any given twenty-two minute Saturday morning cartoon. In the end, The Batman was really just a commercial for new character designs and related franchising, relegated to waiting for Robin until Teen Titans was canceled then hastily introducing a Justice League to follow in its older brother's footsteps, to no avail.

But this really has nothing to do with The Brave and the Bold, if only to contrast that this newer series has shed the skin of any preceding molds and has found the balance between appealing to kids by embracing the Batman camp of the Silver Age, and beckoning to fans with DC's B- and C-list heroes. (Interesting, the recent "Batman: R.I.P." arc mined old presumably forsaken Silver Age material, too, though not necessarily in a kid-friendly way.) This is the magic of watching Etrigan the Demon brawling with knights and dragons. Further, the series' format essentially grants viewers two adventures, a brief brawl prior to the opening credits, then a more developed plot afterward. In "Invasions of the Secret Santas," viewers see Batman and Blue Beetle best the Sportsmaster, then the Dark Knight and Red Tornado take down the toy-mastering Funhouse (apparently actually spelled "Fun Haus," but I'm going phonetically, here). Talk about playing to a child's short attention span!

Further, enter: my girlfriend's exposure to the DC Universe, in all its inconsistently campy glory. "The Sportsmaster is a weird idea for a character," she mused as we watched the baddie trap competitive bowlers in big, clear pin-shaped cages. After Bats and the new Blue Beetle take down the jerky jock, the real tale unfolds, featuring the original Red Tornado as he explores the holiday spirit, and Batman regretfully reminiscing his spoiled childhood during Christmastime, as the villainous Funhouse infiltrates homes across the city with little sentient, jewelry-stealing action figures. (What's the difference between his scheme and the twelve bucks I'm paying for Mattel's DC Universe Classics at Wal-Mart? Highway robbery, either way!) Red Tornado's rigidity and characteristically robotic voice offers some comic relief (my girlfriend mentioned her amusement about him the next day, so the gags stuck!), yet a shadow looms over this episode, as viewers see the infamous Crime Alley flashback, obscured for youngsters' sake by the darkness of the alley, yet ironically more ominous and tragic in its ambiguity. Hence, my claim toward DC's inconsistency, which in this case isn't a bad thing at all. A show parents can watch with their kids, and that adult, fanboyfriends* can inflict on their girlfriends? That's pretty bold, considering the dichotomy of today's television.

So, in twenty-two minutes, my girlfriend unwittingly found herself exposed to such new glossary terms as "Ulthoon" and "S.T.A.R. Labs," right alongside familiar imagery like Christmas trees and Santa Claus. The holiday spirit storms your home front every year through the television, really whether you like it or not. The comic book goodness I've loved for years has finally taken the same front, in this case hidden in pretty Christmas wrapping paper for the unsuspecting child in all of us. The Santas have truly invaded.

* Fanboyfriend (noun): a favored male companion obsessed with comic books, toys, video games, et al.

The term has been loosely used on-line, but not yet clearly defined. My New Year's gift to pop culture speak.

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