November 20, 2011

Meta Mites and Fandom: A Look at "Mitefall"

I made this with VLC and Gimp - impressed by my open source mojo? 

In all honesty, I never really followed Batman: The Brave and the Bold on Cartoon Network. It wasn't that I hated it (in fact, one episode has inspired this oft-reposted editorial); just that (for me, at least), it's Silver Age-inspired tone went a long way. It was a great extension of spirit of the Adam West television series of the 1960s, and was best enjoyed in small, infrequent doses.

Although I suspected that the series was heading off the air (thanks to the new "gritty" series with a gun-toting Alfred), I was surprised to see it end so suddenly. However, the series finale Mitefall (written by Paul Dini) is one of the most pointed, satirical, flat out funny half hours of television ever made.

(In fact, this episode had more solid jokes than your average episode of Big Bang Theory, and was slightly less pandering).

Plot in a nutshell - Bat-Mite wants to collect more Batman memorabilia, and realizes that his beloved show is...well, in a decline. So he decides to do what most fifth dimensional imps would do - drive the franchise into the ground through creative intervention. But thankfully, Ambush Bug is able to come in and save the day.

 And yes, I did type that out loud.

Part of the joy of Dini's script is the almost savage glee he takes in integrating in-jokes, meta-humor, and quite honestly, just plain silliness into his script. Although Batman: The Brave and the Bold seemed aimed at children, a largely older fan base appreciated it as a "gateway drug" to nostalgia, a way to revisit their youth under the slightly more ironic guise.

But the jokes are fast and furious - everything from a more toyetic Batman to not one, but two surprise cameos; several twists that might seem obvious when written down, but actually felt like surprises; and an ending that will have you holding back tears....even if (like me) you barely, if ever, watched this series.

In a way, it's the kind of meta-commentary and satire that comics fandom desperately needs. I just finished recording a piece for Zone 4 (more on that endeavor later in the week) about fandom's near obsession with continuity, and their insistence that everything follow in a strict continuum. Mitefall gleefully bites the hand that feeds it because, to paraphrase Elvis Costello, it wants to bite that hand so badly. There are some subtle (and not-so-subtle) references that will pass over the heads of the oblivious....but that are so devastatingly on-target that this is one of those series finales that is well worth watching, even if you haven't followed the series.

It also manages to make Ambush bug rather cool - so much so that Keith Giffen must be jealous.

I don't know if Cartoon Network will be repeating Mitefall, but this is one where I would strongly recommend you use whatever means you deem appropriate to view this episode. (Whether you honor copyright laws is your own business; I won't ask and won't tell). But if every animated superhero series were this subversive, we would live in a better place.

As it stands, Mitefall serves as much as a series finale to Batman: The Brave & the Bold as it does a nice, sharply drawn piece of satire.

Watch this. Now.

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