The Batman must face the greatest demon from his past: the man who murdered his parents with justice (Phantom Stranger) and vengeance (Spectre) watching over him.
Ok, I caved. I thought I could just wait until this aired like the Batman of Planet X with Kevin Conroy as said character. Well when I heard this episode was well be shown at a place I couldn't resist and watched it three times. The hype behind this episode was just too much for me. You have Kevin Conroy again this time voicing the Phantom Stranger and now with the added presence of Mark Hamill as the Spectre. Then you add this episode was written by Paul Dini (the man behind numerous DCU animated episodes and of course more recently wrote 1.18's Bat-Mite episode from this series). Well that's not the icing on this delicious cake, nope it's Adam West and Julie Newmar (the 60s Batman and Catwoman #1 of the three that played the character) being the voices of Thomas and Martha Wayne with Batman seeing and interacting his parents in a quest to bring their killer to either justice or vengeance.
Thus is the story of the episode, the Phantom Stranger and Spectre play a game with Batman at stake. They'll show him what happened and what where the motives behind his parents murder with the choice being if justice prevails Batman continues on as he is, if vengeance is chosen he will forever be the agent of the Spectre. Thus the game is played in what is probably the darkest episode of Batman: The Brave & The Bold. Sure, the episode starts out in the usual style of the show with a entertaining showdown between Ada Cadabra vs. Batman and (who else given this is a Paul Dini penned episode?) Zatanna.
After that moment we get an utterly chilling and honestly I believe this is the first time we've actually seen the origin in it's most darkest form animated thus far. From there on in this episode feels more like an episode of Batman: The Animated Series in format and style. Add the fact we also get another alum from that show in the form of Richard Moll (voice of Two-Face and the Bat-Computer) voicing a crime lord who's on death's door interrogated by Batman. Then there's the fact that Batman in this is completely the Batman probably the older fans have hankered for. No cheesy Bat-gadget here folks. This is Batman at his core. Utterly driven and focused to avenge his parent's death.
Kudos must be given to Diedrich Bader for this episode. He really gives a tour stellar performance as Batman here. Whenever people look back at this series, this will probably be one of the episodes the elder fans of comics will look at. The scene with Moll's character above and how the scene slowly twists into a dark angle with Batman demanding answers to a dying man made me pause for a moment wondering what levels this episode would go after this. Bader reaches into a level we've never seen him with Batman in this show being utterly terrifying. Though also we see another level of Batman that we haven't seen before, that is just pure of the character. I can't help but remember the Bat-Mite episode and that this is just another level this show is reaching and again it show's just why this has been utter gold to a geek.
That said even though with the darkness filled throughout this episode, there is still that edge of Golden Age and early Silver Age that this show has. Everything found in this episode just feels utterly from that era down from what era Batman meets his parents and his confrontation with their murderer all of it lifted directly from that time of comics. For that major kudos to Paul Dini for reminding us why he's just such a darn good writer and how he fully understands the character of Batman.
So with all this talk of the Dark Knight what about the supporting characters of this play? Well I have to admit Conroy and Hamill bring the goods. It was hard to realize this was Hamill was voicing the Spectre here, until I reminded myself how much there was a touch of his Solomon Grundy here. Still, it's weird to watch this and the Spectre short that was released this week. Fans of the character must be giddy at the big spotlight he's got and from what we've seen boy is it deserved and here's hoping we see more of the character. Then there's Conroy's Phantom Stranger which is a much more subdued performance than his Batman. Though it's still quite good giving the Stranger a much more distinct voice than his Batman. I also really hope either character returns, but more so the Stranger given the character's mission of justice.
Honestly, any complaint I have with this episode would be that before I know it the episode is over. Before I could be fully satisfied at what I saw and take in of West and Newmar they where gone and that was it. It was a move one second or else you miss them but it's just a nice nod to the past. And honestly that's what this episode was. A big tip of the hat from this show to the inspirations of Batman Past.
The other negative I had with this episode was how easily Batman subdues his Rogues Gallery save for but one of them twice. I know I'm being nerdy over it, but come on once I can understand, but two times with no backup? Then again given the choice of the Rogues I can see why, but still my inner nerd can't help but scream this nitpick. Still, it's a nerdy nitpick so I won't let it impact my rating of this. When people are going to name the best episodes of this show no doubt this one will be up there right next to Bat-Mite, several of the Aquaman ones (gosh it's so hard to chose the best one amongst them), Music Meister, the side kicks taking on Ra's Al Ghul, Jonah Hex and Batman in Mongul and Mongal's gladiator games with Fourth World characters, or Huntress, Batman, and Blue Beetle team-up against Babyface and his gang. Regardless this episode will truly be up there for the older fan of Batman. Even more this episode just once again proves just all the best qualities of Batman: The Brave & The Bold. Truly any other score I give this episode would just be utterly outrageous. Not to mention I really have to start reviewing more episodes of this show.
5 out of 5