17 May 2009

Robin Goes Up Against Crazy Quilt One More Time

The Cartoon Network's Batman: The Brave and the Bold takes its subtitle and theme from the comic book that each month for much of its run teamed Batman up with a different DC hero. In the episode to air at the end of this week, the cartoon's Batman works with a very special guest star: Robin!

Why is Robin a guest rather than Batman's regular partner? This cartoon takes place after Dick Grayson has grown up. But he hasn't taken on the role of Nightwing, as in the regular comics (and other recent Batman TV shows).

Rather, the Dick Grayson who returns in Batman: The Brave and the Bold wears one variant of the costume of the grown-up Robin on Earth-2. (However, in a bit of cross-pollination, he appears to work in Blüdhaven, the crime-riddled city near Gotham that Chuck Dixon invented for the Nightwing magazine in 1996.)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold promises a more cheery milieu than the current Batman comics, supposedly suitable for kids. We'll see whether that light-heartedness extends to how this grown-up Dick Grayson feels about working with Bruce Wayne again.

ComicVine hosts no-dialogue previews of three action scenes:

I like the fact that Dick's acrobatics look superior to Bruce's; despite the story's Golden Age roots and tone, we see no falling down at inconvenient times.

And as for Crazy Quilt, Jack Kirby created this villain for Boy Commandos in 1946. He was an artist who had damaged his vision during a crime and could see only bright colors. Crazy Quilt goes up against Robin in Star-Spangled Comics, #123, in 1951, which seems like a natural antagonism: Crazy Quilt with his limited vision against the DC hero who dresses like a stoplight.

But the character had a long lay-off until the Oct 1979 issue of Batman. That story added a personal resentment to the saga of Crazy Quilt v. Robin: the Boy Wonder has accidentally destroyed the rest of the artist's vision. So now Crazy Quilt is obsessed with getting revenge. Alone among Batman's villains, he hates Robin more than the Caped Crusader.

That set the stage for Crazy Quilt's reappearance during the first Jason Todd's first outing as Robin in 1984. Oh, the irony!--the villain stalks Jason for what Dick had done. Apparently Crazy Quilt's vision problems mean that he can't tell that Robin is suddenly a foot shorter than when they last met.

Most recently, we get a glimpse of Crazy Quilt in Nightwing Annual, #2, as Dick and Barbara Gordon (formerly Batgirl) reminisce about their first date. Somehow Crazy Quilt locked them in a safe. We never see how, and I suspect writer Marc Andreyko realized that it would have been hard to convince readers that the man could actually do that.

After all, being obsessed with Robin is kind of pathetic for a supervillain. (Present company excluded.) As is being a blind painter, or trying to look threatening while dressed in rainbow colors. Despite his half-century of villainy, despite his accumulation of a laser-beam "color helmet" and then hypnotic powers, the character of Crazy Quilt never seems dangerous. He belongs in a cheery cartoon.

It looks like the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode will follow the same general arc as Crazy Quilt's comics career: young Robin bests and inadvertently blinds the criminal artist, so he returns years later with a Robin obsession. How obsessed? Here's another preview image from Warner Bros. Animation.
Airings in the US on the Cartoon Network:
  • Friday, 22 May, at 8:30 PM
  • Saturday, 23 May, at 10:30 AM
  • Wednesday, 27 May, at 7:00 PM


Anonymous said...

Regretably, I have to say I was a little disappointed by the episode itself. The pre-credits sequence was wonderful, the 1960s show gone animated. But after the titles, with the grown up Robin, it just lacked a little something. Telling the story from Robin's POV was interesting, but that meant we lacked Batman's usual wry internal commentary. As such we never once saw Batman express pride in Robin, or how he turned out. We got a somewhat angry Robin (apparently with some justification) and a Batman who acted as if Robin WERE a kid the whole time, and for the first time, Batman being incapable of expressing any emotions at all. We got a taciturn "I knew you could handle it" and that was it. I'd hoped for more.

J. L. Bell said...

I thought the episode got more dramatic weight out of Crazy Quilt by uniting his several significant comic-book appearances into a single arc.

But in the end, I felt, the adventure made the adult Robin seem less mature than in most of his other incarnations. Batman seemed justified in treating Robin as a kid since the grown-up Robin spent most of the episode whining like an adolescent—starting even before Batman arrived in Blüdhaven. And as for Robin's competence, if you complain that you always have to go after the henchmen, you make a better case if you don't get knocked out by a henchman.

There was the odd moment when we see that Batman had suddenly freed himself from the loom. Obviously that was a dramatic reveal. But within the characters' stories, why did Batman wait till that moment if not to show up Robin? I sensed a little more affirmation from Batman toward the end than you did, but that simply reinforced the impression that this Robin was playing in the minor leagues.

I haven't been watching this Brave & Bold series, so I can't compare this episode to others or this series to its Batman... predecessors. But it seems to be positioned as outside the established DCAU as well as the DCU, taking cues from the 1960s TV show, Earth-2, and Super Friends as much as from the recent comics and other shows.