Mite Club: Metatextuality, Fandom, and Media Industry Responses in Batman: The Brave and the Bold

Curator's Note

Bat-Mite, self-described as Batman’s “biggest fan,” appears in several episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold as a fourth-wall-breaking agent of chaos bent on reshaping Batman’s fictional world. In the episode “Legends of the Dark Mite,” after endowing the villainous Calendar Man with the power to summon holiday-themed antagonists, Bat-Mite conjures yet another oppositional force: fellow die-hard Batman fans. Wary that Calendar Man’s mutant Easter Bunnies are too off-brand, Bat-Mite again manipulates the diagetic framework by interposing a scene in which he asks “what the Batman fanboys think.”

The successive scene (as demonstrated in the video at left) finds Bat-Mite looking out onto a throng of fans dressed at Batman, while to his right sit creative personnel presumably involved with Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The scene replicates the look and dynamic of a pop culture convention panel, particularly when a Batman fan admonishes the light-hearted approach of the animated series, preferring instead the configuration of Batman as “gritty, urban crime detective.” Bat-Mite then reads aloud a statement provided by the creators in which they posit consistency between Batman: The Brave and the Bold’s characterization and that of previous Batman story cycles.

The metatextuality of this episode calls attention not only to itself as a fictional text, but the relationship of fans to the text itself and, further, the Batman franchise writ large, a dynamic intensified in the series finale “Mitefall!” Convinced Batman: The Brave and the Bold is past its prime, Bat-Mite conspires to infiltrate the episode with tropes discordant to even the most ardent Bat-fans, including the incorporation of Batman costumes and vehicles for toyetic merchandising purposes. The rouse ultimately succeeds, culminating in a scene in which an executive cancels the show and asks series developer James Tucker to think about a new animated incarnation akin to the episode “Chill of the Night,” which embodied qualities reminiscent of the plea for a “gritty, urban crime detective.”

The series comes full circle in its metatextual loop by parodying fan entitlement in the first season and then carrying out their sentiment in the finale. It mirrors the accelerated feedback loops through which fans and producers increasingly interact and the eroding barriers between them. The penultimate scene of “Mitefall!” in which Bat-Mite is wiped from existence likewise echoes the transformative nature of fandom: how far can their influence progress before they are the arbiters of their own disenchantment?

Comments

Ryan Lizardi's picture

Who Bat is it anyway?

Thanks for this wonderful post. I think it highlights really interesting dynamics that increasingly exist between fan, text, and producers. One issue your post describes perfectly that I find fascinating is the concept of a dual audience. Within this metatextuality is the implicit split between who this version of Batman was possibly more demographically aimed at (younger viewers) and who would be making these critiques that Bat-Mite is highlighting (older and ardent fans). Not that all animation is aimed at children, far from it, but much like the difference between Marvel: Avengers Assemble and Marvel: Super Hero Squad, the expectation may have been that Brave and the Bold would skew towards different demographics than The Batman. We see this same split in comic book movie adaptations that pull too much from esoteric source material. I think it is fascinating to see a show engage these meta-issues head on as commentary on contemporary fan-producer power relations.

Matt Yockey's picture

As a fan of Bat-Mite, I found

As a fan of Bat-Mite, I found your post to be both illuminating and entertaining. While for many fans he does represent the nadir of Bat-silliness (along with Ace, the Bat-hound), to me Bat-Mite’s always been emblematic of the inherent fun of Silver Age superhero comic books. Consequently, I’m intrigued by the tension between the market value fans place on old Batman comic books (those slabbed and tagged fetish objects) and the disdain many of them harbor for their content. This sequence from Batman: The Brave and the Bold neatly captures some of that ambivalence. As a fifth-dimensional imp who is very much an active agent in Batman’s narrative universe, I’m also intrigued by his implied association with the show’s creators on this convention panel. Perhaps “the fifth dimension” is code for “metatextual loop” - a constant state of self-reflexivity that requires the simultaneous absence/presence of the fetish object (a classic case of fort/da). In other words, all those Batman-costumed fanboys are simultaneously talking to each other, themselves, us, and no one at all.

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