It pains me to say this, especially since tonight’s episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold is the first new episode to air on TV in months, but the mighty J.M. Dematteis has once again struck out. Dematteis is a writer whose credentials speak for themselves: He’s the formative DC co-creator of Brooklyn Dreams and Moonshadow and the co-writer of the influential ‘80s run of Justice League America along with fellow writer/artist Keith Giffen. He’s done some very good work for Brave and the Bold in the past, especially season one’s affecting “Hail the Tornado Tyrant.” But both episodes he’s credited with writing for Brave and the Bold’s third season have stunk. They reek of the kind of rookie mistakes that one would expect of a much less experienced writer.
Both the A- and B-narratives in “Scorn of the Star Sapphire” focus on super-powered relationships and how heroes handle dating mere mortals. The episode begins promisingly enough with a fine enough team-up between Batman and Wonder Woman. Here, Dematteis sets up the episode’s main theme by showing how Wonder Woman juggles her relationship with Steve Trevor, spy for the Global Peace Agency, while fighting crime, in this case an Nazi baroness that talks with an accent worthy of Madeline Kahn.
This opening segment is easily the best part of “Scorn.” Here, Dematteis capably keeps an otherwise totally generic plot moving so briskly that it doesn’t matter that he hammers home its intended message (i.e., Steve literally cannot survive without Wonder Woman). Watching an emasculated Steve being rescued by his super-powered girlfriend while being strapped to a nuclear missile is hammy but cute.
But what really makes tonight’s B-narrative slight but serviceable is the way that Dematteis doesn’t even need to try to impress the audience with his understanding of who Wonder Woman is. In one line of otherwise innocuous dialogue, he just puts it all out there. Wonder Woman gives the Baroness the following ultimatum: “As a woman, you should know that the path of violence is a barren one. Abandon your misguided ways—join the sisterhood of peace.” Were this an issue of his run on the Justice League America, you’d assume some character would immediately follow that line with a quip about how heavy-handed Wonder Woman’s use of “barren” is. But here, in the Brave and the Bold universe, it fits nicely, relating the severity of Wonder Woman’s personality without calling too much attention to itself. Sometimes, it’s nice to see the show’s writers take a chance on looking sincerely goofy instead of just goofy in a proudly kitschy way, though one style of writing need not preclude the other.
Once “Scorn of the Star Sapphire” gets into its A-narrative, however, Dematteis loses his footing. He over-indulges in clichéd dialogue that only serves to bog down his story’s formulaic conflict. Test pilot Hal Jordan, also known as the first human Green Lantern and the focus of this summer's movie version of the story, has to come to grips with the fact that his girlfriend and boss Carol Ferris is the evil villainess Star Sapphire.
There’s nothing wrong with such a basic story, per se, even if it breaks no new ground. For the sake of relating the power dynamics between hero and spouse, it’s even theoretically a great idea to reposition Star Sapphire as Jordan’s most important enemy. And that’s because an empowered woman is one of the surest ways to make Hal look like a dick. Even if you didn’t know that Dematteis had previously written some excellent comics story arcs with Hal as the star—I’m thinking of his terrific run on The Spectre—you can tell that hs knows who Hal is just by watching “Scorn of the Star Sapphire.” Hal treats Carol like dirt: She constantly worries about him while he does everything but casually wave her and everyone but Batman away from him, such as when he plops a villain into the lap of two bewildered police officers and boasts, “Here you go, fellas. Hope I’m not making your jobs too easy.”
Still, there are unfortunately way too many moments in the A-narrative of “Scorn of the Star Sapphire” where Dematteis takes the easy way out and uses lamentably cheap dialogue. I’m almost willing to believe that a line as hackneyed as, “Women want him; men want to be him,” was used ironically to slyly deflate Hal’s ego. But after that, Dematteis loses me, particularly during the episode’s soggy finale. There’s nothing about Hal’s confrontation with Star Sapphire that rang true to me, thanks in no small part to groan-worthy dialogue like “Carol, please. I know you’re in there somewhere. Don’t let Sapphire control you.”
I’m especially disappointed that Dematteis made Batman earnestly give Hal dating advice, considering how out-of-character that decision is. He even acknowledges that Batman doesn’t know anything about women in the B-narrative with Wonder Woman when Steve Trevor boasts that it’s nice to have a super-powered girlfriend, and Batman responds, “I wouldn’t know.”
By now, I readily accept that Brave and the Bold only works as a show if you can accept that there can be multiple versions of Batman co-existing in separate universes. Batman can be flamboyant, but he can also be a dark detective, too. But by the time Dematteis’s Batman tells Hal “She needs to know you’re serious,” I couldn’t help but think of his Batman as an inconsistent, rough draft of a very familiar character. “Scorn of the Star Sapphire” feels even more sloppy than Dematteis’ equally lazy “Shadow of the Bat” and is probably the lowlight of Brave and the Bold’s mixed bag of a third season.
- Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite, Undisputed 3) voiced the Tattooed Man. So if you were wondering why they gave him more dialogue than most disposable baddies, now you know.