Comics

(Batman - Brooding + Obscure Characters) x NPH = A Thing That is Wickedly Good

The Music Meister, an Elvis-like character voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, from Cartoon Network's 'Ba

hide captionNeil Patrick Harris as a singing villain as a red-headed Elvis. We think we've had this exact dream.

Cartoon Network

We might have, once or twice, sung Neil Patrick Harris' praises on this blog.

Once or twice. Or fifty-three times, whatever, who's counting, lots of those are duplicates, shut up. [Hey, it's not my fault the guy hosted the Tonys and the Emmys in the same year. YOU shut up. — Ed.]

Fifty-fourth time's the charm:

Last Friday, NPH guest-starred on an episode of the Cartoon Network animated series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

At this writing, the full ep is available for streaming on the B:TBATB mini-site. (After a cereal commercial that's a good deal more disquieting than your average.)

Go watch it now, before it goes away.

Harris was identified, in a nod to the 60s Adam West Batman TV show, as "Special Guest Villain Neil Patrick Harris."

And that was only the beginning of the awesomeness.

After the jump: The rest of the awesomeness. Including - no kidding - the day getting saved by Auto-Tune, of all things.

Harris supplied the voice for a villain (created especially for NPH) called the Music Meister, whose shtick is to get the world singing and dancing to his evil tune.

Some background on the series, before we go on.

Batman: The Brave and The Bold teams the Caped Crusader with a different hero each week. The series' design eschews the shadowy feel of the already iconic 90s Batman: The Animated Series, reaching back instead for a clean, bright, primary colored approach that honors legendary 40s-50s Batman artist Dick Sprang.

The mood of the series is matched to its look - swapping the now-familiar brooding introspectiveness of the Batman character for a lighter, two-fisted, lantern-jawed sensibility. This Batman's still not a lot of fun at parties, but he can take, and make, a joke.

The series is also marked by its unabashed love of DC Comics' deep bench: obscure characters like OMAC (The One Man Army Corps), Jonah Hex, Deadman and Blue Beetle. Oh, sure, they've appeared in animated series set in the DC Universe before (most notably Justice League: Unlimited), but by limiting itself to a 2-hero team-up format, Batman: The Brave and the Bold allows its writers to linger on character beats that let these heroes shine.

Case in point: B:TBATB's ingenious take on Aquaman - a bluff, hale-and-hearty sea captain of the Brian Blessed school.

As to last Saturday's "Mayhem of the Music Meister!" and NPH's singular contribution to same:

Well, let's not get crazy. It was a musical episode, as such things go. A good musical episode. It wasn't of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Once More With Feeling" caliber, nor indeed up to NPH's other singin'-supervillian turn, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which boasts melodic hooks that roost inside your parietal lobe and interior rhymes that keep you unpacking the thing for days. But it was a straightforward, solidly hummable collection of ditties that benefited - greatly - from Harris' pipes.

The opening number, "I'm The Music Meister," was likely the episode's most successful; not complicated, by any means, but a well-constructed scene-setter with some nice phrasing, courtesy NPH, right around about the 4:15 mark:

(Music Meister):
Bullies used to pick on me
Because I sang in choir;
But something very strange occurred
When I kept singing higher.

The ruffians around me
Quickly fell into a trance,
And it was then, with wicked glee,
I made those puppets dance.

This was followed, almost immediately, but a lyrical near-miss:

(MM):
I'm the Music Meister!
And everyone just falls!

(ALL):
He's the Music Meister!
And we are all his pawns!

Really? "Falls"/"pawns"? Why on earth would you reach for "pawns" when the perfectly good "thralls" was just sitting there, waiting for you?

"He Drives Us Bats" came next (around the 10:00 mark), which is emerging as a fanboy favorite. This likely has more to do with its blink-and-you'll-miss-them villain cameos (King Tut!) and clever visual jokes (the chase on vehicles that look like half-notes over telephone wires that look like a musical staff; MM's continuous sartorial transformation from Liberace to Harold Hill to Hendrix to, inevitably, Elvis) than its lyrical gifts, because, well:

(VILLAINS):
He drives us bats! Bats! Bats!
Drives us bats! Bats! Bats!
He really drives us bats! Bats! Bats!
Drives us ba-aaaats!

Next, the torch song. Voice actress Grey Delisle lends "If Only" (12:00), Black Canary's anthem of unrequited love for Batman, a sweet, achy timbre, which melds nicely with NPH's clean, brassier tones.

"Death Trap," (14:20) a rock pastiche, gets the job done passably enough. The job, in this case, is to paint a visual picture of the fate that lies in wait for a captive Batman and Black Canary as they are lowered into a combination trash-compactor/acid bath.

Bones crushin'
Flesh mushin'
Gore gushin'
It's a dirtnap!
Death-trap!

NPH does a great job with the Music Meister's song of evil triumph, "The World Is Mine" (around 16:30), a near-reprise of his opening anthem. But even NPH's vocal gifts get overshadowed by the glimpse we get, at about the 18:30 mark, of the citizens of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis going full-tilt Busby Berkeley.

Around 19:30, events escalate, as was perhaps always inevitable, into a sing-off between Black Canary and Batman himself. And in the episode's oddest, most subversive note, Batman defeats Music Meister's evil scheme by cheating with an electronic device ("this Bat-Auto-Tuning Amplifier").

After that it's just a quick reprise of the love song, and we're out. And all without anybody getting impaled by freeze-ray shrapnel.

Some will say: Okay, now really. NPH singing on some kiddie show? Overexposure, thy name is Doogie.

Some will say that. Perhaps you will say that, in the comments.

I don't.

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