Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1 review

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He sits at his table, alone.  From upon the elevated platform, Tom King scans the crowd.  Everyone is enraptured, listening to the writer talk about his craft.  He scratches his face, his stubble as short as the time it took for him to rocket to stardom.

Reaching for a bottle, he takes a drink.  Long, slow.  Is it water?  Or was it Sprite?

It doesn’t matter.  It’s a cold drink in a hot room.

King leans close to the mic.  “I called Dan to see if there were any projects I could take on,” he says.  “Dan, excited at the prospect, said ‘I have just the thing for you.'”

King pauses, chuckling.  “‘Batman and Elmer Fudd,’ Dan says.”

The crowd laughs, and King laughs with them.

Lee Weeks is the appointed artist for the project, much to King’s delight.  Instead of a straightforward or over-the-top approach to the material, Weeks suggests a different route: film noir.  King goes on to say that he was confused at first, but then he started getting ideas for dialogue.  In perfect Fudd-speak, King says “‘Sometimes the wain comes down so hawrd you forwget you’ve ever been dwy.'”  The audience roars in laughter.  That is how Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1 was born.

That’s… pretty much how it went down a few months ago at Fan Expo Dallas, where Tom King told the story of how he got the chance to write this book.  A few embellishments, sure, but yeah: King was looking to write the next The Killing Joke and instead got the chance to tackle a Looney Tunes crossover.

In a strange twist, this may be his best Batman work to date, hands down.  No joking.

On the surface, the idea of this crossover is funny: nebbish hunter Elmer Fudd meeting Batman, the World’s Greatest Detective.  That’s funny.  It’s all played straight, too, which makes it even funnier.

From a tonal standpoint, this is a straight-up noir.  It’s a pretty good one at that, with dive bars, dames, and double-crosses to spare.  It isn’t oppressively dark and grim, but it is “gritty” and “realistic.”  Porky’s bar is home to no end of ruffians and scallywags, all with familiar names like Bugs, Marvin, and Sam.  They aren’t anthropomorphic animals or alien creatures; rather, the classic Looney Tunes characters are made over to look like real people.  It isn’t distracting, though; Elmer’s conversation with Bugs “The Bunny” just wouldn’t have worked if it was with a giant talking rabbit.  Instead, Bugs has a mischievous, rat-like face, complete with two oversized front teeth.  And it’s that wascally wabbit who sets the story in motion, tricking Fudd into a revenge plot against an innocent man.

Obviously, it’s Bruce Wayne.

Fudd had a girl, see, and he thought Bugs had killed her.  His “wittle cwoud,” he calls her.  He had given up a life as a hitman, all because of a woman.  A woman who made him better.

A woman… named Silver St. Cloud.  And Fudd thinks Wayne killed her.

And that’s where Batman’s world enters into the story.  Silver is one of a few women that Bruce Wayne has been involved with over the years, and in some ways, she may very well be his soulmate.  If you’ve never read “Strange Apparitions,” do yourself a favor and check it out.  It’s one of the most underrated Batman runs of all time, spearheaded by the brilliant Marshall Rogers and Steve Englehart.  It’s hard to find, but oh so worth it.

So, Fudd’s girl is dead, and Bugs pins the deed on Bruce, setting Fudd off to hunt the billionaire playboy.

Special mention needs to be made of the dialogue, which is absolutely outstanding.  It’s pitch-perfect and hard-boiled, made even better by Fudd’s “interwnal monowoguing.”  With tongue firmly planted in cheek, this book works precisely because it is played so straight.  It’s actually a really good noir tale on its own, but the silly comic bookiness of it makes it that much better.  Good noir dialogue is pretty tough to write, if you couldn’t tell by my forced introduction up there, but King nails it.  He sells lines like “you think I’d come to a dance without a partner?” by completely owning how silly it is.

And Lee Weeks… what can I say about Lee Weeks?  His work is stunning.  Look at how he choreographs the fight between Batman and Fudd.  Wide-shots, clear movements.  There’s never a point in the book where you’re confused as to what’s happening.  The opening bar conversation is gripping as well, all because of his stylistic choices.  You follow Fudd into Porky’s, his face hidden by shadows until just the right moment.  It’s fantastic visual storytelling that, like the hard-boiled dialogue, makes this story feel like a great old film noir.

And, yeah, it’s got some great sight gags too.

Bonus points: Batman has his trunks.  It’s been too long, friends.

After a brilliantly illustrated, silent fight scene, Fudd and Batman team up when they realize they have a common enemy… and a common love.  They head back to Porky’s to confront Bugs and bust a bunch of heads while they’re at it.

This line was so bad I read it about fifteen times because I was laughing so hard.

True to form, there isn’t exactly a happy ending here, but it isn’t hopeless and dour.  It ends the way it needs to while managing to balance the seriousness of the story with the silliness of just about everything else.  The best thing I can say about Batman and Elmer Fudd here is that I caught myself re-reading more than I intended to as I was writing this review.  I can’t think of any higher praise than that.  This is one of my favorite comic books I’ve read this year.

If the main story nears perfection, the backup doesn’t quite approach it.  That’s not to say it isn’t good; on the contrary, this is a pretty funny little story.  The reason it falls short is that the title story is so strong, with every element falling perfectly into place, that the loose string of gags this story presents don’t quite match up.

But really, it is very, very funny.

Yes, we’ve all seen the “Wabbit Season” cartoons and love them dearly.  This is pretty much a riff on those, except with Batman.  What more could you want?

If you like Batman in super-serious situations all the time, outsmarting and outwitting anyone and everyone by staying three steps ahead of them at every turn, this… probably isn’t for you.  If you’re willing to laugh at a lighthearted romp where your favorite superhero is the butt of a few solid jokes, though, then you’ll find lots to like here.  Really, it’s just a bunch of jokes involving Batman being outwitted by Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.  King knows how to deliver a good punchline, too, and that’s on full display.  I about died laughing at the “justice!” line above, and there’s a Calendar Man gag that had me rolling too.

For as funny as the script gets, the pencils are occasionally weak, and along with the loose story structure they bring the backup down just the slightest of notches.  The Looney Tunes look good, but Batman in particular looks a little rough and out of place.  Seeing Bats get shot in the face and then cover his ashen features with his mask again is funny, but something about his proportions seem off.  Regardless, Byron Vaughns knows how to make sight gags land, and he and King work well together to bring a pretty solid little comedic short.

Wecommended if:

  • You’re morbidly curious.
  • You like a good, solid noir mystery.
  • Look: Batman.  Elmer Fudd.  Film noir.  Hilarity.  It works oh so well, just get it.
  • Oh, and yeah, Batman has trunks again.  Happy day.

Ovewrall: One part brilliant pastiche of noir tropes, one part pretty funny backup story.  Never did I think that Batman and Elmer Fudd would (or even should) ever cross paths, but oh my was this phenomenal entertainment.  King and Weeks’ work on the main story is so good that it would get high marks even if it weren’t such a perfectly executed high-concept.  The backup is a little more loose, but it’s still a grand time with some big laughs.  Just based on pure enjoyment this is one of my favorite comic issues in a long time.  It’s twuwy memowable.

SCOWRE: 10/10

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