Batman ’66 #20: “A Stand Up Guy”
Written by Rob Williams
Illustrated by Rubén Procopio
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Wes Abbott
What a weird issue…
All the pieces are in place for a great yarn: the Joker, that cackling clown of crime, has reformed and taken on the identity of Jokerman, Gotham’s new favorite crime fighting vigilante.
The Dynamic Duo are, obviously, not buying that the Joker has truly reformed, and this is where the issue’s troubles begin: throughout the TV series, Batman was staunchly confident that no matter how evil a criminal was, they could be rehabilitated. He would frequently correct Gordon, O’Hara, and Robin when his mission to abolish all crime was questioned.
When Batman doubts the sincerity of a villain’s reform (which, let’s face it, he always does and is completely justified in that), he later reveals why he was suspicious, be it from a clue dropped at a crime scene, a slip of the tongue on the antagonist’s part, or good old apophenia.
None of that happens here, which makes this issue pretty uneven and unfulfilling. Jokerman shows up on the scene and Batman and Robin quit, no questions asked. Other than a brief lamentation that Gotham no longer needs this particular Dynamic Duo, there is no insight given into Batman’s plan.
In fact, until the appearance of a supposed new villain named the Pillaer in the second act, Bruce seems content to let the Joker take over his role as protector of Gotham. It’s here that the story begins to fall apart: it’s obvious from the get go what the Joker’s plan is, but save for a few almost throwaway lines there isn’t much payoff. What could have become an interesting cat-and-mouse game or a meditation on Gotham’s need of the Batman, not just any hero, is instead a rushed story that desperately needed a third act.
I’m not saying every story needs to follow an exact template; far from it, in fact, as some of my favorite issues have been the weirder stories that tried something new. But when you have a precedent of Batman solving crimes from the vaguest of clues, either follow through with that setup or twist the conventions around and give it a unique spin. Neither happens here, and the lack of insight into both Batman and the Joker’s plans make for a boring read.
That’s not to say the issue is without merit, however. The first half of the book is actually pretty engaging and well-written, laying the groundwork for a better conclusion than what we have. I don’t know if Williams was rushed, doesn’t know how to balance the tone of the series, or couldn’t think of a satisfactory ending, but he at least showed great promise up front.
The art is some of the best I’ve seen on this book lately, too. The figures are cartoony without being over the top or unrecognizable, and Jokerman’s design made me laugh every time he showed up. There are a bunch of smaller moments that stand out in particular, including Bruce’s “girl, don’t even” face:
And a genuinely creepy take on Romero’s Joker:
Even the last page offers up one of the most striking images of the Batmobile I’ve seen in some time, though it ends on a slightly more melancholy note than I expected.
The potential was there for a great story, and while it didn’t go for broke and get truly out there enough to make up for its flaws, this installment was never genuinely bad. If this was a two part episode of the show, you’d be enthralled the first half hour only to wait a week and be disappointed, but not angered by abysmal quality. Every series has filler you move on from, and this is an example of that.
- You love this interpretation of Batman.
- You enjoy high concepts and goofy plots.
- You can overlook a lackluster finish to be at least reasonably entertained.
Overall: What started off strong didn’t have the legs to fully follow through. Still, it’s completely inoffensive, a great all-ages read, and isn’t ever truly bad, just boring and rushed.