Batman ’66 #21: “The Garden of Death/Batman’s Final Breath?”
Written by Jeff Parker
Illustrated by Sandy Jarrell
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Wes Abbott
Paradoxically, Batman ’66 follows a pretty set formula established way back in the Sixties with the television series, yet it’s also a book that is willing to go weird places and take some risks. They don’t always pay off, but at least some very interesting ideas are played with so each issue doesn’t just feel like a retread of everything that came before it.
Granted, it’s obvious given the formula that Batman and his partner(s) in crime will encounter some sort of strange crime being perpetrated by an even stranger villain, they’ll mull over how to foil the plan, and in the end good will win the day. Nobody’s in real danger here, nor should they be; when Batman is strapped down to some over-the-top deathtrap, we aren’t supposed to wonder if he’s going to escape, but how.
Sometimes, though, you can subvert the formula while still staying true to the tone and nature of the storytelling. This is one of those times, and it works marvelously.
Any time an issue opens with these immortal words…
…you know it’s going to be a good one.
We first encounter our heroes Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, foiling one of the Penguin’s foul plots at the Gotham airport. Thanks in no small part to Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara’s input, of course.
Finding duffel bags filled with flower seeds and nothing more, the Dynamic Duo head to the Batcave to try and make sense of this strange plot twist.
Why was the Penguin sending such harmless cargo to Japan? The only way to find out is to fly to the Land of the Rising Sun itself and track down the recipient. However, with Robin suffering from acute vertigo (it makes sense in context, trust me) and running into everything (it’s even more hilarious in context, trust me), Batman opts to call on the assistance of his other most trusted crimefighting partner: Batgirl.
And, like true heroes, they fly coach.
You guys have no doubt seen the Batmobile-J at this point, so I won’t post (yet another) picture of it, but needless to say it’s pretty sweet and definitely what Japanese Batman would drive.
Anyway, Bats and Babs follow the Bat-tracer signal that was slipped into the bags to a cherry blossom garden, and this is where things start getting really strange and absolutely gorgeous.
If you can’t tell already, this is one of the best illustrated issues of ’66 to come along in a long while, and a lot of that comes down to the exotic locale. There are huge panels that could be framed they’re so stunning (the plane flying through the stylized Rising Sun background is particularly striking), and their trek through the cherry blossoms is quite simply beautiful. Jarrell’s simple but spot-on figures and Bellaire’s lush coloring really make this book worth it just to flip through and take in the images.
In spite of the fairly jovial first half, this issue is one of the moodiest stories I’ve ever read in this series. Surprisingly, Lord Death Man is a large part of that, as his portrayal here is much more somber and obsessive than in other stories. Granted, for such an obscure character he doesn’t really have much in the way of actual character traits and development, but when the character is more grounded and mature than he is in an issue of Batman Eternal then that should tell you something.
Though his appearance is foreshadowed throughout the first part of the issue, his inevitable arrival is striking and effective.
After a brief scuffle with the Trees Full Of Ninjas™, Bats ‘man and ‘girl give chase Neal Adams-style to apprehend the fleeing Lord Death Man.
What follows is a genuinely creepy excursion through a network of caves that touches on the motivations of the criminal mind and, by extension with Lord Death Man, death itself. It’s pretty heavy stuff, but handled very well. Jeff Parker’s scripting is back in top form this issue, delivering some of the best dialogue and characterization this book has seen in months. It’s probably a bit much for younger kids, unlike most issues, but not inappropriate for fans of all ages.
With a climax that is less a physical battle than it is of words and philosophy taking place on a single, taut piece of rope and a truly melancholy ending, this is one of the best issues of any book I’ve read in recent months.
The art is stunning, the writing is near perfect, and the plot actually moves along at its own pace. I’m trying really hard to think of any criticisms I have, but I’m coming up short. This issue might just be perfect from start to finish, “What’s this?” to whatever this is supposed to say:
Read this book.
- You love great comic books.
- You want to see Lord Death Man get a serious take that isn’t all grim and gloom.
- You love Batman ’66.
- I’m recycling this one: you’re breathing.
Overall: Great storytelling, plain and simple, there’s nothing about this issue I didn’t like. Pick it up, read it, enjoy it, repeat. Few comics tell their stories so succinctly, so perfectly, and with such high craftsmanship that the opportunity to experience it needs to be seized when it arises. I loved it on my first read, and I loved it even more on my second.