The Batman Adventures #1: “Penguin’s Big Score”

Written by Kelley Puckett

Illustrated by Ty Templeton

Inked by Rick Burchett

Colored by Rick Taylor

Lettered by Tim Harkins

Free stuff is always great.  You know what’s even better than that, though?  Free stuff that’s actually good.  Right now, Comixology has the first issue of 1992’s The Batman Adventures up for free as part of a Halloween Comicfest promotion, and they couldn’t have picked a better series to introduce readers to.

The series is based, of course, on the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, and like the cartoon it accompanied it had a great legacy of its own.  Running 36 issues, with two annuals and three specials (including the classic, tragic Mad Love), it was followed by The Batman and Robin Adventures, The Batman Adventures: The Lost Years, Batman: Gotham Adventures, and Batman Adventures, an all too brief 17 issue run that might be my favorite Batman series of all time.  And that’s not even counting the various comics that tied into the show’s spin offs, like Superman Adventures (which contains both the best Lex Luthor story and the second best Superman story), various Justice League books, and the super-weird Adventures in the DC Universe.

While this issue stands fine on its own, it’s actually the first in a multi-part arc that culminates in a truly gruesome Joker story, the seeds of which are planted early on.

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Kelley Puckett absolutely nails the tone of the cartoon and the characterization of the Penguin in particular.  The issue opens with a meeting with Penguin and his goons, where they’re asked what new word they learned that day.  It’s a tic that never shows up again, but perfectly fits with Cobblepot’s delusions of respectability and class.

That’s what his string of crimes reinforce, too: he robs from Gotham’s most charitable donators, and in turn donates the stolen money in his name. I’ve long held to the idea that the Penguin isn’t insane at all; rather, he’s the old crime of the mob in the trappings of the new crime of super villainy.  A scheme like this, which manages to be fouled by both Bruce Wayne and Batman, perfectly sums up his character.

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That’s another thing Puckett gets that the cartoon did so well too: it made Bruce Wayne a character.  He’s not a reclusive, brooding jerk, but a charming, likable guy who does good things for Gotham on his own.  The dichotomy of Wayne’s dual lives obviously favors Batman, but special care is taken to insure that Bruce isn’t just a blank slate, a vessel for Batman when he isn’t in costume.

One of the best aspects of the show was that it was genuinely suitable for all ages.  The adventures were engaging and the action was exciting without being too frightening for all but perhaps the youngest of children, and the writing was genuinely good as an entertainment for older audiences as well.  To this day it stands as the definitive take on the Dark Knight for at least one generation, and this comic is a worthy successor to its popularity. The dialogue is written well, the plots are structured like the three acts of an episode, and there’s wit and humor to provide levity, even though things never get too dour.

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The look of the comic is a huge plus for anyone who grew up with the show, as it follows the character models and designs remarkably close.  There are a few changes here and there, as there are a few more curved lines used to convey movement and some of the backgrounds are pretty spare, but it all feels like the animated series.  Ty Templeton drew this issue, and while Mike Parobeck and Rick Burchett would  handle the lion’s share of the artistic duties for the rest of the series, Templeton actually served as the head writer for the follow up series The Batman and Robin Adventures.

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Even though it’s free, this issue is well worth paying for.  In fact, DC has been releasing this series in a collection of trade paperback volumes for the past year, with the next one due next month, so it’s easier than ever to collect the whole run.  It’s a good thing, too, because all of the previous collections have long been out of print.

Whether you’re a longtime fan of Batman, a young adult feeling a nostalgic pang upon seeing the familiar Batman design, or a parent wanting to read great comics with your kids that don’t talk down to them, you can’t get much better than this.

Recommended if:

  • Come on, you’ve seen the show.
  • And it’s free.  You have no reason not to get this.

Overall:  Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett are modern legends thanks to their work in creating this cartoon, and with good reason.  The fact that names like Puckett, Burchett, and Templeton aren’t held in such high esteem is baffling.  This comic was genuinely great, a companion to the show instead of a cash-in.  If you’ve ever wanted more episodes of Batman, they pretty much start here.  Oh, and free.

SCORE: 9/10