Batman ’66 Meets the Man From U.N.C.L.E. #1 review

Batman 66 Meets the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Batman ’66 Meets the Man From U.N.C.L.E. #1: “The Batman Affair: Deathtraps and Lairs/A Spy For a Spy”

Written by Jeff Parker

Illustrated by David Hahn

Inked by Karl Kesel

Colored by MadPencil

Lettered by Wes Abbott

Alright, confession time: for the longest time, I thought The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was about an alien or something.  I’d never seen it before, and had only heard the title, so I thought that U.N.C.L.E. was a distant planet and the show was about his shenanigans on Earth or something.

Like, for a really, really long time.  How long, you ask?  Well, when they announced Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer had been cast in Guy Ritchie’s film from earlier this summer, I wanted to know which one was the alien.

I have since been corrected, and I’m pretty sure I was thinking of My Favorite Martian.

My point: I didn’t have much exposure to this property, but when they announced that the beloved Batman ’66 would have a crossover miniseries with agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, I decided I should educate myself so as to become more familiar with the characters and world.  I checked out as much of the show as I could, because those would be the likenesses the series would be drawing from, and I watched the movie because it just looked fun (SPOILERS: it was fun, and Henry Cavill is absolutely great in it).

The premise, for those unfamiliar: developed by Sam Rolfe and Norman Felton, with some ideas contributed by Ian Fleming, the series focused on American agent Napoleon Solo and Soviet agent Illya Kuryakin of U.N.C.L.E., the United Network Command for Law Enforcement.  While they faced all sorts of threats, their main opponents were the criminal organization T.H.R.U.S.H., the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity (which is… not as good an acronym).  The counterintelligence and spy aspects were interesting enough, but the real draw of the show was the chemistry between leads Robert Vaughn and David McCallum as Solo and Kuryakin, respectively: where Solo was suave and confident, Kuryakin was more reserved and intellectual.  Their conflicting personalities made them endearing as a team, and formed the backbone for both the television show and the movie.

That brings us to this miniseries, which is a bit of a curiosity.  It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not entirely sure why it’s coming out when it is.  If it was to capitalize on the movie, it should have been released earlier this year, not after it’s been on video for at least a month at this point.  And while Batman ’66 is still massively popular, using a relatively esoteric spy show as crossover material is a bit of an oddity.  Even the Green Hornet at least had precedence in this world.  If nothing else, it will help satisfy my longing for ’66 after the cancellation of the main series, so I can’t really complain.

Well, this and the Twitter account @BatLabels, who is going through each episode and posting every single sign and marked item.  It’s truly incredible.

But I digress.

With all of that out of the way, on to the issue at hand.

Jeff Parker, the series regular writer for the Batman ’66 comic, uses this issue to serve as an introduction to The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which was a wise choice: it’s a less familiar property, and where there have been many iterations of Batman and Robin in just as many series over the years, the same can’t be said for the titular spies.  While Batman and Robin get their fair share of action, it’s Kuryakin and Solo even more so who get the most “screen time,” as it were.

Ohhhh, that's why it's called that...Ohhhh, that’s why it’s called that…

The first plot thread follows Solo as he investigates Olga, Queen of the Cossacks, whom he suspects of being an investor in T.H.R.U.S.H.

Side-note: it is not easy typing out the names of these organizations, but I’m a purist and insist on proper punctuation.

His investigation leads him to a meeting of investors on a boat in Belgium, only for him and Kuryakin to be captured before they can escape.

Even this early in the series, it’s great fun, and I’d gladly read an ongoing U.N.C.L.E. book from Parker if he can keep this up.  The espionage and intrigue are engaging enough without getting too heavy, and even if you’re not familiar with the characters their personalities are represented well.

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Back in Gotham, Batman and Robin answer a call to apprehend escaped Arkham inmates after a recent breakout.  This is classic ’66 action, with the great visual gags, crazy gadgets, and tongue-in-cheek one-liners you’d expect.

Plus this car, which I can't decide if it's super-rad or just lazily designed. I'm leaning toward the former.Plus this car, which I can’t decide if it’s super-rad or just lazily designed. I’m leaning toward the former.

David Hahn’s use of depth on pages like this is just fantastic, making a car chase feel like an actual pursuit between the two vehicles.  I absolutely love the stippling on the headlights too, using an old technique to give the illusion of light.  What action there is this issue is short, but not a single pencil or brushstroke is wasted.

Ultimately, the Dynamic Duo are captured by the Penguin and his henchman Renny, and what would Batman ’66 be without a death trap?

Well, Merry Christmas everyone, because with both duos captured, we get not one but two death traps.  Thank you, DC.

Intentionally or not, the dichotomy of the traps is pretty funny: Solo and Kuryakin are held in some sort of castle, shackled to a table with a huge blade swinging above them.

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It’s a classic set up, made even better by the monologuing villain.

Batman and Robin, meanwhile… well:

At least they tried.At least they tried.

Hogtied in a cavern with dynamite haphazardly thrown about.  Like the Penguin’s car up there, this is either incredibly inept or genius in its simplicity.

Since they escape, I’m going with the first one.

As simple as that deathtrap is, I really like the layout of that page: the circle to focus on Batman and Robin’s dialogue, the pretty good likenesses of the Dynamic Duo, the cramped space of the cavern, even the placement of the dynamite I poked a bit of fun at earlier is all used to sell the scene.  It’s really economic use of illustration, and I’m really impressed by the contributions of Hahn, MadPencil, and the inks of industry mainstay Karl Kesel.

Other than some exposition and set up, there isn’t an awful lot to this issue; Batman and the two agents don’t even meet at any point.  What it does, though, is introduce us to some unfamiliar characters, set the rules they’re playing by, and establish a lesser-known Batman rogue as a link between the two.  It’s pretty clever, and with the Arkham breakout it should provide for some pretty fun adventures in the coming months.

SHOW SPOILER ▼

The entire creative team works together to really sell the tone of this book: from the opening pages it feels like a spy adventure, and even when it transitions to the cheesier style of this world’s Batman it still feels like it’s part of the same story.  Time will tell if that tone will stay consistent once the spies meet the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder, but so far this unlikely team-up is looking like a surprising success.

Recommended if:

  • You love Batman ’66.
  • You already miss Batman ’66.
  • You’re a fan of spy stories, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in particular.
  • Seriously, if you haven’t at least seen the movie, do it.  It’s surprisingly great.
  • Shoutout once again to @BatLabels, who is really getting the most out of what Twitter is good for.  Which is more Batman.  And no, I’m not affiliated with them, just a big fan.

Overall: A remarkably strong start to an unlikely miniseries, the marriage between these two worlds already looks to be a successful one.  It will be interesting to see how the more grounded nature of Solo and Kuryakin handle the colorful rogues of Batman and Robin, but the clever use of Olga, Queen of the Cossacks as a bridge between the two series is hopefully indicative of how well these two properties mesh together.  If we can’t have Batman ’66 Meets James Bond, this is looking like a worthy substitute.

SCORE: 9/10

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