There are some properties that transcend time. Batman, naturally, is one of those. From his introduction over 75 years ago, the Caped Crusader has evolved over time to become one of the linchpins of pop culture and, dare I say, one of the most enduring literary creations of the past century. Even when the story you’re reading or movie you’re watching has some dated elements, the adventures of Batman are still by and large enjoyable as a part of the character’s history.
Then there are those characters and properties that are so deeply rooted in their own time and zeitgeist that it’s nigh-on impossible to divorce them from a specific moment. Secret agent John Steed and his lovely assistants, alias “The Avengers,” could really only exist in the Sixties: a dapper English gentleman surrounded by beautiful, self-assured women whose fashions were inspired by the Mod movement of the day, and in turn would inspire fashion trends themselves. Like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., it was a series that capitalized on Cold War-era tensions and cultural trends to bring adventures as suspenseful as they were stylish. The formula could certainly be replicated to fit the times, but the details were specific to the decade.
Thankfully, in an age where nostalgia reigns supreme, titles like Batman ’66 come along and almost redefine how “throwback” titles work: instead of being a retread of previous ideas, it’s treated as a continuation of its source material to allow for new adventures while still scratching the itch of nostalgia. Even better, it provides an opportunity for lesser-known properties to share the spotlight via crossovers, the spiritual successor to a guest spot on television. Like Solo and Kuryakin before them, it’s time for John Steed and Emma Peel to take their turn.
The all-too-brief opening chapter to Batman ’66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel (wordier than Batman ’66 Meets The Avengers, but… yeah, pretty obvious why they didn’t use that title) is honestly some of the most exciting and solid 20-odd pages I’ve read lately. In such a short span, writer Ian Edginton and artist Matthew Dow Smith, along with mainstays like the incomparable Jordie Bellaire and Wes Abbott, give us an opening chapter that is short on details but high on intrigue and energy.
Opening in Gotham at a Rare Gemstone Exhibition (because of course), millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is conferring with the head of United Automation, with whom Wayne Enterprises will soon be doing business. Bruce trades a few flirtatious lines with Michaela Gough (a lovely tribute to a dearly-departed Alfred), only for the duo to be caught in the clutches of Catwoman and her goons.
The dialogue from Ian Edginton is stellar, perfectly balancing both the cool British sensibilities of The Avengers with the tongue-in-cheek humor of Batman ’66. The introduction of Steed and Peel in particular is handled well, free of clunky exposition: they come in and take down the criminals, showing that they’re effective crime fighters instead of having to explain it. For readers who are completely green when it comes to these characters, there really isn’t much more information given than “they can handle themselves in a fight,” but it’s executed so well that it doesn’t matter.
It’s that lack of exposition that is this chapter’s strength: while little more than an attempted heist occurs, enough pieces are put in play so as to whet our appetites in anticipation of further installments. Edginton even manages to throw in a wonderful scene between Robin and Alfred in the Batcave as well as bringing in a mysterious figure for the cliffhanger, and the fact that nothing feels extraneous or maddeningly vague is a tribute to his well-balanced and economic script.
Matthew Dow Smith’s shade-heavy illustrations are an interesting stylistic choice for the material, but I really liked it. It’s different than what we normally see in this type of book, but his use of staging and panel layouts makes the action and narrative flow smoothly.
Plus, any chance we get to see Alfred-as-Batman is a chance that needs to be taken.
And if that doesn’t sell you on it, I don’t know what will.
- You love Batman ’66.
- You like The Avengers.
- Or, if you’re unfamiliar with them, you’re willing to give the property a shot.
- Alfred-as-Batman, chums.
Overall: A promising start to a ripping spy yarn. The dialogue is pitch perfect, cracking with wit and knowing humor, and the highly stylized artwork moves things along at a brisk pace. Maybe too brisk, but wanting more of something you enjoyed is never a bad thing. I for one can’t wait to see the further adventures of Batman, Robin, Steed, and Mrs. Peel.