The final volume of the original The Batman Adventures series is here, collecting the final run of issues and a few one-shots and annual’s for good measure. Like previous installments, it’s a great collection by itself and a perfect introduction to both Batman and the classic animated series.
The first issue in the collection is The Batman Adventures Holiday Special, and if there’s one thing writers like, it’s a story set around Christmas time. This special contains five stories taking place over the month of December, with one bookending the others and three that will no doubt be familiar to longtime fans.
“Jolly Ol’ St. Nicholas,” “The Harley and the Ivy,” and “What Are You doing New Year’s Eve?” were all adapted for the “Holiday Knights” episode of The New Batman Adventures, so seeing their origins with different artistic styles is a nice treat.
“Jolly Ol’ St. Nicholas” finds Barbara Gordon shopping for a gift for her father, only to run afoul of some thieves who turn out to be Clayface. It’s fun seeing Batgirl work independently of the rest of the family, and even more so seeing Harvey Bullock dressed as the surliest of Santas.
“The Harley and the Ivy,” which I also covered here, follows Harley and Ivy (get it?!) as they drug Bruce Wayne and make him take them on a shopping spree. It’s goofy fun, and Ronnie Del Carmen’s pencils really bring the duo’s antics to life.
Of these three stories, the most interesting in theory but weakest in execution is “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”, where the Joker plans to kill everyone gathered at Gotham’s New Year’s Eve countdown. As he does.
I like the idea, and the use of Joker masks to throw Batman of the Clown Prince of Crime’s trail, but Kevin Altieri and Butch Lukic’s pencils, while fine, are rough around the edges and don’t quite fit with the likes of Bruce Timm. The climactic fight and ensuing countdown to Midnight are staged and illustrated very well, but some of the figures and faces look a tad grotesque. It’s still a good story, just the one I think played out better in animation.
By far the best story in the special is “White Christmas,” in which Batman tracks down Mister Freeze after the villain escapes from Arkham. I won’t spoil his motives or the outcome, just to say that it’s as characteristically heartbreaking and moving as you’d expect from the team that changed Freeze from forgettable gimmicky villain to a tragic antagonist.
The framing story concludes with Batman and Commissioner Gordon meeting up for their annual cup of coffee. It’s a nice scene with some great dialogue, as hopeful as it is melancholic. Sometimes you just need a simple conversation between two characters, and what better than Batman interacting with his oldest ally?
With stories ranging from “pretty good” to “great,” this is a great start to the collection.
Like I said: all about the Christmas setting.
The Joker is bored in Arkham, so what does he do? Why, he concocts a scheme to drive noted councilmen and lawmakers crazy, of course!
There aren’t an awful lot of surprises to this story, but it’s one of the most genuinely funny issues I’ve read in some time. There’s a bit where Harley dresses up as a noted psychologist that has a punchline that just had me rolling. It’s good to see Mike Parobeck’s pencils again, too, as at this point he’d completely grown into his role and had a definitive style.
All told, a funny caper with great energy, jokes, and visuals. Solid in the best possible way.
Rā’s Al Ghul is missing, which prompts the World’s Greatest Detective to embark on a journey to track down his deadly foe.
Kelley Puckett gets pretty heavy this issue, prompting questions of whether Batman would truly feel remorse at the loss of an enemy.
That’s not to say he longs for the deaths of his foes, but it’s an interesting idea coupled with the question of whether he can find true happiness and intimacy with one of his great loves.
His investigation leads him to cross paths with Talia, who is looking for any trace of her father herself, so naturally the two join up. It hits a lot of the same beats that issue #13’s “Last Tango in Paris” did, but where the former story was more emotional this one has a tighter structure and adventure. Not to mention Dev Madan’s pencils, which combined with Rick Burchett’s inks bring some of the best use of shadow and darkness that’s been seen in this book.
With an epic scope, an intriguing mystery, great fights, and an emotional ending, this is a great adventure that carries the spirit of Rā’s’ earliest appearances without feeling derivative.
Did you want to know the respective origins of Mastermind, Perfesser, and Mr. Nice? Well good/too bad, because that’s exactly what this issue is.
I will say, for a forgettable story about forgettable villains (seriously: I’d completely forgotten is even read this issue before I got to the punchline on the last page, and I always have to Google at least one of their names before writing about them), this is pretty fun. One of the “dastardly” trio is in possession of the final piece of a treasure map, and another criminal interviews each of them hoping to find it. Instead, they each regale him with what caused them to turn to a life of crime, like Mr. Nice using a giant toothbrush to take out armed terrorists on the set of his children’s show only to end up losing everything.
It’s silly, and Batman’s hardly in it, but surprisingly fun enough on its own.
Just don’t expect to remember it.
Alright, first things first: is it just me or is Anarky totally holding Macbeth from Gargoyles hostage?
That’s totally Macbeth.
If you’re not familiar with Anarky, our own Brandon wrote up a wonderful rundown of the character last year. In short, he’s a kid who has radical political ideals and seeks to overthrow the establishment. His costume is kind of dumb, too.
The story, written by Anarky’s co-creator Alan Grant, is actually pretty tense, with a nice satirical edge: Anarky has taken several industrialists hostage, including Bruce Wayne, and wants to make a show of their deaths to send a message about their less than ethical practices.
There’s a recurring gag where a director in a television studio wants to keep broadcasting because it’s “ratings gold,” and while that may be well-trodden ground today such biting satire was a surprise to see in a comic based on a cartoon.
As a huge fan of Robin, it’s always nice to see him working on his own, and the twist of Bruce being one of the potential victims ratcheted up the tension nicely. With a solid script and some great pencils yet again, this was a surprisingly solid read.
Batman investigates two factions of Napoleonic reenactors who fight with real weapons and cause real deaths.
Yeah, even this is just a little too weird for me.
Sad as it is to say, they can’t all be winners, and this is certainly one of the lesser installments of The Batman Adventures. The writing is actually decent, but the plot is average, and while Parobeck and Burchett’s pencils are pretty good, everything’s awash with red backgrounds that don’t make for the most engaging of images. The reason for the battles (two rich eighty-eight-year-old men who have hated each other since childhood) would make for an okay punchline to a joke but can’t really sustain 22 pages of story.
Then again, this happens:
And that alone is worth a full point.
Here’s a story that could go wrong in so many different ways, but in the deft hands of Ty Templeton it’s almost perfect.
Bruce Wayne has become smitten with a new flame and grown attached to her young son, so with crime down in Gotham he begins to devote more time to them. After a Grey Ghost marathon, though, the trio are robbed at gun point, prompting Bruce to act on impulse to get their items back. Naturally, Bruce leaves Veronica and Justin in a safe place so he can pursue the perp as Batman.
Nearly every bit is hit perfectly, without any schmaltz or manipulation: the “can Bruce find happiness?” card isn’t overplayed, the mugging echoes the Wayne’s murder and strikes a chord without Bruce without resorting to cliche, and his pursuit of the assailant is driven by Justice rather than vengeance. There’s even a nice scene with Harvey Bullock, who doesn’t appear in these pages enough.
It’s a fairly straightforward story with an appropriately bittersweet ending, and proof enough that you don’t need to go big to tell a great tale, you just need to tell it well.
The final three issues of the series proper make up a three-part adventure, a suitably grandiose ending to the series’ 36 issue run.
Hugo Strange has crafted a device that will wipe out portions of its target’s memory, so he uses it on Batman while pulling off heists to further fund his research. The way everything unfolds is handled very well, as even we’re led to believe the way Bruce processes events is the way they really happened, only to find out with him that something isn’t quite right.
Strange isn’t necessarily a favorite character, but I like his status as the oldest of Batman’s foes and don’t like the fact that he didn’t get put to much use in the animated series. This is a pretty good story for him, driven by his own obsessions and tragedies, and the use of Catwoman is welcome as well.
Things get a bit silly when Catwoman convinces an amnesiac Batman that he’s her partner in cat burglary, but overall it’s a solid story that uses different aspects of the character to great effect: the villains are memorable and used well, his family keeps up the fight with and for him, and in the end Batman is a figure of justice and truth.
Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of Etrigan, I love Jack Kirby and his wonderfully bizarre creations (Mister Miracle is a top ten favorite no doubt), but for several reasons the Demon doesn’t register well with me. A lot is personal religious beliefs, for sure, which I won’t shy away from. In reviewing stories, though, I at least try and look at them as they are and rate them accordingly. When you have a story with Rā’s Al Ghul trying to summon a creature of the underworld to do his bidding, though? That’s just a little much. That one episode of The New Batman Adventures wasn’t bad, but that was due more than anything to the presence of Billy Zane. He’s a cool dude.
I will say that some of the figures are appropriately Kirbyesque, and there are a few nice scenes between Bruce and Talia, but even from a storytelling perspective it’s pretty weak. Had it been a standard issue it may have fared better, but regardless of the subject material it just goes on way too long and doesn’t justify the length of an annual.
It’s a rare miss from such a great creative team, and a disappointing end to an overall strong volume.
Bonus Features: None, sadly, unless you count being able to complete your collection. Which of course I do, at least. Half a point.
Overall: Containing some of the best and some of the worst stories from the series, the highs far outweigh the lows making for the final volume of The Batman Adventures a rewarding experience. Here’s hoping the sales for these and the Superman Adventures volumes are strong so that we can keep getting more and more adventures in the DC Animated Universe rereleased.