How I wish I was enjoying this more than I actually am. All of the elements for greatness are there: a meeting between two classic characters and their respective franchises; one of the Caped Crusader’s most formidable villains; and an all-star creative team who know their way around the properties. Despite a few notable highs, though, Batman ’66 Meets Wonder Woman ’77 has been an incredibly disappointing affair. Sad to say that, after returning to the Sixties for the fairly strong third chapter, the fourth issue here continues that unfortunate trend.
The broad strokes of the plot are actually pretty engaging: Ra’s Al Ghul has used the Elysian Well that has been guarded by the Amazons for generations to restore his youth. It’s a fairly basic Ra’s Al Ghul story with the added bonus of having a giant cyclops, elemental-powered undead henchmen, and a griffin. It’s absolutely crazy in the best possible way, with some great action scenes that are illustrated really well.
But the visual element has always been consistently good in this series. Hahn, Kesel, and Madpencil work well together and turn in some great work, from that gorgeously designed labyrinth to the characters themselves. If this was a wordless, “silent” issue, I’d hardly have anything negative to say. They even avoid one of my biggest pet peeves in comics by paying tribute and homage to classic stories without feeling derivative. Case in point: Batman and Ra’s have a swordfight.
Batman and Ra’s always have swordfights, going all the way back to their famous (barechested) duel in Batman #244. It’s a scene that is often referenced, and with good reason: it’s a great fight in itself, and it perfectly captures the relationship between these two men. They’re both strong-willed and refuse to compromise their ideals, yet there’s also a weird respect between the two. What better way to illustrate that than the sheer swashbuckling romance of an old-fashioned duel with swords? It’s a perfect way to showcase both Ra’s and Batman’s physical and mental skills, given the need to be formidable with a blade while also having the tactical mind to anticipate your opponent’s next moves.
But like pretty much every other panel in The Dark Knight Returns, that classic fight in the desert has been copied and parodied to death at this point. It’s so hard to reference it without feeling tired or derivative, but I think Hahn struck a good balance here. In fact, when I saw Batman grab a sword I steeled myself to be disappointed, but no, it’s a good fight. It hearkens back to the original while maintaining its own pace and flow. Besides the fact that it has Batman and Ra’s with swords, there aren’t any copied angles or images. Great taste and restraint on Hahn’s part.
But really, this book has looked good from the beginning. It’s the writing that hasn’t been stellar, and despite a slight improvement last month, the same problems continue to plague the script.
There are individual moments and lines that work, like the initial exchange between Batman, Wonder Girl, and Robin.
Oh, by the way: Wonder Girl shows up. I’m pretty sure this is the first time Debra Winger has been rendered in comic book form, so yay?
By and large though, the dialogue just rings hollow. As before, Batman sounds oddly out of character. He’s a bit of a square, as he should be, so that’s not the problem. It’s lines like “I just wanted to say thanks” that sound… not ’66. There’s just something off, some x-factor that’s missing that makes this really feel like a Batman ’66 comic.
Even worse, Ra’s doesn’t feel like a threat. Sure, we know who he is and who he’s supposed to be based on previous exposure, but there isn’t any real menace here. Besides wanting to find a Lazarus Pit and being flanked by a loyal daughter, he is largely bereft of personality. There isn’t any of the cool charm that we’re used to, the ecoterrorist who kind of maybe has a point when you get past his… questionable means. He’s not looking for a successor and showing respect to the detective Batman. No, he’s just a bad guy who wants bad things. That’s disappointingly one-dimensional for one of Batman’s most interesting villains.
Looking past the dialogue and characterization problems, there are some interesting plot developments here that held my interest. Catwoman, for instance, makes a decision late in the game that was pretty surprising and could lead to some interesting conflict in the final chapters. I still like the idea of hopping through different decades as well, even if the execution hasn’t been remarkably stellar. After the disappointing opening chapters that took place in the Forties, I’d hoped that returning Batman to the Sixties where he belongs would have improved matters. With those hopes largely dashed, I’m still optimistic that a trip to the Seventies can turn this series around. I mean, Robin becomes Disco Nightwing. What more could you want?
- You’re a big fan of Batman ’66 and Wonder Woman ’77.
- You can look past narrative flaws for a few good ideas hidden beneath the surface.
Overall: While this book is not bad by any stretch, it just isn’t nearly as good as it should be. If it had been billed as just a basic “Batman meets Wonder Woman” comic it may have read better, but it barely feels like Batman ’66 if at all. That said, there’s a lot of visual inventiveness and lovely art, and a few scenes that work well on their own. The very definition of a “fine” comic, when it should have been so much more.