If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times now, but I’ll repeat myself again: Batman: The Animated Series rules.  And the accompanying comics rule just as hard.  They’re the perfect intersection of great writing, fantastic art, and accessible storytelling, with complete stories that are consistently and excellently Batman.

Though they were long out of print, DC have been collecting the various Batman Adventures titles over the last few years.  We’ve covered the previous volumes before, and now we’re moving onto the first volume of the Batman & Robin Adventures series.  Collecting the first ten issues of the series, it’s just as great as it’s predecessor, with more of a focus on the Dynamic Duo this time around.  If that’s your bag (and we don’t know why it wouldn’t be), read on to find out just how great this collection actually is.


Two Timer

Way to start this trade and series off strong.  “Two Timer” is, appropriately, a two-part story featuring that classic villain the Ten-Eyed Man.  A bold move for sure.

Just kidding; it’s about Two-Face.

Harvey, it seems, has been making great strides in his rehabilitation.  His therapy sessions are going well, his anger issues have subsided, and it’s reaching a point where it looks like Harv might be able to have an operation to correct his disfigurement.  This is great news to his long-suffering love Grace who has stuck by his side through his whole ordeal.

This doesn’t sit well with the Joker, however, who decides to have a little fun with Harvey.  So, the Clown Prince of Crime starts antagonizing Harvey and even sets a plan in motion to make it look like Grace is having an affair with Bruce Wayne.  It’s sadistic and hateful, and the Joker did it simply because he was bored.

This story is incredibly sad, from the fall of Harvey to Bruce’s faith being destroyed.  Written by Paul Dini, it reads like an unused script from the tv show, with a little bit of levity to balance out the tragedy.  Harvey Dent is one of the most tragic Batman villains and I find the Joker to be his most sinister when he’s completely unpredictable, so this story hits all sorts of beats I like to see.  It’s disheartening to see Harvey go from nearly cured to the same old Two-Face, down to kidnapping Grace and Dick Grayson to get revenge on Bruce.  And all because the Joker thought it would be funny…

Ty atempleton’s pencils are great as well, nailing the character models from the show and weaving them into exciting action set pieces.  Like Dini’s script, Templeton’s layouts look like they could easily be animation cels used in an episode of the cartoon.  I loved the exaggerated, rounded look the late Mike Parobeck brought to the previous series, and while his work is missed here, Templeton is more than worthy of the penciling job on this book.

A Christmas Riddle

It’s long been said that the Riddler was far and away the hardest villain to write on Batman: The Animated Series, hence why there are so few episodes focusing on him.  It’s not hard to see why, either: you have to be as smart as he is when writing the script, even if just for a moment, coming up with riddles and clues that are neither too difficult as to be impossible or so simple that Batman wouldn’t need to get involved.

I’m sure the comics aren’t any easier, so it’s nice to see writers take a shot at Nygma.  In the case of “A Christmas Riddle,” Paul Dini takes a different approach to the Riddler’s M.O.: instead of leaving hints for a crime he has yet to commit, Ed holds a room full of Gotham’s wealthiest men hostage so he can answer the greatest riddle of all.  That riddle?

The identities of Batman and Robin.

Dear old Ed has rightly sussed that Batman must be a fairly young man who is either independently wealthy or financed by someone who is, and Robin must be a young relative of his.  So, until the true Dynamic Duo come forward, nobody in the room can leave.

Batman, being Batman, also rightly deduces that their identities aren’t the true riddle at play here.  Given Nygma’s ego, if he really knew who they were he would just come out and say it, not grandstand and posture.  The story isn’t remarkably deep, but it’s still a fun little one-off issue that makes effective use of the Riddler.  After all, in the end all he really wants to do is outsmart Batman, which he thinks he does until… well, you can probably guess.

Plus we get some nice action with Batman and Robin wrecking some dudes.

What more could you ask for?

Birdcage

See?  Let it never be said that comics can’t teach valuable life lessons.

The Penguin is another one of those characters who can be difficult to write, though his is more due to the fact that there are so many different iterations of the character.  My preferred characterization, that of a “legitimate businessman” who bridges old crime with supervillainy, is a relatively new interpretation that has its roots in the animated series.  But he’s not quite there yet.  No, poor old Oswald is simply embroiled in a basic robbery/hostage situation scenario.  There are, like, three of those a day in Gotham, so for the most part this adventure is fairly forgettable.

That is, until it gets absolutely insane.

Yes, Batman gets in a fistfight with two (2) bald eagles.  That is amazing.

It’s really not a bad story, just not as great as the first two.  Ty Templeton moves over to scripting duties, and his plotting delivers.  I particularly liked how the opening few pages follow Batman while Summer Gleeson narrates the situation.  Very cinematic.  The great Rick Burchett replaces Templeton on pencils and his style fits like a glove.  His attention to smaller details are great, like (smoke) grenades on Batman’s belt or the elongated slope he gives to Cobblepot’s nose.

Plus, you know, punching birds.  Ridiculous… ly amazing.

Second Banana

I’ll give it this: the opening splash page is pretty killer.

Everything else about “Second Banana” just feels a bit… off.

The story idea is a good one: the Joker overhears an Arkham doctor being interviewed on television, during the course of which the doctor declares the Riddler the most clever inmate.  Ignoring the fact that the Joker isn’t actually in the joint right now, this sets him right off to the point where he targets Nygma for death.  Because of this, Batman, Robin, and the place need to lock down Arkham (ha) and keep the Riddler safe.

It’s a great idea, but the script never really goes anywhere.  The pacing is weird, and Tim Harkins’ bulbous, exaggerated pencils don’t do it many favors.  In fact, I’d say it’s the look of this story that puts me off the most.  Harkins’ characters are too squat and rounded, looking like caricatures of the actual characters, and he utilizes too many blank backgrounds too often.  Then again, there are some genuinely great panels as well, such as a huge shot of the Joker laughing that’s among the best I’ve seen for this series.

A wasted opportunity, though still an okay read on its own.  And it carries on the grand tradition of Batman punching dudes, so it can’t be all bad.

Whammo indeed.

Round Robin

It’s Robin versus the tabloids as the entire city vies to be Batman’s new partner.

“Round Robin” has a fairly silly setup for a story that ends up with some pretty dark undertones.  A youth dressed up in a Robin costume is beaten and kidnapped, and Batman and the real Robin race to save the hostage before he’s killed.  There’s one wrinkle in the plan, though: the story causes a media circus as the public believes it was really Robin who was kidnapped, so there arise a bunch of wannabes and imitators.

There are some satirical elements that are kind of fun, especially the final page gag.  The treatment of the kidnapped Robin is surprisingly brutal, though, bringing a true sense of danger to the story.  It’s a story that doesn’t let the humorous concepts downplay the drama, while also keeping the drama from getting too heavy.  A nice balance, and one that makes for a pretty great, complete story.

His Master’s Voice

Seriously, villains never learn, do they?

Look, I’m not a big fan of the Ventriloquist.  It’s not because I’m scared to death of ventriloquist dummies, BECAUSE I’M TOTALLY NOT GUYS I PROMISE HAHA, it’s just that he’s a pretty gimmicky, one-note villain.  Truth be told, The Animated Series told what we’re probably the best stories you could tell with the character, but even then there’s only so much you can do with him.

As such, this is a fairly moving, somewhat disturbing story where Wesker tries to turn against Scarface and faces the consequences.  The manhunt aspect, where Batman and Robin try to find the Ventriloquist in his own home, as well-paced and grippingly illustrated, and the morbid ending is surprisingly dark for this series.  Still, it feels like “another Ventriloquist story” that these teams have done even just slightly better before.

Harley and Ivy and… Robin?

I already reviewed this one back in Harley & Ivy.  It’s a fun little story that has Batman throwing hyenas out of greenhouse windows.

I mean, what else is there to say?

Tears

I know that I’ve read all of these stories before, but most I have very little recollection of.  This one, “Tears,” I seem to remember disliking quite a bit, but… I don’t know why.  It isn’t the best story in the collection, but it’s not terrible in the least.

Barbara Gordon, college student, has stayed late to brush up on some chemistry experiments.  When an experiment backfires and ruins her shirt, she heads down to her locker to change before heading home.  In the interim, Talia Al Ghul makes her way into the building so she can kidnap Mr. Siddiq, Barbara’s chemistry teacher.  Turns out Siddiq used to work for Ra’s and has been in hiding, so Talia has come to take him back.

This is a fun story, and a great opportunity to see Barbara kick butt on her own.  Some of the dialogue is a little corny, but overall I enjoyed it.  Talia is written pretty viciously, condescending to Barbara as “some sort of pet” of Batman’s, so seeing Barbara get the upper hand is pretty satisfying.  In all a solid little chapter.

Blood of the Demon

Somehow, this story is only twenty-two pages long, but there’s so much crammed in and its scope so cinematic that it feels longer.  In a good way, believe me.

Following on the previous issue, Talia now seeks aide from Batman I taking down her father.  It seems that Ra’s has access to an incredibly rare, incredibly horrific virus, hence why she went looking for Siddiq, and now she wants Bruce’s assistance in averting tragedy.

There so much good here it’s not funny: the dialogue between Ra’s and Talia is intense, and Batman’s infiltration of the island compound is some of the best work Rick Burchett has done on this book.

From the world-spanning threat to the fight atop a prop plane, everrythijg about this story is good, pulpy fun.  It’s an old movie serial in comic book form, and a fitting ending to this first volume.

Bonus features: El Zilcho.

Value: Typically going for $20, right now it’s about $15 for a paperback and ten bucks on ComiXology.  This is one of my favorite runs in comics ever, so yeah, it’s worth it at any of those prices.

Overall: You’ve got yourself some great writing, incredible artwork, and timeless and accessible Batman stories.  What more do you need?  Even the lesser stories are a pretty good time, and come on: Batman punches a bunch of dudes and also a bald eagle.  That is amazing.  Five stars.

SCORE: 9/10