(Bear with me for the following monologue; this is all relevant, I promise. I’ll signpost when the actual review begins.)
It might surprise you to know that DC Comics is actually a person.
That’s right! It’s easy to think that a comic book company is but a mere faceless conglomerate: a simple groaning limb of another faceless conglomerate, which makes up but one of the many grotesque, cronenbergian heads of yet another faceless conglomerate (AT&T aren’t your friends just because their social media rep is excited about the Snyder Cut, people).
But no; Mr DC Comics is a real person – albeit a strange, golden-skinned gremlin – and he, like all other corporations, exists within the frames of a very special movie called Spaceballs.
No movie was as influential to a growing boy like myself as Spaceballs was; it being the first movie to explain to me that the world and all its entertainment is essentially a stupid, derivative, capitalism-entrenched nightmare. Naturally, no movie was more beloved by me and my friends. One of my favourite scenes from it was the introduction to the iconic Yogurt – and hidden within his monologue, we find a secret confession of what Mr DC Comics loves more in the world.
Merchandising, merchandising, where the real money is made! Batman, the t-shirt! Batman, the coloring book! Batman, the lunchbox! Batman, the breakfast cereal! Batman, the razor-sharp collectible batarang! (The kids love this one.)
And last but not least: Batman, the action figure. More specifically, Batman: The Animated Series – The Adventures Continue, the action figures.
DC Direct – also known as DC Collectibles – have made boatloads of money from their B:TAS action figure line. Capturing Bruce Timm’s artstyle in a three-dimensional form is not an exact science, and quality control was a major issue during the line’s conception; but the popularity of the figures was undeniable, and the line became one of the company’s largest and best-selling figure assortments. The Arkham line was abandoned. The articulated Designer line was abandoned. The Icons line was abandoned. The Essentials line is trapped in a sea of endless repaints, with the same disproportionate base body used over and over and over again. And yet, the Animated line persisted – for so long that they started running out of characters.
So, what did DC Direct do? Did they decide to cover the myriad of characters they dropped or cancelled from their other lines? Did they decide to move into other animated shows within that universe? Nope! They made entirely new characters instead!
I have to admire DC Direct; their steadfast refusal to dip their toes outside the world of Batman anymore is impressive. These aren’t half-assed OC’s for The Animated Series; these are brand new designs and reinterpretations of classic DC characters, created with the goal of fitting in to established DC Animated Universe lore. Not only are the designs of each figure honestly inspired, but they got Paul Dini – DCAU scribe, co-creator of Harley Quinn, and one of my favourite writers in the business, to construct lore around these characters to fit them into the world so many kids grew up with!
With genuinely wonderful designs by The Batman Adventures artist Ty Templeton and sculpted by the talented Paul Harding, these figures were announced last year to be released in the coming months, initially as standalone collectors items. Sure, we’d never see these characters on our screens, but there’s no harm in the power of imagination. Besides, would it really be worth it to create a story around them if it wasn’t on television? Would anyone even read a half-baked comic book designed to shoehorn consumer-oriented figures into the world of a beloved franchise-
And there it is. This is the beautiful segue I’ve been waiting for.
(Thank you for reading my history lesson! I collect action figures and know way more about this than I should, and I won’t get a better chance to talk about it than I just did here. On with the review.)
Batman: The Adventures Continue is co-written by Alan Burnett and Paul Dini, and is illustrated by the same Ty Templeton who designed the new line of B:TAS figures. If you read my earlier exposition dump, you’ll know I didn’t have an incredibly positive takeaway on this comic; but saying I disliked it is honestly too harsh. This comic is in no way a disgrace, or even bad, in any sense of the word. There is nothing in its pages that is overly stilted, clunky, cringe-inducing or offensive. That, however, is the same reason the issue falls flat: it is so decidedly inoffensive. I’ve been one to regularly compare comic books to episodes of a DCAU episode, and sometimes I mean that as a good thing: but regarding this story, I’d like to spend my time in this review explaining why it can be an incredible misstep when making a comic.
The plot of Hardware is incredibly simple: Batman is trying to stop Lex Luthor in a giant robot. That’s it. The depth to this plot is minimal, only lying in the introduction of characters who will play a role in future issues of the comic. This story is notable for being Jason Todd’s first appearance within this universe, but he’s merely a tease as of right now; Veronica Vreeland (EDIT: who has appeared in several episodes of the original show – thank you to Jose Gregorio Bencomo Gomez for the reminder!) also makes an appearance, but right now her involvement in the story is as significant as her name is creative. No one is out-of-character here, and Bruce’s lines in particular are well-done; it’s nice to see the dynamic of a slightly air-headed Bruce Wayne in public again, as compared to his more mature interpretation in other continuities. Lex Luthor is always fun to read, too, so I have no complaints there… but those two are the only real players in this story, which isn’t a very strong way of starting your new Animated Series continuation. Bane makes a brief appearance, but it’s completely arbitrary and surface-level.
Honestly? That’s really all there is to say. This story is an explanation for an action figure: specifically, the “Super Armor Batman” figure, due to be released in August of 2020. Bruce constructs a suit to defeat Lex’s machine, in an obvious homage to the suit he uses in The Dark Knight Returns. He uses the suit in the fight. He wins. The issue ends. Maybe this kind of stuff would work well on a Saturday morning episode! Cheesy lines such as “No way you’ll escape, Batman,” countered with “Way,” would fly a lot better if you’re seeing the action, the music, the intensity and fun of the classic cartoon. But we’re not seeing that; this is a comic, and it’s a comic that’s limiting itself, and certainly not playing to the strengths of its medium.
This brings me to the art. Ty Templeton has done a lot of work within Bruce Timm’s art style before, so bringing him on board to design the new characters and draw for this series was a natural choice. I truly do enjoy his designs, too; Red Hood has a great look that feels like it’s jumped straight from a concept art book for the show. It’s why I’m disappointed that, aside from some well-done panel composition and some wonderful title cards, his work feels so flat in this issue.
At first, I initially thought it was due to the colouring; but as I reread the story, I came to like Monica Kubina’s work, creating some wonderful blue and red backdrops in the night sky to illuminate the scenes in the style of the original show. No, I think my issue lies with Templeton’s pencils and inks, which feel flatter than his work on The Batman Adventures. Here are his inks from both comics, as a point of comparison:
His latest work, while not terrible, does not feel like it matches the same standard of his earlier inks. Scenes in this issue do not feel lived-in, layered, detailed; much like some of The New Batman Adventures felt when the series was still finding its footing in the world of digital animation. Personally, I doubt that was Templeton’s intention here. Because of this, I personally feel like this product does not succeed in its role to entertain on an illustrative level. Panels without depth and detail might work fine in an animated show, because the appeal lies within its movement and fluidity. Here, the still shots of lonely, empty Batcave floors carry no weight, no motion, no power; and, as a result, little entertainment. It gets the job done; but is that really all it needs to do?
The result of all these moving parts is exactly what you’d expect: an episode of Batman: The Animated Series without the animation. But the animation was what made the original show so special: never before had we seen these adventures played out in such a dynamic, explosive, artistic format. The stories themselves were often nothing mind blowing; and without the budget of the show or a style of its own to support itself, the issue’s mediocre writing is more apparent than it ever would have been if it were on television. Without the animation, this book is just Batman: The Series. And, honestly? I’m tired of just Batman. We need something more.
- You enjoy seeing more of Bruce Timm’s art style, even if it’s just on a page.
- Red Hood’s involvement in the DCAU intrigues you; even if it isn’t developed here.
- You’re a sucker for Batman, no matter how compelling the story is at its core.
- Action figure lore is your jam.
Mediocre books are often the most heartbreaking kinds of books. Reading a mediocre book isn’t fun like an outrageously bad book, or a spectacularly good book; it just reminds you of what could have been one of those things, but just couldn’t find its place. But I’m not so disappointed when I read this book, as compared to some of the other comics that have crossed my radar. After all, I knew what this book was: like so much popular content we live to consume, this comic is a method of boosting the sales for action figures. Nothing more. And that’s why I wanted to make this an essay: about the dangers of writing too much like you’re making “just another animated Batman episode”. If you don’t try to push yourself, if you don’t understand the medium you’re working with, if you don’t play to all the things that make it special… then maybe, just maybe, if you’re lucky, your book will help sell some toys.
But nothing more.
P.S. Please pretend this review isn’t a week late. Love you. <3
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch