Let me be real here: the current state of Batman comics has left me wanting for quite some time now. There’s a whole lot of Batman content out there, but more often than not it seems like it’s quantity over quality.
There are a few gems here and there, to be sure, as The Batman & Scooby-Doo Mysteries is delightful, and Nightwing is the best it’s been in over a decade.
Even still, there hasn’t been an awful lot that’s gotten me well and truly excited to read new Batman comics. And as a fan, that’s not a great feeling.
That all changed on a cold day this past February, though. Why do I remember that it was cold, and this day in particular? Well, I live in Texas, and if you’ll recall, the entire state kind of froze over. I was sitting at my church, charging my phone and getting warm, when I received an email from DC Comics. This email announced two comics that I’d been wanting for years: Batman ‘89 and Superman ‘78. That one announcement filled me with enough excitement to carry me through the next several months, and now we’re here. The comic book continuation of Tim Burton’s iconic and super weird films Batman and Batman Returns.
Now, getting real again, neither one of those films are my favorite Batman movies. Despite all of my gripes with them (of which I have a lot), I find them endlessly watchable. Almost comforting, in fact, especially ‘89. It feels like a time capsule of a specific moment in popular culture where Batman went from recognizable property to the biggest character in the world. I was only four when the movie came out, so I didn’t get to experience Batmania myself, but watching the movie makes me feel like I can still be a part of it.
As for Batman Returns, it has Chip Shreck. What a champ. Four stars.
So even though I’m not head over heels in love with the movies themselves, they’re a huge part of Batman’s history that I can return to again and again if for no other reason than to be entertained. A comic set in that world is just rife with potential, given where the stories could have gone if certain circumstances hadn’t changed.
Factor in a creative team that includes Sam Hamm, the writer of the first Batman film, the absolutely amazing Joe Quinones on pencils, Leonardo Ito contributing some gorgeous colors, and the ever-reliable Clayton Cowles on letters, and this seems like a dream comic in the making.
After 400 words now, I can confidently tell you that the first issue of Batman ‘89 is a success.
Not perfect, mind you, and not an unmitigated success. It’s just a fun throwback to some of the most successful, influential, and even infamous comic book movies of all time.
It’s hard to say how successful this is as a sequel to Batman and Batman Returns, because both of those films are incredibly different from one another. It’s not as easy as, say, Batman: The Adventures Continue, which absolutely feels like more adventures in the world established by Batman: The Animated Series. Despite both being directed by Tim Burton, the two Batman films have different tones, atmospheres, and even approaches to the characters. This isn’t bad, mind you, just to say that a comic book that promises to “pick up where those movies left off” is a bit of a stretch.
It certainly helps that Sam Hamm is on board as the writer of this series, given that he’s the credited screenwriter of Batman. That at least brings a little bit of legacy to this project, which would have been highly anticipated no matter who wrote it, but having someone who helped craft the world that it’s supposed to evoke doesn’t hurt.
To that end, Hamm delivers a solid script with some interesting ideas, not the least of which is Harvey Dent’s crusade against the Batman. There are some surprising cues taken from The Dark Knight, with counterfeit Batmen taking inspiration from the Caped Crusader. His voice for Dent is pitch perfect too, as his lines work with Joe Quinones’ wonderfully expressive pencils to make it sound as if Billy Dee is actually delivering them.
Where it falls a bit short is with Batman himself, weirdly enough. There are some cool scenes and dramatic poses sprinkled throughout (and I may be in the minority, but I love the purple lining on Batman’s cape), proof positive that Quinones and colorist Leonardo Ito are perfect for this book. Batman and his alter ego Bruce Wayne are cyphers, though, without enough actual presence to make a huge impact. That’s strange to say in a Batman comic book based on one of the most influential films of all time, but it Dent shows that Hamm can write a character to a specific actor, the way Batman is portrayed here shows how much an onscreen performance can make an impact too. It isn’t bad writing, just bland writing.
Maybe that makes sense though, given the source material. Not to say the script for Batman was bad, but its focus was as much on its villain as it was its hero, if not more so. So if the Joker had the livelier dialogue and more memorable presence, then it shouldn’t be surprising that the same could be said of the man who will almost inevitably become Two-Face.
Much of my appreciation comes from built-in goodwill. Sure, Batman and Batman Returns might not be my favorite Batman movies, but they represent a specific time and place in popular culture, and are always entertaining watches to boot. That, coupled with the inspired creative team make this a fun comic. It’s different, and even a little weird at times, but so were the movies that inspired the book.
Oh, and it opens on Halloween, so bonus points for kicking off spooky season early.
BONUS: In addition to the amazing main cover, Jerry Ordway (who, of course, penciled the original Batman comic adaptation) and Steve Oliff provide an equally amazing variant, while Joe Quinones shows off some of his designs on another cover.
- You love Batman and/or Batman Returns.
- You’re all about that Joe Quinones and Leonardo Ito team.
- You like you some good Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent action.
Overall: A strong start that absolutely trades on nostalgia, brand recognition, and goodwill. The writing is solid, if not incredible, but the art and lettering are fantastic. It’s hard to say it’s a perfect representation of Burton’s Batman, given that his two films were so drastically different from one another, but there are plenty of interesting ideas to keep you engaged.