Wind back the clock earlier this year and Batman ‘89 was far and away at the op of my list of most anticipated comics. The only other book that came close was Superman ‘78, for many of the same reasons (and which was excellent, by the way.) The first issue earned a lot of goodwill from me, thanks to some great Joe Quinones and Leonard Ito art and just the entire concept of diving back into the world of Burton’s Batman. It was a promising start to a book of been clamoring for for years, and served as a bright spot in the middle of too much mire in the comic book world.
So yeah, without burying the lede, the second issue was pretty disappointing. The first issue earned my trust, but only if the series built upon the groundwork that was laid out by Sam Hamm, Quinones, Ito, and Clayton Cowles. Instead, this feels like too much of the exact same, with very little forward movement.
The biggest sin this Batman book commits is that it really isn’t much of a Batman book at all. Bruce Wayne is practically a non-entity in his own book, both in and out of costume, so it’s hardly satisfying the desire to see this particular take on Batman back in action. While he’s given more to do this month than in the previous issue, he plays second fiddle to the other characters. There’s a brief scene where he laments a tragic accident that he might have prevented, and another where he meets with Harvey Dent to literally put his money where his mouth is, and both are fine character moments. It isn’t nearly enough, though, as he just doesn’t feel like Batman, let alone Michael Keaton’s Batman. I mentioned it last month, and it bears repeating: Hamm’s dialogue in the film owes as much to Keaton’s performance and Burton’s direction as they do what is written on the printed page, and since you get neither performance nor direction in a comic, the characterization falls short.
Dent and the new Robin get most of the focus here, with the latter being a bit of a cypher. Rather than using one of the established Robins in the canon, Hamm has elected to create a brand new character out of whole cloth. It’s a strange choice, but not altogether unexpected, especially considering this “Boy Wonder” shares little in common with Dick, Jason, Tim, or Damian. There’s an entertaining scene where he stops a bank robbery, though I kind of groaned at the “robbin’ the bank” gag where he’s accidentally given his masked hero code name. Hamm has a little bit of fun with it, but it’s still kind of an easy joke. Right now, I’m interested in this character without being outright invested.
As far as the writing for Harvey Dent goes, though, Hamm’s dialogue reads very much like lines you could hear Billy Dee Williams delivering. As before, Dent is the more interesting character this time around, and practically serves as the series’ lead. Almost by default, I’m far more invested in Harvey Dent’s story than I am Batman’s, because… Dent at least has an arc that’s beginning to develop. There’s some groundwork laid here that could turn into an arc for Bruce, sure, but even still, none of the most memorable scenes in this series so far have involved Batman.
Which is really, really weird, even in the context of these two issues. Quinones has drawn some truly impressive Batman scenes, with some striking imagery that should become iconic down the line. It doesn’t really feel like that will be the case, though, because as much as I like his work, this series is lacking a personality. Dent is the most fully realized figure, which is fine, because the Joker was the more complex character in Batman. That movie had the advantage of style, though, with a Gotham City that felt alive, as grimy and terrifying as it was. Here, Gotham feels like it could be any general city, and that’s a shame, because that Anton Furst architecture is still amazing.
It’s not for lack of trying, to be fair, because Hamm at least makes an attempt to explore different areas of Gotham. Burnside– a recent addition to Gotham’s landscape– features in several key scenes, though it feels more like an obligation than a natural inclusion. That extends to the book’s inability to match Batman and– to a lesser extent– Batman Returns‘ timelessness, as the Gotham City from the ’89 film felt like it existed outside of time. Here, there’s a reference to computer networks and searchable databases that make this story feel very much like it takes place in the Nineties, and not in a good way. There’s also an appearance from a long-awaited character who– much like Burnside– feels included out of obligation rather than inspiration.
And really, I hate that I feel this way about this book. I’ve been cheering for it all this time, and will continue to do so until the end. There are some great ideas here, and great character beats when the story allows. As beautiful as it is to look at, though, and as much as I want to love it, Batman ’89 has a long way to go to recapture its magic.
BONUS: A super dope variant cover from Mitch Gerads, please and thanks.
- You enjoyed the first issue.
- You’re a Quinones fan, as one should be.
- You’re invested in Harvey Dent’s story.
Overall: I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a step down from the first issue, because it’s at least consistent with the groundwork laid out there. The main problem is this issue doesn’t rise above the series’ debut, and instead feels like it’s treading water. The art is lovely, even if Quinones hasn’t yet been given an opportunity to really inject a lot of personality into his take on Gotham, and there are some great story ideas. There’s just… something missing that could tie everything together, and I’m not sure exactly what it is. Here’s hoping they get over this sophomore slump and the rest of the series fires on all cylinders, because I want this book more than any others to be a success.