Much will be made of the delays to Batman ’89 #5 in many reviews being published today, I’m sure. It’s hard to talk about the issue without at least mentioning it, really, which is clearly evidenced by the fact that this is how I’m starting off my own review. I don’t remember when this issue was originally solicited, but the last firm date I can recall was the end of December 2021. Now, here we are, near the middle of April 2022, and this issue is finally in hand.
I don’t fault the creators for the delays, as unforeseen circumstances prevented the issue from being completed “on time,” at least in a sense. Things happen, and regarding the things that happened here, I hope for the absolute best. Unfortunate but unexpected delays won’t factor into how I feel about this issue.
Because the issue should speak for itself, as should the series as a whole, and even if this had been published when originally expected, I still would have struggled to muster up any enthusiasm. For Batman ’89 is not a bad comic, really, just a bland one. In some ways, that’s even more unfortunate, because poor quality can at least elicit a strong response. I try not to focus too much on negatives, and certainly don’t go out of my way to trash something just for its own sake, but if a work of art is so inept, so terrible that you can’t help but go on a screed describing all the ways you hated it? That is at least interesting to read and write, at least to a point.
No, it’s when a comic or movie or song is so average, so innocuous that you struggle having to find things to say about it other than “it’s just there” that it becomes truly difficult to judge. And that’s how I feel about this entire series: it’s just there. It exists, I was once excited about it, but when all is said and done, I probably won’t think about it much once the final issue is published and my review is submitted. Six months, a year, several years down the line I’ll see something that sparks recognition, like the admittedly excellent covers from Joe Quinones and Leonardo Ito, and I’ll say “oh yeah, I remember that.” But this is not a series that will stick with me for very long, and based on the lack of discussion around the web, I don’t think it will stay a part of the conversation for very long.
There are still some positives here, don’t get me wrong. Quinones and Ito in particular are a terrific team, even if the aesthetics and feel of the Burton films aren’t captured in their styles. Even still, I like looking at this comic quite a bit, even if just to see the Keaton Batsuit and the Best Batmobile Ever Made This Is Not An Opinion But A Fact in a modern comic. As with the story, though, their work is best in the scenes involving Two-Face, like a panel early on that’s awash in stark red and white, an impressive panel late in the issue that literalizes Dent’s fractured psyche, or a coin flipping sequence that cleverly ratchets up the tension in a stakeout. It’s great stuff, and an excellent use of the visual medium.
From the very first issue, I continue to be impressed with how well Sam Hamm writes Harvey Dent. He doesn’t delve too far into camp, but instead makes the now two-faced criminal a very dangerous man. It could just be that Billy Dee Williams’ personality and line delivery are so distinct that it’s easy to imagine him saying these lines, but whatever it is, it works. Of all the characters in Batman ’89, Two-Face is by far the most well-rounded and realized, and almost worth reading the series on his own.
But that’s the problem too. This is a Batman comic, and Batman has yet to do anything worthwhile or memorable. There are some cool shots here and there, sure, and I’ve liked scenes that he’s in, but Batman himself hasn’t left much of an impact. It’s tempting to justify that by comparing it to the films that inspired it, as Batman is a quiet, menacing figure in contrast to the much more lively and memorable villains. But the Batman of Burton’s films still had a memorable screen presence, to the point that some of the most iconic shots of the movies involve Michael Keaton just standing there, in costume, staring straight ahead.
So as cool as Batman is, he’s cool because he’s Batman, not just because of the cool stuff he does. The Batman in ’89 looks cool from time to time, but he isn’t interesting or engaging. Much like the series as a whole, he’s just… there.
I’ll give credit that quite a few things happen in this issue to move the story forward, including a pretty shocking development that would be pretty ballsy if they stuck with it. “Stuff happening” doesn’t equate to “an actual plot,” though, and I’m coming up short in trying to figure out what the story is actually supposed to be. You’ve got Two-Face, sure, and some upheaval in the GCPD. Then you’ve got the stuff with Robin and his neighborhood, along with Selina Kyle who is… you know, I’m not even sure? She’s shown up a few times up to this point, and factors into this issue, but her scenes are so jarring and her involvement so random that it genuinely feels like there were pages missing. I know why she’s included (she’s Catwoman, a very popular character), but I don’t know why she’s part of this story.
If there was a story, that is. For a series that had so much potential, that had so much built in anticipation and goodwill, it’s a shame that it’s all but a non-starter at this point.
- You want some nice art.
- You’ve been reading the book already.
Overall: What began as a book I wanted to love has turned into an obligation. Batman ’89 is aimless and uninvolving. It looks nice– even if it doesn’t capture the actual mood and feel of its source material– but worse then being bad, it’s just dull. I wish I could love it, or even like it, but with its penultimate chapter, I can barely muster any enthusiasm for the few things that actually work. This should have been great, yet it will ultimately be forgettable.