In preparation for this review, I went back and read the first two seasons of Batman: The Adventures Continue. Overall they didn’t hold up much compared to the original The Batman Adventures comics from the 90s. Oftentimes they felt like a gimmick to introduce a popular character into the DCAU continuity or simply meant to rest on the laurels of the popular series that came before them. The second season was an improvement on the first, but not by much. When I saw that this comic opened with “Muscle”, the unimpressive henchman from Season 2, I didn’t have high expectations. How wrong I was.
What Batman: The Adventures Continue Season 3 #1 does right is create a tightly focused story that allows the characters themselves to drive the plot in an engaging way. While Muscle may have previously been a villain whose entire shtick was “I’m strong”, this comic doesn’t rely on that. It’s a story about convict turning state’s witness in order to carve a new path in life. The drama comes from seeing the way he deals with living within the world of Gotham, and the personal struggles that come with that.
The fact that it uses an existing character is incidental more than anything else. Muscle could have been anyone; what matters is the way in which we get to see his internal conflict and how he copes with the situation he’s in. If anything, the fact that it concentrates on such a minor character allows the story to stand out from “Batman fights the bad guy #735”.
It’s easy to sympathize with Muscle. He’s thrust between the criminal justice system with whom he shares little love, and the criminals he once worked for who now want him dead. He’s clearly the kind of person who’s only concerned with looking out for himself, but that’s simply because no one else will. The antagonists out to get him are entertaining as well. The scenes with the mob who put out the hit on him paint a picture of the Gotham underworld which is fleshed out and fun. The interactions between the various players deliver some great interpersonal dynamics. Black Mask especially stands out, as his no-nonsense attitude clashes with the more colorful characters of the conspiracy.
Part of what brings these characters to life is the artwork. Jordan Gibson does a great job recreating the feel of the animated series, and I especially have to give a shout out to the colorist Monica Kubina. A lot of the time with these spinoff DCAU comics, the artists will mimic Bruce Timm’s character style and then call it a day. The rest of the art will be boilerplate and workmanlike. That’s definitely not the case here. The art team goes above and beyond in creating a moody atmosphere via careful composition and dramatic lighting. It’s arguably the best I’ve seen the BTAS style look in comic form.
The double twist that the prison chaplain has been working to break Muscle out, and then also working to kill him off is really well executed. Usually these kinds of things are easy to spot a mile away, but I was genuinely surprised. Not only that, but the revelation made me go back and reread his scenes. Once I knew what to look for, it became clear that every conversation he had was filled with double meanings. It’s always a good twist when it successfully recontextualizes what you already know and how the story is perceived on subsequent readings.
- The original Batman Adventures comics are some of your favorite
- You like self contained one-shots
- You’re a fan of stories focusing on minor characters
This first issue of Batman: The Adventures Continue Season 3 is a marked improvement on the first two seasons. It tells a focused, self-contained story that’s both engaging and dramatic. Muscle is elevated from a generic thug to a three dimensional character who struggles with how to handle being betrayed by his employers. The art is moody and is able to make every page feel alive with emotion and movement. Seeing a one-shot like this that uses the drama of minor characters to flesh out the world of Gotham is a real return to form of what made Dini’s original comics so great.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purposes of this review.