This story has a lot going on. There are mysteries, battles, revelations, and twists. We finally get answers to the questions raised last issue, and the conflicts they’ve created all start coming to a head. At first glance it seems like the formula for an exhilarating comic. However, when there are only about twenty pages to tell that story, all of those elements can start to feel a bit overstuffed. While the individual parts can be interesting, it’s trying to bring them all together that causes problems. At a certain point it can start to feel like a disjointed collection of ideas for scenes that never quite coalesce.
The most jarring example of this is a scene towards the beginning of the story where Harley Quinn is recruited into Task Force X. Immediately following the reveal that the cliffhanger from the end of the last issue was a fake out with rubber bullets (a trope that definitely isn’t overused in Batman), the story cuts to an unrelated scene of Harley getting dinner with her friends. Task Force X has been a running subplot throughout Season 3 so it’s not too surprising to see it show up here, but it has absolutely nothing to do with anything else that happens this issue. I’m sure it will come up later, but it feels entirely out of place
Even if you ignore its awkward place in the story, the scene itself is not great. the banter between Harley and the rest of Task Force X lacks any real energy, as does the fight itself. There are awkward pauses in the flow throughout the scene, and the art feels incredibly static. The individual panels present more like individual snapshots rather than a sequential telling of events.
Why am I focusing on what amounts to three pages out of the entire story? Because it’s an opening that’s indicative of some of the problems with the rest of the story. There are so many scenes which just feel thrown in without any real flow to them from one to the next. I actually had to keep a timeline in my notes to remember which sequence came after which. Ultimately, the plot of the story is about Batman trying to figure out who the vigilante that attacked him was, and what her connection to Straightman is. However, what should be a straight forward plot becomes unfocused.
Take, for example, Batman’s investigation into Straightman’s commanding officer, Colonel Haslett:
Haslett turns out to be a red herring, and not the one who was in the suit attacking Batman. I’ll admit that this misdirection fooled me. I was very confident at the end of the last issue that the colonel who was responsible for Straightman signing up for the super soldier program would be the one trying now to rescue him. It’d be a motivation that made sense. With the reveal that the vigilante wasn’t her, but the lab assistant, the question becomes “why?” Twists are all well and good, but we’re never made invested enough in these characters to be affected by it. The colonel was at least slightly fleshed out with a connection to Straightman, but then she’s replaced by someone whose backstory is hastily told to us via a few pages of exposition. It makes the entire subplot and subsequent revelation feel like a distraction.
I don’t want to have my overall review come off as entirely negative. While the the structure and pacing can make the whole seem cluttered, the individual moments are still often effective. Once scene in particular is when Joker breaks into Professor Strange’s laboratory. He wants to force Strange to give Straightman a “booster” to his brainwashing, and they argue about the dangers. The colonel even comes in and begins to override (what’s left of) his brainwashing. It’s a nice example of “show, don’t tell” storytelling where we see how the system works in a naturalistic way without having it be explicitly laid out in exposition.
- You like your stories a bit chaotic
- Straightman’s history is a compelling mystery
- You don’t mind a story that is mostly set up for future events
Batman: The Adventures Continue Season 3 #4 is a bit of an awkward read. There are plenty of story beats thrown in, but you’re jerked from one to the next so suddenly that it feels disjointed. Taken on their own, the individual scenes vary in quality from stiff to engaging. However, the overall story never comes together into a satisfying narrative.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purposes of this review.