Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review: The Batman Adventures #3

Batman Adventures #3, "Joker's Late-Night Lunacy," Cover Date December, 1992
Written by Kelley Puckett, Penciled by Ty Templeton, Inked by Rick Burchett

In 1992, Fox Kids debuted Batman: The Animated Series, a series that was so popular and influential it inspired a dozen spin-off and "shared universe" style cartoons over the next 15 years. To coordinate with the success and style of the cartoon, DC naturally released "Batman Adventures," a companion comic drawn in the style of the show. While you might assume that a TV-tie in book aimed at a crossover "all-ages" market might be awful, Batman Adventures is actually a very good series: don't take my word for it! The series and its assorted spin-offs and one shots won 7 Eisner Awards over its lifespan for everything from "best single issue" to "best title for younger readers." Enough pre-amble! Let's get to it!

We begin with Commissioner Gordon coming home to his... apartment, only to find the Joker and various goons waiting for him. Gordon says "don't move, you sick..." but before he can violate the comics code, Joker shoots him with a tranquilizer dart. As Joker's goons drag Gordon off, Joker ominously promises to make Gordon a "star."

"If you or someone you know is in a violent domestic relationship, please call Batman."

Meanwhile, the Batman is having a tense negotiation with a "McGurk," a hairy man who is holding his floozy girlfriend hostage as Batman tries to retrieve missing tapes that apparently belonged to one of McGurk's associates before the associate's untimely fall off a bridge. Batman swings away, promising McGurk that he will see Batman again, and soon. McGurk retrieves the tapes from out of the girl's purse, where they had been cleverly hidden, and boasts "Batman can't touch me now!" even as his girl is shocked that McGurk killed his former associate. She gets hysterical and he goes to close-fisted punch her, when his arm is grabbed by Batman, proceeds to knock him out in one punch. Batman advises McGurk's girl that he should hire a good lawyer before swinging off into the night.

Hey, Kids! Comics!

The Joker appears on various televisions, having intercepted various feeds to introduce his new show, airing at midnight on every channel. He introduces Commissioner Gordon as the "star" of tonight's episode. In a scene that is deeply disturbing, Joker explains that Gordon is a figure of law and order, and lets the people of the city into a little secret: that there is no law and order in Gotham, "only chaos." To prove his point, he brutally beats Gordon with a baseball bat on-air. All-ages comics, everybody!

That fifth panel is straight up terrifying.
Later that night, Harvey Bullock and Harvey Dent are on the roof of the GCPD building, waiting for Batman. Batman appears and suggests that Harvey is the most likely next target. Over Bullock's objections, Harvey (Dent) agrees to a set-up where he'll allow himself to be used as bait. At Harvey's apartment, a burly delivery man claims to have a delivery from the county clerk's office. No sooner does Harvey buzz the man in, than the Joker appears, and tranquilizes the District Attorney. Joker muses that this was way too easy, and that Batman is likely nearby. On cue, Batman appears, and knocks out one of Joker's goons. As Batman fights Joker's henchman on the stairs, Joker shoots Batman with multiple tranquilizers, and the goons take both Batman and Dent with them.

Joker addresses his fans.

We get quick cuts of Alfred, the GCPD, some bar patrons, and the Mayor watching "JTV," which has a logo and everything. Joker introduces Dent, but says there's a special guest of honor, as tonight, live, he's going to unmask Batman, who he reveals chained up in a Houdini-style contraption. Joker unmasks Batman only to find... Harvey Dent under the mask! Joker gets confused, as the "Harvey" he introduced earlier breaks free of the ropes holding him. They switched places! I hope one of Joker's men operating the camera got coverage of that! Dent/Batman knocks out Joker's goons, as Joker takes off on a nearby boat. Batman launches a spear and takes off after Joker, despite forgetting his bat-skis at home. Joker somehow doesn't notice Batman until he taps him on the shoulder, then hits him with a big punch. Joker starts saying "violence never solved anything, let's talk it out!" but then reveals it was all a distraction, as the boat is speeding towards some rocks. Joker leaps clear of the boat, just as it explodes into the rocks. Batman fishes himself out of the Gotham harbor, and muses that someday he'll get the last laugh. The end.


This is an extremely solid "done in one" issue, although I can't help but think 2-3 issue arcs are really the way to go, as the pace is much faster than what you'd get from a 20 minute cartoon. Kelley Puckett keeps the action going, and even manages to throw in a cool little twist with the Harvey unmasking reveal. That moment doesn't make a ton of sense though, because it means it was actually Harvey dressed as Batman fighting off the Joker's goons until Joker shot him with a dart. Most District Attorneys I know couldn't convincingly fight like the Batman, even for a minute or so. For another thing, how does Harvey hide his giant, Jay Leno-sized chin while he's under the Batman hood? But all that's secondary to a cool moment, as I was pretty genuinely surprised when Joker immediately went for the mask and revealed Dent.

Also, the scene with Joker and Commissioner Gordon deserves special attention. I'm not a huge fan of "comic book" Joker, although like everyone else, I love most "media" versions of the character, especially Mark Hamill's take, where he manages to be a mix of scary and funny. This version clearly takes after that, as Joker's "JTV" bit and kidnapping of prominent figures is reminiscent of the very first Joker episode, "Christmas with the Joker." But the scene where Joker brutally beats Gordon with a bat is unusually intense for a kid's book. It's genuinely disturbing in a way that scenes of graphic violence aren't. We don't actually "see" much of anything, but the reactions from the viewers and the incredibly creepy image of Joker covering his face works far better than, for example, the gross-out shock of "cut off faces" in Night Man #1. It really works, and his accompanying rant about Gotham City being pure chaos fits in with pretty much all versions of the character.

Ty Templeton's art is great, as he goes for the show's more cartoon-y look without making the characters look like they're made of rubber. Batman looks more like a 1930's athlete than ever, with a hugely broad swimmer's chest. Templeton's Joker looks great, with a constant, Jim Aparo-style grin plastered on his face. Templeton does a great job framing action scenes that are easy to follow with a minimum of narration needed (compare to Black Canary #1, where I was constantly confused every time a fight started). In conclusion, it's a brief, but fun issue with a surprisingly creepy portrayal of the Joker.

90's fashion: None, this book takes place in the weird deco world of Gotham City, where everyone acts like it's 1939. Even the goons wear suits and one wears a bow tie. Both Dent/Batman and McGurk wear fancy robes (I wish they were smoking jackets).

And just in case anyone is getting tired of glowingly positive reviews, I've got some Terry Kavanagh-written stuff coming up next week. Get excited!

1 comment:

  1. I loved Batman Adventures and its assorted spin-offs. It's a crime DC hasn't collected the entire series in trade or, better, yet, hardcover.