Sunday, September 21, 2008

Batman the Dark Knight Adventures

The first Batman comic I actually bought. I was looking in an independent comic shop in Cardiff for Harley Quinn stories (none of which they had) as they were much friendlier than the one in Swansea. Then I spent ages in Forbidden Planet trying to decide if I wanted to shell out £10-12 on a comic I’d already read or even one I didn’t know anything about. Then I saw this book, which had actually come from America—it was a bit beat-up, it was based on the animated adventures, and it had Harley in it. It was more expensive than I thought it should be, but I bought it. Mostly it didn’t disappoint. It isn’t Mad Love, which I have ordered from the Swansea shop, but which refuses to come in, but it’s a start.

This is a collection of monthly releases from DC in order to coincide with what was then the current run of the animated series (‘92-‘93). Bruce Timm, co-creator with Paul Dini, outlines in an introduction his initial horror that the monthly comic, aimed at younger readers, would undermine what the animated series was trying to do with a more adult approach. He asserts that the writer, Kelley Puckett, and the artists, Mike Parobeck and Rick Burchett, contradicted this notion. In general I agree.

The art is more cartoon-y, for obvious reasons, than the last collection I read; it doesn’t seem to have been colored as much as dotted with inks (like the earliest Batman comics). The paper quality is like that of a coloring book, which some tyke must have found to be true, as parts of the book have been colored (annoyingly it’s usually over Harley’s face!). These limitations aside, the funnest parts of the art are its diverse and action-filled angles, and despite the simplicity of its character designs, Gotham is stuck in the same quasi-1940s universe as the animated series. It’s disappointing, therefore, that there aren’t any Two-Face or (okay, I admit it) Joker stories to remind me of that cartoon/Art Deco approach. Mostly it’s second-tier villains, with two exceptions.

Since it’s for a younger audience, the storylines are relatively straightforward, the panels often lacking much dialogue, and the violence is akin to The Sarah Jane Adventures rather than Doctor Who. (No one seems to actually die.) Nevertheless, it reveals its sophistication to its adult readers by its wry humor and occasionally bittersweet pathos. Raging Lizard, for example, tries to bring some humanity (even he admits he’s not human!) to Killer Croc, who has apparently gone clean and making a living as a boxer. I’m such a sucker, the Phantom approach always works on me, but from what I remember of the TV show, this is the vein of many of their stories: MICK: “Killer, this is all ya got! Look, people see ya on the street, whadda they do?” KILLER CROC: “Scream.”

Larceny My Sweet is even more blatant with the Beauty and the Beast thing, concerning a completely impenetrable bank robber and a lovestruck reporter named Summer Gleason. Things aren’t what they seem in a story about someone called Clayface (apparently in Gotham any bizarre superpower you can think of has a villain who’s got it) and misdirection. And thwarted loooove! Booo hoo! Little Red Book is mostly good old-fashioned chase scenes for boys, but in one panel a gangster asserts “I’m just glad we got the goods. I need another lecture from Thorne like I need a sock in the head” right before Batman KRASH! CHOK!s him.

The Last Riddler Story introduces (?) three absurd villains named the Perfesser, Mr. Nice, and Mastermind—clearly what they need, instead of lives of crime, are UK TV game shows on in the early evening. Batman must have a sense of humor to deal with these nuts. This animated-verse is so silly sometimes—the Riddler’s henchmen bake him a cake when he gets out of the Pen (rather than Arkham, curiously)! In fact, his henchman create the majority of the laughs in this rather insubstantial story—E. Nygma is a bit pissed off that his face rests on a video game he created—“One stupid mistake in your youth and you never live it down . . .” Manbat must be the hands-down strangest and most ludicrous of the second-tier supervillains, though, as usual, we go for the emotional side of things in The Beast Within.

Obviously I bought the book on the basis of Batgirl: Day One which features a whole litany of supervillainesses—Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley—as well as an origin story for Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl. The story is winningly drawn, and I find that in general women get bigger parts and wider range in the animated universe than in the straight DC universe. Batgirl begins, plausibly enough, as a costume at a Halloween party. It finds Batgirl and Harley fighting over a baseball bat before they smack heads! I mean, really, where else are you going to find stuff like this (and moreover, like it)? Ivy and Harley are always a winning combination, but throw in Catwoman, who treats them a bit like the Rani treats the Doctor and the Master, and it’s superb. By the way, I prefer animated!Catwoman’s costume to the DC-verse, but something’s still not right—there’s not enough leather.

And the cover’s brilliant.

By the way, I’ve got a hold on the animated series at the library, but it’s taking so long I may have to buy it. Uh oh.

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