Review: The Batman Adventures Vol. 3 trade paperback (DC Comics)


[A series on Batman: The Animated Series comics collections by guest reviewer Zach King. Zach writes about movies at The Cinema King and about comics on Instagram at Dr. King’s Comics.]

After two trades and twenty issues, we’re just past the halfway point of the 36-issue run on The Batman Adventures, and like any title that sells well, we’re about to see a proliferation of special issues, annuals, and even a new #1. (Stay tuned for The Batman & Robin Adventures.) The Batman Adventures Vol. 3 also gives us an expanding cast of guest stars, both on panel and off, building the sense that the creative team really got to spread its wings and ride the Bat-wave.

From the very first page, you feel an official stamp of approval with Paul Dini and Bruce Timm contributing a story for The Batman Adventures Annual #1; Dini brings along with him no less than Matt Wagner, Dan DeCarlo, Klaus Janson, and John Byrne. It feels like the coolest kids in school have come to your party and brought their popular friends with them, the sort of subconscious validation that comics fans are always craving.

And these cool kids are playing all the hits, giving us an issue that focuses squarely on the villains doing what they do best/worst: Ventriloquist is using a new puppet to try to reform, Scarecrow is tormenting a local college student, and the Joker tries to get a ride home before stopping off for a donut and some light murder. (If that last story sounds familiar, I’ve actually reviewed it before … ten years ago, when it was collected in The Joker: The Greatest Stories Ever Told.) [Wow, time flies! — Ed.]

Meanwhile, jumping ahead to the back of the book, Volume 3 reprints a host of pin-up pages that were originally published in #25 (about which, more in a moment). Here you’ve got Alex Toth beside Dave Gibbons, Kelley Jones next to Kevin Nowlan, a Mike Mignola treatment of Mr. Freeze, and a page penciled by none other than Chuck Dixon, who was to the Batman of the 1990s what Paul Dini was to his animated incarnation.

Everyone, it seems, is here - except, it should be noted, for any female creators. The early '90s were the peak of the all-boys club in comics, and the entire run was done by men, aside from colorists Linda Medley and Roberta Tewes (and even then, not until The Batman & Robin Adventures). It’s not a fault of the books - and they did give us the debuts of Harley Quinn and, in this volume, Roxy Rocket - but it is a sign of the times, and one wonders what might have happened if, say, Gail Simone or Devin Grayson had gotten to drive the Batmobile for an issue or two.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Once we get past those gangbuster guest creators, Volume 3 continues its mode of expansion with #21, “House of Dorian,” a kind of monster mash in the vein of House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. Here, though, it’s Man-Bat, human/wolf mutate Tygrus (from the episode “Tyger, Tyger”), and werewolf Anthony Romulus (of “Moon of the Wolf”), teaming up against the mad scientist Emile Dorian (also of “Tyger, Tyger”). Man-Bat aside, none of these elements are derived from favorite episodes of mine, but scripters Michael Reaves and the stalwart Kelley Puckett find that less isn’t more - quite the opposite, more is most.

If you had any doubts that Volume 3 would pull out all the stops, look no further than #25, an oversized tale called “Super Friends.” For this issue alone, the book is worth the price of admission, for it may very well be my all-time single favorite issue, a book I read to shreds as a child, replaced with a pristine copy years ago, and give to friends any time I find a copy out in the wild. It’s the unofficial debut of the DCAU’s Superman, in a team-up that suggests a long-standing relationship with this particular Dark Knight.

The “World’s Finest” team-up on Superman: The Animated Series was still three years away, but the fact that the issue is squarely irreconcilable with the rest of the DC Animated Universe is almost part of the charm - here we’ve got a mulleted Superman, a pony-tailed Clark Kent, and a virile and leonine Lex Luthor II. It’s the Triangle Era of the time, writ animated, and though it would only be a one-off for these characters, it’s really a high point in the art of the team-up. (And I can only speculate that the opening party scene, replete with a surprisingly strong handshake, must have been some inspiration for a similar scene in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.)

I’m probably looking at this story through rose-colored glasses, but it’s a good occasion to spread one’s wings in an anniversary issue (hey, #25 is still a big deal, right?). Elsewhere in the volume, Batman continues his team-ups, allying himself with Poison Ivy to save the life of a South American revolutionary. Meanwhile, Batgirl and Robin have another meeting, not realizing that they’re also each other’s top rival in Criminology 101, thanks to an accident of an alphabetical seating chart (Gordon/Grayson, etc.). This issue, #27, is a fun mystery for the reader, who knows the identity of the criminal fairly early on, but not how or why he did it; watching Batgirl and Robin, later Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson, try to solve the case in fits and starts is a real pleasure.

Appropriately enough, #22 includes the series’s first Two-Face story, a touching reckoning of Batman’s grief over the loss of his friend, Harvey Dent, while #24 gives us a surprise coda to the legacy of Kyodai Ken. But the final surprise of the book finds Batman teaming up with himself, after a fashion, when Olympic athlete Tom Dalton dons his own Batsuit to avenge the gangland shooting of his wife Anne. Whether it’s a riff on the Punisher or just one more instantiation of what Grant Morrison and others have dubbed “the Prismatic Age,” it’s one last opportunity for Batman to join forces with a funhouse reflection of himself, hoping to save Dalton’s soul and his own. I’m not quite sure what to make of the fact that Mike Parobeck draws Dalton’s Batman in the vein of Dick Sprang, with a more squared jaw and a wide-eyed cowl, but it’s also one final proof that Parobeck was a treasure gone far too soon.

The trade dress for this volume boasts its “all-ages stories,” but this volume is perhaps the most violent so far. We’ve got poisonings galore and bloody gunshots, life debts and vendettas, a house on fire, and somber meditations on the place and value of vengeance. Not all of this would have gotten past Standards & Practices, but Batman: The Animated Series often punched above its weight class. Here, The Batman Adventures Vol. 3 brings in an A-team and A-list guests to match the weighty issues its stories would address.

Before we reboot with a new #1, we’ll take a look at the final volume, which begins with a story later adapted for television and concludes with a love letter to no less than Jack “King” Kirby. Stay tuned!

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I read the KIRBY tribute comic and it was fantastic. Any fan of the King should definitely give it a read.

    Also, I have noticed that the TAS comics do a better job developing some of the rogues and give them extra depth (Two Face as a good example).

    1. Haahk thanks you for your kind words!

      And yeah, the writers seemed to have approached many of the villains with a "Heart of Ice" attitude - let's tell an emotionally compelling story that reveals how intrinsically broken these villains are. Killer Croc is an especially exceptional example of this.


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