Review: Batman & Robin Adventures Vol. 1 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.]

Right up there with death and taxes, comics fans can always count on a new No. 1. In late 1995, The Batman Adventures - the tie-in to Batman: The Animated Series - ended its run and rebooted with Batman & Robin Adventures. The last episodes of BTAS aired around the same time, and while television audiences would have to wait two years for new animated content with The New Batman Adventures, comics fans were well-stocked through the hiatus.

On the surface, nothing much has changed, and yet everything has. Batman & Robin Adventures continued the tradition of confident and concise superhero storytelling, with a particular emphasis on featuring a certain Boy Wonder (as the title would perhaps suggest). Where the preceding four volumes were created largely by Kelley Puckett and Mike Parobeck, B&R becomes largely the province of Ty Templeton, Rick Burchett, and in this volume, Paul Dini.

Appropriately enough for a book that declares its intention to be a two-hander, Batman & Robin Adventures Vol. 1 starts off with a two-parter, and who better to lead than Two-Face himself? Dini scripts and Templeton pencils this tale of Harvey Dent’s road to recovery, buoyed by frequent visits from Bruce Wayne and Grace Lamont. With the inclusion of Grace (the DCAU’s answer to Gilda Dent), Dini positions his story as a firm sequel to the excellent “Two-Face” episode, careful never to forget the close bond between the animated iterations of Bruce and Harvey.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

However, like most great Paul Dini scripts, the story gets derailed when the Joker takes the helm of the plot and commandeers it into his own manic scheme. I defy any reader not to hear Shirley Walker’s carnivalesque theme for Joker as he plots to drive Harvey back into madness, simply to give himself a laugh. Joker provides a zany distraction from the intense pain of Two-Face’s arc, but it simultaneously feeds into Dini’s exploration of the fragile psyche of Harvey Dent. Still, no one writes the Joker as well as Dini, and it’s a delight to watch him play with his favorite toy.

Dini’s third issue is less impressive, a Riddler story that begins auspiciously enough by invoking one of my favorite Batman conceits - in which a villain takes a room of hostages and demands to see Batman, all while Bruce Wayne is trapped among the hostages. However, Riddler hasn’t actually solved Batman’s identity, Bruce Wayne isn’t there, and the rest of the issue is a series of fake-outs and red herrings unbefitting the Riddler; in short, the writers on BTAS said that Riddler was too difficult to write, and this issue makes that case plain.

Once we’re through the Dini issues, and even when we’re in the midst of them, Volume 1 seems to follow two patterns: stories about the tragic brokenness of Batman’s enemies, and the seamless partnership that exists between Batman and Robin. In the case of the latter, I lost count of how many times our heroes exchange some cryptic keyword (like “Roscoe Rollins” or “out with Cindy”) that later proves they were always already on the same page. It is perhaps gilding the lily to belabor the point thusly, especially with one issue featuring a tabloid article about Batman firing Robin. That chapter does give us a decent Carrie Kelley gag, but it seems overly insistent that all is well with the Dynamic Duo. (Ironic, perhaps, given that the animated series' introduction of Nightwing is predicated on off-screen trouble in paradise.)

On the count of the villains, though, BTAS was at its best when it humanized its antagonists - c.f., “Heart of Ice,” etc. - and Dini’s Two-Face arc sets the tenor for Volume 1 before the Penguin throws away his freedom to liberate an aviary, Harley Quinn’s own jealousy compromises her relationship with Poison Ivy, and the Ventriloquist finds new ways for his personality disorder to hurt him. Of these, the Ventriloquist story is the best, agonizingly heartbreaking with George Dzundza’s voice in my head, as the timid Ventriloquist grapples with his mental illness while trying to find ways not to hurt himself. Burchett stages the issue’s violent climax off-panel, but its bloody tableau is a haunting one.

With the transition from Parobeck to Burchett, it’s worth considering the difference between the two artists. Burchett has become the de facto DCAU comics artist, up through and including The Adventures Continue (though even his pre-Batman work smacks of square jaws and barrel chests). The principal difference between the two is that Burchett stages his panels as dramatic freeze-frames, where Parobeck always seemed to find fluidity in a still image. When Batman clobbers two goons by slamming their heads together, Burchett locates the violence and the noise in the moment just before their foreheads collide, and when his Boy Wonder leaps in the air, it’s akin to a Zack Snyder slow-motion shot. 

With new animated episodes two years away, Batman & Robin Adventures Vol. 1 starts with a trade that is very much business as usual. Though the creative teams have changed in the rotation, B&R feels happily of a piece with its predecessor. Not every story is a winner; in addition to the aforementioned Riddler yarn, a two-parter with Ra’s al Ghul fails to break much new ground (a recurring theme, it seems, for stories about the Demon’s Head). But as with The Batman Adventures, B&R can tread the same boards, play the same hits, and still come out better than not.

And speaking of “the hits,” stay tuned for Volume 2 and the comic book return of the Phantasm.

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Riddler was handled much better in the spinn off comics. His story from Batman Adventures issue 10 was great.

    1. Honestly, most of my favorite Riddler stories are animated tie-in issues: TBA #10, B&R Adventures #21, Gotham Adventures #11... plus that Year One annual (Detective #8) and Matt Wagner's 1995 prestige one-shot.


To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.