Review: Batman & Robin Adventures Vol. 2 trade paperback (DC Comics)

April 27, 2023

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[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.]

Spend enough time in Gotham, and you start to think about shadows. Not just the eponymous vigilante who inspired Batman — though the Shadow did meet the Dark Knight once or twice — but the dark spaces and the towering presences that create them. Certainly any tie-in comic lives in the shadow of what came before it, and nowhere has that been more true than in the case of the comic book follow-ups to Batman: The Animated Series, a towering creative accomplishment that looms large over any iteration of the Bat.

Batman & Robin Adventures, Volume 2 lives in so many shadows, including its animated predecessor but perhaps most notably two of its most famous tales - Mask of the Phantasm (released theatrically) and Mad Love (released as a prestige one-shot before being adapted for television in 1999). It’s a testament to editorial restraint that neither homage graces the cover of this collected edition, though the image of Batman and Robin in a wax gallery of rogues is a perfect summation of the mission statement for Batman & Robin Adventures at large. Meanwhile, series writer Ty Templeton finds himself in the shadow of Paul Dini, inarguably one of the best Bat-scribes of his generation; Dini pens Volume 2’s longest (and best) tale, while providing plots for a handful of others.

That longest story is “Shadow of the Phantasm,” an underrated sequel to the superlative animated film. Originally published as Batman & Robin Adventures Annual #1, with a spooky cover depicting the Joker in the Phantasm’s costume, “Shadow” has been, I sense, forgotten among the fandom, even as Mask’s stock has risen. I can’t fathom any comics fans worth their salt turning down a Dini-scripted sequel to one of the Bat’s best tales. (Perhaps for the film’s 30th anniversary, might I suggest a reprint of this and the comics adaptation? Or perhaps even The Phantasm: A Celebration of 30 Years?)

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

In “Shadow,” someone’s taken a contract on Bruce Wayne’s life, which brings Andrea Beaumont and the Phantasm back to Gotham three years after Mask. The plot also tells us what became of Arthur Reeves, the city councilman poisoned by the Joker, while revealing where the Phantasm has been in the interim. It’s not a perfect story; Dini creates a new villain, Kitsune, whose holographic projection headband is a clear Chekhov’s gun but a sci-fi bridge too far in this tale. Yet the Phantasm pages sing, and every artist - Templeton, Dev Madan, Brandon Kruse, Rick Burchett, and Terry Austin - gets to play in an artistic jam session.

But “Shadow” lives in another shadow, with Mike Parobeck returning for a few pages - which, according to an uncollected letter from the editor, were his last before his untimely passing at age 31. Parobeck’s pages are the best in “Shadow,” gracefully fluid and cinematic, and it is a bittersweet blessing to have his work once more in the DC Animated Universe, particularly for a story as weighty with significance as “Shadow of the Phantasm.” (While these trades were marketed to younger readers, it’s a shame that the aforementioned letter, unsigned but presumably by Scott Peterson, wasn’t included.)

At the other end of the book is “Joker’s Last Laugh,” a Templeton/Kruse story that finds Harley Quinn desperate to make her puddin' laugh after a series of pro-Batman billboards has our Joker feeling blue. From its opening splash page (literally, splash, given its thirty-foot tall seltzer bottles), “Last Laugh” reads like a remake of “Mad Love.” We begin with Harley pitching death traps to a humorless Mister Jay, and the climax finds Harley rebuffed by Joker once he realizes that she’s found a foolproof way to kill Batman. It all feels quite familiar, though the issue’s final punchline is perfection.

In between, Volume 2 checks in with a number of rogues, often with stories that revisit where these characters were left at the end of BTAS. For one, Bane gets a chapter that finds him detoxing from the effects of Venom, leading him into conflict with Rupert Thorne and drawing him closer to the mastermind Bane we know from the comics. In another, Batman and Robin grapple with the many Man-Bats after finding one living in their basement. Then there’s a Dini-inflected Mad Hatter story, which explores what might happen on Alice Pleasance’s wedding day. In each of these, there is a certain amount of comfort in seeing the old familiar faces, especially given that the DCAU had been presenting the quintessential takes on these characters.

In the absence of new BTAS episodes, Volume 2 continues to introduce new animated counterparts, in the vein of Alan Grant’s early inclusion of Anarky into the cartoon Gotham. Here, Templeton gives us Deadman and Catman, both serving well enough in their roles but almost promising a more comics-accurate interpretation in a subsequent issue. In the case of Deadman, we meet Boston Brand as the new acrobat in Haley’s Circus, while Thomas Blake’s Catman costars as Catwoman’s admirer and cosplayer. There’s one more big appearance yet to come — the Huntress, who debuts in the next volume — but one gets the vibe in this volume that the editorial gloves were coming off, and the creators weren’t exclusively bound to their animated forbears. 

Batman & Robin Adventures, Volume 2 is a little stronger than the first, if only by dint of being zanier. But I have to admit there’s also an element of nostalgia for me, having owned most of the issues collected in this volume while only possessing one of the chapters from Volume 1. These were my Bat-tales, as they were for a generation of us who didn’t realize that new episodes weren’t being produced. (God bless syndication and the school buses that got us home in time to hear the Shirley Walker theme.)

And if my rose-colored glasses are any indication, the next and final volume ends on a high note with a Huntress, an alien encounter, and a Riddler tale that answers the question, finally, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I have been enjoying this review series and I will hate to see it conclude. I cannot wait to get my hands on the omnibus (the paperback version). Question: will you be reviewing The Superman Adventures comics or just stick to Batman?

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    Replies
    1. I appreciate the kind words! Believe it or not, we're only about halfway through this review series... lots more to cover.

      As for Superman Adventures, it's a good idea. I'm a little heartbroken that DC never finished collecting the run, but I am equally curious to revisit the books now that I have more context on Scott McCloud and Mark Millar.

      To our gracious host: what do you think? Up for a half-series on Superman?

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