Review: Batman & Robin 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.]

In the tradition of Hercule Poirot, I am of two minds about the conclusion of Batman & Robin Adventures. On the one hand, the series never really ended; after a pitstop miniseries starring Nightwing, the title returned as Gotham Adventures and ran for another 60 issues. On the other hand, though, many of the stories in Batman and Robin Adventures Vol. 3 feel like swan songs, even if the creators didn’t intend them as such. (On the third hand, can an anthology title like this one ever be said to end? Or does it simply stop?)

Volume 3 is not a finale, though it performs many of the same functions that a comic book conclusion usually does - brings in new characters, swings big with a crossover, and ultimately wraps with an oversized final issue. All told, Batman and Robin Adventures Vol. 3 is not exactly the best this title has ever been, but it is consistently strong enough to appeal to readers who might rather reside in this particular four-color universe.

Let’s start with this volume’s introduction of the Huntress, a sanitized and brisk reinterpretation of Helena Bertinelli’s origin story. Even in the last ten years, we’ve seen so many different incarnations of the Huntress - Mary Elizabeth Winstead on film, two in the New 52 alone (a multiverse hopper and a secret agent extraordinaire), plus Helena Waynes in Batman/Catwoman and more - so it is refreshing to see the character streamlined in the way that the DC Animated Universe did best. It’s only too bad that she arrives so late in the run, because her inclusion makes the animated Gotham feel richer and fuller, even given the limitations on what sort of violence the Huntress can enact on her enemies. (Seeing this animated Huntress, though, reminds me we’re past due for a new printing of Cry for Blood, illustrated by DCAU mainstay Rick Burchett. Come now, DC; put it in a Question by Greg Rucka omnibus — Ed.)

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Left to their own devices, the creative team soars when it brings in the Huntress, last volume’s Deadman, or the preceding run’s Anarky. However, this Volume 3 sags in the middle when it gets pulled into a stealth crossover with Superman Adventures and Adventures in the DC Universe, each of which published an annual loosely connected to B&R’s annual. The story is held together by two mysterious amulets protected by John Zatara, one of which was entrusted to Bruce Wayne during his escapistry training with Zatanna’s father. Only the B&R chapter is reprinted here, which makes for a jarring reading experience — as, for example, when Zatara implies that the other amulet is in Clark Kent’s possession. Readers may not be aware they’re missing the rest of the story, and it’s a catch-22 for completionists — omit this story and lose a B&R issue, collect it with the other two chapters (which involve Batman not at all), or reprint it as a standalone and hope the readers indulge an overlong tale that resolves itself elsewhere.

I do, however, appreciate seeing some of Batman’s “lost years,” which Batman: The Animated Series explored in episodes like “Zatanna,” and a guest appearance from Zatanna herself only reinforces how Batman can seamlessly transition from crime noir to the cosmic supernatural. It’s an important tonal shift that comes up once more in Volume 3, with the final issue (#25) positing that Ra’s al Ghul has had an according-to-Hoyle alien encounter aboard a flying saucer. It’s a delightfully bizarre issue, with little gray beings and men in black, and its vibe is somewhere between The X-Files and David Lynch. (Recall that the film Men in Black had landed that summer, and The X-Files was arguably at its zenith circa 1997.) Ultimately the UFO’s provenance is left a mystery, and while I’m not convinced that Ra’s al Ghul fits on the deck of a starship, Batman certainly feels at home right through the final panel, which teases that the truth may indeed be out there.

While these animated tie-ins have often struggled to find meaningful stories to tell about Ra’s al Ghul — his daughter Talia fared only slightly better — the other villains on display in this volume are as good as they’ve ever been. Two-Face and Killer Croc get the wistful tragedy treatment we’ve seen throughout B&R; the former is hamstrung by his coin, even when his wife’s life is on the line, while the latter mistakes Summer Gleason’s sensationalist journalism for genuine sympathy. Read back to back, these stories are strikingly similar, with each ending on a note of sad hopelessness as the villains resign themselves to their worse angels, yet BTAS always treated their villains as tragic heroes of their own stories, most notably in “Heart of Ice.” (Speaking of, it’s somewhat surprising that, Holiday Special aside, Mr. Freeze never got his own story in these trades.)

But it’s not all sturm and batarang in Volume 3. (I see what you did there! — Ed.) Templeton and artist Brandon Kruse give us a very funny look into the GCPD bullpen, with Harvey Bullock and the others gambling on how many perps Batman and Robin will subdue over the course of a busy evening. With Bullock bidding high at 20 arrests, the punchline is telegraphed pretty early on, but the cops of Gotham haven’t gotten much of a spotlight in the comics (compared to, say, an episode like “P.O.V.”). Meanwhile, an obvious standout in Volume 3 comes when the Riddler takes Commissioner Gordon hostage, and only Batgirl can solve the mystery. Yes, Batgirl manages to answer the age-old question, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” and it’s a must-read for any fans of either character.

Pitting Batgirl against the Riddler is a classic example of what this series did best — deepening the world by exploring the corners that its animated counterpart did not. Sometimes it was in playing the hits, like last volume’s gentle reprise of “Mad Love,” but more often it was in doing something new. I’m thinking in particular of issues like “House of Dorian” from Batman Adventures Vol. 3 or “Shadow of the Phantasm” from Batman and Robin Adventures Vol. 2 — stories that went beyond what the original show covered and found new ways to play on what had come before. And while this iteration reaches its conclusion with Batman and Robin Adventures Vol. 3, there is still more to come — up next, the tie-in comics continue to boldly go where the animated series had not gone before, into “The Lost Years” and a new collected edition format for young readers.

Comments ( 5 )

  1. I hate it when trade collections include one issue of a crossover but omit the other chapters. It is so silly.
    I remember the Riddler story with Batgirl and it was fun
    The tie in comics wrote Riddler better than the TV show, and things will only get better for him in gotham adventures.

    1. The crossover in question is so weird. It's three oversized issues from books that share an aesthetic but nothing else. The plot involves magic and characters that exist outside of time, and so there's no logical reading order. The villain is so textbook that he literally resembles Snidely Whiplash.

      And yet, there was a certain glee in realizing that these three issues were in conversation with each other, in trying to piece the clues together -- not unlike how Morrison's Seven Soldiers made a tapestry out of whole cloth. But I don't see a good way to collect this crossover -and- satisfy a completionist like me. Maybe if DC were still doing those 100-Page Spectaculars?

  2. AnonymousMay 12, 2023

    The Batman Huntress: Cry for Blood mini is currently in print as the Birds of Prey: Huntress trade I believe

    1. Aside from the issue of tie-in comics that don't have comics art on the cover (I'm not a fan), I believe that Huntress collection is already out of print.


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