Review: Batman Adventures: Batgirl – A League of Her Own trade paperback (DC Comics)

June 25, 2023

 ·  4 comments

[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.]

Last time we looked at Nightwing Rising, the trade collection formerly known as Batman Adventures: The Lost Years. While The Lost Years was originally being published (cover dates January through May 1998), a very special one-shot also landed on the newsstands (cover date February 1998). From Paul Dini and Rick Burchett - an all-star animated creative team, if ever there was one - it’s Batgirl Adventures, and it’s the headliner in a trade clumsily titled Batman Adventures: Batgirl — A League of Her Own.

The good and unsurprising news is that Batgirl Adventures is a slam dunk of a story, almost a halfway point between Dini’s better-known Mad Love and “Holiday Knights.” On Christmas Eve, Batgirl finds herself merrily chasing Harley Quinn through Gotham before Harley reveals that she needs the help of “Bratgirl” to save Poison Ivy. It’s a cat-and-mouse game of who distrusts whom, with a few clever cutaways to Commissioner Gordon, waiting for his daughter to join him for Christmas dinner.

Very few writers can handle the Joker quite like Paul Dini, but it’s a sure bet that no one understands Harley Quinn the way he does. She fairly steals the show from Batgirl, who’s playing it straight for most of the book, and I laughed out loud at the physical comedy in the chase sequence and in Harley’s attempts to free herself from a pair of handcuffs. I was equally delighted to see that Dini’s villain of choice here was Kitsune, the shapeshifting mercenary from “Shadow of the Phantasm” back in Batman & Robin Adventures Vol. 2; while I wasn’t bowled over by Kitsune before, I’m now wondering when she’ll cross over into the mainstream continuity like Roxy Rocket and Red Claw (and, naturally, Harley herself).

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Like Mad Love, Batgirl Adventures (subtitled, perfectly, “Oy to the World”) is laden with Dini’s trademark innuendoes, as when Batgirl tries to understand, with an unsubtle crossing of her fingers, the precise nature of the relationship between Harley and Ivy. It’s pitch-perfect choreography from Burchett, who proves himself the master of the redesigns from The New Batman Adventures, and he’s an equal match for Dini’s exuberant sense of humor and the relentless forward momentum of that opening chase sequence. Burchett would go on to draw the first year of Gotham Adventures — and, as we’ll see in my next reviews, a fair amount of The Adventures Continue — and I’d venture to say he’s one of the better underrated Bat-artists in Gotham. 

Clocking in around forty pages, Batgirl Adventures is thin content for a whole trade, and so A League of Her Own is padded out with four issues of Gotham Adventures, all nominally starring Batgirl. First, a team-up with Batman takes Batgirl to Paris and Tibet in pursuit of the Sensei (who, in an uncollected issue, orchestrated the assassination of Boston Brand); then Batgirl teams up with Commissioner Gordon to apprehend two escaped convicts. A final issue sees Batgirl, Robin, and Nightwing chasing a masked assailant with a hockey stick maiming his victims, seemingly at random. Of these stories, only the Jim Gordon team-up is a proper Batgirl feature, though her trip to Tibet does see her wrestling with Batman’s “no gun” edict. No, these are not the best Batgirl stories; an animated trade collection ought to include, at the very least, Batman & Robin Adventures #21, in which Batgirl solves Riddler’s most unsolvable riddle.

A League of Her Own is, however, one in a series of DC’s sputtering attempts to collect Gotham Adventures piecemeal. Rather than collect the series outright, a set of five DC digest collections (themed around Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, Catwoman, and Riddler) gathered up 17 of the 60 issues of Gotham Adventures - a scant 28%, for my fellow data junkies out there. These digests are designed to be evergreen collections for young readers, but they seem also to be doing double-duty for completionists, careful not to reprint material that was collected in the more comprehensive trades I’ve already reviewed.

To which I have to ask: why? Why not treat these evergreen collections as proper best-of volumes while continuing the full reprint cycle in fuller trades? Imagine a version of Batgirl Adventures that includes, for example, that Riddler issue, alongside her costumed debut opposite Harley Quinn in The Batman Adventures #12 or the Batgirl/Robin team-ups from previous volumes. (Hats off to the Riddler trade, Riddle Me This, though, for including Gotham Adventures #11, in which Riddler unconsciously riddles his way right back to Arkham.) 

And there’s more that’s out there beyond Gotham Adventures

  • Batman Adventures (2003): Seventeen issues, under the pen of none other than Dan Slott, culminating with an unfinished story that included Black Mask and The Phantasm. These issues sell for exorbitant prices on the speculator market, and perhaps DC could lure Slott into elaborating on just who was under the Red Hood’s mask this time around.

  • Adventures in the DC Universe (1997–1998): Nineteen issues and an annual, ostensibly in the DCAU milieu. Batman only has one feature appearance, a team-up with Creeper, but he appears in a backup story with Poison Ivy and in three appearances with the JLA; Catwoman has a backup and a main feature. Other high points include a Martian Manhunter/Connor Hawke team-up with Impulse, a Flash/Superboy race across Hawaii, and an oversized tale uniting Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and The Question.

  • Superman & Batman Magazine (1993–1995): Eight issues of a fan magazine that included animated-style shorts very much of their time, including Roger Stern’s Killgrave, Tom Peyer’s Atom, and some of the last work by Mike Parobeck. And hey, speaking of Superman …

  • Superman Adventures (1996–2002): Sixty-six issues, plus an annual and a Lobo special. DC reprinted four trades from 2015 to 2017, which only covered about half of the run. Still, it’s Superman work by Paul Dini, Scott McCloud, and Mark Millar; in the uncollected material, we’ve got two DCAU Mister Miracle issues by Mark Evanier, a Batman Beyond crossover, and a two-part finale that teams Lex Luthor and Livewire with Darkseid.

  • Batman Beyond (1999–2001): Twenty-four issues, plus a six-issue mini. It’s not quite in the vein of what I’ve been reviewing, but it’s very much of a piece. Terry McGinnis has never gone out of style, getting plenty of main continuity titles, but the animated series is where it all began. One might also include the Return of the Joker adaptation, or I could beat the drum once more for …

  • Batman: The Animated Movies (1993 ff.): Comic book adaptations of Mask of the Phantasm, Sub-Zero, and World’s Finest, perhaps alongside Return of the Joker or even the aforementioned “Shadow of the Phantasm.” If you’re feeling déjà vu, don’t be alarmed; I sounded the call for this book back in May 2021 and I’m still waiting to preorder.

It’s a lot of content, I know, and I should probably stick to my day job. But if anyone can understand a collectionist’s plight, I’m hopeful it’s this audience.

We’ve recently gotten word that an omnibus collection is on the way for The Batman Adventures, collecting the original series alongside Mad Love and the Mask of the Phantasm adaptation. But I’m hopeful also that DC’s recent interest in compendium-style collections might bear fruit in the animated world; one could easily imagine a compendium each for The Batman Adventures and Batman & Robin Adventures (the latter including The Lost Years and Batgirl Adventures). This clears the way for two compendia of Gotham Adventures, one for Dan Slott’s Batman Adventures, one for Adventures in the DC Universe (and the Superman & Batman Magazine), two for Superman Adventures, and a coda of sorts for Batman Beyond. Nine compendium volumes - I’d upgrade my trades for that! (And might I suggest The DCAU Library as a series title? That one’s free, DC.)

My point is that I have too much free time, yes, to sit around brainstorming imaginary collections (but then again, don’t we all?), but I know that DC sees value in this property. The DCAU has been a rich and deep well that DC continues to revisit again and again. These stories are timeless, arguably the best and most perfect interpretation of Batman to exist. And you can’t say that DC doesn’t agree with me, because up next, I’ll be reviewing Batman: The Adventures Continue, the authorized sequels from Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, and Ty Templeton. If you haven’t read them, you’ll be amazed at which characters get their DCAU due; if you have read them, you know we’re in for a treat.

Comments ( 4 )

  1. One small point of order regarding Dan Slott's Red Hood: Slott finally disclosed in 2013 that his Red Hood was supposed to be Victoria Beaumont, Andrea’s mother, presumed dead and seeking revenge - and holy socks, am I eager to know more.

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    1. Amazing to think a Red Hood story where the person behind the mask isn't Jason Todd. I'd have been interested in that one as well!

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  2. It is rather silly that DC is only collecting specific issues of Gotham Adventures when it would be easier to just collect the entire series in omnibus form. This feels like a cheap tatic to make more money by collecting only a handful of issuesm

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    1. Yeah, the trouble with these character-themed collections is that many issues don't fit neatly under one character. There's a terrific issue of Gotham Adventures, for example, where Bruce Wayne is called to jury duty for a criminal Batman caught - a Gotham riff on 12 Angry Men, but without any classic rogues. Short of an all-in collection strategy, where would that issue ever see daylight again?

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