Review: Batman: The Adventures Continue: Season Two 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.]

You know what they say about lightning in a bottle. As I’ve been waxing nostalgic about Batman: The Animated Series and the tie-in comics it spawned, realizing over the past few months how lucky we are to have a long-running, high-quality, definitive, and popular interpretation of our favorite fictional character, I’ve also been given the opportunity to reflect on its peculiar and extended afterlife. 

I’d make the claim that the DCAU Gotham was resurrected by The Adventures Continue, but then it’s never really gone away, has it? The DCAU’s own extended universe notwithstanding, The Animated Series had a harmonic resonance through video games like LEGO Batman and the Arkham franchise, which functions almost like a sequel (if we ignore the canon of Batman Beyond). These games, which are the definitive Batman to two different generations, wouldn’t exist in this form without the inflection of the animated universe.

Then we have the curious gift of more “episodes” by the original creators, and I’m struggling to think of many other franchises that get this kind of loving and officially sanctioned extension. (Gargoyles and Darkwing Duck, at least, are enjoying a similar renaissance over at Dynamite.) Like its predecessor, Batman: The Adventures Continue: Season Two is scripted by Alan Burnett and Paul Dini, with Jordan Gibson joining Ty Templeton and Rick Burchett on art. As we step into the middle act of this revival, which will reportedly conclude with Season Three, the creative team continues their pattern of telling short stories that dovetail into a longer narrative. After the first volume of Batman: The Adventures Continue, which brought the likes of Jason Todd and Deathstroke into the DCAU, you might well be asking yourself, “Who’s next? Who gets the animated treatment this time around?”

“Who?” ends up being all too appropriate a question, because right from page one, we’re in the company of the Court of Owls. Continuing the tradition of Season One’s semi-adaptation of Under the Red Hood, Burnett, Dini, and Templeton take a swing at Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s New 52 Court of Owls epic. The plot kicks off with a seismic first page, in which Mayor Hamilton Hill is assassinated by a Talon. It’s a no-fooling opener, instantly taking what might otherwise have been a loose rewrite of a classic story and grounding it in the DCAU as we know it. Eagle-eyed fans might recognize Hill’s son Jordan from the much-maligned episode “Be a Clown,”, but the creators also introduce a new son, Hamilton Hill Jr., to play the longer game in this season.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

That longer game, however, ends up being a little less interesting than it was in the previous season of The Adventures Continue. “Red Son Rising” gave us a fascinating glimpse at this Batman’s psyche, helping us to understand a little better how he saw his Bat-family while also tickling the continuity funny bone for longtime readers. In Season Two, however, the three-part “Mayor Mayhem” plot never quite sings. It follows the basic premise of integrating a previously-untold chapter of Batman’s life, but as an antagonist Emerson Mayfield is somewhat more inert than Jason Todd. Mayfield, a corrupt former mayor of Gotham, returns to the scene after Hill’s death, scheming his way back toward the mayor’s office. But aside from seeing Burchett draw Batman’s gold-oval costume, the flashbacks are fairly boilerplate, never quite justifying how intensely Mayfield gets under Batman’s skin.

I’m not sure if the plot would have been better served if Mayfield were, say, Sal Maroni or even Temple Fugate. Not everything needs to be a reference or a callback, but then the best parts of Season Two work overtime to bring the animated continuity to bear. The Court of Owls issues include Deadman, now a ghost, and Zatanna, with Veronica Vreeland’s father delivering key exposition. Meanwhile, we get a Birds of Prey of sorts when Batgirl and Huntress clash over the fate of Jimmy “The Jazzman” Peake, who nearly killed Jim Gordon in “I Am the Night.” Finally, Season Two introduces a new villain, The Muscle, who reminds one very much of Lock-Up and his eponymous episode, and who will become more important in Season Three.

Ultimately, the Mayfield plotline feels like it might have worked better in animation than on paper; at three issues, it’s long reading with not much payoff to justify the page count, and I do question who might have provided his voice. So much else in Season Two is crackling, though. It’s a joy to see, finally, a spectral Deadman, and the issue with the Muscle gives Renee Montoya a supportive personal life, even if her anti-Batman stance seems a little inconsistent with the Montoya we met in “P.O.V.” Then again, if we’re looking for a dastardly mayoral candidate, the Penguin is right there, yet I can understand stalwarts like Burnett and Dini being reluctant to go back to that well-traveled road. 

Season Two closes with an unlikely coda that a less careful collections editor might have missed, a short story from DC’s 2021 holiday special, ‘Tis the Season to Be Freezin’. Here, it’s Tim Drake apprehending Mister Freeze on an unlikely Christmas heist. The story is a little reminiscent of the holiday special collected in The Batman Adventures Vol. 4, but the difference is made up by this universe’s Tim, who engages with Freeze’s humanity while also finding the perfect Christmas gift for Bruce Wayne. It’s a touching short story, one of the better ones in these occasionally-forgettable anthologies, and its inclusion here is a boon for trade-waiters and completionists alike.

Batman: The Adventures Continue: Season Two is not as strong as Season One — most sequels never are — but as I always say, some Batman is better than no Batman, and the Court of Owls story is practically worth the price of admission. Even as the Mayfield plotline drags on past its sell-by date, it feels of a piece with Dini’s Streets of Gotham, which ought to be praise enough for any Bat-fan worth their salt.

While we wait for Season Three to hit the paperback market, up next — or should I say, up, up, and away — by popular demand, I’ll dip into Superman Adventures.


Post a Comment

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