By: Jeff Parker (story), Jonathan Case (art)
The Story: Bam! Pow! Zap! Here come Batman and Robin!
The Review: Scoff all you want, but Batman has become such a part of our pop culture that even if you never watched an episode of the show in your entire life, like I never did, there are still fragments that have a hold on your consciousness: Adam West and Burt Ward, the goony sound effect blurbs flashing on the screen, the frenetic theme song that recalled an auditory whirlwind, Robin’s “Holy ________!” exclamations, and over it all, the major camp factor.
Parker brings back, even revels, in all these familiar elements, and the result is equal parts parody and credibility. Ultimately, your enjoyment depends on complete acceptance that this world is merely inspired by the Batman mythos, but operates according to an entirely unique set of rules and values, one that reflects a more innocent, enthusiastic, confident era. Embracing this title thus requires a sense of self-aware humor equal to that of the series itself.
Camp is an integral part of the title’s DNA, and Parker actually plays with it in a very finely-tuned way. Just as actors pull off cheesy lines by adding a touch of emphasis and a slight pushing here and there, Parker’s dialogue sells itself by injecting the right amount of broadness. Notice the liberal use of exclamation points and italics: as Batman convinces Robin to take the wheel of the Batmobile as he makes the daring climb up a grappling line to the Riddler’s biplane, he asks, “Besides, don’t you want to make use of that daytime driver’s license?”
“I sure do!”
As you can see, this is a much gentler Batman than we’re used to, more Caped Crusader than Dark Knight. He’s more given to solemn and overt moralizing than the vigilante of today’s comics, whether in his appreciation for human life (while Robin is upset to find that Riddler escaped the wreckage of his plane, Batman tells him, “Let’s be grateful no lives were lost today, old friend.”), a head-shaking disappointment in vice (“He’s a criminal mastermind…if only that brain could be harnessed for good ends.”), or even the occasional public service announcement (Batman and Robin manage to contain a building fire, “Thanks to Catwoman’s complying with the fire marshal and having accessible fire extinguishers placed in her club!”).
The preachiness, however, is simply a part of this Bruce Wayne’s personality, and it’s delivered with such non-judgmental grace that it’s an endearing character trait. And that’s the key to the issue’s success: despite its often over-the-top pushes to entertain and resemble its television predecessor, it also displays great respect for the characters and story. Riddler’s cackling aside (“Ha ha ha hee! Hee heeee!”), he proves to be a competent, even ingenious, villain for the series’ debut, leading Batman and Robin on a merry chase and nearly getting away with it, but for inadvertently inspiring Catwoman’s wrath. All the figures involved handle themselves deftly in battle, which, though fleet and bloodless, has no shortage of fist-pumping action. And as far as plotting goes, Parker manages to create something that feels just as engaging and perhaps even more unpredictable than the average issue of contemporary Batman.
The issue is not without its flaws. Though most times you can appreciate its ballsy silliness, at times it does threaten to get out of control, bordering on the pointlessly random. The cameo of Dracula, for example, poking his head out of a window to see the Dynamic Duo spelunking down the side of his apartment building, has nothing to do with the story whatsoever. And there are some aspects of the show that may be better left on TV, such as the mid-issue cliffhangers (“Did we just see the caped crusader and Catwoman…cremated?” Next panel: they survive.).
For those who came to see their favorite show revived in printed form, this is absolutely the best you’re going to get, as much due to Case’s lovingly rendered art as Parker’s script. The references to West, Ward, Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, and Alan Napier are as clear as sixties-saturated day, and there is no end of delight to seeing the go-go era props and costumes so accurately drawn. Moreover, Case can simply draw a clean, attractive image in an incredibly dynamic shot. Letterer Wes Abbott gets to go wild with his sound effect choices, too, killing it with one of the most essential parts of the show. You’ll have your favorites, but mine are Slammo and the unbeatable Cat-zam!!! This is by far the most energetic Batman art you’ll ever get, if not the most sophisticated.
Conclusion: I’ll let the issue’s appeal speak for itself. The Riddler is confounded by a riddle left where his final prize should be: “What arrives / at any time of day or night / always ready / to fight the good fight?”
From the rafters, Robin leaps out, “Answer?” and Batman joins him: “Justice!”
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Hands down, the joke that made me chuckle the most was Catwoman’s extravagant “I have my moments—constantly,” while reclining languorously against Batman’s Bat-3-Dimensional-Modeler. What a dame.
– I do love that the final art piece, which Batman manages to keep from Riddler, turns out to be a bat, and the crestfallen reaction Riddler has to the revelation. A final twist of the knife in his defeat.