By: Jeff Parker (story), Joe Quinones & Sandy Jarrell (art), Maris Wicks & Rico Renzi (colors)

The Story: Don’t let the Joker get into your head; he may decide to never get out.

The Review: I don’t know if Parker has learned some lessons from Li’l Gotham—I don’t know if anyone reads Li’l Gotham for anything other than to melt into a helpless puddle of adoration for the sheer cuteness of it all—but he’s surely taking care to avoid the missteps of its fellow digital-first series.  Entertainment and laughs are all well and good, but there’s no reason why you can’t have good character work and plotting, too.

Parker already hinted at a shift towards more serious stories last issue, with suggestions of a potentially long-term plotline.  Here he goes full throttle, setting aside his usual jokey antics for something that actually resembles a more traditional Batman mission.  True, you’re not genuinely in fear of anything too dire happening, but there’s still very much a dramatic tension moving the feature along.

Most of the villains of Batman ’66 have been motivated by money or power, but the Red Hood sets himself apart by taking on a more personal vendetta (with a bit of incidental robbery along the way, admittedly).  That he sets his sights on no less than the Joker is also worth some respectful consideration, especially since the Joker is by far the most credible villain we’ve gotten on the series so far.  He’s actually a little menacing; using a decoy to spring a surprise peekaboo on our heroes is elementary, but bolder and more direct than anything his contemporaries have done.  Little wonder that even this kinder, more forgiving Batman has serious doubts that the criminal clown can ever be saved.

And then there’s the scope of the Joker’s villainy to look out for.  Again, it’s not the most novel idea in the world, that the Joker can mentally control someone else for his own purposes (see Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker for a particularly disturbing instance of this), but the fact that he can pull off something that complex and subtle is almost revolutionary for the world we’re dealing with here.  It’s also important to note that the means of his subconscious manipulation remains at large, ready to put back into use when the time is right.

But Parker never loses sight of the fact that at its most serious, Batman ’66 is by nature a campy piece of work.  The most ponderous moments can be undercut by the bland delivery of utter silliness (remarking on the extent of Joker’s villainy, Batman says, “Diabolical.  Don your spelunking lamp, Robin”).  At any rate, Parker more than makes up for the lack of gags in the first feature with an excess of egg punnery in the next (“eggsistence,” “eggcentric,” “eggspire,” “eggscellency”), which quickly grows old.  At best, it makes a good case for why Parker has to start changing the direction of the series before he’s trapped in a world of lame jokes forever.

As if to highlight the gravity of the first feature, Quinones’ art has more of a realistic edge than previous artists on this series.  Something about his figures and their mask-like faces calls to mind the work of Frazier Irving, which is perfect for the unsettling comedy of the Joker.  Wicks’ bold coloring keeps the art firmly grounded in sixties sensibilities, but otherwise it’s a less exaggerated and more convincing look than we’re used to.  Jarrell’s cartoonish style brings us right back to the title’s usually hyperbolic visuals.  It works, but it’s not outstanding.

Conclusion: The first feature represents an experiment in more serious storytelling for this tribute series, and ought to be commended.  The second feature reminds us why the original show became such a mockable fan-favorite in the first place.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – It says a lot about Egghead that he’s furious not so much at Batman’s escape, but at his own missed opportunity to rub in his triumph while it lasted: “My final riposte was to be ‘Enjy your new form as egg drop soup!”  But that cowled credit anger med so I bluttered that simplistice ‘scrambled’ jape!”

– When you look at the flamboyant color scheme and design of the Batcopter, it’s not hard to understand why there was a period of time when people insisted that Batman was a closet homosexual.