By: Jeff Parker (story), Jonathan Case (art), Sandy Jarrell (art), Tony Aviña (colors)

The Story: Batman and Robin, guaranteeing that villains get off their high hat.

The Review: It’s not surprising superhero comics tend to stagnate over time, given their penchant for having the same heroes fight the same villains, always in the same setting. As traditional as it is to see Batman battle evil in Gotham, there are times I wonder if part of the reason why he can never lighten up is because he’s always trapped in that hole of urban crime.  Maybe if he gets out once in a while, he’d have more perspective.

So kudos to Parker for taking advantage of the sixties’ romance for exotic lands to take Batman, Robin, and Alfred to England.  It doesn’t matter that they just end up doing their usual crime-fighting thing anyway.  What matters is the breath of fresh air that comes from a change in pace.  Even if the differences are mostly superficial (Parker goes as far as to include a British Batmobile and a Commissioner Gordon facsimile in the form of his cousin, Scotland Yard’s Detective Inspector Gordon), at least they beat the done-and-done Gotham hijinks.

Besides, Parker does use the English setting as fodder for some fun jokes.  You have to love that Batman achieves his victory partly by involving a double-decker bus driver in the chase (“‘Ang on, everyone clears a path for a red bus!  We’ll get ‘em!”).  In fact, you get a big kick out of the way the British treat the Dynamic Duo like a hot rock group, which is clearly Parker reversing the Beatle-mania that was going on in America during that period.  What I find particularly brilliant about this move is that it feels like exactly the kind of thing the showrunners of a popular, all-American sixties show would do.

And you can’t get a better fit for a British “episode” of the series than the choice of Mad Hatter as its primary antagonist.  Besides the obvious connection to English culture, Hatter’s “deep-seated desire for rarefied topwear” just seems so…British!  The literalism of his villainous identity culminates in a bizarre but hilarious speech on the value of hats, wherein he insults several wearers in the crowd, including a balding man (“Just a bit,” he protests) and a woman wearing an “overtly styled accessory which screams, ‘Look at me, am I not hip?’” (“Oh!”).  His obsession doesn’t stop even when Batman puts an end to his crimes; as he’s led away, he swipes a passing copper’s hat (“Me hat!”)

While the Mad Hatter feature feels like a good joke, the one with Clock King feels like a joke gone too far.  Not only do you lack the interest that familiarity (as with Hatter) brings, but the King’s single-minded obsession with a household object just feels like a watered-down repeat of Hatter himself.  Batman and Robin’s battle with the King is also much more conventional, absent of the wild chaos which characterizes their previous target.

On a similar note, Jarrell’s art on the Clock King story is fine, but unremarkable, relegating the whole feature to de facto back-up status.  His lines are heavy, thick, utterly plain compared to Case’s light, fleeting work on the first feature.  Case also makes generous use of movement lines not only to indicate the direction of the action, but to inject a good dose of energy into every panel: Batman swinging up a grappling line to Hatter’s giant, hovering top-hat, Alfred and Robing barreling forward in the British Batmobile as they take aim at Hatter with their Bat-beam, etc.  Case also delights by knowing just the right amount of camp required to sell a scene.  Mad Hatter’s reveal cracks you up every time, mostly because of the perfection of his crazy eyes and grin.

Conclusion: Still as unrepentantly silly as ever, but offering little that requires forgiveness, aside from a comparatively underwhelming epilogue.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Seriously, Parker needs to be careful about how freely he tosses around Robin’s “Holy” expressions.  Having one in two successive panels just feels like too much: “Holy high hats!”  “Holy hovering headwear!”

– Could there be anything more glorious than seeing Batman and Robin in full costume while sitting (it appears) in the economy section of a passenger plane with their fellow travelers?