Imaginary Story 5: Batman Adventures vol. 1 #16-28

 

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1994 was a busy year for Batman Adventures: 13 regular issues of the comic, plus an annual and the one-shot Batman Adventures: Mad Love, later adapted into the episode of the same name. Meanwhile, the TV series had a relatively light year compared to its first two: 15 of the second season’s 20 episodes aired in May or September-November.  In other words, there were as many Batman Adventures comics published in 1994 as there were new episodes of Batman: The Animated Series aired, a rather unusual state of affairs for a tie-in comic connected to a currently airing show.

The 13 regular issues cover a wide range of subject matter, but seem to be settling on a handful of themes. While they are just as episodic as the 1993 issues, there appears to have been some thought put into treating the year (and, to a lesser extent, the comic’s entire run) as an organic whole.

For instance, both January and December are Joker stories, and the January story connects thematically to the original arc covering the first three issues of Batman Adventures back in 1992, by once again involving a plot by the Joker to emboit the comic within a world of his control. In this case, we are introduced to Gotham Adventures, a comic made and published in Gotham, based on the adventures of Batman. (Presumably, it’s a licensed tie-in comic to the Batman TV show we saw in Batman Adventures #1.)

Insulted by his depiction in the comics, Joker kidnaps the new writer-artist and forces him to witness the Joker’s actual crimes and submit comics based on them. Meanwhile, the story and its component acts are given some truly great titles: “The Killing Book” for the story as a whole, and the three acts “Seduction of the Innocent” for the kidnapping/recruitment of the comic artist, “How to Draw Comics the Joker Way” for the reveal of what Joker is having him do, and “Comics and Sequential Death” for the final confrontation. We’ve already covered the source of the first two titles (Alan Moore’s mediocre but influential comic The Killing Joke and Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent); the other two are riffing on two classic books on writing and drawing comics, Stan Lee and John Buscema’s How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way and Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art. Note that all except “Seduction of the Innocent” are changed to make them more menacing or align them with the Joker’s plot; apparently that is the only one villainous enough on its own to need no changing. Even the book centering DC’s greatest rival is depicted as less villainous than Wertham!

Similarly backpedaling on 1993’s tendency to make the individual issues as standalone as possible is the increase in continuity and references to past stories. Issue 17 is a direct sequel to the earlier Talia al-Ghul story, in which Batman uses the information from the microfilm given him in that story to play a complex double-bluff against Ra’s al-Ghul. Fittingly, the structure of the issue resembles the globetrotting, film serial feel of the TV show’s Ra’s al-Ghul episodes, introducing serialization to the comic.

Issue 18 is similarly serialized, though it is not obvious from the issue itself; rather, its story, in which Batgirl and Robin team up to investigate a bombing connected to a conspiracy that could cost Commissioner Gordon his job, has a sequel in Issue 26. There we see the other side of their relationship; while Batgirl and Robin are collegial and a bit flirty, Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson are bitter rivals. In other words, their relationship is an inversion of the Batman/Catwoman relationship depicted in the show. Furthering the serialization going on with these issues, albeit almost certainly unintentionally, is Dick taunting Barbara about whether she wants to become Commissioner Gordon II–which of course she will in Batman Beyond, still years away from conception.

Issues 19 and 20 are also sequels to 1993 issues, with the former involving Scarecrow using a new application of the same technology with which he rendered Gotham illiterate, as well as revealing where he got the tech, while the latter involves the return of the three very silly new villains from 1993’s Riddler story.

With Issue 21, the serialization becomes more ambitious, weaving together three distinct episodes from the TV series into a single comic. Specifically, this story, “House of Dorian,” involves Emil Dorian, the scientist who created human-animal hybrids in “Tyger, Tyger,” breaking out of prison and forcibly turning Kirk Langstrom into Man-Bat with a modified formula that gives Dorian control of him. At the same time, Anthony Romulus (the werewolf from “Moon of the Wolf”) is searching for Dorian in hopes of a cure for his condition, and teams up with Tygrus (likewise from “Tyger, Tyger”): Romulus helps Tygrus reach Selina Kyle, and Tygrus helps Romulus find Dorian. Chaos, rather predictably, ensues, as the comic once again struggles against the limitation of having to fit a complex story into a handful of pages: in addition to multiple players with differing motivations, allegiances swap around halfway through. It’s a noble effort, but simply cannot work in the space available. It does at least work better than Issue 24, which endeavors to fulfill the apparent legal requirement of all 90s comics to include ninjas at some point by presenting a sequel to “Day of the Samurai” and “Night of the Ninja.” It succeeds in capturing the tedium of both near-exactly.

Thematic continuity is somewhat present in this run, too. Issue 22, “Good Face Bad Face,” does a wonderful job of distilling a Two-Face story down to its essentials. Because of course Two-Face’s first appearance would be the issue with two twos in its issue number and two faces in its title.: the entire story is about his duality, to the point that there are even literally two Two-Faces as part of his scheme–himself and a decoy in a mask. Batman alone sees through this ploy to find the real Two-Face, just as Batman alone sees the real Harvey Dent underneath the Two-Face persona. He even presents the remarkable insight that the coin has nothing to do with chance, but rather denial of responsibility: Dent’s moral core is still strong enough to prevent Two-Face from choosing to kill and destroy, so he lets the coin make the decision.

This theme of duality is explored further, albeit not quite so masterfully, in Issue 27, “Survivor Syndrome,” as an Olympic athlete named Tom Dalton loses his wife in a gangster crossfire and puts on a Batman costume to fight crime. When he’s wounded, Batman finds him and trains him, as a delaying tactic to give Batman time to bring the mobster responsible to justice. It works quite well up until the last couple of pages, when it runs out of space and nicks the climax from “Robin’s Reckoning,” failing at the last moment to provide any real insight into Batman the way the duals and mirrors in “Good Face Bad Face” gave us insight into Two-Face.

Speaking of Olympians, by far the weirdest story of the bunch is Issue 25, “Super Friends,” in which Superman and Batman team up against Lex Luthor and Maximillian Zeus. Apparently Harley Quinn’s spell was even more effective than we previously discussed, if Superman could be summoned into the comic a mere six months after “Harlequinade.” But it’s a bizarre, deformed Superman, a 90s Superman complete with mullet or rattail depending on whether he’s Superman or Clark Kent, and a pale Lex Luthor with a huge shock of red hair and red beard that makes him look like Cain from House of Mystery and Sandman.  This story sits within the continuity-heavy year like a counterweight, a burst of anti-continuity that serves to reassert the comic as its own thing, and remind us that despite the name, the DC Animated Universe isn’t a universe, it’s a franchise.

That is to say, for all the flirtation with continuity and serialization this year, when it comes down to it Batman: The Animated Series is nearly as episodic as the comics–but the comics presage the coming development. Superman: The Animated Series will be just that little bit more serialized, and its sequel Justice League will be heavily serialized. But in the end, there is no requirement that any given entry adhere to any “rules” laid down by a prior entry, let alone a later one; the illusion of continuity is always just that, an illusion. It is a juggling act, a sleight of hand, but there is no magic here.  There is no other world into which the writers and artists somehow tap, no Tolkienesque “Secondary Creation”; there is simply whatever the writers happen to come up with.

Fortunately, that’s plenty.


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