Review by Frank Plowright
When they concluded the first year of comics based on the 1990s Batman animated show, Kelley Puckett and Mike Parobeck had really hit a groove. This collection is ten fantastically drawn tales with the plots, for the most part, equally as good.
This isn’t just Batman either. We have a solo Batgirl tale, a solo Robin tale, a tale teaming the two, and one that’s all-but a solo for Commissioner Gordon. Let’s start there. It’s not the best story on offer, but solidly plotted with an emotional core understandable to younger readers at whom the title was ostensibly aimed. One of Gordon’s undercover officers has been rumbled by gangster Rupert Thorne, and in exchange for sparing his life Thorne wants the return of all evidence gathered compromising him. Batman offers to help, but Gordon believes the police department has a personal responsibility and he should rectify the situation. It’s unpredictable, to a degree at least, and because Gordon is the focus there’s a greater suspense.
The Batgirl story is notable for being the first appearance of Harley Quinn in DC comics. She’d been introduced in the animated episodes as a foil for the Joker, but also befriended Poison Ivy, with whom she appears here, attempting to outwit Catwoman. Puckett captures her fractured and sparky personality well, and Batgirl’s introduction is also a triumph, harkening back to the more innocent character of the 1960s TV series.
Villains making their first appearance in the series to date include R’as Al Ghul and his daughter, Talia, Man-Bat and the Ventriloquist. That’s in a particularly funny story with Puckett signposting his plot, yet still making it work. There are returns for Thorne, the Joker and the Scarecrow, here far improved on the story from the previous volume, having instituted a Gotham-wide fear of his face. The resolution has a real pathos and is beautifully drawn by Parobeck.
Then so is everything else here. He has a deceptively simple style, yet the storytelling is dynamic and simultaneously impeccable. The story featuring Talia encompasses an interlude spent in Paris, very well worked in by Puckett. There’s no superheroics, no action, just a delightful day perfectly captured by Parobeck. It’s generic Europe rather than specifically Paris, but nonetheless appropriate for that.
In the years since the original publication of these issues there’s been a sea change in terms of what’s considered an acceptable artistic style for standard superhero comics. Cartooning, once confined to children’s titles is now accepted for all types of story. Parobeck and Puckett anticipated that, and anyone who dismissed this material in the 1990s should really take another look.