Review by Frank Plowright
This fourth collection completes the gathering of The Batman Adventures from the 1990s, based on the groundbreaking and fondly recalled animated series, from which DC progresses to its successor, Batman and Robin Adventures.
That sequel, however, lacked Kelley Puckett, whose deft plotting makes this series so enjoyable, and Mike Parobeck, whose remarkable cartooning brought these stories to life. Not that they’re ever- present here, mind. Several other writers are showcased, yet only Ty Templeton, who’d write the follow-up series, really nails the mood. That contributors with the experience of Alan Grant don’t quite hit the style speaks volumes for Puckett’s accomplishment. It’s surprising that even Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, then producing the animated series, fall below the standard he sets, although Timm’s commentary on Mad Love and Other Stories details the rushed circumstances under which their extended tale guest starring the Demon was produced. It’s padded and disappointing.
Despite originally being an annual, that’s not the longest tale here, which is the closing item. Puckett, Templeton and Parobeck combine for a story featuring Hugo Strange, Catwoman and Robin extending over 68 pages. It reaches back into the past on several occasions in attempts to avert a tragedy, and presents a distinctly different Batman. Given the requirements of the plot, a very fine line is straddled, yet never tipped. It’s poignant and excellent.
Other highlights include Puckett’s Harley Quinn and Joker script, supplying a nod and a wink to readers, and the return of The Professor, Mastermind and Mister Nice, providing their hilarious origins amid their latest caper.
Also featured is what was originally a Christmas special. It’s delightful and showcases the best from creators of the animated Batman show when not up against a deadline. Artists Kevin Altieri, Ronnie Del Carmen, Glen Murakami, Dan Riba and Timm himself all impress, and Del Carmen and Timm also collaborate with Dini on the writing. This is such a jewel-packed section that anyone selecting a highlight is spoilt for choice, but perhaps the stark simplicity of ‘White Christmas’, which provides the book’s cover, is the one. Mr Freeze is hardly among the foremost of Batman villains, and it’s arguable that despite his frequent use over the years there’s not previously been one truly memorable appearance. The pathos of Dini’s script supplies just that, despite being very sparse, and Murakami’s art has a more angular edge than the series template, but it’s ideally suited to a world of snow and ice.
Parobeck is excellent (as usual), but several stories here are drawn by Dev Madan, who’s almost as good. His layouts emphasise distance, so contrast Parobeck, but his storytelling and characterisation is first rate. His move to video game animation is comics’ loss.
There’s barely a key Batman figure not seen in this collection (fans of Two-Face and the Penguin will be disappointed), and the weaker material isn’t poor, just not up to the overall standard. As such, it’s another top-notch treat.
It’s to be hoped that in the years since this material was originally published there’s been a greater acceptance of artistic diversity, and cartooning is no longer viewed as indicative of material solely aimed at younger readers. Over four volumes The Batman Adventures has consistently presented elevated Batman material, and there can be few other four book runs featuring the character where the high quality has been so sustained.