Thursday, July 2, 2009

Review - Batman: Mad Love

Batman Adventures: Mad Love
Written by Paul Dini
Art by Bruce Timm
1994 Eisner Winner for Best Single Issue

I don't think it should be much of a surprise that I have never been a fan of Batman. The conventional wisdom when it comes to superhero comics is that there are a Batman fans and Superman fans; fans of pulpy adventure stories and fans of the strange concepts. Since my affection for comic books comes from the science fiction angle I've generally gone for the more outlandish fantasy.

There have been times when something Batman has caught my eye. Dini and Timm's Batman: The Animated Series television show was one of those. It was limited by the fact that it had to be created for a children's audience but even then episodes were among the best superhero action you'd find on any screen.

That brings me to Mad Love. It was one of the earliest comic book projects that Timm and Dini worked on and it was firmly connected to their animated work. They explore the beginnings of Harley Quinn, the female counterpart to the Joker created for the television series. Consequently they made a disturbingly light book about an abusive relationship.

After Harley screws up a plan and a punchline the Joker's tolerance for her drops. She decides that the best way to get their relationship on track is get rid of Batman. So she pursues this on her own while reminiscing about how she met the Joker and began her criminal career.

Part of what makes Mad Love really special is that they clearly recognize just how twisted the relationship is. There's a superficial level of slapstick humor as the Joker pushes Harley aside but there's an undercurrent of genuine abuse in it. As Harley keeps returning despite being hurt by the relationship the reader can see how she defines the relationship. Her views on it are extremely divergent from the reality of the situation. Harley is the star of the show in this book and her willingness to absorb the abuse and blame Batman for it.

The plot is light beyond the character study but this is a forty page story and there isn't really room for a whole lot when you consider how it's paced. Dini tends to linger on scenes longer than in most superhero books and it works to Timm's benefit since he uses that extra space for the sake of telling the story in the art.

One of the reasons that I'm doing Mad Love now is that it is a very art driven book. I generally prefer comic artists who come from animation. They tend to have simplified but expressive figures and a wonderful grasp of of motion and panel composition.

Bruce Timm's art seems to be channeling storyboards at several points and I don't mean that in a bad way. There are a lot of silent pages like the one from above where Timm carries the weight weight of the story so smoothly you'd almost think you were watching the cartoon.

Mad Love was so well received that it was adapted into an episode of the show that the comic was based on. It wasn't my favorite episode of the series but it came awfully close. The original comic is just as terrific. The only real hang up in it are the basic assumptions of a superhero story and if those bother you then I think Mad Love isn't good enough to get you past that stumbling block. For everyone else it's a great looking, well told story that's more textured that it may appear at first glance.