Friday, May 28, 2010

Review - Batman & Robin: The Gotham Adventures

Batman & Robin: The Gotham Adventures
Written by Ty Templeton; Art by Rick Burchett
1999 Eisner Winner for Best Title for a Younger Audience

The way I've chosen to collect the Eisner winning comics is in trade paperback format. The advantage of this is that when I am done (or rather when I decide I am done) I will have a nice collection on my shelves. So I've been avoiding the single issues almost entirely. This does mean that there are going to be gaps in my collection. Evan Dorkin's Eltingville Comic club stories have won multiple Eisners but the stories have never been collected. Garth Ennis won for Hitman #34 but the collectons stop at issue twenty-eight (though that may be changing soon enough). Sergio Aragones did a pair of parody books for DC and Marvel that will likely never be printed in a collection just due to how the publishing industry works. And then there are the children's books.

In the dark days of the nineties when any superhero worth his salt had to wallow in self-pity DC comics did a Batman series based on the animated series. It was light-hearted, adventurous fun and if that wasn't enough they were also good. This series changed with the times and when the cartoon entered its last season the comic was relaunched with the title Batman & Robin: The Gotham Adventures. The series won five Eisners over the course of its run and had a grand total of two collections which gathered just the tiniest fragment of the winning material. Mad Love collected the work that the animated series creator Paul Dini did for the comic (and includes the entire contents of another collection). The bulk of the writing though was handled by Ty Templeton whose only collection was this book that gathered the first few issues of the final series.

The comic has a similar basis as the animated series: it's target audience was under twelve but there was no reason to not give them a good story. And these stories need to be fast-paced and self-contained since they want any kid who picked one up to be satisfied enough to come back for the next one.

The first story in the collection is the best one and a concept that could have worked well with the regular Batman comics: as Batman closes in for the capture of his arch-enemy the Joker a rich man publicly offers a ten million dollar reward for the person who kills the Joker. It throws the city into an uproar and leaves Batman in the position of having to protect the psychopathic clown.

Similar moral questions come up in the second story where another villain confronts his abusive, gambling addict father. And in the story after that where a villain is who had abandoned his wife wants to save her new husband. While these stories may not be given as much weight as they could have been it's surprising to see them at all in a comic book that is for children.

Templeton is working in the constraints of what he can do with a tie-in book for a cartoon series and you can see the edges of that. While there's action they never become too violent. The big questions are raised but they have to be addressed in a simple way. I don't think he's wrong about his approach but it's something to be aware of.

Rick Burchett does an admirable job of aping the cartoon's style though occasionally I was bothered by the lack of detail. It wasn't the characters themselves that bothered me. Too often things lacked background and action felt like it was taking place in a featureless void. It's decent enough but not strong enough artwork to stand out.

While I wouldn't recommend Batman & Robin: The Gotham Adventures to most people I would say that if you liked Batman: The Animated Series at all then it's worth reading. On the other hand if you're under ten then you'll find that this is the greatest thing ever. At least my inner ten year old thinks so.