I’ve been looking at some comics-based cartoon series, but today I’m going to actually look at a cartoon-based comic series. I am a big fan of Batman: The Animated Series and everything it spawned, but due to lack of availability to me at the time I never read the comics based on the series. I haven’t been collecting the very detailed toys based on the show that have been produced in the last few years either, but really appreciate how they’re designed and was intrigued when they started producing “what could have been” figures of characters that didn’t make it to the show, like Azrael and Red Hood.
With no cartoon to promote them currently, they are being included in new digital comics written by original series writers Paul Dini and Alan Burnett and illustrated by Batman Adventures artist Ty Templeton. Let’s have a look…
Issues 1 and 2 (Hardware, Parts 1 and 2)
After quickly (too quickly for my liking) dispatching Bane, Batman battles a robot rampaging through the streets of Gotham City. The robot, which looks not entirely unlike Zeta from Batman Beyond spin-off The Zeta Project, steals a piece of alien technology from Wayne Tech. Knowing the worth (or not) of it, Bruce wonders why it was stolen and further investigates as a case when Lex Luthor is in town on business.
The writers make the most of the two relatively short issues to pack in lots of dialogue and some action. This story probably could’ve gone for a further issue, but isn’t bad for the brevity. Some BTAS cameos from the likes of Detective Bullock, Veronica Vreeland and, of course, Alfred. Batman gets to do some investigating as well as fighting. How do you fight a giant robot when you’re just a man? One of the toys from the accompanying line answers that.
The strength in this issue is the dialogue, especially when it includes Luthor, who manages to indirectly insult Bruce to his face when knocking Batman and manipulating points for his own purposes, referring back to the World’s Finest crossover, where Lex and Joker paired off against Batman and Superman. A possible future reference is included when the battle takes place at Claremon Airfield, which looks like the site of the fight between Bruce and kidnappers at the beginning of the first episode of Batman Beyond, where Bruce decided it was time to hang up the cape and cowl.
Starting in this issue also is the ongoing plot thread of Batman being watched by a gun-toting character that we all know is Red Hood. Jason Todd never featured in BTAS OR The New Batman Adventures, instead they jumped to Tim Drake as a composite of the then-deceased Todd and Drake from the comics. We might find out, 23 years later, why that was.
Issue 4 to 6 (Mentors, Parts 1 to 4)
The mercenary Deathstroke comes to Gotham, ostensibly to capture the pyromaniac Firefly, but in reality to try and recruit Robin and Batgirl and take over Batman’s family business. And what does Lex Luthor have to do with this?
Deathstroke made his bones as the main antagonist of the tremendous Teen Titans show, presented under his first name, Slade. BTAS wouldn’t have been able to use the Deathstroke name either, but the gloves are off in this current form. The game that’s played is whether Tim and Barbara will be seduced by Slade’s manipulations. Too easily in the concluding issue is the game given away.
Fun features of the issues are a battle with Clayface (with a new facial form), who harkens back to his drone form of Annie from the excellent and emotional Growing Pains episode, a Farmer Brown delivery van in the background, cameos for Roxy Rocket as well as the Mad Hatter and his Wonderland Gang (a cool take on the Walrus and the Carpenter as a musclebound guy with metal tusks attached to his mouthguard as well as a sexy female wielding a wrench). Deathstroke’s reference to Firefly, who is being supported by Kobra, wanting to cause ‘9/11 level’ damage is a bit jarring, though.
On the Red Hood storyline, it’s revealed that while he’s stalking the Bat, he doesn’t want to see him dead. A reference to him appearing like ‘a ghost’ is a clever choice of words too.
Issues 7 and 8 (The Darker Knight Parts 1 and 2)
Batman chases after Catwoman, who is then captured by a new knight of Gotham, Jean-Paul Valley, AKA Azrael. Azrael is more brutal than Batman, but also more driven by his holy devotions, given that Selina has stolen the Shawl of Magdalene, which is said to have healing powers. Tracing that relic goes down a cold path from her to the Penguin to someone else.
Although the debut of Azrael could easily lead to a fuller battle, instead it leads to a team-up between the two avengers. They battle together against Penguin’s monstrous mutant bodyguard Mr. Wing, who it can’t be ascertained as to whether he was originally a bird or originally a man.
I’m keeping who the final opponent is quiet, but it may rub some the wrong way that this character has dipped so low to achieve his goals, but I would say the damage was already done a long time ago.
And, once again in the shadows, Red Hood watches on, including keeping an eye on an old enemy, who knows that he’s being watched.
I’m enjoying these issues. It’s a shame that the DC Universe streaming platform is missing the real trick. Making live action shows is fine, and Young Justice was more than welcome to come back. I’ll be checking out Harley Quinn too at some point and reporting on it here, but the real money surely has to be in continuing the animated tales of Batman, Superman and the Justice League in the DCAU. A rejigged Wonder Woman so she isn’t such a square with some New 52 influence would be great, plus Hal Jordan took very much a backseat to John Stewart, and I’m sure Nathan Fillion is waiting!