I can never remember when I first became aware of Batman, but I know when I first started to love the character. Batman: The Animated Series had pretty much everything the seven-year-old version of me wanted in a cartoon, with plenty of action, cool looking villains and clever plots that never seemed to be taking you for granted.
There was also all the tie-in ranges of toys, sticker albums and, most importantly, comic books. Yet while the cartoon itself is nearly universally acclaimed, those tie-in comics, which long outlasted the TV show, never quite seemed to earn the praise they deserved. For me, they were the first Bat book I regularly purchased, and they played a huge part in drawing me into the world of Gotham City.
The Batman Adventures kicked things off, running for 36 issues (and a handful of specials, including the seminal Mad Love), mostly written by Kelley Puckett and drawn by the late, great Mike Parobeck. They were a perfect fit – Puckett had a great knack for telling fine stories without the need for too much dialogue, letting Parobeck’s gloriously cartoony style shine.
Nearly every tale was a one and done, running through the Rogue’s Gallery stylishly but also finding time for a few surprises, including an encounter with a mullet wearing Superman and red-bearded Lex Luthor, a three-part yarn that introduced Hugo Strange to the animated universe, and a tussle with Anarky.
It was succeeded by the Batman and Robin Adventures, which went for 25 issues, with Ty Templeton taking over as writer, joined by a variety of artists and animated mastermind Paul Dini chipping in occasionally, including the series launching two parter that sees the Joker’s meddling setting Two Face free.
Again, new characters were introduced –the Catman crops up and the Huntress gets an origin. A five issue Lost Years mini series then covered the gap between Season 2 of the TV show and its evolution into The New Batman Adventures, which lasted a whopping 60 issues.
Templeton departed as writer around issue 15, succeeded by the book’s former editor Scott Peterson and, in truth, the book starts to flag around this point, albeit with the odd gem. Lastly, Templeton returned, joined by future Spider-Man scribe Dan Slott, for another run, this time called Batman Adventures. Shorn of any need to stick to TV continuity, this 17 issue run set up new plot points and an overarching story, with the Penguin now Gotham City’s mayor and the Red Hood arriving on the scene.
The art, particularly by Parobeck, but also from the likes of Dev Madan and Rick Burchett, was terrific. Lastly, there was never any point where it felt like it was talking down to the reader, something quite a few books should learn from. They truly are all ages storytelling.
Here’s a completely personal pick of several stories that are great examples of the book’s quality…
– Batman Adventures Issue 10: A depressed Riddler is on the brink of quitting crime as he always gets caught. But he decides to try one last heist… Eddie Ngyma was one of the few villains who never shone in the animated series itself, but he flourished in the comics. This is a sympathetic take, including his henchmen getting depressed because they know Batman will catch their boss again. Or will he…
– Batman Adventures Issue 15: An undercover cop’s cover is blown, and it’s up to Jim Gordon to save the day. This is an all action homage to old school cop films and film noir, letting Gordon shine as he tries to track down his missing officer, who had been infiltrating Rupert Throne’s mob.
– Batman Adventures 33: Bruce Wayne is on a date, when a mugger steps out of the shadows… This is a heartbreaker, penned by Ty Templeton. It neatly contrasts Bruce’s determination to stop the mugger and retrieve his date’s stolen money with the reason he can never have a normal life.
– Batman and Robin Adventures Issue 7: Scarface and the Ventriloquist break out of jail, and Scarface decides he needs to take away something the Ventriloquist loves. A seriously dark one here, breaking down poor Arnold Wesker’s mental state and delving into his background.
– Batman and Robin Adventures 8: Poison Ivy puts Robin under a love spell, and Harley Quinn starts to get jealous. Absolute silliness from Paul Dini here, and a complete romp from start to finish.
– Batman and Robin Adventures Issue 23: Killer Croc develops a crush on Summer Gleason. It doesn’t end well. Poor old Croc, who falls for Summer after seeing her say on TV that he needs help, not to be assaulted. It’d hard not to feel sympathy when he talks about just wanting to have someone to talk to.
– Gotham Adventures Issue 2: An absolute classic of a Two Face tale, as he decides to crash a TV game show that his father is appearing on, and bring up some home truths. In 22 pages it gives us reasons for Two Face’s psyche, delivers cracking action sequences, and has a neat sting in the tale.
In recent years, DC have finally started to show these books some love, with Adventures and Batman and Robin now fully collected in as trade paperbacks. Much like the animated series itself, they still hold up when viewed through adult eyes, and provide perfect tales to dip in and out of when looking for a quick hit. Over 20 years ago they helped introduce me to Gotham City, and I’ve never left since then.
The writer of this piece was: Jonathan Geddes