1992 was a big year for the Bat. The sequel to Tim Burton’s “Batman” film, “Batman Returns”, was released and “Batman: The Animated Series” aired its first episode. This was also a big year for 11 year old Keith. As a Batman acolyte, I was in Bat-Heaven. To make this year even sweeter, DC Comics launched what would become one of the greatest comic book series of the 1990s: “The Batman Adventures”. Inspired by the animated series, this book had the same intelligence, humor, and pure artistry of the television show.
“The Batman Adventures” would not simply be a straight adaptation, as the first issue proves right away. This is a highly original story by writer Kelley Puckett, penciller Ty Templeton, inker Rick Burchett, and colorist Rick Taylor. The opening page has Batman facing a criminal with a gun but, when we turn the page, there’s one of the Penguin’s mooks watching a TV show about Batman. This little wink to the audience is just one of the grin-inducing moments of an issue full of them. The Joker then appears from the screen of an “interactive TV unit” that has been unwrapped like a present and proposes a scheme that will make the Penguin “the most popular man in Gotham City”. He’s eventually outsmarted by both Bruce Wayne and Batman, with the tantalizing promise of the Joker’s emergence teased in the final panel.
The first issue of “The Batman Adventures”, like the animated series, proudly touts its influences. The dark, noir of Tim Burton’s films meshed flawlessly with the feel of the 1940s classic Max Fleischer “Superman” cartoons in both animated and comic form. The first episode of “Batman: The Animated Series” had a timeless quality to it, yet appeared as something new and revolutionary. One of the main reasons for both the success of the TV show and its comic book counterpart was the iconic characters. Both the creators of the show and the comic understood the appeal of Batman, his rogues, and his supporting cast. Character was the first and integral ingredient that contributed to both their timelessness.
Besides character, “The Batman Adventures” #1 also had most of the elements that comprise a classic Batman story. Bruce works with his trusty friend and manservant Alfred on a mystery in the Batcave (and even Commissioner Gordon makes a brief appearance at a gala event). There are fisticuffs with the Penguin’s thugs. The villain loses, but, on the way to that inevitable conclusion, there is a sense that Batman’s crusade against crime is a required and greatly desired thing for both Gotham and the reader. Batman is the World’s Greatest Detective who relies on both his brains and his brawn. The creative team on this first issue and those that worked on the remainder of this series, “The Batman and Robin Adventures”, and the various one-shots and annuals all loved Batman and his world. He simply existed and that’s all that mattered.
Kelley Puckett, with “The Batman Adventures” #1, lovingly wrote a simple tale that condensed all those classic elements. One of the main aspects of the issue that stands out for me is the humor. One doesn’t usually associate Batman with humor, but Puckett weaves it into the story and does it with playful intelligence and wit. In one hilarious scene, the Penguin is in a room of the Wayne Financial Institution. The lights go out and his henchmen need their fears soothed by their boss. He tells them to remain calm and that, “It’s only the guards”. Batman appears behind them with a grin on his face and says, “Maybe it’s Batman.”
This scene, as well as the entirety of the issue, wouldn’t be as successful if not for Templeton’s art, Burchett’s inks, and Taylor’s colors. In the scene mentioned above, Batman’s feet appear behind the Penguin and his goons in the panel before Batman appears behind them. In the following panel, Templeton’s highly expressive faces highlight the humor of the scene while Burchett’s inks bring shadow and darkness to the scene. Both pencils and inks balance that light and dark that make this issue and series a more nuanced book than most would expect from a comic book based on an animated series. Add Taylor’s colors to the mix and a heightened sense of reality mixed with the absurd transform the book into a cartoon miraculously brought to life in the pages of a delectable comic book.
Looking through my old short and long boxes, I can remember enjoying every one of these books based on my favorite animated series that enthralled me with the tales of my hero. Reading them again proves that it wasn’t just nostalgia that was warming my insides. They still remain amazing adventures. Like Batman, they remain timeless.
The Batman Adventures #1
Written by: Kelley Puckett
Art by: Ty Templeton
Inks: Rick Burchett
Colors: Rick Taylor
Letters: Tim Harkins
Publisher: DC Comics
Original Publication Date: October 1992
Pages: 22 pages