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CARTOONS CAUGHT ON PAPER, Part One: The Batman Adventures #8

This month at Blastoff Comics, we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series. I’ve done my fair share of reviews of DC’s animated material in these pieces, so this time, we’re going to switch things up. Instead of tuning into the show itself, I’m going to be examining the comics set within the universe of that show. A lot of the times, you’ll notice that my pieces here focus on reading classic material through the lens of a modernist. Now, though, we’re dealing with comics that have been released more recently, all of them in the last quarter century. Still, though, I’m far more familiar with the Batman that patrols Gotham in the main DC comics universe, so while this isn’t a stroll through territory unknown, I think that it will be a journey of discovery nonetheless.

We begin with 1993’s The Batman Adventures #8, the oldest of the books I’ll be covering this month, which was released just one year after the debut of Batman: The Animated Series. This one is called “Larceny, My Sweet” and is written by Kelley Puckett, penciled by Mike Parobeck, inked by Rick Burchett, colored by Rick Taylor, and lettered by Tim Harkins. Let’s see how the world of the animated series translates to comics.

Overall, this was a fun first issue. I haven’t seen all of the show, so I may be off base, but this seemed far lighter stylistically in both the storytelling and the artwork. While the cartoon had its fair share of comedy, it stood out for its mixture of superhero action and noir sensibilities. That seems to be missing here, or at least not as present as the show. I don’t necessarily mind that, because I think there is room all kinds of Batman interpretations, but this didn’t capture the dark thrill of the animated series the way I was expecting.

The story is pretty simple, focusing on a thief dubbed the Invisible Man from the way he’s never seen fleeing crime scenes. Batman takes on the hulking robber, only to fold with a single devastating punch. While Batman is crumpled on the ground, reporter Summer Gleeson, who listened in on the police radio, comes to the scene of the crime only to be harassed by a group of criminals. A dashing man who she believes just happens to be hanging out at the crime scene comes to her rescue, folding each of the criminals… with… a single… punch.

Yeah, okay, some twists are telegraphed, you guys. Other twists are telegraphed, hand-delivered, and send express mail. Clearly, dude is the Invisible Man.

What worked about the issue, though, was at the end. The Invisible Man is revealed as Clayface, whose absurd plan was to rob as a giant guy and then transform into a handsome man as he leaves so no one suspects him. Considering Clayface can shape himself into anything, it seems like one hell of a convoluted plan, but what makes it work is that we are left with the sense that Clayface, even more than he wants to steal, wants the affection of a woman – Summer in particular. It’s a sad little moment that humanizes this villain, who knows he can never be loved if he shows his true face, both because of his appearance and his wicked actions. It takes a long time of very spaced out fight scenes with nothing more dynamic than a few punches thrown to get there, though, which left me missing the dynamic, fast-paced, and innovative action seen in Batman: The Animated Series.

To sum it up, I think this was an interesting comic that could’ve benefitted from two things: capturing the feel of the show and focusing on the heart of the story – Clayface – instead of withholding a twist that everyone sees coming. This is just the start of the comic book tie-in, though, and we’re going to follow it through the years in many different iterations… so let’s see where this journey takes us.

NEXT TIME: We roast some chestnuts by the open first with a Batman Adventures holiday special.

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