Over the last year, DC Comics has attempted to make comics appeal to newer, younger audiences through two lines of original graphic novels: one targeted to kids and the other geared more so towards young adults. This has proved to be a Sisyphean task for comic publishers not just for the last couple of years, but for the last couple of decades. While it’s unclear as to whether these books are creating future lifelong comic book fans, DC can take pride in the fact that these books have been of quality reads. Batman: Overdrive, as part of their initiative marketed to kids, is no different here. Writer Shea Fontana succeeds in cherry picking the best elements of the young Bruce Wayne mythos and pairing them with Easter eggs that appeal to fans of all ages to construct a brisk, engaging tale.
Batman: Overdrive focuses on the lead-up to Bruce Wayne’s 16th birthday and his need for speed behind the wheel of the Wayne family’s fleet of exotic cars. At its core, it’s a simple story that hits on universals that illustrate why forgiveness, processing past trauma and learning the importance of leaning on friends and loved ones in times of trouble are so key. The young Master Bruce rejects Alfred Pennyworth’s fatherly moves, withdrawing further within himself, still blaming himself for the infamous death of his parents. It’s a tumultuous journey for Bruce here, as he comes to difficult revelations about the burden he carries and his soon-to-be rehabilitated relationship with Alfred.
A younger version of Selina Kyle, a character who’s been frequently used through these lines of graphic novels already, provides an outlet for Bruce with a relationship that teeters between platonic and romantic. A new character, Mateo, becomes Bruce’s first true friend, as they bond over their love of cars despite their inherent socioeconomic differences: Bruce is the heir to biggest fortune in Gotham while Mateo develops a penchant for auto mechanics while hanging around his uncle’s scrap yard. Selina is an orphan. Mateo lives with his uncle. Bruce is a ward of Alfred. All three live without their birth parents. All three come from different backgrounds that come with their own respective baggage. All three have been hurt and are finding solace in their love for cars and the bonds they’ve formed together. What Fontana’s writing lacks in subtlety makes up with plenty of heart, as she clearly expresses these all-important motifs that should shine through in any children’s tale.
Artist Marcelo Di Chiara comes along for the ride with Fontana, delivering a dynamic art style that stands out for the more manga-influenced, grayscale illustrations that have been common throughout DC’s previous YA and kids OGNs. Di Chara’s penciling feels tailor-made for a Saturday morning cartoon and the vibrant hues really pop here, especially with the collection of racing cars that populate Batman: Overdrive.
This is the type of book I wish existed in my youth. I was born in 1994 and can recall watching old episodes of Batman: The Animated Series while sitting on the floor of my aunt’s living room as a kid. I was a voracious reader, gobbling up sports biographies and YA fantasy novels every chance I got. I never had the opportunity to read comics though. There were no wildly available comics for me. Were my parents going to buy me all 80 issues of the “No Man’s Land” Batman crossover when I was five or six years old? Of course not. I would’ve loved to read anything about Bruce Wayne though. A charming read like Batman: Overdrive would’ve been perfect for a Bat-obsessed youngster like myself and remains so for kids now.