I have to be completely honest about something up front: it is nearly impossible for me to come at this review from an objective standpoint. As I mentioned in this week’s episode of the AIPT Comics Podcast, in many ways, Batman ’89 is a comic book series that I have wanted to read since I was a little kid. I wore out my VHS copy of Tim Burton’s first Bat-flick when I was a kid, and it’s still one of my go-to “happy place” movies that I throw on when I’m nostalgic or need a pick-me-up. Basically, Batman is a movie that I will always have a great deal of fondness for, and I’ve always longed for a return to that version of Gotham City in some form. However, I would have never suspected that we’d get that return written by Sam Hamm, screenwriter of the original film.
Hamm is joined by an all-star creative team that includes artist Joe Quinones and colorist Steve Oliff to present us with a very special series. Not only does it feel like we never really left this Gotham, but there are also some interesting wrinkles and surprises that may shock and delight fans of Tim Burton’s two films starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader.
A love for the source material is on full display in every page, starting from the moment we see a crowd of Gotham citizens on Halloween night, each dressed like a character from Burton’s filmography (or from Prince’s discography, in the case of one character). From there, we get to see the architecture of the city, which is clearly inspired by Anton Furst’s unbelievable production design but also contains some delightful nods to Batman: The Animated Series (that bank!).
Even more interesting is how the designs of characters that we already know are influenced by later works, with one of the highlights being a Jim Gordon that looks like a cross between Pat Hingle’s cinematic portrayal and the Animated Series version voiced by Bob Hastings. All of it is dripping in bright colors and exquisite shadows, bringing to mind Oliff’s iconic work on the original comic adaptation of 1989’s Batman that he did with Dennis O’Neil and Jerry Ordway.
Basically, there’s a visual reward for fans on every page. The action is thrilling, with Batman pulling off a daring mid-air sabotage before taking on a group of gun-toting thugs. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d hope to see Burton’s Batman pull off without having to worry about going over budget (and generously having the ability to turn his head).
The dialogue throughout feels pitch perfect, particularly as an expansion on the original films. Batman is a man of few words when in costume, but Bruce Wayne is equal parts neurotic and charming. His relationship with the law is strained as always, but the exchanges between the hero and Jim Gordon show more of a connection between the characters than we ever really got in the four Burton/Schumacher films.
However, there may not be a character who benefits more from the fantastic dialogue than Harvey Dent. The original version of Harvey (as portrayed by a criminally underused Billy Dee Williams in Batman) gets a greater chance to shine. There’s much more to him than the slick dealer of justice glimpsed in the first film, and this storyline gives him a notable love interest, a new crusade, and dark side that will no doubt grow in prominence as the series continues.
This first issue contains a number of surprises, particularly in how that it introduces classic elements from the comics in ways that fit the world of the films. The Batman mythos is getting explored and expanded here, with some plot points seeming to take their cue from the original pitch for Batman Returns. In other words, this is a treasure trove of cinematic “what ifs,” finally playing out for the audience — and we’re only one issue in.
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