The Matt Signal: The Batman Adventures Vol. 1

Beginning in 1992 as a 6-issue non-canon companion comic to cash in on the popularity of the show, The Batman Adventures quickly earned official status and ran for 36 issues, ending in 1995. There were also a litany of annuals, specials, one-shots and mini-series.

I read almost* all of the above so that you don’t have to and will now present my findings, including a ranking of every issue.

*As of this writing the comic-book adaptation of Mask of the Phantasm is not available for digital purchase and second-hand physical copies are not cheap.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Notes

Most issues of the book are written with a distinct three-act structure, allowing it to roughly approximate ad-breaks that would have occurred in the show. This combined with Mike Parobeck and Rick Burchett’s art style – which perfectly captures the look of the series – makes it easy to imagine each issue as an episode.

I was briefly excited that a woman got to write an ongoing Batman comic… and then learned Kelley Puckett is a man. He wrote almost every issue, with some of the TV folks getting involved for the annuals and specials.

There’s a much greater emphasis on Ra’s and Talia al Ghul compared to the series. Scarecrow crops up a lot more too, delving into his struggles to suppress his villainous persona. Catwoman is reverted to villain status and benefits greatly from it.

Puckett’s prized creations are The Threatening Three (Mastermind, Mr. Nice and The Perfessor), who are parodies of legendary DC Editors Mike Carlin, Archie Goodwin and Dennis O’Neil. It’s a cute wink and nod, but their stories are rarely any good.

The five-issue mini-series, ‘The Lost Years’, written by show-writer Hilary J Bader, was released in 1998 and tells the story of how Dick Grayson became Nightwing and Tim Drake the new Robin in between Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures.

Ranking

Overall I enjoyed this run, but about half of the issues are forgettable and only a select few would hold their own against the best episodes of the show. Almost all of the best ones were written by Paul Dini (surprise, surprise).

1) Mad Love (One Shot)

Yes, as in the legendary episode of the same name. Paul Dini first wrote it as a one-shot and it is obviously tremendous. I’ll hold off on giving it a full review so as to not cannibalise TV content later, but in my opinion this is the slightly superior version thanks to improved pacing, a more mature tone and the superior OG art style.

2) Annual #1

Bruce & Alfred debate if Roxy Rocket’s rehabilitation will stick, comparing her to other recent hopefuls, The Ventriloquist, Harley Quinn, Scarecrow and Catwoman.

Wesker’s tale in particular is fantastic, as he gets a job on a children’s TV show operating Croaky, a delightful frog, but when a bitter co-star has the props department create a new Scarface, Wesker finds himself caught in the middle of his two puppets.

Finally, we see Joker walk home after getting foiled by Batman, terrorising random citizens of Gotham as he goes. It’s an excellent concept, essentially starting at the traditional end of a Batman vs Joker story. A lesser-known Joker gem.

3) Holiday Special

Basically an annual, three of the tales were adapted into the New Batman Adventures episode ‘Holiday Knights.’

The Christmas motif and sense of continuity between the stories is excellent, with each one dated from just before Christmas (Clayface robbing a department store Barbara Gordon happens to be shopping in, and Poison Ivy mind-controlling Bruce to make him take her and Harley shopping) to Christmas Eve (Mr. Freeze unleashing a snowstorm on Gotham) to New Year’s Eve (Joker trying to kill everyone at midnight).

The whole thing is capped off with Batman and Jim Gordon sitting down at 2am for their annual New Year’s coffee, a tradition that would be referenced a decade later in Volume 2.

4) Catwoman’s Killer Caper (#2)

Batman heads to London to try and prevent Catwoman from stealing the Crown Jewels. The robbery is clever and it also underlines how much better Selina is as a flirty villain, with an exciting chase scene.

5) Just Another Night (#33)

Bruce dates a woman with a young son. Things are going well, until they get robbed at gunpoint. Bruce abandons them to ruthlessly track the mugger down. He returns the stolen goods and genuinely fails to see why his girlfriend would break up with him for leaving her alone after the incident. It’s legitimately tragic.

6) Tree of Knowledge (#26)

Barbara and Dick impress their Gotham University criminology professor… who turns out to be a thief. Barbara is bummed out by the whole deal and changes her focus from field work to analytics, teasing at her future as Oracle.

7) Good Face Bad Face (#22)

Two-Face escapes Arkham and breaks out all the criminals he convicted as Harvey Dent to form a new gang. Batman studies his patient interviews and correctly deduces that Harvey’s personality still has a degree of control, testing his theory by daring Two-Face to shoot him without any coin flips.

8) Toxic Shock (#23)

Batman recruits Poison Ivy to help create an antidote for a poisoned South American diplomat. She’s reluctant, but comes to enjoy the work, though after creating the cure, she seeks out the deadly plant that started the whole affair.

9) Joker’s Late Night Lunacy (#3)

Joker kidnaps Jim Gordon and tortures him live on TV. Very simple, but it’s Joker 101 and well executed. There’s a particularly fun moment where Joker is talking directly to camera as Batman beats up his goons in the background.

10) Badge of Honor (#15)

Jim Gordon attempts to rescue one of his undercover officers, and while he kicks a lot of ass, he’s just a little too old, and Batman steps in to save the day. Jim’s inner-monologue is fantastic and highlights how he should have gotten at least one focus episode in the show.

11) The Lost Years #1

Bruce finally realises Barbara Gordon is Batgirl after playing tennis against her, and decides to bring her properly into their operation. By contrast, Dick grows increasingly frustrated by Bruce’s treatment.

12) The Third Door (#6)

Bruce is accused of a murder but can’t clear his name without revealing his secret identity, forcing him to break out of prison and solve it by morning.

13) You Can’t Go Home Again (Lost Years #5)

Dick journeys to the Himalayas to learn the secret of flight from some monks. They gift him with a wingsuit which he modifies into the Nightwing costume. He returns to Gotham two years after leaving and rejoins the Bat Family.

14) Demon Seed (#29)

Ra’s al Ghul fakes his death in order to obtain a world-ending device. Talia and Bruce get to the device first, but when she realises the truth, Talia sides with her father again.

15) Decision Day (#18)

Barbara Gordon decides to retire the Batgirl persona after foiling a bombing conspiracy and returns to college, where she and Dick begin to develop chemistry.

16) Penguin’s Big Score (#1)

At Joker’s suggestion, Penguin robs wealthy Gothamites to prevent them from making more charitable donations than him so he can win a humanitarian award.

17) Riot Act Part I & II (#4-5)

Scarecrow invents a way to render everyone in Gotham dyslexic, following his frustrations with the standard of education after trying to go straight. It’s a great premise, just a little rough in execution.

18) Graduation Day (Lost Years #2)

Dick goes on a solo mission without his costume, frustrated with his standing with Batman. Upon learning Barbara’s secret and that Bruce didn’t tell him, he punches his mentor and leaves Gotham.

19) The Last Riddler Story (#10)

Riddler is depressed after being released from prison, feeling he can’t beat Batman. His crew talk him into one last caper while Batman is distracted taking down ‘The Threatening Three’.

20) Batgirl: Day 1 (#12)

Implied to take place before ‘Shadow of the Bat’, Barbara Gordon attends a costume party as Batgirl and ends up embroiled in a plot involving Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and Catwoman.

21) In Memoriam (#34)

The first part of a three-part finale, Hugo Strange is being driven mad by his son’s death, so commits a series of diamond robberies to help build a machine to remove his memories.

22) House of Dorian (#21)

Emile Dorian escapes Arkham and forcibly transforms Kirk Langstrom into a fiercely loyal version of Man-Bat. At the same time, Romulus teams up with Tygrus to try and reverse his condition. The three monsters engage in a battle royale. (Written by BTAS writer, Michael Reaves)

23) Grave Obligations (#24)

Kyodai Ken’s sister, Naoko, disobeys her mysterious master to seek revenge on Batman. Her master owed Batman his life, but Bruce declares their debt settled in exchange for Naoko’s. Essentially teasing something that will never be resolved.

24) The Last Batman Adventure (#36)

In the conclusion of the three-part series finale, Karl Rossum successfully restores Bruce’s memory, allowing him to take down a mentally broken Hugo Strange.

25) Now You Seem ‘em (Lost Years #3)

Dick spends his first year away from Gotham learning various skills around the globe. In South America he learns stealth from a tribe called ‘The Invisibles’ and is gifted a necklace that will eventually become the Nightwing logo.

26) Survivor Syndrome (#27)

A widowed Olympian begins dressing as a knock-off Batman and attacking criminals. Bruce takes him under his wing and trains him for a month, helping him heal emotionally. He ultimately learns to leave vengeance behind.

27) As the Twig is Bent (Lost Years #4)

Tim Drake watches the events of Lost Years #2 play out, idolising Batman & Robin. After learning Batman’s identity and stealing the Robin costume, Bruce reluctantly agrees to train him.

28) Anarky (#31)

Anarky terrorises corrupt Gotham business owners, leaving their fate up to a publicly televised phone-in. When Bruce becomes one of the hostages, Robin has to save the day.

29) Twelve Days of Madness (#28)

Harley Quinn poses as an elderly (male) German psychiatrist, helping get twelve Gotham councilmen committed to Arkham on Joker’s behalf. The scheme is rumbled when she can’t resist kissing Joker while still in full costume.

30) The Killing Book (#16)

Joker learns that an in-universe comic book, ‘Gotham Adventures’, depicts him in a bad light so takes the artist hostage and brings him along to chronicle a string of crimes.

31) The Book of Memory (#25)

The second of a three part finale, Catwoman takes advantage of Bruce’s amnesia, convincing him he’s her partner in crime, Catman.

32) Last Tango in Paris (#13)

Bruce and Talia al Ghul travel to Paris to investigate a theft connected to Ra’s. They spend the day doing cute tourist things, but when the sun goes down the moment passes and they return to business.

33) Public Enemy (#14)

With Batman in Paris, Robin has to step up and take down Ventriloquist. Dick considers but decides against dropping out of college to be Robin full-time.

34) Larceny, My Sweet (#8)

Clayface, back to robbing banks in disguise, falls in love with Summer Gleeson (remember her?) She of course ends up seeing the real him and is horrified, making him a very sad panda.

35) The Beast Within (#11)

Kirk Langstrom’s old college rival steals his Man-Bat formula and frames him. While Batman saves the day, Kirk appears to have a breakdown after obsessing over the feeling of being Man-Bat.

36) The Little Red Book (#9)

Batman chases one of Rupert Thorne’s incriminating ledgers all over town.

37) Troubled Dreams (#19)

Everybody in Gotham inexplicably becomes terrified by the sight or even likeness of Scarecrow.

38) Annual #2

Ra’s al Ghul summons an ancient demon, so Batman turns to Jason Blood/Etrigan the Demon, who recounts his battles with Ra’s dating back 200 years. A tribute to Jack Kirby, who had recently passed away.

39) Super Friends (#25)

Lex Luthor manipulates Maxie Zeus to orchestrate an attack to justify unleashing some robots he’s hoping the military will bid on. Batman & Superman team up to stop it. Hated it!

40) The Tangled Web (#17)

Ra’s al Ghul keeps delaying his latest plan, waiting for Batman to try and interfere. With Robin’s help and some disguises, they double bluff Ra’s and save the day.

41) Natural Born Loser (#30)

An origin story for The Threatening Three, as well as a botched jewellery heist.

42) A Soldier’s Story (#32)

Two elderly businessmen use their vast wealth to continue an 80-year grudge, bringing their game of toy soldiers to life.

43) Raging Lizard (#7)

Killer Croc returns to wrestling, but fears a rematch with his old nemesis.

44) Smells Like Black Sunday (#20)

The Threatening Three devise a scheme to distract Batman long enough for Mr. Nice to steal a nuclear weapon. He foils them with a puppy. No, for real.

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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