Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Comics Conundrum: Batman Adventures #18

 As I mentioned last time, an early issue of the series Robin was one of the first comics I ever bought with my own money. But along with that issue there was another comic I bought that day as well.
My family was on a little road trip to visit my Tante who lived in Toronto and on the way to her apartment, I remember we stopped at a Coles book store and there was a rack full of comic books. Naturally I picked up Robin but I also picked up a comic I hadn't seen before. It turns out that the hit show Batman: The Animated Series had it's own tie-in comic and I had found it's latest issue and decided to buy it.

The Batman Adventures...sans Batman

The first page shows two people separate people in different locations putting things into their own respective briefcases.
For Barbara Gordon, she's taking her Batgirl uniform to university.
For a man in a red-striped suit, he's assembling a bomb.

And it turns out they're both going to be in police headquarters at the same time. Barbara's waiting for her father, Commissioner Gordon, to wrap things up but the man in the suit pretends to observe a 'Wanted' poster before nonchalantly leaving his briefcase behind.
"Score! Someone left their briefcase behind. Finders keepers..."

Barbara goes outside to give the man his briefcase but when he starts panicking and running towards a car with someone shouting that it's about to blow, she suddenly realizes what she's carrying.
She runs into an alley with the men in the car thinking she's doomed. Lucky for her she found a dumpster to shield herself from the explosion.
That was either a very weak bomb or a really strong dumpster.

Later the Mayor of Gotham and the Assistant DA are in Gordon's office demanding action. There's an election soon and if Bob Hewlett wins, they're all out of a job; even Gordon, as a man named Jeff Griffith is being groomed by Hewlett to be the next Commissioner.
This shows you what kind of guy the Mayor is: a bomb almost goes off in police headquarters and he's more concerned about how this will affect his polling numbers. So it's a very realistic portrayal of a politician for a kids' comic.

Gordon wants to get some more dirt on this guy as Barbara's the only witness and he doesn't want to put her in danger. So as she goes through the mugshots, she makes a note of the suspect. Later while everyone thinks she's getting some sleep in an office, she dons her Batgirl uniform and heads out.

Remember, kids, the best way to help the police is to lie and then catch the bad guys for them!

So later on in the evening, Batgirl is staking out the bomber (his name is 'Teller')'s apartment when all of a sudden, who should show up but Batman...'s sidekick, Robin, the Boy Wonder!
In The Animated Series, they had first worked together to rescue Batman and her father and while it's clear she's not as experienced as Robin, Batgirl certainly has some skills.
He tells her not to bother waiting for Teller to come out because he's already searched the apartment and it's clean.

Personally, I'd have been disappointed if he didn't search it that way.

Batgirl wants to find out where he made the bomb so Robin suggests that they work together-if she's cool with that, of course.
She appreciates the help but just as Teller leaves his apartment, Robin notices some trouble in an alley below.

He tosses Batgirl a tracer to throw onto Teller's car while he deals with the thugs below. Batgirl doesn't have a lot of time, so she quickly scurries down the fire escape, bounces off of a doorway awning and sprints like hell just to barely land the tracer on his car. It leaves her out of breath while Robin comes in carrying the three thugs like they're nothing. It's a nice way of subtly showing the difference between them in terms of ability & experience.

They make their way to a house Teller arrives at and they decide to make their way inside. Again, this is another scene that highlights the differences between these two; for one thing Robin's belt is more than a fashion accessory. Secondly not only has he been doing this longer than Batgirl, but he's also been doing it after years of training as well. 
Something which, sadly, a lot of future issues of this comic will just forget or not think about.
Later issues will state that it takes longer to train a retail cashier than it does one of Batman's sidekicks.

So they catch Teller in the act with TNT and other material but before they can even put the cuffs on him, the police show up out of nowhere and he runs outside ready to sing like a canary. Robin finds this a little suspicious, as does Batgirl who notices that the man leading this arrest is Griffith, the man after her Dad's job.
Things go from bad to worse when Mayoral candidate Bob Hewlett shows up and Barbara suddenly recognizes him as one of the men Teller jumped in the car with earlier in the issue.
The plot thickens...

The third act opens with Teller being let out of his cell by a bribed cop and getting into a car where he receives his payment. And unlike other organized criminals, 'payment' isn't another word for a bullet in the back of his skull.

A ticket to...Asia. That's kinda vague; is it anywhere in Asia or wherever the pilot feels like landing and the passengers just have to take their chances it's not North Korea?

But before Teller can get to his random Asian destination location, Robin pounces out of the sky and attacks the car, forcing it to crash. Teller escapes but Robin causes him to leave the briefcase and the valuable, vague ticket to Asia behind.

Teller runs to Hewett's campaign headquarters where he and Griffith have already popped the champagne for an upcoming election victory. Hewett explains that there's no way to link the other criminals to him but he's got to get Teller to Asia right away and is even going to give him some money as well.
This is just the opportunity Batgirl needs to snap a very candid picture of a mayoral candidate giving money to a criminal.

She escapes after a brief chase and gives the evidence to Robin, who suggests that they work together again. However with Batgirl doing University classes as Barbara Gordon, the timing just wouldn't work out.
They both seem disappointed by it as Robin laments, "I wish this wasn't the only way we could...see each other."
She agrees.

The issue ends with Barbara returning to Gotham University where she happens to run into Dick Grayson; both of them havin no idea as to the other's secret identity.
You could cut the sexual tension between them with a spork...

Final Thoughts: I was probably 7 years old when I got this comic and the fact that it was additional material to one of my favorite TV shows at the time, how could I not love it?
I've maintained throughout the years that the tie-in comics at times felt like storyboards for episodes that never got made and that Batman: Gotham Adventures had episodes that were better than the animated series it was tied into.

The issue itself, I wouldn't put that high on the shelf. Obviously when I was a kid I would read it over and over. Looking back at it almost 30 years later
, by no means am I saying it's bad; it's a good, serviceable story that never drags and shows that they don't need the title character to keep the reader's interest...or at least mine, anyway.
Kelley Puckett does a really good job with simple one-short stories and would later go on to co-create the fan-favorite character, Cassandra Cain, who would become Batgirl herself.

Going back over this issue, I was surprised how Puckett subtly (At least to me) showed the differences between Robin & Batgirl without making one come off as a jerk and the other like a glorified cosplayer. One could argue that Robin does a lot of the heavy lifting in this story but it's clear that both he & Batgirl are playing vital roles to bring down Hewett and his gang.

When people talk about these tie-in comics, it's near impossible not to mention the work of the late Mike Parobeck. I've seen a lot of people go on and on about his work on the series and it's easy to see why. His work on the series would actually get a lot better as time went on.

The Batman Adventures is a great tie-in to a great cartoon and if ever you're looking for something that captures the feel of that animated series, this series and issue are a great place to find it.

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