WRITER: SAM HAMM
ARTIST: JOE QUINONES
RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 14TH, 2021
REVIEWER: ROLLO TOMASSI
BATMAN ‘89 #2 begins to settle in after the much-hyped first issue. While the comic opens with BATMAN escaping from the police after the cliffhanger of the last issue, it is not without repercussions, as a bystander is hurt. As we know, this is something BATMAN takes very personally and leaves him questioning his crusade.
Meanwhile, Harvey Dent continues his pursuit of political power and a hopeful Governorship in his future. Harvey visits his old neighborhood Burnside and starts to see how his role as a politician could be worth helping people in this disenfranchised part of Gotham as opposed to getting into politics for purely selfish reasons. Which up until now is what appears to have motivated Harvey. Now, using Burnside as the bad part of town, here is an interesting contrast to its place in the BATGIRL series. Where in that comic, Burnside is seen as more a trendy hipster part of Gotham.
We also get to see who looks to be the eventual Robin in the BATMAN ’89 Universe. A new name, Winston Drake, appears to be a mix of Tim Drake and Jason Todd. Like Tim, this new Robin is handy with computers. As well like Jason, Winston comes from a bad part of Gotham and has a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
I’m going to say in advance that I do like this issue. I like that weird, kind of timeless feel Gotham City has in the Burtonverse. Plus, the best Two-Face origin stories focus on how good a man Harvey Dent was before his fall (not a real spoiler. It’s right on the cover of this issue even if he’s not Two-Face yet in this series) just like in the movie the Dark Knight. While Health Ledger’s Joker does take over the attention in that movie, Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal of Harvey is amazing. When we see the potential of all the good Harvey Dent could do for Gotham City, it makes it all the more tragic when he becomes a villain.
Since the Harvey in the BATMAN ’89 Universe is based on Billy Dee Williams, it’s an interesting concept to use William’s being African American as a way to make this new Harvey Dent origin different than the other Two-Face Stories. Moreover, the new Robin appears to be much more self-reliant than other Robins. This one hasn’t even met BATMAN. Yet, he’s already in costume fighting crime. However, the way they are introduced to each other will be something to look forward to.
Despite this, there are some concerns I have with this series after only two issues. One thing I hoped for when a BATMAN ’89 comic was announced was more BATMAN in his Black movie costume AND action. Of course, due to the constraints of the rubber costume back in 1989, you couldn’t have Michael Keaton or a stunt double flipping around taking on several criminals at the same time. But a comic has no visual budget. A writer can have his characters literally perform any stunt. Sam Hamm of course wrote both this series and the screenplay for the movie. However, his script here feels like he was writing for a live-action movie rather than a comic. The action is minimal. There are many scenes of characters just standing around and talking.
There is also a sudden appearance by the Batman Returns Michelle Pfeiffer. While Pfeiffer was great in the role, her out of nowhere appearance felt off. I’m not a continuity cop by any means. I can headcanon any story I enjoy to make it work for me. That being said here, Bruce’s interaction was a tad confusing. I know some have said this series takes place at some point after Batman Returns. But it’s not made clear if this is Bruce and Selina’s first meeting after that movie. Either way, it still didn’t feel like it fit in the overall story of the issue. Also, the new updated version of the movie costume feels like something that should have been left back in the 1990s.
As for the art, Quinones continues to remain the highlight of the series. If one follows him on social media you can see that BATMAN ’89 is a labor of love for him. There is a distinct Batman the Animated Series vibe to it that works. That being said, there were a couple of scenes I had issues with. There is a weird transition on the page when we see Drake working on a car. In the very next panel, he’s on a computer and the dialogue seems to suggest that’s all he’s been doing, despite the reader just seeing him working on a car.
Maybe the hardest part of the art to get used to is the depiction of Bruce Wayne. As with the last issue, the grey sideburns are distracting and make Bruce seem older. This issue has Bruce wearing glasses when meeting up with Harvey Dent. Yes, Michael Keaton wore glasses in the movie. But for the most part, they were more reading glasses than something he wore regularly. Also between the glasses and those sideburns, Bruce looks nothing like the playboy we know him to pretend to be in the main Bat-books, which is fine. I like seeing variations on BATMAN/Bruce Wayne. It’s one of the things that have kept the character fresh for 80 plus years. Keaton didn’t play him as a playboy in the movies. Yet here, it’s way too distracting.
As already mentioned, the art here needs more action scenes of BATMAN in costume. The brief sequence at the beginning of the issue felt stiff and rushed. However, that might be more a script problem than the fault of the artist.
I know the above sounds more critical than it’s meant to be. The slow origin of who will become Two-Face is an interesting, yet different, take. It’s also partially contemporary with current discussions of race and poverty in America. Often interesting BATMAN stories come from when Gotham City is made to feel distinctive, almost like its character. The Gotham of BATMAN ’89 has that quirky retro/modern feel to it that makes everything look unique yet familiar. Nevertheless, as I’m sure a draw to this series for many was being a fan of the costume from the movie, it would be nice if we could get more of BATMAN in-fight. That said, the art is still the best part of the series, especially in the way the live-action movies weren’t able to provide.