Panel by Panel: The Batman Strikes! #40

Happy Sunday, everyone; it's me again*, your friendly neighborhood komics blogger.
*cue exasperation.

No reviews for this week, but today we get to look at kids' comics. Yep, that's right, kids' comics. Sometimes people take them for granted, but they can occasionally be poignant, and they don't have to resort to any kinds of comic book stunts like deaths or annuals or crossover events.

The Batman Strikes! #40

by Matthew K. Manning and Adam Archer

The Batman Strikes! is a comic series that grew off of the "The Batman" cartoon on the KidsWB. The series is printed on generally cheap paper, but there's always a letters section (with fanart!), and the issues are usually $2.25.

That cover is a half-lie/half-truth. Batman does fight the Riddler, but not with Batgirl behind him.

On the face of it, you might think this is standard done-in-one superhero fare. Hero meets villain, hero beats villain, hero saves day with quippy saying.

You'd be WRONG. Let's look at the first panels, in Arkham Asylum:This scene is important, because it actually follows up on criminal life beyond the crime. Usually it's "send the guy to prison" and then "never hear from him again until he breaks out," but here? Here, it's different. And here, we get some striking characterization of the guy. He has a set routine in the way he lives prison life, and it hurts him to break that; it hurts him that Ms. Phillis isn't the one bringing lunch. Also notice Riddler's obsession with that crossword puzzle. I love Batman villains.

But anyways, cut to Batman and Robin, solving another case of derring-do at a fire. The Riddler's escaped, and it's up to the dynamic duo to investigate:
I love it when characters act in-character. Batman is solely focused on the mission, and he doesn't give a damn about anything else. He lost a lot of heart when he lost his parents.

Also notice that this trait is exactly why Batman has always had a sidekick: because he so desperately needs someone to balance the grim posture he absorbs to cover up the grief over his parents. Robin is there not just for homoerotic subtext, but to bring some light to the Dark Knight.

So Batman and Robin find a clue. They find several over the course of the comic, and I'm just gonna list (some of) them here:
1. the Deux-Ply toilet paper factory

2. the Once-A-Grape wine bottle

3. Zeck's Supply shop

4. S. Buddy Awe

5. Dance Wizard

6. The Zester (the LAST clue)

See, I love these kinds of Batstories, where Batman and Robin have to use their wit to solve a mystery. I love it, because I never expect to see what comes out.

So what could they all mean? Batman? Robin?

Aha! After easily disposing of the Riddler -his mental prowess is a beast, but his physical prowess is a wee kitten- they discover that he was leading them all along to a theatre.

The Giradet Playhouse, to be specific:

They discover that the Joker's been holding someone kidnapped there, so they head on over. The Joker, of course, is not pleased:

I love that. I just love that.
It eventually leads to this inimitable scene:

Yep, this comic is awesome.

So, with the Riddler in Arkham, as well as the Joker, what could possibly be left to resolve?

The Riddler's need for routine, for one:

So it turns out that the person kidnapped at Giradet Playhouse . . .

. . . was Ms. Phillis! The whole reason the Riddler broke out was so that she could keep working at Arkham!

This brings up an incredible paradox: why would Riddler break out to free someone that could only help him if he was in Arkham?

This is exactly why I love Batman villains. They are utterly trapped by their characters. The Joker can't be anything but psychotic and joke around all the time. To him, he has no choice but to see everything as a farce. The Riddler here, he's absolutely obsessed with the need to finish his crossword, and he does this amazing and elaborate behavior just so he can restore routine and answer that crossword of his. If some banks get burnt down, there's nothing wrong with that.

Batman villains are who they are, and they cannot help it. They are victims of themselves. That's one of my favorite aspects of Batvillains: they can get just as much characterization as he does, which just goes to show that everyone in Gotham is truly warped.

This was a real stand-out issue for me in the series. It's intelligent, makes me think, is absolutely buried in characterization and is fun to boot.

Not all of the The Batman Strikes! issues are like this one though. Writers vary between issues, and some just pander to the children age group, but that's the beauty of constant stand-alone stories.

There'll always be a gem.

1 comment:

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