Batman ’89: Echoes reunites the creative team that brought the world of Tim Burton‘s seminal Batman films to the comics page. Writer Sam Hamm, screenwriter of the original 1989 Batman film, and artist Joe Quinones, colorist Leonardo Ito, and letterer Carlos Mangual take readers back to the Burtonverse for another spin around Gotham City. With the threat of disgraced former District Attorney Harvey Dent, AKA Two-Face, behind them, Gotham City has been left without Batman to defend it. Quinones’s passion for the look of those original films shines through on every page, capturing the claustrophobia of Anton Furst’s gothic production design for Gotham City and the original film’s dark and moody cinematography. Not everything about the issue is totally successful. It is slowly paced and light on story, spending a lot of time laying out exposition at the expense of time with the title character. The diversion outside the confines of Gotham City makes it feel less faithful to the tone of the original films than the first miniseries. But the twists and turns of the narrative lay a foundation for more interesting later chapters and interesting spins on familiar characters.
Two years after the events of the first Batman ’89 miniseries, Batman has disappeared, and Gotham City is left without a protector. In his stead, ordinary citizens have attempted to carry on his mission. With unprepared and unskilled vigilantes inspired by the Caped Crusader dying left and right, the people of Gotham cannot help but wonder where the real Batman has gone. As a paralyzing fear grips the underworld and causes crime in Gotham to surge, Barbara Gordon investigates what part the missing Batman might play.
An ongoing adaptation of the Burton Batman films would be a mere footnote without an artist so clearly inspired by those original visuals. While Quinones’s likenesses are not always spot on, this first issue captures the spirit of the dark circus atmosphere of those original films. This series is obviously a passion project for the artist, and it shows in the level of detail paid to the architecture and the construction of the page, the layouts, and the choices he makes in technique. The use of screen-toned lines and whispy blacks creates a craggy, rugged texture that makes the series feel like it was pulled from the pulps that inspired the original Batman. The harsh, single-source lighting plays with silhouettes and shadows.
The towering buildings of Gotham City in the Burton films and the perpetually rain-slicked streets created a constant sense of dread and an all-consuming gravity on-screen. Characters were tiny among enormous architecture and isolated in single shots or existing in different planes on-screen. Quinones subtly recaptures that aesthetic with cramped panels and isolated figures through subtle differences in the thickness of line and the patterned tones. When Batman ’89: Echoes #1 leaves Gotham City and its gothic, decaying industrial setting, it loses some of that energy and flavor of the films that inspired the comic. The pages in the woods owe a bit to Burton’s large oeuvre in the way Quinones draws creeping, clawing branches. If there’s any slight about those scenes, it is only that the movies never ventured outside the city, and they feel out of place. Quinones draws those pages as well as anything else in the book.
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As good as Quinones’ visual sense is in the construction of the page, the book’s unsung hero is Leonardo Ito, who mixes in the psychedelic colors that gave those Burton movies a carnivalesque camp. The films never shied away from the use of black, but they were always punctuated with pops of florescent color from the neon signs and larger-than-life props that dotted the landscape of Gotham City. Ito adds depth to the images by fading background features into flat colors to let the primary characters or details on the page stand out. The skies of Gotham are red and purple, and the interiors are yellow and green. Nothing is as it should be. Gotham City is a place of sickness and madness, and the colors are always just a bit off. Their vibrancy sparks against the heavy shadows. Carlos Mangual offers a strong complement to the thick lines and heavy blacks of Quinones’ linework. Mangual also manages to balance the dialogue-heavy script with the artwork, dancing across the layouts naturally and without intruding on the beautiful visuals.
The art is the standout of this issue, in part because Hamm’s script is paced so slowly. Most of the issue lays out exposition and groundwork for the series’ villains, Harleen Quinzel, presented here as a TV shrink named Dr. Q and Dr. Jonathan Crane. It is not uninteresting, but the question of where Batman is fails to be a particularly compelling mystery until the final page when the inevitable return is thrown into question for the first time. While the fact that the issue spends more time with the villains of the piece is in keeping with the films in their focus on the rogues gallery and their quirks, Hamm offers only the smallest glimpse of their eccentricities. These are not the big exaggerated personalities of demure and put upon Selina Kyle, the monstrous Penguin, or Jack Nicholson’s larger-than-life Joker. Dr. Jonathan Crane is barely a presence.
The Dr. Q character is an interesting take on the character and is particularly appropriate to the ’90s era of daytime TV. This version of Harley, first seen as a minor background character in the first Batman ’89 miniseries, is a television pop-psychologist who seems infatuated with Joker and his legacy in Gotham City. She is clearly fame-hungry and petty, and it will be interesting to see what inspires her to take on her villainous identity. Neither character gets a big moment to steal the show, which is a missed opportunity. Here again, the art helps elevate the book. Quinones’ ability to channel the look of the films works particularly well, not just to capture the nostalgia but to add to the mythos. Quinn is modeled on Madonna at her most flamboyant, and the bright, bold outfits she wears pop off the page. The way the character carries herself communicates everything readers need to know about who she is and how she perceives herself. So much of the visual identity of those original movies was in the over-the-top costume design. Dr. Q is as well-defined visually as anyone on screen. Crane’s presence is much more subdued, but the design and his wild hair give him an unsettling look.
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There are a number of narrative threads laid down in this issue, and they promise interesting developments in the future, even if none of them get much individual focus. Barbara Gordon steps into the empty space left by Bruce Wayne, and her tense relationship with Batman is ripe for conflict. The scenes with Alfred are a particular highlight, as the two characters spar over their opinions on the dark knight’s methods and merits. Here, the book feels its most cinematic, and Hamm and Quinones’ collaboration channels Michael Gough’s performance as Alfred perfectly. Gough’s understated and empathetic performance as Alfred has defined how comic writers approached the character for decades. His paternal loyalty to Bruce gives this issue its biggest emotional moment. Hamm offers a rare moment of unguarded humanity for the character as he admits to Barbara that he does not know where Bruce has gone. The staging by Quinones and the dialog from Hamm sell the internal conflict.
It is also the moment the issue’s question of where Batman has gone moves from rote to genuinely intriguing. If Alfred has been left in the dark, then the possibilities are much more ominous. There are other wrinkles to set up the villains, including the irrational fear gripping veterans and criminals and Dr. Q’s admiration for Joker. Those feel more perfunctory and predictable, however. The issue’s final few pages turn the story on its head, and the final page reveal raises a host of questions and complications. The story behind that reveal will leave readers eager to come back for Issue #2 more than anything else.
Fans of the Tim Burton-directed films will find plenty to enjoy here, particularly the detail and visuals provided by Quinones and Ito. They are not a one-to-one match, but the mood is completely in line with those movies. The script and story appear to be taking a few more risks that deviate from the scope of the original movies which gives the book an unexpected flavor. If the first Batman ’89 volume was a love letter to the original movies, this series feels more like an evolution. This is not a flashy premiere, but it does lay the necessary groundwork for a long-form story. Even readers who have no affection for the original films would do well to pick this book up.
Batman 89: Echoes
You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts! After Harvey Dent’s crusade against Gotham and Batman, the Caped Crusader has disappeared without a trace. In his place, ordinary citizens have taken to the streets to root out crime. As innocents get hurt, the question on everyone’s mind is the same: Where is Batman? Sam Hamm, screenwriter of the 1989 Batman movie, and Joe Quinones reunite for another tale in Gotham!
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