I haven’t read any of the previous DC comics sequels to their TV or movie properties—I think it’s just been TV properties, right (“Batman” and “Wonder Woman”)—but I’m certainly sympathetic to the proposition. I did, after all, read the ostensible canon IDW Star Trek: The JJ Abrams Years series for a while.
But Batman ’89… I’m actually unsure how to unpack all the nostalgia and fan service. It’s not just “another” Michael Keaton (more on that casting in a bit) Batman; it’s Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face.
Or, a Harvey Dent who looks enough like Billy Dee Williams. There are a few things in the issue I don’t think they’d ever have done in a nineties movie, like have a Black Harvey Dent confront how he’s moved on up. Because so far, Batman ’89 is Dent’s story. There’s a little Bruce Wayne, a little Batman, but the Dent story is the A-plot.
A couple things first.
“Michael Keaton” Bruce Wayne. Joe Quinones’s art in this issue is excellent. The beginning, which has Batman stalking Harvey Dent for no reason actually, gave me shudders; it’s when I realized how good this comic felt. Even before getting to Sam Hamm’s on-point Batman dialogue. But the Bruce Wayne. It looks like a Mad Magazine caricature of Michael Keaton. So much it makes you wonder if he’s got residuals due for likeness, and they wanted to get away with it on a technicality. It doesn’t really matter yet—and might never matter, depending on how the series (which runs six issues) goes—but it’s not great.
The rest is pretty great. Yes, the whited-out Batman eyes don’t seem right with the Batman 1989 costume, and Quinones and Hamm’s Commissioner Gordon (ostensibly based on Pat Hingle) is very much not Pat Hingle. The Commissioner Gordon is better than Pat Hingle could ever be.
Quinones’s “production design” is perfect, moving between movie locations, creating new ones, and introducing old comics homages. The secret origin of the Batcave penny is here, even though it never made the movie Batcave.
The story’s set soon after the first movie. Once the city realized having a vigilante on call would lead to property damage (nice to see Samm kept up on Batman comics enough to read White Knight), Gordon and Batman are working together on the down-low. That arrangement bothers district attorney Dent, who decides to break it up, his engagement to Barbara Gordon be darned. Well, Barbara seems to support Harvey against her dad, so not so darned.
There’s a good backstory for the lucky coin, there’s socially conscious superheroing they’d never have done in one of the movies, and there’s a surprise character. The bad guys so far are leftover Joker thugs, which tracks.
Batman ’89 is a solid comic with all the right strings for the target demographic. Maybe not the comic of the decade, but it certainly legitimizes the concept of professional fan-fic.