Or – “What Year Is It Again?”

There’s really only one big question in this series:  Has Neal still got it?

Batman – Odyssey #1
Story by Neal Adams
Art by Neal Adams
Letters by Rob Leigh
Color by Continuity Studios
Published by DC Comics

Previously, on Batman – Odyssey:  Bruce Wayne has many faces…  Detective.  Gymnast.   Ladies’ Man.  Acrobat.  Paladin.  Thief.  Barbarian.  Wait, maybe that’s the cartoon version of Dungeons and Dragons?  Either way, there’s a lot of facets to the jewel of Gotham City, and at least one of them is a hairy-chested Alan Alda  type sensitive man.  After the loss of his parents in a tragic shooting, he’s dedicated himself to fighting against crime and stuff throughout the streets of Gotham.  At the time of this story (if I’m reading the clues right) he’s recently taken on a crime-fighting partner, another orphan who wears a bright costume and calls himself Robin, but is still early enough in his career that he carries a pair of automatic pistols with him, having not yet eschewed the use of firearms.  In essence, this tale seems to promise insights into the mind of the man who would become the Batman we know, as he makes his journey to the Dark Knight.

The issue starts with Bruce Wayne showing off a battle scar, a bullet wound in his right forearm, as he explains to an unknown person or persons how he got it.  “I was very young…  A few years older than Dick is now.”  He explains that while he had made the decision to become Batman was made early, it was difficult to transition fully into the role.  Cut to a speeding train, as Bruce sneaks away to change into Batman and climbs to the top of the train.  The ears of his mask are still floppy, and his cowl very coarsely sewn as he makes his way forward on the train.  Suddenly a group of criminals starts shooting at him, and Bats shoots back.  He takes a bullet, and ends the fight hand-to-hand, only to have his mask ripped away by a criminal.  As he disposes of that goon, another cries out from behind him, threatening to shoot through the car-full of flammable gas with a shotgun…  Cut forward to Bruce, telling the story to young Dick Grayson (which means that this flash-forward is not as far forward as the point where the issue began flashing BACK), explaining that he nearly shot the man before another vigilante blew off the criminal’s head…

I have to say that I’m already lost by the plotting at this point, but the visuals are phenomenal.  Batman and Robin have a discussion (and while I think this Robin is Dick, he wears Tim Drake’s original costume, with the black cape and long pants) that explains why Bruce gave up the guns, leading to an interaction with Kirk Langstrom, the Man-Bat.  There’s a lot of weird unstated things in their conversation, including the implication that Kirk is addicted to his Man-Bat serum, and the knowledge that Kirk is afraid to tell them SOMETHING…  As the dynamic duo races away in their Batmobile (which strongly resembles a 1970’s-era Corvette Stingray), Langstrom has a fight with ANOTHER bat-creature, something about a cave and how the cave will protect Bruce’s identity.  In the space of 3 pages, the Batmobile transforms into a hovercraft and a boat, and Batman and Robin’s capes turn into rocket-powered hang-gliders, and Batman stuns the police with his awesomeness (but I’m still unclear on why.)  We end with criminals holding a man and his daughters hostage and firing their guns into tanks of hydrogen, presumable causing a huge explosion.

In the 90’s, The Monkees did a special movie which hung on the premise that their original 1966 series had never ended.  The plot had the guys frustrated by how familiar it all felt the 300th time around, and I am very much reminded of that feeling here.  I have now read this comic four or five times, and it feels like there’s a ton of context that I’m missing, as though this is issue 34 of 50, and the explanation of the criminals, El Maniaco, Man-Bat’s boss and the threat is all hidden in issues that I need to find in the back-issue bins.  The positive of reading this book is that it’s beautiful (better looking than any Bat-book in recent memory, including the Jim Lee issue of All-Star) and there are a couple of breath-taking moments that almost overcome the near-incoherence of plot.  Almost…  As far as I can suss out, there are four (or possibly three?) different time-frames in play here, but the transitions just aren’t clear enough for me to even be sure of that.  (There is discussion of Ra’s Al Ghul not figuring out Batman’s identity that I am COMPLETELY unable to assess the relevance of.)  While the few panels involving a gun-toting vigilante convincing Batman to give up the gun work, I have to grade down the overall effect of the issue for clarity.  Given how well-drawn it is, that’s hard for me, but Batman – Odyssey #1 earns a hopeful-but-confused 3 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s sort of a mess, but it’s a gorgeous mess indeed…

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Batman with a gun.  Does it work or not?  And, moreover, WHY does it work or not?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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5 Comments

  1. arcee
    July 13, 2010 at 5:43 am — Reply

    That’s a fair review. Neal Adams is an undeniable talent artistic-wise but I’ve read many of his issues (one’s he’s written or characters he’s created) and they’ve always left me underwelmed.

  2. Kevin
    July 14, 2010 at 7:25 am — Reply

    Agreed on review and the previous point. I love looking at this book, but when I finished reading it, that was just it, I was finished reading it. I was not thinking when the next issue comes or where the story was going. Other than the artwork, it was forgettable to me.

  3. Damascus
    July 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm — Reply

    I’d like to see some interior images, because the cover image is really ugly in my opinion. I also don’t like the Batman Odyssey banner logo at the top, it feels very 1994, kind of like some of the old Batman Adventures logo’s from 1992-95. It just seems fairly dated, so does the cover art. But maybe that’s the point, he’s doing what he does best.

  4. Nate Summers
    July 26, 2010 at 9:38 pm — Reply

    I was a huge Neal Adams fan until this book. His dialogue is awful. The drawings are either great or mediocre. It’s almost as if the legendary Neal Adams didn’t draw this. It’s sad to say, but I’m not looking forward to the rest of the series. The story was confusing and there’s no continuity. Sorry, Neal, but you shouldn’t have come back to comics, if this was what you planned on giving us.

  5. September 14, 2010 at 6:48 pm — Reply

    Since this site is called ‘Major Spoilers’ I thought I would drop a line here first to let you all know that Neal Adams pretty much spilled the beans on a lot of stuff from this series on our radio show ‘Where Monsters Dwell’ a few weeks back. You can download and listen to it here: http://wheremonstersblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/episode-113-with-neal-adams.html

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