BATMAN ’89 #1/ Script by SAM HAMM/ Art and Cover by JOE QUINONES/ Colors by LEONARDO ITO/ Letters by CLAYTON COWLES/ Published by DC COMICS
There was a time when comic book adaptations were far less common and comic books were decidedly less mainstream than they are today. The 1989 Batman movie, directed by Tim Burton, was one of the major turning points in establishing the idea that superheroes weren’t just silly kid stuff. While there’s been several cinematic interpretations of Batman since then, Burton’s unique aesthetic and vision of Gotham City have retained a following and there’s many a Bat-fan who wished the setting had been developed beyond Batman Returns.
Hither come Batman ’89 – a series set within the continuity of the Burton films, which is probably the closet to Tim Burton’s Batman Forever as we shall ever see in this timeline. The series is written by Sam Hamm, who wrote the screenplay for the original Batman movie and came up with the story for Batman Returns. Burton himself is not involved with the production, but this first issue finds several ways to honor his influence, with artist Joe Quinones sneaking in references to some of Burton’s other films among the Halloween crowds.
Hamm’s script is largely focused on District Attorney Harvey Dent, who was famously played by Billy Dee Williams in Batman. Williams reportedly took the role with the hopes of someday being able to play Two-Face and was disappointed that it never came to pass. It spoils little to suggest that Hamm seems to be building upon that conceit but there’s far more to this issue than rehashing familiar moments from The Long Halloween and Batman: Year One. One unique element is the introduction of this universe’s version of Barbara Gordon, who is a Sergeant in the GCPD, estranged from her father and engaged to Harvey Dent. This issue also introduces a familiar figure from the Batman books: slovenly detective Harvey Bullock.
Hamm’s story is engaging enough and one can hear Billy Dee Williams’ trademark purr reading the dialogue. There’s also some interesting character development regarding how this version of Harvey Dent is “two-faced” as Dent is confronted on how he’s forgotten his roots as a poor kid who grew up in the slums of Gotham City in his efforts to present himself as a respectable lawyer. In keeping with the aesthetic of the era, there is far more focus on the villains and setting them up than there is on Batman himself, which may be a problem for some readers.
Joe Quinones’ art does a fine job of capturing the likenesses of most of the actors from the movie. While his Harvey Dent looks like Billy Dee Williams and his Bruce Wayne looks like Michael Keaton, his Commissioner Gordon is drawn in the traditional comic book style rather than being modeled on Pat Hingle. Another oddity lies in some of the panel layouts, which can be hard to follow at times. The colors by Leonardo Ito are well chosen and do a good job of emulating the palette of the movies. Clayton Cowles likewise fits some appropriate sound-effects into the word balloons, ironically evoking the spirit of the Adam West era.
All in all, Batman ’89 is an amusing work of nostalgia that perfectly captures the spirit of the films it is meant to follow. While a little rough at times, due to the inherent differences between film and comics, this is still an enjoyable read sure to please fans of the first wave of Batman movies.