Having reviewed TwoMorrow’s Comic Book Creator # 3 earlier in the month, I decided it was time to look at Neal Adams’ DC opus ‘Batman Odyssey’. Spread over thirteen issues originally, it was important to remember that at the opening of each issue there was going to be a lot of exposition recapping would be going on previously. From the interview, Adams pointed out it was a necessary evil but used it as a framing device as Bruce Wayne was relating it to someone off-camera.
The overall story arc is more to do with why the Batman doesn’t carry a gun but draws a point to the inmates of Arkham Asylum at the end that under certain circumstances that he might kill. If I told you the punch-line on that, then he might have to come and show you why. As we all know, in the earlier Bob Kane adventures, the Batman did indeed use a gun, although over the years, this has tended to be ignored because…well, the Batman never uses a gun because of the trauma of seeing his parents gunned down. This story goes a long way to explaining why he started and stopped in short order. As the Batman explains to Robin, with a gun in his hand, he becomes more of a target to be shot at. Even armed men hesitate in shooting an unarmed man and that gives him all the edge he needs.
The story carries on over five different tales, some of which cross over each other and each issue’s exposition keeps track of where exactly we are with those being told. As such, this gives Adams a chance to run through Batman’s rogues gallery and different terrains so ultimately you do get a bit of everything. The last few issues are truly in an underworld to give Adams a chance to include dinosaurs, although I’m not altogether sure why he didn’t just keep the Batman in his home environment of the city which is his normal hunting ground after all. Saying that, seeing the Adams interpretation of what he has under his cowl and why his eyes appear white is neatly done, although Robin clearly has a disadvantage without such a prop. Likewise, the Batmobile looking more like a standard car as its main disguise and being more than a car and more on par with a James Bond car. Adams was also being playful with quoting from the 1966 ‘Batman’ TV series.
I liked how he made the connection between the death of Boston Brand aka Deadman and Dick Grayson’s parents to the Assassin’s Guild which also means Ra’s al Ghul. About the only character really missing is Selina Kyle but I suspect that was seen as messing up Batman’s relationship to Talia al Ghul and didn’t want a triangle. Even so, I’d loved to have seen him draw Catwoman more than one tiny cameo.
I did think for at least two-thirds of the book, there was far too many talking heads pages, although that was rectified towards the end of the book. Neal Adams does very expressive faces. One only has to watch how the eyes and eyebrows have a motion that works so well with his work over the years to appreciate that. However, a few less close-ups and the occasional setting panel wouldn’t have gone amiss just to break things up a little.
Dialogue-wise, there’s certainly a lot of it. Not that Adams can’t write but there’s always a balance between how much needs to be said and how much to rely on the art. Whoever does both of these invariably ends up not getting the balance quite right. In many ways, whichever the company, part of the chemistry between having separate artist and writer systems is that they can work off each other’s strengths. A good writer will know when to pull back and let the art tell the story or at least use less text. I’m going to have to do a comparison to Adams’ ‘First X-Men’ to see if he went the other way there and compensated here.
There is a lot to digest here and I suspect a couple more readings to pick up anything else here which means that there is a lot more depth than a lot of modern day comics carry. I’m less sure whether that will appeal to the younger reader but of my generation, who are familiar with the Batman’s long history, there’s a lot of eye-openers. The fact that it took a few days to read and digest should testify that you do get your money’s worth.
There were also six inkers involved in this book and although occasionally I could pick out when there was a switch, it would have been nice to have had some sort of listing at the end as to where and who each was, just for comparison. Considering that these inkers are also good pencil artists in their own right, I expect there was a long line of people who would have loved to have had the opportunity to ink Adams’ work with only one, as far as I could see on the last issue, balking at giving Bruce Wayne hairy arms. Seeing the pencil layouts for the covers, unadorned by logos, also shows how strong the pencil information is
Did I enjoy the ‘Batman Odyssey’? Sure. If you loved Neal Adams’ comicbooks in the past then you certainly going to enjoy this. With most DC characters having been through many incarnations over the years, this graphic novel can happily fit events into many of them with nary an inconsistency. Just watch out for the Neanderthal Bat-Man and Primus.
(pub: DC Comics. 368 page graphic novel. Price: about £7.50 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-1-4012-3684-7)