Saturday, January 3, 2015

Batman '66 #50 Review (Spoilers)

Written By: Jeff Parker
Art By: Leonardo Romero
Cover Price: $1.99
Release Date: December 24, 2014

The Villain of Vapor Street

I can’t honestly say that I have ever seen a proper map of Gotham City but I imagine that the actual amount of space that the city takes up must be enormous if media is to be believed. In addition to being a city of New York sized proportions (interestingly enough located in New Jersey), there’s also several sections of the city that only show up in specific media (i.e. Arkham City). In Batman ’66 #50 we get to see one of those sections of the city—specifically Old Gotham, the city’s first borough. 

Old Gotham looks and feels quite a bit like London to the point where even Alfred says it makes him long for his homeland. Bruce and Dick make their way through the city to an event being hosted by the mayor and you can really feel the old time London love—from the fact that everyone is dressed in time-appropriate clothing to the woman sitting on the cathedral steps with a Batman mug asking “Tuppence, sirs? Tuppence a bag.” whilst surrounded by birds, you can tell that Leonardo Romero wanted to create a visual world that would strike up old time London while still reminding everyone that this is still a Batman story. 

Once Bruce and Dick get to the event being hosted by the mayor, they catch on that something isn’t quite right, when the underwriters for the festivities are a company Bruce never heard of and an all girls school that Dick had never heard of. It’s at this point that the two snap into Batman and Robin mode and summon for their costumes. As fog fills the stage and the mayor comments on the fact that public events in Gotham always have these kinds of issues I found myself still scratching my head, attempting to deduce who the Dynamic Duo would be fighting this time. Upon the grand reveal that the villains are in fact Lord Marmaduke Ffogg and his sister Lady Penelope Peasoup I found myself needing to take a minute to remind myself who they are. 

For those wondering, the characters appeared in three episodes of season three of the Batman TV series produced by William Dozier and then were promptly never heard from again. What was interesting was that based on Ffogg’s appearance in the book it looks like DC wasn’t quite able to clear the licensing rights to use Rudy Vallee’s likeness, morphing the  character into an interesting mix of Sherlock Holmes and Van Pelt from Jumangi, with full mutton chops for a little added flavor. It’s not the classic look of the character but it works well for what it is. 

As always, the issue ends on a cliffhanger. Last time, Batman and Robin were left to fight King Tut’s army of the undead (an event Ffogg mentions in passing), while this time they are left to fight a classic English angry mob, complete with torches and pitchforks. It’s not that I don’t like seeing these issues end on a cliffhanger with the Dynamic Duo in danger—it makes me want to come back for more—but seeing them in essentially the same cliffhanger two stories in a row is a bit disappointing. Reading this, I finally understood why issue #49 was a Batgirl story: to distract from the rehashing of plot.

I like Jeff Parker’s writing and at times his dialogue in the story was witty and even calling back to previous in passing was a nice easter egg for readers like me, but as a whole the story felt lazy, lacking much difference from the previous Batman and Robin tale. There’s a villain that wants to take over Gotham City and puts something in the air brainwash the city to do their bidding for them. The character of Marmaduke Ffogg seems like there is a lot of fun stuff they could do with him in the comic book universe, especially given they aren’t restrained by cost or technology. Opting to instead use him as a cutout character in a story is depressing on several levels. 

Despite the flawed writing, Leonardo Romero brought his A-game. I’m starting to wonder though: is the art really this good or is it merely because of the rotating roster of artists, while 95% of the stories have been scribed by Jeff Parker. But I digress: as I said, Romero brought his A-game and managed to create an Old Gotham with a twist that makes me really want to see our heroes explore it again at some point in the future. 

Bits and Pieces 

Batman ’66 #50 is a fun little story in concept but is bogged down by lazy (and rather disappointing) writing. The rotating carousel of artists in use managed to save this tale and it has me starting to ask if maybe they should take this book anthology style and get different writers to write each story to help give it a little more flair. At least at that point if two stories that are carbon copies of each other come out about a month apart you can chalk it up to accidental poor planning, as opposed to whatever was running through Jeff Parker’s mind as he wrote this tale. 


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