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Inside Good Comics For Kids

Batman Adventures: Nightwing and Batgirl Return

Batman: The Animated Series is the gift that keeps on giving, even 20 years after its final iteration aired its final episodes. A fairly perfect synthesis of the character’s decades worth of comics adventures and mass-media adaptations, the cartoon series naturally fed back into the comics, with DC producing a series of series of comics in the style of the cartoon.

Those comics, in addition to being more all-ages friendly than the publisher’s adult-focused fare, tended to be of fairly high quality, and they also tended to be particularly evergreen and timeless, given the Art Deco, film noir and early 20th century film inspirations that were ingredients in the cartoon series.

DC is in the midst of publishing a new miniseries set in the world of the show—Batman: The Adventures Continue—while simultaneously republishing some of the late 1990s comics in characters-specific collections. These collections prove to be well worthwhile for fans of the characters, or even fans of super-comics in general, regardless of one’s experience with the original show.

Cover of Batman Adventures: Nightwing RisingBatman Adventures: Nightwing Rising
Writer: Hilary Bader and Ty Templeton
Artists: Bo Hampton, Terry Beatty and Rick Burchett
DC Comics; $9.99

There was a short , two-year break after Batman: The Animated Series, by then rebranded as The Adventures of Batman & Robin, ended in 1995, before it returned,  somewhat retooled and with another new title, The New Batman Adventures. While the voice cast and the creators remained largely the same, the characters had all been redesigned, and there was a greater focus on Batman as the head of a family of crime-fighters rather than as a solo act.

Robin Dick Grayson had now grown up and adopted the new superhero identity of Nightwing, becoming more of an arms-length ally to Batman than a sidekick. Tim Drake replaced him as the new Robin. And Batgirl, who had formerly been just an occasional guest star, now worked closely with the boys, becoming an integral member of their team.

The show started in medias res, but as to what, precisely, was behind many of the changes to the main cast, well, that was the plot of 1998 comic book miniseries The Batman Adventures: The Lost Years. That five-issue series, which was written by the late Hilary Bader, who also worked on the show, filled in the blanks. It also accounts for most of the collection Nightwing Rises.

Bader, working with artists Bo Hampton and Terry Beatty, opens in a Gotham that looks very much like the one that existed prior to the time-jump, right down to the relationships and the costume specifics.

The role of Batman’s Boy Wonder has begun to grate on Dick, who is about to graduate and officially become a man, and he finds himself bickering more and more with the Dark Knight. A series of misunderstandings involving his then-girlfriend Barbara Gordon, who is also Batgirl—although neither teen hero has shared their secret identity with the other—pushes him over the edge, and Dick quits being Robin and suddenly and dramatically severs all ties to Batman and Bruce Wayne.

He then begins to travel the world and train under new masters, not unlike Batman did while in training to become a superhero, learning not only new fighting techniques but also more specialized skills, like how to become invisible from a reclusive South American tribe, or the secrets of flight from hidden monks in the Himalayas.

Along the way, Dick can’t seem to help but run into some out-of-place Gotham villains like Two-Face and Ra’s al Ghul, and as he gradually learns new skills, he also assembles aspects of his new costume and identity. Before he returns to Gotham City with a new costume, new name and new hairstyle, Batgirl all but replaces him as Batman’s other half in a new Dynamic Duo, and a new kid takes up the Robin mantle.

Hampton and Beatty obviously hew quite closely to the designs and style of the two shows, and Bader translated the cartoon’s style of storytelling back into comics quite easily. It certainly helps that the original Lost Years series was quite episodic in nature, with each of its successive chapters jumping a little further forward in time, so that it reads almost like a TV series unfolding.

This collection ends with the first issue of Batman: Gotham Adventures, the 1998 series that was a spin-off of The New Batman Adventures, and thus the starting point of the status quo that The Lost Years was leading up to. The issue, by Ty Templeton, Rick Burchett and Beatty, has Team Batman trying to keep The Joker safe from the rest of Gotham City when a grieving millionaire puts a $50,000 price on the villain’s head.

Cover of Batman Adventures: Batgirl: A League of Her OwnBatman Adventures: Batgirl—A League of Her Own
Writers: Ty Templeton, Paul Dini and Scott Peterson
Artists: Rick Burchett, Tim Levins, Bob Smith and others
DC Comics: $9.99

The somewhat laboriously titled Batman Adventures: Batgirl—A League of Her Own is a straightforward anthology, featuring a handful of mostly single-issue stories from various comics, the only real connection between them being that Batgirl is prominently featured in each of them.

The collection opens with “Oy To The World,”  a Christmas story that originally appeared in the one-shot Batgirl Adventures, in which Harley Quinn gets Batgirl to chase her as a roundabout way to enlist her aid in rescuing Poison Ivy from some even worse villains. She was hoping to get Batman, but settles for the nearest Bat-person.

That’s followed by a two-parter in which Batman and Batgirl travel to Paris, where they meet a new vigilante hero, and then to the Himalayas, where Batgirl learns that there’s no point in bringing a gun to a martial arts fight.

The final issues are both team-ups with other supporting characters. In the first, Batgirl teams up with her dad Commissioner Gordon (not that he knows Batgirl is secretly his own daughter), in order to bring a pair of criminal brothers to justice. This involves a lot of back-to-back father/daughter fisticuffs.

In the second, she teams up with the new Boy Wonder to stop the strangest series of assaults in Gotham, a particularly perplexing mystery that might seem a little far-fetched…unless you’ve been around youth sports long enough to encounter a certain kind of overzealous parent.

The creators include those who worked on the cartoons like Paul Dini, as well as those who have worked on Batman comics, both those based on the cartoons and the regular ones. Burchett handles most of the pencil work, and while he sticks to the designs established by the cartoons, his artwork is far more dynamic than even the more sophisticated animation of the shows, or the comparatively flat art of pencil artist Hampton, seen in the Nightwing collection.

Burchett’s art is as fluid and fast-paced as a series of static images can be, and the figures rarely seem constrained by the panels or pages but burst into action in every direction. His is extremely effective artwork, not just by the generally lower standards of media tie-in comics or the “kid-friendly” fare that the super-publishers used to set for themselves, but compared to that of any of the big name superhero artists that were drawing any superhero comics in the late 1990s, or even today.

After the final story, there’s a preview for Shadow of The Batgirl—just as Nightwing Rising features a preview for The Lost Carnival—demonstrating that DC seems to think that young readers interested in their old based-on-the-cartoons comics will enjoy the even more stylized and idiosyncratic YA adventures featuring versions of these characters. They’re probably right, but it’s a two-way street. If you like DC’s newer original graphic novels featuring Gotham’s young adult heroes, chances are you’ll like these two collections, too.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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