I’m (reading about) Batman! A review of The Further Adventures of Batman.
Hey look, it’s more tie-in fiction!
Again, after slogging through The Sword of Shanara, I felt like reading something a little faster paced. Which brings us to The Further Adventures of Batman, a 1989 anthology of stories…well, about Batman.
This was another used bookstore find, and one that I probably would’ve passed up if I hadn’t looked over the list of authors on the back, and who do I see?
Isaac Asimov wrote a Batman story.
Why did nobody tell me this? Or have I stumbled across some long-forgotten bit of sci-fi trivia here? So, based on Asimov’s name alone, I plunked down the two bucks or whatever, and threw the book into my to-read pile.
Batman is the sort of character who’s been interpreted in a dozen different ways over the 75 years he’s been around. This flexibility of character has allowed him to become such a great culutural icon, as every decade or so, somebody’s going to establish a different take on Batman. This is how we get everything from campy Adam West Batman to growly and humorless Christian Bale Batman, and everything inbetween. (Admittedly, since the book was released in 1989, it’s pretty much just Adam West to Michael Keaton, but there’s still room to play with there).
I was kind of looking forward to seeing how fourteen different authors (most noteably, Issac Asimov) would present their takes on Batman.
Thing is, the majority of these stories were terrible.
The stories don’t have any continuity with DC Comics, or even with each other. As such, I figure the easiest thing to do is to just run down the list and give a few thoughts on each of them.
Robert Sheckley’s “Death of the Dreammaster,”
We’re not off to a good start here. The story begins with the Joker dying gruesomely (I suppose Sheckley wanted to distinguish himself from the Adam West show early on), and meanders from there. The bad guys’ plot makes no damn sense (let’s use holograms to make Batman hallucinate his archenemy because…reasons!). This would be bad enough, but Batman also comes off like a chump as well. There’s a part in the story where Batman’s is worried about climbing a 40 story building that’s decorated by gargoyles. This really was a “come on!” moment for me- I’m assuming Sheckley never saw a Batman comics cover from, oh…ever.
This story is the first in the anthology to make a pretty common mistake- making up its own villain. Given how Batman has one of the greatest rogue’s galleries in all of comics, some writer going ‘me too!’ just comes off as lame, especially since the new villains are almost always painted as badder and scarier than the Joker or whatever. And again, the villain’s plot makes no damned sense, because if he didn’t start screwing with Batman’s head, Batman never would have noticed his evil plot to begin with- especially since said plot took place in Washington DC. Not Gotham. It takes a special kind of supervillainous incompetence to specifically piss off Batman to the point where he flies out of town to stop you.
The whole story reads like a leftover Mens Adventure story that was originally meant to star Mack Bolan or something instead of Batman.
Henry Slesar’s “Bats,”
This one’s written from Alfred’s POV, which is a neat concept…but then it gets into, again, another original villain. This time it’s a psychiatrist who’s hypnotizing Batman into acting dumb, or…something. There’s at least a clever Batman-y twist at the end, but the story’s still pretty weak.
Joe Landsdale’s “Subway Jack,”
Hey, Joe Landsdale! I’ve heard of him! This story should be good, right?
Well…there’s potential here, but I feel like the story could of benefitted from some strong editing. The POV and style is all over the place- Hard Boiled first person narration from Comissioner Gordon one page, while the next has a breakdown of action panel-by-panel, which is followed by a vaguely Lovecraftian journal entry, with a regular third-person narration segment after that, and then it’s an excerpt from Batman’s crime files…
There’s a halfway decent story about Batman going up against the spirit of Jack the Ripper in there, but the continually shifting style jusst makes the whole story seem busy. It would’ve been a lot stronger if Landsdale just picked one gimmick and ran with it.
“The Sound of One Hand Clapping,” by Max Allan Collins.
Thankfully, this story proved that not every entry in this anthology was going to be crap. “The Sound of One Hand Clapping” is arguably the best story in the book- it’s certainly the most Batman-feeling of them. And it should feel properly Batmannish, given that Max Alan Collins has actually written for DC comics before (as I learned from Google).
On top of that, this story is actually a sequel to the DC comics story he wrote, so that’s kind of fun, too. The story itself is pretty simple- The Joker sees a lady supervillain called The Mime on the news, decides he’s in love (this is three years before Harley Quinn is on the scene), and then sets out to murder Batman and Robin to impress her. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t kill Batman & Robin.
Collins doesn’t really do anything new with Batman here, and that’s fine. The fact that a straightforward Batman & Robin story stands out in an anthology about Batman isn’t really a good sign. Still, kudos to Max Allan Collins.
Mike Resnick’s “Neutral Ground,”
This one’s the shortest story in the anthology- but still one of the better ones. It’s also the funniest- though I won’t give away the details. Worth reading.
“Batman in Nighttown,” by Karen Haber and Robert Silverberg.
More names I recognize! Mostly Silverberg, as the dude’s written a whole library of Sci-Fi novels, the faded covers of which are bound to be found at any quality used bookstore.
Unfortunately, this story is a bit ‘meh.’ It starts promising, with Bruce Wayne having a masquerade ball, only to have the lights go out and someone steal a bunch of jewels. And when that someone is in a Batman costume, well…
The premise is squandered, however, as Bruce Wayne gives chase to the fake Batman…without changing into his Bat-duds himself. He’s instead wearing his masked devil costume from the party, which is…symbolic? Maybe?. He chases the imposter through the seedy part of town, to a friend of the Wayne family’s estate, and then it’s revealed that fake-Batman is said friend of the family’s crazy son (who we’ve never heard of before, natch) who then accidentally electrocutes himself and dies.
So I guess that’s where Jeph Loeb got the idea for Hush from.
Stuart M. Kaminsky’s “The Batman Memos,”
Now this one is actually kind of fun. It’s a period piece, set in 1943 Hollywood. It’s an epistolary story, in which some Hollywood execs try to work out how they’re going to make a movie based around this “Bat-man” guy who’s been sighted in Gotham. This is made a little bit harder once their leading lady is kidnapped…but hey look, Batman just happens to be in town too!
One of the great things about this story is that Batman remains on the periphery, where he can be properly mysterious and stuff. It’s really the only story in the anthology that gets the concept of writing a Batman story without Batman as the central character.
Edward Wellen’s “Wise Men of Gotham.”
Aaaaand we’re back to shitty stories again. This one’s supposedly about The Riddler going on a murderous crime wave, but the twist is that it was just someone pretending to be the Riddler. I think. Because Batman certainly didn’t notice the difference in the dude he was punching.
The story has terrible pacing, and repeats a pretty standard formula: there’s a clue to some crime (because Riddler) which Bruce Wayne has to discuss with some English History Professor lady (over dinner, of course) to get the answer- Batman then charges off to stop the crime, only to have The Riddler get away. This repeats like three or four times over the course of forty pages. I mean, when Batman’s not detecting, and not punching…what’s he even good for?
An inept Batman and a nonsensical original bad guy aren’t the worst parts of this story, either. See, towards the end, Batman runs into a crazy hobo, who says he’s seen Batman’s eyes somewhere before.
A few pages later, at a big boat show, the Riddler attempts to stab Batman with a knitting needle. But the crazy hobo comes out of nowhere and flings himself between them, taking the stabbing. He then confesses that Batman has the same eyes of the kid whose parents he shot in a stickup years ago. The hobo then dies as the Riddler gets away (again).
Yep. That’s the twist.
Bluh. I’m trying not to get too fanboyish here, because I went into this book with a genuine desire to see what various writers would do with the Batman mythos. It’s not that I mind writers playing around with the canon, it’s just that it’d be nice if they didn’t throw in crap out of left field.
Worst story in the book.
“Northwestward,” by Issac Asimov
Not gonna lie, I skipped ahead and read this story first when I started reading. I was curious, and I knew there were probably going to be some crappy stories beforehand- so I’m glad I read this first, before I could get dejected. Seriously, “Wise Men of Gotham,” might’ve finished me otherwise.
The story doesn’t have a time travelling Batman swinging through the streets of Trantor, or trying to solve some sort of robot mystery- but it still reads very much like an Asimov story. For one, it’s about a bunch of old (presumably white) guys sitting around and talking over dinner.
“Northwestward,” is a story in Asimov’s Black Widowers series- one that I hadn’t heard of before. The premise is simple- a bunch of old (presumably white) guys have a dinner club, after which they solve mysteries through the power of deduction and conversation.
And the mystery they have to solve is one presented by Bruce Wayne. Well, a Bruce Wayne, at least, who served as a model for Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Said Bruce Wayne also is a millionaire, and also fought crime, and also had a butler, but he never wore a cape. Bit of a cop-out, but what can you do.
Really, Bruce Wayne is just there to provide a (somewhat contrived) scenario for the Black Widowers to puzzle out, but it’s still a solid story. Little action, but you can tell Asimov had a good time puzzling things out and writing it.
Would’ve been a little more fun if there were more capes and stuff involved, but what can you do.
William F. Nolan’s “Daddy’s Girl”
Written from Robin’s perspective, this story centers around Robin being captured by evil robots and kept alone in some big house with a mad scientist’s daughter who’s never seen the outside world. Pretty classic pulp sci-fi scenario, it’s just in this case, the mad scientist happens to be The Joker. Yeeeeah. Still, I guess it could work in a 1950’s Batman sense, maybe? This is probably the only story in the anthology where it would’ve been better not to use an established villain.
“Command Performance,” by William Goldsmith
This is another crappy one. It’s Robin-centric as well, but the thing is, Robin spends most of the story out of costume, investigating as Dick Grayson instead. The plot centers around some guy who’s hypnotizing teenagers into doing crimes for him…which is a fairly Batman-ish plot, I’ll admit.
But again, Dick Grayson spends most of the time just snooping around, with a really long (or at least long-seeming) segment devoted to a red herring. Oh, and whenever he gets into trouble, Batman shows up out of nowhere and saves him (which…is fairly Batmannish too, now that I think of it). Ultimately, it kind of reads like a “boy’s adventure,” story a-la The Hardy Boys that just had the serial numbers filed off.
“The Pirate of Millionaire’s Cove” by Edward D. Hoch.
Batman vs. Pirates with a Scooby Doo twist at the end. That’s it.
“The Origin of the Polarizer,” by George Alec Effinger
So a guy at the radio parts story notices Bruce Wayne is getting thousands of vaccum tubes delivered to his house. Obviously, the guy decides this means Bruce Wayne is Batman. So, uh, sloppy sourcing on Batman’s part.
The guy then decides to take up supervillainy as ‘The Polarizer,’ because he’s really good at vaccuum tube technology. I know this was cutting edge in 1957- but heck, even in the 80’s, punch-card computing was hilariously dated. Not exactly something to base a supervillain on.
“Idol” by Ed Gorman
This one’s short…and kind of nonsensical. It doesn’t even mention Batman by name, just ‘the impostor.’ I gather it’s about some crazy dude who obsesses over Batman and collects Batman costumes and goes crazy and kills his mother, but…yeah. There’s really not much here.
Ultimately, out of the fourteen stories in the anthology, only about four are worth reading. Not exactly the best ratio, here. Then again, one probably shouldn’t expect much from tie-in fiction to begin with.
But hey, at least Issac Asimov wrote a Batman story. That’s an interesting curiosity right there.