The first two books of the Batman Adventures series, No Asylum and Free Man, begin an arc that sees the Dark Knight coming to the rescue of some unusual crime victims: his own defeated nemeses. The Society of Shadows, that nefarious organization headed by Ra’s al Ghul, is targeting the likes of the Joker, Poison Ivy, and the Riddler. Most of the supposedly-ex-baddies have been committed to Arkham Asylum, but as we see in No Asylum, that won’t keep them safe from al Ghul’s assassins. The Riddler, believed to be reformed, is out of custody, but being a Free Man won’t stop him from becoming a victim. That will be up to Batman. And the Dark Knight has problems of his own, what with villains escaping Arkham after the assassins’ break-in and Mayor Cobblepot (a.k.a. the Penguin) sending Gotham’s police after him.
Each volume contains an episode of the above arc, then a short, unrelated Batman story. At the end of each book is a list of words and their definitions that young readers might not know. There’s also a brief glossary of Batman characters appearing or mentioned in that volume. Following that is a feature I particularly like: a comic-reading-comprehension section that uses examples from the book to talk about reading expressions, comic book techniques, and more. This encourages kids to think about context and to flip back through the book to find more examples. While these exercises might seem to some kids like a chore — though not a very hard one — others will likely find them fun and might end up improving their comprehension of comics and how to read them.
The full-color artwork is easy to follow, and has the same fun, cartoony vibe of the animated Batman TV show (which makes sense, as they share continuity). At only thirty-two pages each, these slim-but-sturdy hardcovers are intended for younger kids (in case the vocab list at the back didn’t tip you off). The treatment of the subject matter follows suit: there is a lot of action, mostly in the form of fight scenes, but no blood. Death is discussed — after all, the plot revolves around a series of assassination attempts — but none of the assassins manages to actually off a target. That’s unsurprising given that they’re going after classic Batman villains, who are valuable to the franchise and who aren’t about to go out without a fight. The only actual deaths alluded to are those of Bruce Wayne’s parents; one of the mini-stories includes a flashback wherein Batman tells the story of the night his parents died. Even there, though, the actual violence is not shown.
Being written for younger audiences does not mean this arc has been dumbed down at all. The mystery is intriguing and there are hints of other interesting things going on: while in Arkham Asylum, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy became friends, but when the assassins attack, it becomes clear that Ivy has powers Harley didn’t know about. This throws the already less-than-stable Harley into a rage and the story remains unresolved as Harley and the Joker escape Arkham. To be continued?
Batman Adventures: No Asylum
by Ty Templeton
Art by Rick Burchett
Batman Adventures: Free Man
by Ty Tempelton
Art by Dan Slott
Stone Arch Books, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Reading Level 3.5