Initially I wanted to call these Bat-manga. Going through them, all I could think about was the latest iteration of the Batman cartoons called Beware the Batman. Beware these graphic novels as well. The artwork in these books lacks the feel of the Batman universe most are use to; often the art looks like a strange blend of Batman ’66, the Bronze Age Batman, and the current manga-like Cartoon Network program Beware the Bat. For the purist again, these may not make the top list. To Batman fans and reluctant readers, they may be just the ticket to keep most kids reading.
Classic Batman villains Catwoman, Scarface, and Mr. Freeze appear, as well as the lesser known Firefly, and each embark on a crime spree in Gotham. Mr. Freeze has escaped and is bringing a cold spell to the city. After an attack that incapacitates the police and nearly results in the death of Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler, Batman must use all of the technology at his disposal to thaw the villainous Freeze. Sadly, a good Batman story is victimized by bad puns said just in the nick of time by hero and villain alike. In the episode featuring Scarface, Batman has been booby trapped with an explosive replica bat-dummy. Only with the help of the ventriloquist can Batman diffuse the situation. This edition was a better story with a more developed villain and lacked the puns of the Freeze story. The most peculiar story of the lot features Catwoman and, for a book targeting the younger set, it seems to play out the strange relationship between Batman and the feline burglar. The puns are absent and an homage to Frank Miller is evident in the character of Miller Franklin. Of the four stories in this review, the best was Firefly. Despite the puns, the story draws the reader in. The subplot of the florists who have been targeted by the mob almost outshines the battle between Firefly and the Caped Crusader.
Though the stories are solid, I still feel these graphic novels are lacking. The artwork is far too reminiscent of a manga story than it is of a gritty Batman story. True, they are meant for kids ages 9-12, but I felt like I was reading a campy story from the era of the comic authority. Had Batman looked less like an anime character and more like the traditional interpretation, I think there would have been more power in the stories. The villains are drawn very effectively, with the possible exception of the Catwoman, who looks like a cross between Fledermaus from The Tick and the Catwoman from the Bronze Age. Regardless of these perceived shortcomings, kids who love Batman will love these books. Kids who don’t know who Batman is could be introduced to him.
The Batman Strikes: Frozen Solid by Mr. Freeze
The Batman Strikes: Catwoman Gets Busted by the Batman
The Batman Strikes: Scarface is Gonna Go Boom
The Batman Strikes: The Batman is on Fire
By Bill Matheny
Art by Christopher Jones and Terry Beatty
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12