The Batman Adventures #4
Writer: Martin Pasko
Penciler: Brad Rader
Inker: Rick Burchett
Colorist: Rick Taylor
Letterer: Tim Harkins
Cover: Ty Templeton
By Erin Bentley
01 July 2009 — After having a less than spectacular introduction into The Batman Adventures, I had an interesting thought: comic book creating is a lot like baking. If something is not right, change the recipe up. And that is exactly what happened with this issue. There is a new creative team, as well as the debut of Robin in the series. Let us hope that the added spice makes the issue a little sweeter.
As always with these reviews, I begin with the cover. It depicts Robin getting the snot punched out of him by two lowlifes as Batman dives in to help. In the background, buildings are on fire and electronic stores are being looted. This picture implies that some kind of huge disaster has befallen Gotham City, but what? There are no cracks or faults suggesting an earthquake, nor are there collapsed buildings that would indicate a bomb. So what is the big disaster?
The story begins with a train being derailed and two passengers plummeting to their deaths. Batman comes swinging in and saves one of the passengers, while the other hangs on for dear life by a guardrail. Batman gets the falling passenger to the ground, before grappling to save the other. Meanwhile, in the control room of the train station, the operators are trying to figure out what happened. One of the operators starts to panic about how he must have given the train the wrong instructions and then starts rambling about how something happened to his brain. He claims he had to try and remember the correct routing sequence. The other operator asks why he was trying to remember, because the data was on the screen for anyone to read. The questioning operator asks his coworker if he can read. The panicking operator says nothing, but holds his head in his hands, sweat pouring down his face. The scene shifts to a television screen with Batman saving the passengers, at which point the TV is turned off. A shadowy figure asks his henchman if the train operator got the gift. The henchman replies yes. The shadowy figure calls the test of his "Dyslexus Device" a success and orders his plan set in motion.
I really like the changes that have been made thus far, especially where the artwork is concerned. The people in this issue actually look like people instead of cartoon characters — as they were depicted in previous issues. The opening panel has people falling out of a train, and the expressions are of pure fright. Plus, the excellent use of shadows make the characters seem real.
In the next scene, Summer Gleeson reports on how the corner of Schiff and Moldoff is in complete gridlock because everyone — whether it is a motorist or a pedestrian — is lost. Accidents are occurring because people can't read the traffic signs. It appears that thousands of people have lost the ability to read. Summer interviews a few people before handing over to Dirk Bricker in the newsroom. Dirk begins to report on a press conference that Mayor Hill is going to give, but is stopped midway through his broadcast, because the text on the teleprompter turns into what looks like Scandinavian runes. A "Please Stand By" card appears on the screen and is observed by Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred rouses Bruce Wayne out of his sleep, and turns on the TV. Bruce begins to chew Alfred out, but then he hears an ominous announcement: until the educational system is better funded by the City Council, this anarchy is a taste of what Gotham City will be like.
This section is pretty straightforward, so I have no comments about it. But I do have a few Easter Eggs to share. The streets are named for a pair of comic book creators from the Golden Age: Jack Schiff and Sheldon Moldoff. Schiff was a comic book writer who worked with Bob Kane on the Batman newspaper strips. Moldoff is a retired comic book artist. He was one of Bob Kane's ghost artists, and among his creations are Black Pirate, Betty Kane / Bat-Girl, Hawkgirl, Poison Ivy, Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat-Hound.
Cutting over to Mayor Hill's office, Hill is playing a tape for Commissioner Gordon while a workman is running a drill. Gordon and Hill discuss how the city's personnel are being stretched to the limit and whether or not they should pay the ransom. Hill asks the workman why he is running the drill at that moment. The workman simply says he had a work order and was just doing his job. The workman leaves as Gordon and Hill resume their conversation, but the workman is the henchman of the mastermind who has orchestrated the plan.
Across Gotham, Bruce has suited up and is about to go out on patrol to help with the riots, but before he leaves, Alfred suggests he wear his gas mask. At Gotham State University, Dick Grayson and someone on his dorm floor discuss whether or not it is worth going to class since one in three people on campus has the "illiteracy disease." Dick decides not to stick around the dorm, so he hits the streets as Robin. After saving a few people, Robin is jumped by a couple of punks who want his motorcycle. During the fight he's punched into a storefront where he sees more punks. These ones, however, are planting TVs and radios. One of them turns on a radio, and as the music plays Robin is stricken with the "illiteracy disease." Fortunately Batman flies over and picks Robin up before returning to the Batcave. There they deduce that the illiteracy is not spread in gaseous form, but by broadcast signals. Robin also explains that the gang members were wearing colors that belong to The Snakes. Meanwhile, Alfred, who had been running a tape of the extortionist's voice through the computer, reports that the voiceprint belongs to the felon Batman expected.
At a warehouse, The Snakes are taking apart TVs and radios as their leader talks with their boss. The boss goes on a rant about how panic will grip Gotham once it is discovered that Mayor Hill has caught the disease and all of Gotham will bend to the will of The Scarecrow! End issue!
Thus far, I am very happy with this storyline. It is a refreshing change from the abysmal three-part tale that kicked off The Batman Adventures. There is a new villain to contend with, a new hero to help spice up the book, the color palette does not match a trashy couch and the fashions are accurate to the time period in which the series is set. However, Scarecrow's plan confuses me. Jonathan Crane was once an educator, so why is he causing people to not be able to read? Hopefully it's explained in the second part. Despite that, I am quite pleased with the issue. Hopefully the trend will continue into the next book.
Overall Score: 7