Reviews - Comic - Batman & Robin Adventures - Annual #1

Review (James Harvey)
If you consider the title of this annual, ďShadow of the Phantasm,Ē youíd be right if youíre expecting a dark, violent tale. The official follow-up to the big screen Batman: Mask of the Phantasm feature film, DC Comics published ďShadow of the PhantasmĒ in Batman & Robin Adventures Annual #1. Featuring a story by Paul Dini, who was involved with the original Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, we find out exactly what happened after that movie and how everything comes colliding together in a violent and heart-wrenching finale.

The story is basic. Phantasm returns to Bruce Wayneís life to warn him that an assassin is hot on his trail. Wayne struggles to trust Andrea Beaumont again after the events of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm while trying to discover who is trying to kill him and avoid the hired gun who wants to finish the contract on his life. Itís a fairly simple story, but, well, looks can be deceiving. The story is more layered than expected, incredibly dark, and brutal. A fitting follow-up to Batman: Mask of the Phantasm I find, even though some may consider the tale unnecessary (and understandably so).

Now, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm pretty much told the entire story. It left a few loose ends, but nothing thshat really needed to be revisited. We know that the Joker would live to kill another day and Arthur Reeves would be institutionalized for the rest of his life. Thatís the impression I got as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm entered its third and final act.f Did we need this story? No. Am I glad we got it? Oh yeah! Itís such a great and dark story that really drives the nail in the story for Phantasm while leaving the door open for future appearances (which we would get in the wildly under-appreciated Batman Adventures series by Dan Slott, Ty Templeton, and Rick Burchett). The artwork only serves to add on layers upon layers of dark brooding as the story takes twist upon twist.

Now, like I said, this could be considered an unnecessary story and some fans saw it as such. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was pretty much an open-and-closed case with no need to revisit and, yes, thatís true. To an extent. The characters of said film easily lend themselves to a revisiting, and thatíd what we get here. And everything feels so natural, everything flows so perfectly from the Mask of the Phantasm to here. So, to those who do not like the issue, then it can be dismissed without missing anything. To those who want more of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, you get your wish, and you get a real gut-buster of a tale.

As I mentioned above, Batman has to avoid an assassin while dealing with the return of Phantasm and search out who is trying to knock him off. Personally, I rather enjoyed where Dini took Phantasm after the events of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, as it makes logical sense that Beaumont would become an assassin-for-hire, killing to make a living while, at the same time, struggling to live with herself and what she does. Once she gets word of a hit out on Bruce Wayne, she comes back to Gotham to warn him. Things become complicated with the assassinís ability to shape-shift thanks to a mystical diamond in her possession. As one can imagine, thereís more than a couple instances of mistaken identity and problems that arise from the assassin pretending to be someone else. This allows Dini a couple opportunities to throw the readers for a loop, especially during the middle act of the book.

Despite this seeing print over ten years ago, Iíll avoid spoiling the climax of the story for those who may not have read it. I will say that itís a brilliant twist on the story of one of the characters from Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Definite kudos are in store for Dini, given the difficult task he had to do in making a relevant follow-up to a movie that didnít really need one.

Now, letís quickly look at the artwork for the story, a task that was divided up among four different creative teams. Ty Templeton provided the art for the prologue and the epilogue for the story, with Dev Madan and Terry Austin providing the art for Act One, Mike Parobeck and Austin for Act Two, and Brandon Kruse and Austin for Act Three. Four creative teams provide the artwork for the story to mixed results. Templetonís artwork is stunning as always, and Parobeck brings his A-Game to the page, as do Madan and Kruse, but the sketchiness of Austinís inks bring down the quality of Madanís and Kruseís art. Parobeckís full-bodied pencils arenít affected by the overall sketchiness of Austinís ink-work, but the works of both Kruse and Madan do suffer, making for a bit of a disjointed read. We get the lush artwork that opens and closed the book by Templeton, Parobeckís great stylish work at the center, surrounded by sketchy installments by Madan, Kruse, and Austin. Itís a shame because Madan and Kruse are great artists who can easily hold their own with Parobeck, but we donít really get a sense of their abilities with Austin on inks. Madan did some great fill-in work on The Batman Adventures while Kruse did some phenomenal work on Batman & Robin Adventures, but that talent is hidden under sketchy and disjointed ink-work. A shame, really.

I just want to make a special note about Parobeckís artwork. This issue was Mike Parobeckís last published artwork for DC Comics. A diabetic, he unfortunately passed shortly after working on this issue due to complications caused by Type 1 Diabetes, and before he was set to take over Batman & Robin Adventures with issue #7. His artwork here is phenomenal and I still canít help but get choked up when I read his portion of the issue because he was such a huge inspiration to me, and itís painful to see his last printed work or read the tribute to him placed in the back of this book. Itís been more than ten years since he passed away and heís still greatly missed.

Overall, Batman & Robin Adventures Annual #1 ďShadow of the PhantasmĒ is a dark, chilling story. While this story isnít exactly necessary, Dini does the impossible by making it enjoyable and fascinating. Heís able to bring back characters from Batman: Mask of the Phantasm in a way that feels natural, and actually makes this story matter to the overall ďPhantasmĒ storyline. The art for the most part is great, save for a few problems with the inking I explained above. Itís a great book, one that proved to be very popular upon release, and with good reason. Now, if you havenít read this issue or donít plan to, you wonít miss anything, but if you do, youíll be treated to a nice extra tale that perfectly follows the events of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
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