SYNOPSIS: Alan Burnett and Paul Dini return once more to the world of Batman: The Animated Series! Someone is targeting the Muscle now that he’s locked up in Blackgate Penitentiary. With his deep ties to the criminal underbelly of Gotham, the worst villains are calling for his head before he turns them over to the police! Batman will need to protect him, but can even the Dark Knight figure out where the next attack will come from?
Okay, this issue hit differently for me.
I’m referring of course to the fact that this is the first Batman: The Animated Series-related comic I’ve read since Kevin Conroy, the legendary voice who made this character come to life for so many, passed away.
While the voice I hear in my head when I read Batman varies, it without a doubt always sounds like him when the material is in any way based on an iteration of one of his many performances.
So, I went into this new “season” with a bit of trepidation, not because of the talent involved, because they are all exceptional, but because even though this is a comic, it makes me feel Conroy’s loss all the more, knowing he will never voice the character again.
Picking up from threads from last season, “Muscle Out” opens up on an attempt to assassinate the hitman Muscle, who was incarcerated after a run-in with the Dark Knight in season 2, issue #4. Croc makes the attempt in the prison showers, only to be thwarted by The Batman, who got a tip on what was about to go down.
The Mob wants Muscle rubbed out before he can rat on them, especially since the DA is offering him a deal. A prison chaplain, who believes Muscle can be redeemed, is working on him, trying to convince him to turn on Esther Valestra, daughter of the late Sal Valestra, the current matriarch of the oldest crime family in Gotham. And with that, the story is off and running!
Alan Burnett and Paul Dini once again return to script the series, lending an air of authenticity to the book. Everything just feels right, knowing that it’s coming from the pens of some of the best of the Timmverse creators. They have the voices of the respective characters down and of course, are familiar not just with the continuity of the show, but of the comic world they have been building as well. As such, the world feels very established and I got a kick out of seeing new addition Esther Valestra, her origin tying her in with Mask of The Phantasm.
Reusing Muscle from last season is a great choice, linking the seasons together and making it feel like he matters more by not being a one-off villain. Also, being an original from the comic lets them flesh out his character more and adds an element of surprise for the reader as we don’t know how he’ll act. Burnett and Dini are striking a wonderful balance of a standalone “episode” building on past history, including using characters like Lock-Up. Quite a few of the Dark Knight’s rogues show up, adding to the rich tapestry.
Returning artist Jordan Gibson is the breakout star here. Having filled in on an issue for Season 2, he blew me away with his noir-soaked images that perfectly replicated the Timm style. I’m happy to say that continues here, with every panel gorgeously colored by Monica Kubina. Combined, the two capture the dark aesthetic of The Animated Series blended with the character designs of The New Batman Adventures. Every page is the perfect synthesis of the two. I’m not sure if he’s back in the next installment, but I do hope so!
Similar to last year, the tone leans into the darker elements, not just visually, but thematically. The art style may look simple, but the characters are morally complex and use some swearing in another language on occasion-just a heads up for those reading to their little ones. Like the show it is based on, this book caters to all ages, but isn’t “kiddified”. The “dark” in the Dark Knight is definitely present. Just look at some of Gibson’s shadow-drenched images!
I wasn’t sure we’d get a season 3, but here we are and it is a fantastic return! Gibson delivers a perfect rendition of the animated Batman. Dini and Burnett mesh characters old and new to deliver a tale in the classic BTAS tradition, full of drama, excitement, and a dash of humor. Welcome back to Gotham City. My favorite voice of the Dark Knight may be gone, but his adventures continue and I can’t think of a better team than the one in this issue. – Javier E. Trujillo