If you are like me and you are enjoying the new Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Hal Jordan has The Batman to thank. The Dark Knight blazed the trail for The Emerald Gladiator to follow.
Following the mixed success of Tim Burton's Batman Returns film, Bruce W. Timm and Paul Dini brought The Dark Knight to Fox Kids as Batman: The Animated Series. This was not your father's Super Friends or The Adventures of Batman. It was nothing like Scooby Doo Meets Batman. It was not Saturday morning cartoon fare, or the legendary '60's live action Batman series with Adam West and Burt Ward. This was something else, entirely.
While the Tim Burton Batman films were dark, capturing the essence of the early comics, Batman: The Animated Series, tried to walk that fine line between Dark Decco and kid-friendly. It was not always easy and it did not always succeed in execution. There are some episodes, such as The Underdwellers and I've Got Batman in My Basement, where the whole kid-friendly theme seems forced.
Prior to Batman: The Animated Series there was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That was pretty much it. Aside from that, there was Archie. That was it as far as "all-ages" comic books. There were comics. There was Vertigo and Image for the cool crowd, and then there was every thing else. For every body else. What Batman unleashed was a new genre, all-ages comics.
The Batman Adventures #1, October, 1992 was released as a companion comic to the Fox Kids animated series. Since Batman Returns featured The Penguin as the main nemesis, he is the debut issue rogue. The Penguin's look is pretty similar to that of Danny Devito from the Tim Burton film, just less grotesque and disgusting. This Penguin isn't as silly as Burgess Meredith, or the way the character was portrayed through the late '60's through the '80's, but he is still a sow's ear attempting to dress up in a silk purse.
The story opens with The Batman capturing a gunman named Ross. It turns out this is a news story on television and that one of The Penguin's henchman is missing dinner watching the story on television. Batman overpowers Ross with a punch, accentuated by "Biff!" and "Pow!" affects, a nice nod to the '60's live action series. At table, The Penguin reminds his gang that it is important to improve oneself, because "money can't buy ya class." Each member of the gang has a word for the day, and they each take turns reciting their word and the meaning. When the new gang member, Grant, scoffs at his boss fumbling over the word "arteriosclerosis", as the right to assemble, The Penguin stomps across the table, slides the tip of his umbrella up Grant's nose and reminds him who is in charge.
At that moment another gang member informs The Penguin that a huge delivery has arrived for him. It is television - an interactive television that both broadcasts and receives. A shadowy figure - that quickly turns out to be The Joker - invites The Penguin to steal a small "trinket" for him in exchange for brilliant plan to make The Penguin the most popular man in Gotham, right under The Batman's nose.
The Penguin then goes on a crime spree, robbing banks and donating some the money to charity. His popularity increases, including an appearance on Stars On Parade with Valerie Vapid to celebrate his philanthropy. Watching the interview in the Batcave, Batman confides in Alfred that he knows there is some plot behind The Penguin's newfound fame, he just hasn't put his finger on it yet. Alfred points to a news item in the paper that helps unlock the mystery. The Penguin has been robbing wealthy Gotham millionaires and then using that money to fund charitable causes.
That night, at the annual Policeman's Charity Banquet, Mayor Hill introduces Commissioner Gordon to present the award for the most generous donation of One Million Dollars to - The Penguin! Gordon's feathers are ruffled by the presentation until Penguin's donation is trumped by a Two Million Dollar donation by - Bruce Wayne! Now Penguin's feathers are ruffled and he plans to pay an after-hours visit to the Wayne Financial Institution.
The Batman encounters The Penguin and his gang there, and systematically overpowers the gangmembers, one by one. The Dark Knight encounters The Penguin in the vault, where he asks "Why did you do it?" The Penguin openly confesses, unaware that his confession is being transmitted through the vault's security cameras. While he is foiled by The Batman, The Joker still has what The Penguin stole for him.
Following the story, Editor Scott Peterson details how The Batman Adventures came about through conversations with Dick Giordano, Denny O'Neil and Paul Levitz; and, how he assembled the creative team. There is a four panel preview of issue two featuring Catwoman.
Kelley Puckett is a witty writer and manages to capture the essence of the animated series with a few winks and nods to the Tim Burton film and the old '60's live action series. Ty Templeton's pencils capture the look of the series, too. The Ricks Burchett and Taylor compliment Templeton's line work very well. It is a compliment to Tim Harkins that his lettering is good, but his sound effects, as for punching and applause needs a little work. Richard Starkings' Comicraft is quite the competition. The book is laid out in three acts, just like an episode of the series, which is fun and cool, since the episodes air during daytime programming - after school. Scott Peterson is one of the finest Batman group editors, and this book shows. The Batman Adventures 1 manages to carry a story with a message. The Penguin wants to be popular and famous. That has long been the motive behind his crimes. Here we see that his hunger for fame and glory are his own undoing. The Joker here has a Cat in the Hat, mischeivious quality. I've never been a fan of The Penguin. Maybe Burgess Meredith is to blame for that; or maybe it is the lame, sad-sack loser quality that I identify with. Always the last picked on any team. The human dodgeball magnet. I believe that I was hit by every ball and puck in school. I would not have picked The Penguin as the first rogue for The Batman to face here in his debut. But it does the job, and being a Batman fan, I enjoyed it.
You will find this collected in the trade paperback Batman: The Collected Adventures - Volume 1.