Christmas Comic Cavalcade: The Batman Adventures Holiday Special (DC Comics, 1995)

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This week, we’re looking at The Batman Adventures Holiday Special, published by DC Comics in 1995. Cover price was $2.95. I picked this up for $5 dollars at a comic convention this past April.

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When I would shop for presents for my family as a teenager, I’d often treat myself to a comic book from the spinner rack at Waldenbooks. If possible, I would try to find a comic that was reflective of the holiday season. Indeed, some of my favorite comics of all time are collections of yuletide stories featuring superheroes (I’ve talked about many of these books before here on the Cavalcade). This comic was one of those purchases and it’s a great one.

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Batman: The Animated Series is one of the towering achievements of superheroes in popular culture over the last 30 years. Taking a decades-old character and distilling its’ essence into a cartoon filled with action and pathos, B:TAS remains my favorite take on the Batman character to this day. Developed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm, a minimalist, Art Deco style was employed to craft Batman, his world, and his extended gallery of rogues with able assists from talented writers like Alan Burnett and Paul Dini. Batman: The Animated Series looms large even today as writers and artists continue to borrow from the ideas Timm, Dini, and company laid out over 100 episodes aired across two television networks.

Batman Adventures was DC Comics’ adaptation of Batman: The Animated Series; the company rightly figured that fans of the cartoon would want to see further adventures of these characters drawn in the style of the cartoon. It bears stating that during the time B:TAS was airing, the actual comics featuring Batman were kind of… weird, in the way that only comic books from the 1990’s could be. In a storyline that stretched for years, Bruce Wayne had his back broken by then-new villain Bane and was replaced by a psychopathic, violent new Batman. Probably the kiddos who fell in love with the Batman being presented on weekday afternoons would be taken aback by the grimness of DC’s Dark Knight

…but Batman Adventures was lovely. Written (mostly) by Kelley Puckett with art (mostly) by the superlative Mike Parobeck, Batman Adventures took the same streamlined approach to telling superhero stories as the animated series did. The series was a fan favorite and has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years – DC Comics recently released a collection of the first 10 issues and I have to imagine more will be on the way.

That’s the long way around telling you about today’s book, a holiday special created not by the regular Batman Adventures team, but by the artists and writers of the animated series. The Holiday Special was something of a “jam” book by Bruce Timm and those most associated with B:TAS in its’ inception, including Glen Murakami, Ronnie Del Carmen, Kevin Altieri, Bruce Lukic, and Dan Riba. If you’re an animation fan, you likely recognize some of those names. Paul Dini writes most of the stories here, with assists from some of the artists. If you’re at all familiar with Dini’s work, you know that the guy is a huge fan of Christmas, having written several yuletide themed stories and creating the character of Jingle Belle.

The majority of The Batman Adventures Holiday Special was later adapted by much of this team as an episode of the series, later in the show’s lifespan… but more on that in a bit.

After a brief introduction, we come to the first story, “Jolly Ol’ Saint Nicholas” written by Dini and Timm with art and color by Timm. It’s a fantastically designed piece pitting Batgirl against Clayface in a department store at the beginning of the holiday season.

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Some context: During the 1990’s and much of the 2000’s, DC Comics had pretty much put the kibosh on the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl. It was through sheer force of will that Bruce Timm brought the character back into the public’s consciousness… and why not? Who doesn’t love Batgirl?

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If you don’t dig Babs after that sequence, I can’t do anything for ya. This story also features a lot of fun banter between Detectives Montoya and Bullock, as they work a sting operation in the department store.

The second story, “The Harley and the Ivy” is written by Dini and Del Carmen, with art by Del Carmen. It’s an extended caper featuring one of the great character pairings that B:TAS gave us, Poison Ivy and The Joker’s moll Harley Quinn.

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Dini and Del Carmen inject much personality into these two characters; you really believe their oddball friendship, to the point where the Harley/Ivy stuff eventually spun off into its’ own mini-series.

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Using a hypnotic lipstick on Bruce Wayne, the girls treat themselves to a holiday shopping spree, only to run afoul of Batman before too long. “The Harley and the Ivy” is the most fun of the stories collected here, with lots of humor injected through character and situation. Del Carmen’s propensity for drawing sexy girls is on display here and it’s just a really terrific addition to the book

…although it’s not my favorite. My personal favorite story here would be Paul Dini and Glen Murakami’s “White Christmas,” wherein Dini captures the bittersweet flavor of the holidays using one of his favorite characters; Mister Freeze.

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Again, it’s important to have some historical perspective on the character; while today Freeze is considered a fan favorite, back in the early 1990’s, he was kind of a joke. Dini and Timm rehabbed Freeze to perfection on the animated series, casting him as a broken, emotionless monster wrecked by the loss of his beloved wife. The production team on B:TAS did such a good job with Mister Freeze, Hollywood took notice. Movie producers stripmined the cartoon’s take on the character for the big-budget bomb Batman and Robin.

At any rate, I love this Mister Freeze story for a few reasons. Murakami’s pencils are the most kinetic out of the contributors here. They’re just incredible to look at. It’s no surprise that Murakami would go on to conceptualize and produce Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans.

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This is also the story that covers the most ground, moving Batman from Arkham Asylum through the streets of Gotham City into the Gotham Cemetery.

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Again, the story ends on a bittersweet note that marks most of this crew’s dealings with Mister Freeze. It’s a perfect fit for this holiday backdrop.

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The final two stories are of a pair, dealing with The Joker creating havoc on New Year’s Eve.

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…and ending on an optimistic note with the annual meeting between Batman and Commissioner Gordon.

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The Batman Adventures Holiday Special deservedly won the Eisner Award for Best Single Issue in 1995. Since then, it’s become kind of hard to come by in longboxes. Indeed, quite a few of the Batman Adventures single issues have skyrocketed in price in the past few years, thanks to fans of Harley Quinn who recognize these books as some of the character’s first appearances in comics. If a Batman Adventures features Harley, expect it to go for some serious bucks in the after-market.

Despite hurdles, the book is worth tracking down. While the Holiday Special has been adapted into an episode of the series easily available to find online, the best story of the lot didn’t make the jump to animation. If you want to read “White Christmas” in its’ entirety, finding a copy of The Batman Adventures Holiday Special should be on your Christmas wish list.

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