Thursday, March 23, 2017

Batman: Odyssey by Neal Adams

Originally published in 13 separate issues, this magnum opus was written and drawn by Neal Adams. That’s over 300 pages of outstanding, explosive artwork combined with a wild but compelling storyline. A lifetime of high-energy and critically acclaimed experience went into this amazing graphic novel, with “novel” being the keyword here. Batman: Odyssey is unlike any Batman story you’ve ever read before, although astute readers will likely recognize traditional elements from the era of the Silver Age Batman. Adams proves himself again and again The Master of sequential art, and this sprawling epic pays tribute not only to Batman’s rich history, but to the very essence of pulp fiction entertainment. The premise is simple enough – Batman tells several stories that reinforce his early struggle but ongoing, firm belief that he should never intentionally kill a criminal. That’s the premise, but the narrative structure challenges the reader by its non-linear approach. Adams employs flashbacks exclusively, with an ongoing framing sequence that reminded me of the Greek chorus in the plays of Sophocles. In this case, Batman is providing commentary to an unknown listener who is revealed only in the final pages. Each anecdotal tale he recounts is part of the jigsaw puzzle that makes perfect sense by the conclusion. There are also plenty of guest stars. Dick Grayson as Robin (this takes place out of modern age continuity), Deadman, Ra’s Al Ghul and his daughter Talia, Man-Bat, The Riddler, The Joker, and others are featured. Superman’s appearance in the conclusion is breezy but fun. In fact, Adams seems to have enjoyed himself writing and drawing this amazing story. There are numerous references to Batman’s cultural impact, including a sly nod here and there to the famous 1966 Batman television program starring Adam West and Burt Ward. All of this is accomplished with a sense of affection for the characters and their history. Adams even has Bruce Wayne wearing a Green Lantern T-shirt. At about the halfway point, we are introduced to the Hollow Earth section of the story, and it’s here that Batman and others are flying around with dinosaurs. This is where Adams took some heat from today’s synapse challenged armchair fanboys turned critics who clearly suffer from articulation issues. There is nothing new about Hollow Earth stories, and possibly Adams takes his inspiration from Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Hollow Earth stories of Richard S. Shaver. These sequences are wacky, imaginative, and at odds with Batman’s usual turf of Gotham City. Or is it? In fact, Batman and Detective Comics in the late 50s and early 60s were overloaded with aliens and monsters from all sorts of alternate universes, and in my opinion Adams has simply re-imagined that once common plot device. Batman’s encounter with a giant cyclops monster near the end is a treat. The “Underworld” is at the heart of Batman’s odyssey, and derives from the author’s interest in the expanding earth hypothesis. Consistently throughout the narrative, Batman is exploiting this idea that he should never take a life, and it’s eventually revealed that he went to great lengths to maintain that position. What appears shocking one moment might prove to be a duplicitous red herring the next. The artwork is pure Adams all the way, fluid and detailed when it needs to be, and I have always been a fan. The pages are awesome. The story is unique and ambitious, and Adams deserves credit for his imaginative approach. Humorous at times, while confounding and thought-provoking, Adams never loses sight of the fact that sequential art is meant to entertain.  Altogether, Batman: Odyssey is a fantastic graphic novel. Kudos!

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