Overview: In Batman ‘89: Echoes #1, Bruce Wayne is missing, copycat Batmen plague Gotham, and something strange is bubbling beneath the surface.
Title: Batman ‘89: Echoes #1
Writer: Sam Hamm
Artist: Joe Quinones
Colorist: Leonardo Ito
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Cover: Joe Quinones
Variant Cover: Riley Rossmo, Doug Braithwaite, Baldemar Rivas
Release Date: November 28, 2023
Please Note: This comic book review may contain spoilers
Batman ‘89: Echoes #1 opens with three thieves crashing a car in a mad dash to make off with some loot. Before they can make a getaway, Bat-ears tower above them, with arms raised in a stance similar to Batman’s entrance in the original 1989 film. The criminals freak out, and one of them panics, opening fire. It’s clear that he’s shot an imposter Batman dressed up in cheap padding. Two of the thieves run off, but the shooter remains behind, mortified. He keeps repeating that when you think Batman is dead, that’s when he gets back up again and takes you down.
The police show up, including Lt. Harvey Bullock. They arrest the one criminal who remains behind, taking note of the copycat Batman lying dead on the pavement. Bullock calls Barbara Gordon at her home. He awakes her, letting her know that he’s doing his due diligence in calling her whenever they find another dead Batman.
It’s an effective opening. Quinones’ parallel paneling helps create a distorted reality, one that intermingles the intense fear of the shooter with the collapsing of what is clearly a copycat vigilante. It’s beautiful led into by an grand entrance of Batman from behind the cowl, one that’s done in a way that tugs at the heartstrings of 1989 film fans. Leonardo Ito’s colors alternate between dark and moody and almost dreamlike. Blues and greens blend with reds and the ignition of powder from a handgun in a beautiful display. When Bullock shows up, the heat dies down, quite literally, as the tone switches to blues and purples.
Were this a Tim Burton film in the mid-to-late 90s, Quinones seems to have cast Bob Hoskins as Harvey Bullock and Winona Ryder as Barbara Gordon. Gordon’s visage especially shares an uncanny likeness to Ryder.
At the police morgue, Barbara Gordon views the body of the copycat. Bullock asks her about her interest, simultaneously filling the audience in on what’s happened since the last Batman ‘89 series. It’s been two years since Selina Kyle handed over precious computer files to Gordon, and Batman hasn’t been seen since. Bullock notes that in the last two years, Barbara, once a desk cop, quickly took down crooked politicians and has made a name for herself, and he ponders if she had some help.
Gordon and Bullock walk past an interrogation room where a Mr. De Leon, the man who shot the copycat, is describing a blackout. When confronted with the photos of the man he shot, De Leon freaks out and flips over the table. Clearly he’s under the spell of some kind of drug.
Later, at stately Wayne Manor, Barbara Gordon demands to speak with Bruce Wayne. Alfred Pennyworth lets her know that Bruce is unavailable. Alfred offers Barbara some tea, congratulating her on her promotion to captain. He then lets her know that though Bruce hasn’t answered her calls or emails, he wouldn’t condone the street-level vigilantism that has been going on. Barbara reminds Alfred that two years ago, she was very close to turning Bruce in, and it was only her late father’s journal that made her hesitate (Commissioner Gordon died in Batman ‘89 #5).
Barbara let Bruce go free after reading that it was Gordon, who helped a young Bruce on the night of the Wayne murders, that inspired the Batman. The only thing she asked is that Bruce hang up his Batsuit for good, which, as far as Alfred knows, is a promise that’s been kept. Barbara fills the readers in on a detail that Bruce has kept from her; she doesn’t know what happened to Two-Face (her fiance in Batman ‘89). When she threatens Alfred with demanding Bruce answer her by Friday or his secret’s out, Alfred confesses that Mr. Wayne vanished a month ago, and even he doesn’t know where Bruce ran off to.
At a local Gotham TV station, a producer rants about TV therapist Dr. Harleen Quinzel’s fixation on Batman and the Joker. In the background, on the television screen, Alicia Hunt, the ex-mistress from the 1989 film whose face was scarred with acid, removes her mask to reveal that she’s been healed. As an ‘89 fan, I’m a bit suspicion, as the Joker reveals that Alicia committed suicide during the events of the film, which he says shortly before shooting Bruce Wayne at Vicki Vale’s apartment.
In the dressing room, Dr. Harleen Quinzel talks with her makeup assistant. Harleen reveals that Alicia said Joker was very courtly with her prior to his accident. She goes on to paint this picture of a kind man who had a really bad day, noting that it’s part of her “persona therapy” of offering a facade and a vehicle for sick people’s aggression. It’s not clear what her goal is, as she’s interrupted by the studio producer.
A program called City Beat starts up, and Dr. Q (Harleen Quinzel) is introduced. She’s about to show her interview with Angela, Joker’s consort, when the producer gets breaking news. Apparently Firefly, who is a crazy bomber with a manifesto, is being closed in on by a team of U.S. Marshals. The producer makes a decision to cut to the live feed. Harleen is not pleased, muttering that ACN, the network, will pay for their betrayal.
There are a ton of movie parts in this first issue, and it’s a bit confusing. The art is fantastic, and Quinones delivers a movie-like experience with perfect cuts. His depiction of Dr. Quinzel appears to be inspired by Madonna, and though she’s a blonde with bright red lips and ghostly pale skin, her white-and-black-striped outfit feels very Tim Burton-y and jives with this idea of her existing in the Batman 1989 universe. In fact, the attention to detail in creating period-accurate technology and clothing is on point, with Ito’s colors giving everything a beautiful, film-stock glow.
What’s hard to follow is the name juggling. The “Joker’s girlfriend” on the TV when readers first see her is named Alicia, reminiscent of the woman who was supposedly dead midway through the 1989 film. A few pages later, Harleen introduces an interview with an “Angela” who could either be entirely someone else or the same woman. It’s not made clear and causes a bit of a disruption. The dialogue is insanely heavy during the TV studio scenes, filled with information dumping that sets the stage for the conflict down the road. It feels necessary to the story and definitely comes across as realistic and in character, thanks to celebrated Batman scribe Sam Hamm, but I wish it was stretched out over a few more pages, allowing the art more time to breathe.
At a remote cabin, a team of marshals move in on a figure silently sitting in a chair. As they close in on the cabin, it explodes, though none of the marshals are harmed. As they investigate the fiery remains, the find evidence of a motorized rocker. They deduce that they’ve been set up. Quickly, they find an escape hatch and plow through, trying to catch up with Firefly.
In the snow, Firefly makes a break for it. As the marshals rush to catch up, he shoots a machine gun into the air, then fires into his own leg, intentionally, with a handgun. The marshals find Firefly and take him in. At the scene of his capture, they also find a cave full of munitions and explosives.
At Arkham Asylum, a peeved Dr. Quinzel is complaining on her cell phone when she’s greeted by Dr. Jonathan Crane. When she tells Crane about Firefly’s capture, he tells her that Firefly is on his way to Arkham’s max wing. Crane offers to introduce Quinzel to Firefly if she wishes. When she walks away, both of them mutter something nasty about each other.
Crane then goes to greet “Robert Lowery,” the Firefly. Lowery is surprised that he’s greeted by Crane and not Dr. Hugo Strange, a man he specifically asked to see. Crane lets Lowery know that Strange is unavailable. In the final panel, it’s revealed that this “Robert Lowery” is Bruce Wayne in disguise.
The final few pages of this book are a mad dash to introduce the remaining players. One is a Dr. Jonathan Crane, whose physical appearance is modeled after Jeff Goldblum, one of the actors rumored to have portrayed Crane in the fifth 90’s Batman film that Schumacher would have made if Batman & Robin fared better. The other player is Dr. Hugo Strange, and though Bruce doesn’t say it, one wonders if there’s a connection between Strange and the fearful criminals who have been opening fire on copycat Batmen around Gotham City.
This would make sense for a couple of reasons. First, in Batman comics, Dr. Hugo Strange is technically the first villain to use some sort of fear-based toxin. Secondly, Dr. Crane tells “Robert Lowery” that he considers himself a disciple of Strange, which could be taken as, Crane could be inspired and learn the formula for fear toxin from Strange.
Because Batman ‘89: Echoes #1 is so jam-packed with exposition, plot threads, and characters with their own motivations, part of me doubts if we’ll ever see Strange appear. If we do, perhaps he’ll already be dead, having been murdered at the hands of Dr. Crane? Or maybe Harley killed him, as she’s already threatened to murder her producer in this first issue?
Outside of references to the films and previous comic series, this issue is a little murky from a story standpoint. Batman’s motivations are unknown; he’s after Dr. Strange but for reasons not revealed to the audience. Dr. Quinzel’s obsession with the Joker feels like it’s only there because she’s supposed to be obsessed with the Joker. As far as we know, the two have never met, with Joker having died before Harleen became a doctor. Barbara Gordon’s motivations make sense, and her progression after the events of the first Batman ‘89 miniseries is a nice continuation of that cliffhanger.
Everything else? It just feels strange. Batman isn’t around; he’s found himself in Arkham Asylum. There’s no sign of Robin (Drake), nor any reference to Selina Kyle, who was last seen calling herself Barbara Gordon’s “Oracle.” It’s a jarring introduction, albeit one that’s beautifully rendered, designed, and paneled.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with an advanced copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.