Batman 89 review: DC Comics gives Burton and Keaton a worthy sequel

If you’re like me, a die-hard fan of Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, you’ve probably wondered how the director’s proposed third Bat-film might’ve turned out had Warner Bros. moved forward with the sequel instead of pivoting to Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever.

While the window of possibility for a proper sequel may have passed, DC Comics has delivered the next best thing. The new series Batman ’89 continues the adventures of Michael Keaton’s version of Batman in the gothic metropolis of Burton’s Gotham City. At this point in the story, District Attorney Harvey Dent — the one played by Billy Dee Williams — is mounting a campaign to see the vigilante unmasked and his collaborators exposed. Batman ’89 delves into the background and motivations of an incarnation of Dent that never fully got his due on the big screen, and in doing so unveils a more complicated and sympathetic side of the character than readers have ever seen before.

Who is making Batman ’89?

Batman ’89 finds original Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm paired with artist Joe Quinones (Dial H for Hero), colorist Leonardo Ito (Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons) and letterer Clayton Cowles (The Wicked + The Divine). The creative team’s goal is to “pull on a number of threads left dangling” by prior theatrical installments of the Keaton-era Batman.

What is Batman ’89 about?

Harvey Dent visits Bruce Wayne to request his help in taking down Batman in Batman ’89 #1 (2021).

Image: Sam Hamm, Joe Quinones/DC Comics

Besides reintroducing familiar faces like Keaton’s Bruce Wayne/Batman, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, and Williams’ Harvey Dent/Two-Face, Batman ’89 also introduces new versions of some familiar characters who never got a chance to appear in the Burton-verse like Barbara Gordon and this continuity’s own unique version of Robin. Batman ’89 sees Batman and District Attorney Harvey Dent pitted against one another as the National Guard is called in to bring order to Gotham City in the wake of a disastrous Halloween terror attack perpetrated by the Joker’s former gang.

Why is Batman ’89 happening now?

Last February, DC Comics announced they would be publishing two limited series to tell new stories set within the worlds of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and Tim Burton’s Batman, respectively titled Superman ’78 and Batman ’89.

Although the official announcement of the series was only as recent as this year, the history of the project stretches as far back as 2016, when artist Joe Quinones posted mock-ups and character sheets on his blog of a proposed Batman ’89 pitch he and writer Kate Leth (Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!) had collaborated on the year before. At the time Quinones stated that the pitch had been turned down, but it appears that the past five years have been kind to the project, albeit with Hamm at the helm instead of Leth.

Is there any required reading?

Required reading? No. Required watching? Yes!

If you hadn’t already guessed from the title (or reading the prior sections of the review), Batman ’89 takes place in the same universe as the Tim Burton’s Batman films, aptly titled Batman and Batman Returns. If you haven’t watched those yet — well, 1) you’re gonna be pretty lost and 2) what do you mean you haven’t seen them yet; they’re awesome and available to stream on HBO Max.

Is Batman ’89 good?

What sets Batman ’89 apart as a meaningful continuation of the Burton films, and not just frivolous nostalgia fodder, is its multifaceted depiction of people of color — particularly in the case of Harvey Dent. Williams’ rendition of the character was relegated to only a handful of scenes in the original 1989 motion picture, and Batman ’89 wastes no time in delving into the intricacies of the character’s background and motivations.

Harvey Dent visits his old neighborhood to ask for help in Batman ’89 #1 (2021).

Image: Sam Hamm, Joe Quinones/DC Comics

We already see the staple traits of Harvey Dent in the opening pages of the first issue; ambition, confidence, and a fixation on the duality of chance and fate. It’s not until later on that we glimpse how Harvey’s struggle with his identity and race — something which sets this particular incarnation of Dent apart from all others — may factor into his inevitable transformation into the villainous Two-Face.

There’s a ton of foreshadowing here, from Janus, the name of the restaurant that he and Barbara Gordon are dining at in the opening panels, to the fraught resolution of his confrontation with a band of Jokers. On a whole, people of color play a far more prominent and consequential role here than they ever had in either of Burton’s Batman films, probing into themes and ideas that feel distinctly new and contemporary to this universe. Combine that with thrilling action sequences, an escalation of stakes with the introduction of the National Guard, the introduction of an exciting new character, and some impeccably clever Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the issue, Batman ’89 is the best possible continuation of a beloved continuity.

One panel that popped

Batman runs alongside a giant penny deflecting gunfire in Batman ’89 #1 (2021).

Image: Sam Hamm, Joe Quinones/DC Comics

Two words: GIANT PENNY.

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