In the early 1970s, Neal Adams helped redefine the look of Batman with his work on the title in collaboration with Denny O’Neil. His strong anatomical skills and ability at depicting action helped move the character from the campy, goofy looking Batman into something a little more mature but not yet dark and gritty. It seems to be a trend in the past ten years for creators associated with specific characters to return to tell a new story, and Neal Adams is not immune to that lure. “What's happened is that every time I go to a convention or go into a comic book shop is that people drag me off into a corner and beat me up and go, ‘When are you going to do Batman again?’” he recently told Kiel Phegley. The problem is that some of those fans may wish he hadn’t come back after reading “Batman: Odyssey” #1.
Visually, Adams’ art reminds me of Frank Miller’s return to the Bat: it’s messier, uglier, and yet still attractive. His pages are filled from top to bottom with details and energetic movement. The beginning of the issue has a flashback to an early Batman adventure and Adams’ depiction of the character almost looks like a parody. His ears don’t stand up straight, he tries to climb a ladder with a gun in his hand, his mask gets pulled off with ease, and he doesn’t exude the confidence the character normally does. It’s a great visual interpretation of a young, inexperienced Batman. His line work is commanding, but very loose and sketchy, especially in its expressiveness.
As he moves into the story’s present, which is when Dick was Robin, Adams continues to use page layouts with staggered panels or a complete lack of borders to give a constant sense of motion even when characters are just sitting around talking. It’s not clean, attractive artwork with messy lines, but that seems purposeful. Adams seems more experimental in his line work, trying to find his way throughout the issue with different techniques. Some pages and panels are very tight, very controlled, but most are looser and messier with lots of lines and cross-hatching.
Frank Miller was initially rumored to be doing the scripting for this series and it’s hard to argue that Adams made the right decision in doing it all himself (unless you’re not a fan of Miller’s recent work like I am). He fills the pages to the brim with dialogue, thought balloons, and captions. I like dense comics, but most of the words here are unnecessary and slow down the story while the art does everything it can to move things forward. Despite there being too much dialogue and narration, Adams has a very casual and playful style to his writing that works very well in some scenes like the banter between Batman and Robin.
The plot barely gets going before this issue ends with the initial flashback seemingly irrelevant until the final page. However, a lot of groundwork is laid for future issues with a plot involving Man-Bat, and Batman and Robin heading off to stop the Riddler. Like the scripting of the issue, the plotting has an easy, relaxed feeling.
It’s too early to call Adams’ return to Batman a success or failure, obviously, but this first issue isn’t the ‘knock it out of the park’ return to the character that many fans were clamoring for. Adams’ art isn’t as clear as it once was and the writing is fairly mediocre, but there’s something compelling about this issue that will have me buying the second.