Tim Burton's original 1989 Batman film casts a very long shadow over the superhero movie genre. Burton conjured a wonderfully gothic vision of Gotham City, while Michael Keaton's wired and dangerous take on the Caped Crusader remains rightly beloved - he certainly won our hearts again this year in The Flash.
Keaton and Burton only made one cinematic sequel (1992's Batman Returns), but since 2021 DC has been continuing the story of the Burtonverse in the pages of a Batman '89 comic. The second volume, titled Echoes, launches today from writer Sam Hamm and artist Joe Quinones, and it's clear from the first issue that the plan is to expand Batman's rogues' gallery and put a Burtonverse twist on some familiar foes.
Spoilers for the first issue ahead, right after Quinones' cover.
At the start of Echoes #1, Barbara Gordon is searching for Bruce Wayne. Batman hasn't been seen for two years at this point and crime is spreading throughout Gotham once more. Barbara has figured out Bruce's secret identity and she wants to know where he is and why he went away.
Meanwhile, TV psychiatrist Dr Q - real name Dr Harleen Quinzel - has a very special guest on the latest episode of her show: Alicia Hunt, the late Joker's girlfriend, as played by Jerry Hall in the 1989 film.
Quinzel seems unusually taken with Hunt's reminiscences of her supervillain lover. In a very telling panel Harley paints her lips in a wide, Joker-ish grin while musing, "In his defense, he did have a really bad day with the toxic waste and all that." Unfortunately for Dr Q, a breaking news bulletin interrupts her show, leaving her furious and embarrassed, and promising that the network "will pay for this."
Dr Q was spotted briefly on a TV screen in the first run of Batman '89, but Echoes #1 marks the first confirmation that this is actually the Burtonverse version of Harley Quinn. It's an interesting new take on the character. This Harley seems far more focused and career-minded, clearly not someone to mess with, but not yet outwardly a villain. In some ways she feels like a fitting counterpart to Jack Napier, Jack Nicholson's ruthless mobster from the '89 film before he transformed into the Joker.
It's worth pointing out who this version of Harley appears to have been visually modelled on: Madonna, specifically the Queen of Pop in her late '80s glory years.
This is a both a canny, period-appropriate piece of comics "casting" and a fun callback to the never made film, Batman Triumphant (also sometimes called Batman Unchained). That was intended to be the sequel to 1997's Batman & Robin, and would have seen director Joel Schumacher take a more serious approach to the franchise. Although the film never got to the casting stage, Madonna was top of Schumacher's wish list to play the part of the Cupid of Crime.
Harley wasn't the only villain set to appear in Triumphant - the film would also have featured the Scarecrow... and guess who turns up in the last few pages of Echoes #1? Late in the issue Dr Quinzel crosses paths with her colleague, Dr Jonathan Crane. Although we don't see him in his villainous costume (except on Quinones' cover) this is a very recognizable take on the character, manipulative and with little care for his patients.
Is Echoes a direct adaptation of Batman Triumphant, then? Not quite. The plot of the abandoned film would have seen toymaker Harley Quinn revealed as the Joker's daughter - clearly not the case here. Likewise, Schumacher wanted to cast Nicholas Cage in the role of Scarecrow, and that isn't reflected in Quinones' depictions of Crane in Echoes.
Instead, it feels more like Echoes writer Sam Hamm is riffing on the ideas pitched for the film, rather than making an adaptation of it.
Whatever the case, it's fascinating to see this alternative approach to Harley Quinn and to get a sense of how Hamm - who co-wrote the original 1989 movie, let's not forget - may have handled the Batman Triumphant material. It's gonna be a lot of fun to see how it all plays out over the rest of the six-issue run.
Batman '89: Echoes #1 is out now from DC.
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