There’s a purity to “Batman: Odyssey” as Neal Adams embraces the over-the-top melodrama of the superhero comic, piling complication upon complication on Batman, and making every scene play out like a life or death situation with overreactions and hammy ‘acting.’ Adams has a strong, clear idea of what his interpretation of Batman is and he embraces it completely. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s laudable that Adams is so willing to push the character into territory long forgotten and unseen in the current Bat-titles. His Batman is emotional, not the cold intellect usually depicted, and it’s a refreshing take on a character that is so rooted in emotional pain and anguish.
The first eight pages of this comic are surprising: Batman confronts the fake Riddler, uses a Batarang to deflect a gunshot, apparently resulting in a little girl being killed, and snaps. Adams presents it as the breaking point for Batman that it would be for many, especially with Reuben Irons, the fake Riddler, gloating over killing the girl. As the father yells, “YOU LET HER GET SHOT! How… how?? But… YOU’RE BATMAN,” Batman flashes back to his parents’ deaths and attacks Reuben with the intent of killing him, screaming “You dare to continue to exist!” It’s a bold move to present a Batman seemingly willing to kill, but it works in the context. Adams’s Batman is more human, more passionate, more in the Frank Miller mould of the character. That he doesn’t kill Reuben shows that Adams knows where to draw the line.
From that powerful and surprising opening, the issue becomes mired in vague allusions and the larger convoluted plot of the series. While Adams’s character work is equally over-the-top as the beginning of the issue, the tiresome plot details make the issue drag somewhat. Instead of simply coming out and presenting the plot, he chooses to have Talia and others talk around certain subjects with the purpose of Batman figuring the truth out. It’s a cheap way to tease a mystery, one of the least artful ways possible, but it is consistent with Adams’ uncompromising, blunt approach to the comic.
That approach extends to his art, which is vibrant and full of life. His pages are nothing but motion and emotion, characters either in dynamic movement or reacting to something that just happened with their facial expressions. In some places, he goes too far, like the little girl being shot through her chest and having it called a ‘flesh wound’ later, but that matches the melodramatic nature of the writing. His line work has a messiness to it that conveys the energy of the action and characters’ inner emotions. Since this Batman is far less controlled, art that reflects his headspace is effective.
Not the Batman readers are used to now, it’s easy to see why Neal Adams’ “Batman: Odyssey” would turn off some readers. It’s very hit or miss at times, especially with the plot, but the messiness of the emotions and art give the comic a powerfully compelling energy. Sometimes, it’s laughable, but “Batman: Odyssey” is infinitely readable.