“Batman: Odyssey” may not make a lot of sense (or any, depending on who you ask), but it’s about as compelling and engaging a superhero comic as you’re going to find these days. It’s crazy and nonsensical, shifting from one scene to the next, characters spouting out random bits of gibberish and there not being much to let you know what, if any of it, matters. Characters drift in and out, returning issues later for reasons not always explained. So much of what’s going on seems to be happening inside Bruce Wayne’s head and he doesn’t always feel like sharing. Still, there’s something appealing about that weird craziness, of a superhero comic going full tilt, not slowing down, and not apologizing for its singular vision that you either get or don’t.
Batman, the Joker, and Deadman (who is often inside of the Joker) make their way from an unknown area beneath Arkham Asylum into the building proper, where it’s discovered that strange experiments are being performed on the inmates by the weird armored, green man on the cover to the issue, Dr. Slattern. Apparently put in the position by Ra’s al Ghul, Slattern is using Talia for target practice, trying to goad Batman into a duel for the amusement of his Rogues Gallery, all of whom are watching from glass cells. From there, things become even more complicated with secret identities and previously hidden motives coming to light. It all ends with Batman taking a nap on the floor of the Batcave. Crazy.
There’s something so simple about the book and its directness. The storytelling has shifted from the jumpy, multiple time periods that marked the first few issues of the comic to a linear one, framed only by the shirtless, hairy-chest love god Bruce Wayne recounting the story. His proclamation at the beginning of the issue that “It seemed like a series of totally unrelated events. But I knew it couldn’t be!” reflects the reaction of readers and sets the tone, Adams giving a suggestion that there is a plan and while things may seem random now, they’ll add up by the end.
Until then, the sheer lunacy of the plot lends itself to Adams getting a chance to draw characters overreacting and springing into action almost randomly. If anything, it seems like his desire to draw certain things is the true drive of the comic. Joining him on inks for this issue is Bill Sienkiewicz, who gives the art a less refined look with his sketchy, frenetic finishes. It’s still obviously Adams’ art, but the added touch of Sienkiewicz manages to add even more energy and the sense that things are just moving forward, damn logic and reason, so long as the comic keeps pressing forward. The exaggerated craziness of the book carries over to the body language and facial expressions of the characters. Adams draws them as melodramatic hams of actors, never able to contain anything inside, always grotesquely obvious.
Sometimes, that same energy that drives the book, resulting in art that looks unfinished and less composed than the rest. The page revealing Batman’s Rogues Gallery in their cells is a page of extremes. His Rogues often looking less detailed and more thrown together, while, at the bottom of the two-page layout are two panels featuring Batman and the Joker that are just so enrapturing and entertaining. You don’t often see Batman rolling his eyes and giving a “Just shoot me now” look, but Adams nails it.
Despite assurances otherwise, “Batman: Odyssey” #6 continues the thrown together feeling of the series and that’s a big part of its charm. Neal Adams seeming tosses out any idea that comes to him, ignoring logic for energy and cool things to draw. For some, it is no doubt a torturous read; for me, it’s a wildly entertaining and joyous read.