There’s something magical about the world of Tim Burton’s Batman. For an entire generation of fans, Michael Keaton was the Dark Knight. Batman and Batman Returns were comic book movie blockbusters during an era where superheroes weren’t a large presence on the silver screen. Sure, those movies had their issues (Batman blowing up a circus strongman), but they were fun comic book films. Alas, we can’t go back to the late 1980s or early 1990s, and even if we could, Barry Allen has shown us why time-travel is a bad idea. But still, it’s fun to revisit Batman and Batman Returns, even if we’ll never see that world again. At least until now.
Batman ’89 is a must-read limited series for anyone who is a fan of the Dark Knight’s first two films and wishes there were more. All six chapters have now been released in print and the first four issues are also available to read on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.
If I’m being honest with you, while I love the Michael Keaton Batman films, I wasn’t initially sold on this concept. I cynically assumed this would be another Batman story with a few details altered to place it in the Burton universe—a sequel in name only. Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong. Batman ’89 perfectly recaptures the feeling you get watching the Keaton films. This is a story that could have only been told in this corner of the multiverse.
Batman ’89 captures all the subtle nuances of the Burton universe. Bruce Wayne’s dialogue perfectly syncs up with the nervous speech patterns Michael Keaton used in his performance. Alfred carries the same dignified and witty energy we saw from the late Michael Gough. This isn’t an abandoned Batman comic script illustrated to look like it takes place in the Burton universe. There is a specific pattern and pacing in the dialogue that matches what we saw in the movies.
This should come as no surprise since the series is scripted by Sam Hamm. The legendary screenwriter co-wrote the screenplay for Batman and helped develop the story for Batman Returns. His story here offers origins for both Two-Face and Robin, as well as the tense reunion between Batman and Catwoman that we’ve all been pining for since the end of Returns.
Also, I know we’ve had a lot of Two-Face origins, including the recent Batman: The Long Halloween film duology, but this one is different. This one features Billy Dee Williams’ take on Harvey Dent.
Let me start off by saying that I loved 1995’s Batman Forever and I think Tommy Lee Jones did a great job as Two-Face. That being said, when I would rewatch the 1989 Batman film, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like to see Billy Dee Williams take on Harvey’s dark turn. Batman ’89 gives readers just that—a fully realized Two-Face origin story built off of Williams’ portrayal…and it’s beautifully tragic. I won’t give away all the details, but I can promise that it takes a much different path than previous Two-Face origin stories.
I enjoyed Two-Face acting as a Robin Hood for Gotham’s impoverished communities. Whether deliberate or not, that is a forgotten character trait that dates back to Two-Face’s original origin in Detective Comics #66. I also loved the idea of police officer Barbara Gordon as Harvey Dent’s fiancée. Is it comic book accurate? Absolutely not, but it’s the type of change we would’ve seen in an early 1990s comic book film. Subtle touches like that help make this series feel like an adaptation of a real film that Tim Burton could have directed.
We also get the next chapter in Bruce and Selina’s love story and let’s face it, this alone is worth the price of admission. After the just-this-side-of-PG-13 chemistry between the two Batman Returns leads and Michele Pfeiffer’s slinky, sultry turn in that iconic costume, you’d have a hard time scripting a return to this world without dealing with the fallout from the end of Burton’s second film. This limited series gives us the reunion between Batman and Catwoman we’ve been wanting, fulfilling a desire we’ve all had since 1992. And if you’re wondering, yes, we do find out the real reason Selina gave that cat to Bruce at the end of the movie.
Hamm also gives us a new version of Robin. Famously, the Boy Wonder was almost included in 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns alike and this limited series shows us what that could’ve looked like. Drake Winston is not quite Tim Drake or Jason Todd, but a unique individual who borrows some characteristics from both boys. He’s also drawn to look a bit like Marlon Wayans circa 1992, an actor who was considered for Robin in Batman Returns.
The Gotham of Batman and Batman Returns had a unique feel to it. It wasn’t the modern wonder we visited in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or the decaying urban sprawl of 2022’s The Batman. It was art deco, but wasn’t quite as operatic as the Gotham we saw in Batman Forever or Batman and Robin. Tim Burton’s Gotham had a specific atmosphere, and artist Joe Quinones perfectly captures it with his pencils.
Everything about this feels like a third Tim Burton Batman film that has been recently unearthed after being somehow lost to time. The final confrontation between Batman, Two-Face and Catwoman is paced and structured in a way that will take you instantly back to that earlier era. As you’re turning the pages, you can practically hear Danny Elfman’s soundtrack in your head.
I was initially unsure about Batman ’89, but it turned out to be everything I wanted and more. If you experienced Batmania in 1989, then this comic is a fun way to go back in time and recapture that feeling. If you weren’t alive in 1989, but still love the Michael Keaton films, this limited series will have you smiling ear to ear. Order a pizza, grab a soda and pretend you’re having a Blockbuster night, because Batman ’89 is a classic cinematic experience channeled into a comic book.
Batman '89 by Sam Hamm, Joe Quinones and Leonardo Ito is now complete and available everywhere in print and digitally. The first four issues can also be read on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE. Look for the final two issues to be added in the months ahead.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.