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Party Like It's 1989: Batman '89 and the Comic Adaptation

Batman '89 Frankie's Reviews

BY MATT TUCK

The Keaton wing of the Bat-verse has been resurrected with Batman ‘89 #1, a nostalgic spin that pays tribute and expands on the classic Tim Burton Batman movies. The fallout from the return of the Burton-verse is inflated prices for the 1989 comic adaptation.

GRADE: B-


BATMAN ‘89 #1

WRITTEN BY SAM HAMM

ART BY JOE QUINONES


A BRIEF REVIEW

DC Comics has struck gold with its nostalgic look at Tim Burton’s vision of Batman with Batman ‘89 #1. The comic itself is exactly what you would expect: an expansion on the 1989 movie that stays true to its cinematic roots. It is pure fan service, and that is not a bad thing. Audiences who still embrace Burton’s Gotham City as the quintessential Batman adaptation will adore the trip into the classic aesthetic.

While I enjoyed the comic and plan to read #2, there is not much to say about the writing or the art. Neither good nor bad, they are both serviceable without venturing off the beaten path from what fans would expect. Batman himself looks the part with the addition of the expressive white eyes on the cowl. 

The only complaint I have with the comic is in the depictions of Bruce Wayne. Being Batman ‘89, I anticipated this Bruce to clearly reflect a young Michael Keaton. Perhaps there is a copyright issue with Keaton’s likeness, but Batman ‘89’s Bruce Wayne did not capture the actor’s trademark looks. After all, Keaton’s lips and chin alone became a staple of Batman in pop culture for decades, so it was disappointing not to see that in the comic. Again, that could have been an executive decision from WB due to a licensing agreement between the company and Keaton. Who knows?

Where the comic takes a turn toward something new and different is Harvey Dent. In the 1989 film, Dent was played by Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams. From his first scene in the movie, Two-Face fans were ready for Williams to take a villainous turn. Only, that never came to fruition. Williams appeared briefly in Batman, but he did not reprise the role for 1992’s Batman Returns. By the time Joel Schumacher butchered the franchise beginning with Batman Forever, Williams was mostly forgotten, and Tommy Lee Jones became the first live-action Two-Face. 

Thanks to the world of comics, Batman ‘89 will finally give fans a Billy Dee Williams-inspired version of Two-Face. In the pages of issue #1, we get the backstory on his two-sided coin, and see flashes of violence that foreshadow his transition. 

EARTH-89 RETURNS

It is no accident that the 1989 Batman movie has returned to prominence in recent years. DC got the ball rolling with a subtle nod to the beloved Tim Burton franchise on the CW.

At the tail end of 2019, the CW’s Arrowverse had its mega crossover event, Infinite Crisis. The crossover spectacular featured Easter eggs and allusions to a range of characters and moments from across DC’s cinematic history. The studio brought in iconic Bat-family actors such as Kevin Conroy and Burt Ward. 

Sitting on a park bench was Robert Wuhl, the actor famous for playing reporter Alexander Knox in the ‘89 Batman. It was simply a cameo, but it established that an Earth-89 exists within the DCEU’s Multiverse, thus making the Burton films canonical. 

With Earth-89 established in the Multiverse, theories circulated regarding actor Michael Keaton. Almost a year earlier, director and comic guru Kevin Smith pitched the idea of Keaton returning as an older Bruce Wayne to mentor Terry McGinnis for a live-action Batman Beyond. That kept fans stirring for a time before Robert Wuhl returned to Gotham City.

Then came the major news. Earlier this year, WarnerMedia confirmed that Keaton was returning to the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman for The Flash, which makes me curious if Smith knew this was up DC’s sleeve the whole time.

It doesn’t stop there. This past January, Smith again stirred the pot when he claimed that either a Batman: the Animated Series reboot or continuation was in the works with HBO Max. The beloved cartoon, which was famously modeled after Burton’s films, then saw its shelf life extended with a new comic series set in the world of BTAS

Earth-89, Keaton’s casting for The Flash, the return of BTAS, and Batman ‘89 #1 are all part of a very interesting master plan. In less than two years, the Tim Burton Batman franchise has been resurrected, and it is hard to say where it is headed. Could it be a way for WB to introduce Keaton’s Batman to a younger generation? Maybe Kevin Smith will get his wish with it all leading to a live-action Batman Beyond. Let’s cross our fingers that WarnerMedia doesn’t drop the ball with this one.

THE COMIC ADAPTATIONS

On the collecting side of things, the hoopla over Burton’s Batman has sent ripples through the secondary market.

For those of you who aren’t old enough to recall the premiere of the 1989 Batman, the excitement and anticipation was intense. Even at my small town theater, the ticket line stretched for at least a block. Warner Brothers was well aware of the massive hit the studio had on its hands, and everything imaginable was being marketed. There were toys, cereals, t-shirts, video games, and of course the comic. Knowing fans would buy basically anything with a bat signal, DC issued two versions of the Official Comic Adaptation of the Warner Brothers Motion Picture. 

In today’s market, it is completely common to have multiple variants for any given comic. Within two years of Batman’s record-breaking premiere, Marvel would flood the market with variants for its second volume of X-Men. In 1989, variant covers were not unheard of, but they weren’t typical, either. Just as predicted, both versions sold well.

Now, after 32 years, those comic adaptations that have been collecting dust are finally turning a profit.

BATMAN: THE OFFICIAL COMIC ADAPTATION (REGULAR EDITION)

Up until this year, there was not much fervor for either edition of the Batman movie adaptation. The regular edition graded at a 9.8 averaged just under $100 all the way up to 2019. Why would it not? To that point, the only appeal was for nostalgia, and that is exactly what has caused prices to spike.

It started last year. Suddenly, a dozen 9.8s traded hands online with a new high sale of $238. Once DC announced that it would explore Tim Burton’s Gotham City once again with the Batman ‘89 series, that same nostalgia sent those regular edition 9.8s soaring. July saw a copy sell for $225, but that was obliterated with an August 11 sale for $568. 

We will wait to see if that is an outlier or the new standard. After all, you can still find raw copies for $20 or less.

BATMAN: THE OFFICIAL COMIC ADAPTATION (PRESTIGE FORMAT)

This happens to be the unusual case of the regular edition outselling the variant. By and large, however, most fans bought the prestige format, which was more widely available at the time. As a result, the values for the prestige are not quite as eye-catching as those for the regular edition.

No surprise, this has been the bigger seller of the two. Over the past 90 days, 17 graded 9.8s have swapped owners while the regular edition boasts three sales in that period. This is typically the case, since the prestige is easier to find. Last year, there were 51 prestige 9.8s sold compared to the 12 previously noted sales for the regular. 

Up to last year, the two had similar fair market values. In 2019, the prestige format at a 9.8 averaged $101, and 2020 saw that FMV raise slightly to $112, while the regular edition averaged the aforementioned $151. 

So far in 2021, the prestige format’s FMV has remained consistent with last year’s prices. The highest sale was for $200, which is just $10 short of the 2020 record. Over the past three months, it has averaged $131. Most recently, one copy sold for $99 on August 3.

THE BEACONS ARE LIT

Between the Multiverses in the MCU and the DCEU, anything is possible, and that makes this the best time to be a comic fan. With the ‘89 Batman world being dusted off for a new generation, DC may finally achieve something Marvel cannot. DC’s lengthy film and television history is far deeper than Marvel’s, and making the old franchises canon will use nostalgia to draw in a bigger audience than before.

Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.



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