Review: ‘Batman: Overdrive’
Writer: Shea Fontana
Artist: Marcelo Di Chiara
DC Comics; $9.99
Which came first, Batman or the Batmobile? The answer might seem obvious—seriously, how could Batman’s car predate Batman himself?—but in writer Shea Fontana’s boldly original new take on the Caped Crusader’s oft told and retold origin story, the Batman persona and what would become his car emerged pretty much simultaneously. And both were born of the very same motivations…that is, Bruce Wayne wanting to connect with his late father, to carry on the work he was doing to make Gotham City a safer place.
In Batman: Overdrive, Bruce Wayne is 15 going on 16, and he’s particularly eager for his birthday to arrive so he can get his driver’s license and, with it, a greater degree of freedom. That’s true of most kids his age, of course, but in Bruce’s case, it’s not just dependence on an adult for transportation he wants to be free of. He also wants to be free to pursue his burgeoning war on crime, most particularly solving the murder of his own parents eight years ago. That’s not something he thinks his chauffeur/butler Alfred Pennyworth would be all that enthusiastic to let him do, even if Alfred is technically his employee…as well as legal guardian. Their relationship is pretty complicated here. It’s also the heart of the story.
One month before his birthday, Alfred shows Bruce (and the reader) to Thomas Wayne’s “car cave,” a secret garage in which the late billionaire doctor kept his fleet of cars, including his prize black muscle car, a 1966 Crusader (1966? Crusader? Get it?) that he had once totaled. Bruce sets himself the task of restoring the car, and he gets some unexpected help from one Mateo Diaz, a 16-year-old whose uncle owns a junk yard perfect for scavenging for classic car-parts, and who is something of an expert in automobile mechanics (and who, most importantly, already has his license, so he’s available to help drive Bruce around).
It’s actually Matteo who comes up with the name “Batmobile,” inspired by the fact that when he first lifts the hood of the Crusader, which has been untouched for almost 16 years now, a bat flies out from under the hood.
Bruce also gets some help from a girl named Selina Kyle, who attends the same martial arts school as him, and is also part of a girl gang of car thieves, operating under the name “Cat.”
While the three friends are working on the car, Bruce Wayne is still working on his parents’ murder, with suspects including gangster Carmine Falcone, whose son Alberto is also in Bruce’s martial arts class (along with kids with familiar names Pamela Isley, Harleen Qunizel and Sandra Woosan), and, somewhat shockingly, Alfred himself.
Through both endeavors, we see Bruce taking steps towards becoming the hero we already know he will ultimately be, assembling a costume that predates his bat-themed one, and learning his individual limits and how to best take advantage of the resources available to him. That means not only his wealth—”Being rich is so cool” is a familiar refrain from Mateo—but here accepting the valuable help of those around him rather than pushing them away.
Fontana, who has a pretty long history with DC from her work on their DC Super Hero Girls franchise and most of its accompanying comics, is here joined by artist Marcelo Di Chiara. Just as the book gives Fontana a chance to showcase different skills than her past work for the publisher—Batman being just about the only character who doesn’t appear in Super Hero Girls—it also gives Di Chiara a great platform to show off his skills.
He too has done some work on Super Hero Girls, as well as the Teen Titans Go! comics and smaller stories here and there for DC, Marvel, and Image, but this could end up being a breakthrough work for the artist, offering a rather revolutionary take on one of comics’ most popular characters.
His Bruce design is a pretty appealing one, as at this point the character is so far from the polished Adonis of his adulthood, and his angst is tempered with a great deal of awkwardness, reflected in his slightly too-big head and gangly limbs. You can see in his eyes and his dramatic eyebrows the boy-who-will-be-Batman though, something that’s accentuated in several sequences in which Di Chiara draws a masked Bruce, with pupil-less white eyes evoking those of the Batman.
Di Chiara also has to de-age a handful of Batman characters, which involves transforming senior citizen Alfred to a middle-aged man and various villains into teenage girls.
Most challenging of all, however, is probably all of the automobile action, which has to be convincing, without copyright infringing and without getting so realistic that it clashes with the simpler, kid-friendly style of the book.
He succeeds on all counts.
As far as Batman origin stories go, this one is a lot of fun precisely because it is so different than every single one that has preceded it, despite not departing at all from any of the basic, essential elements. Integral to that is seeing such an extremely fallible version of the character, who is really more of a Robin than a Batman at this point, as well as the participation of new cast-members, particularly Matteo, who is the only brand-new character in the book.
The nature of superhero narratives, be they comics or films now, has trained us to expect more of each, be they next issues or sequels. So far DC hasn’t announced sequels to any of their original graphic novels for younger readers, but, more than most, Overdrive seems primed for one.
If we don’t see more of these versions of the characters in this version of Batman’s world though, I can guarantee we’ll see a lot more from Fontana and Di Chiara in the future. If you weren’t familiar with the work of either before reading this, it’s unlikely you’ll soon forget them afterwards.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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