DC Comics has a corporate partner in Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons, and recently released a series of clever crossover “events” that pair superheroes with cartoon characters. These have included The Legion of Super-Heroes meeting Bugs Bunny, and Wonder Woman encountering the Tasmanian Devil. But the real eye-opener in this new series is the latest one: Batman/Elmer Fudd #1 (DC Comics), which finds Bugs’s old hunting enemy aiming his rifle and his speech impediment at Batman. It sounds silly, even foolish — but, as written by Tom King and drawn by Lee Weeks, the Batman/Fudd crossover is one of the most interesting and enjoyable comic books of the year.
King, who also writes one of DC’s more conventional Batman titles and has done remarkable work on Marvel’s The Vision, approaches this challenge in an admirably direct way: taking Elmer Fudd and saying implicitly to the reader, “What would this figure be like if he were placed in a slightly more realistic context?” Turns out you’d get a short, malevolent man whose hunting attire signals what he really is: a ruthless killer. And he’s a killer who is so sure of his abilities that he takes on Batman when the Dark Knight investigates a threat against the life of … his alter ego, Bruce Wayne. Turns out Elmer is gunning for Bruce.
I’m not going any further with the plot details. What matters as much as plot is the tone and look of Batman/Elmer Fudd. The art is somber – all shadows and moonlight. When Elmer enters a bar, he’s not at all surprised to find a lowlife thug named Bugs “The Bunny,” whose signature greeting — “What’s up, Doc?” — suddenly sounds, in this context, like a line of hard-boiled dialogue out of Raymond Chandler. The characters are drawn human but remain true to the behavioral tics of their animated forebears. The bar where Elmer meets Bugs is called Porky’s, and the bartender, polishing glasses, is a porcine fellow with a stutter (“Everybody’s d-d-d-drinking carrot juice today”). Yosemite Sam is also a patron — a short-tempered biker with a handlebar mustache.
Fudd narrates the tale — which is entitled “Pway For Me” — in his cartoon-familiar, lisping voice. Against a cloudy, damp cityscape, Elmer intones, “Sometimes the wain comes down so hawrd you fawget you’ve ever been dwy.” The comic book becomes a grim tale of spurned romance and violent revenge, and in the process, Batman/Elmer Fudd does something unexpected: It offers us one of the more three-dimensional characterizations of Batman seen in quite a while. Instead of being a mere killing machine or the long-suffering Dark Knight Detective, the Batman here is a tired guy who’s trying to keep a lid on Gotham’s violence and find some peace within and outside of himself. Funny that it took meeting a cartoon character to revitalize his humanity.
Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1 is published by DC Comics and is on sale now.
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