The Batman and Robin Adventures Annual #1 announces itself from the start to be a sequel to the best Batman movie not to feature Adam West, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, with a cover featuring the Phantasm removing their mask to reveal the Joker’s laughing face beneath. It’s a bold declaration, since it immediately invites comparison to some of the best writing and art in the DCAU, compared to which even some of the best comic issues come out looking paltry and shallow.
And, indeed, taken as a sequel to Mask of the Phantasm, “Shadow of the Phantasm” is disappointingly simplistic, without the interest in its characters’ psyches or interrogation of a decaying future that characterized the film. It’s just a straightforward revenge plot, in which Arthur Reeves–a secondary villain of the film–takes out a hit on Bruce Wayne in order to draw the Phantasm to Gotham, where he can kill her.
A more interesting read, then, is to regard it as not so much a sequel to Mask of the Phantasm–that is to say, a continuation of its story and themes–as a counterpoint. Specifically, where Mask of the Phantasmis about the donning of masks, “Shadow of the Phantasm” is about their removal. Most obvious are the repeated physical unmaskings which occur in the story: Batman unmasks the fake Phantasm to reveal Kitsune, while Reeves unmasks the real Phantasm to discover she’s Andrea Beaumont, and of course there’s the cover.
But the cover is itself a mask, disguising the contents of the book within. The Joker appears only once in a flashback to the end of Mask of the Phantasm, explaining how he and the Phantasm escaped and survived. The actual figure depicted on the cover is not the Joker but Reeves, his face distorted into a permanent rictus by his exposure to Joker Venom in the film. For once, even the audience is unable to see through the mask.
We thus have in the cover a deceptive unmasking, an unmasking that disguises, rather than revealing, the truth. A fairly obvious commentary from the same team that, some years hence, will heavily imply that Bruce Wayne calls himself “Batman” in his thoughts: the mask shows us the true self, the face beneath a lie. That much seems supported by the comic’s ending, in which Beaumont returns to her life as a murder for hire: the Phantasm is who she is, now, just as Batman is who Wayne is.
It’s more complicated than that, however. After all, the Phantasm has no reason to risk her life to return to Gotham and warn Wayne on the hit that’s been taken out on him; that’s all Beaumont. Similarly, she was Wayne’s lover, with the Batman only fully emerging after her departure. He knows she’s an assassin, but makes no effort at all to capture her, even after seeing her murder Reeves. (And it is a murder: she is directly and deliberately responsible for Reeves’ death.)
Batman/Wayne and Phantasm/Beaumont may have fragmented identities, but they are not as divided as they may seem. We all wear masks, after all, behaving one way around coworkers, another around our families, and so on. None of these masks are, generally speaking, inauthentic; they are aspects of who we are that at times we project outwards, and at other times keep in. The full gestalt of Bruce Wayne includes both the dissolute playboy and the obsessive crimefighter, just as the full gestalt of Andrea Beaumont contains both the understanding, supportive companion and the ruthless killer. We are large and contain multitudes; superheroes and villains just name theirs.