Mainstream superhero comics are so wrapped up in the never-ending cycle of world-shattering crises that life and death stakes often feel hollow. DC Comics’ Batman line is very strong right now, but it’s also heading into another crossover, “Fear State,” that will send Gotham City into chaos. There’s a yearly tradition to have a supervillain overtake the entire city—2020’s “The Joker War,” 2019’s “City Of Bane”—with each story trying harder than the last to make life hell for Batman and his colleagues. Batman: Wayne Family Adventures (DC/Webtoon) moves in the complete opposite direction, and that’s what makes it one of the most pleasant and inviting new Batman comics in recent years.
Last year, we wrote about the Webtoon phenomenon and wondered when bigger U.S. publishers would take advantage of the platform. The financial value of Webtoon is a question mark considering that the comics are free, but it is massively popular with the young adult demographic that publishers are desperately trying to attract. (With comics like Covenant a big part of the reason for that popularity.) BWFA is DC’s first partnership with Webtoon, and by any metric, it’s a resounding success: The series has over half a million subscribers after four weeks, with individual chapters gaining thousands of comments from an enthusiastic fan community. The first four chapters are currently available for free on the Webtoon platform, and the next three chapters are available for five coins (50 cents) each.
Based on the number of likes for those Fast Pass chapters, thousands of people are paying to read new chapters of BWFA, and it’s very easy to see why they can’t wait. In the vein of fan comics like Hannah Vardit’s Spidey Zine and Chan Chau’s Soft Lead, Wayne Family Adventures downplays superhero action and prioritizes vibes. The first chapter welcomes Duke Thomas to his new home in Wayne Manor, and it’s a charming introduction to this series’ bright, humorous interpretation of characters typically shrouded in darkness. The second chapter is when BWFA really takes off, bringing in more heroes for a post-patrol fight over the last cookie baked by Alfred.
The wackiness brings the series into Teen Titans Go! territory, and the best chapters highlight how petty and needlessly competitive these people can be with each other, which makes them feel more like a real family. CRC Payne, a brand-new name to comics, writes scripts that take advantage of these characters’ long, complicated, often absurd histories, but that never get too in the weeds about the specifics. Webtoon lists BWFA as a “Slice of Life” comic, and the fun is seeing how these people go about their everyday activities while living within such fantastic circumstances.
There’s some very impressive collaboration on display from the art team. Maria Li, Webtoon’s Art Lead, handles the storyboards, and it makes a big difference having someone with a deep understanding of both the vertical scroll format and the types of content that are popular with the Webtoon audience. These comics flow very smoothly, and details like chibi reactions within word balloons show how this series embraces the visual conventions of other Webtoon series, which are largely rooted in manhwa techniques. Inker Starbite adds clean detail and loads of expression to Li’s storyboards, Lan Ma draws backgrounds and renders colors, and Kielamel Sibal reinforces the pacing with his lettering and sound effects.
BWFA is at the forefront of a new wave of webcomics from major publishers trying to tap into Webtoon’s success. The same week of BWFA’s debut, Marvel launched its own line of vertically scrolling comics, Infinity Comics, exclusively on Marvel Unlimited and spotlighting characters like Wolverine, Captain America, Skottie Young’s Little Marvels, and Jeff The Land Shark. And this week, Archie Comics launches its first Webtoon series, Big Ethel Energy. As the comics industry continues to morph in the digital age, publishers are exploring different ways to tell stories and distribute them. In the case of BWFA, this exploration revitalizes these characters for a huge new audience, and it will be very interesting to see how DC capitalizes on this in the future.