Batman: The Audio Adventures is a new audio drama podcast produced by HBO Max, the first American-made Batman audio drama serial since the 1940s. What they didn't tell us was that the series is what you get if Saturday Night Live made a Batman radio show. The publicity for Batman: The Audio Adventures mentioned that the show takes a comedic approach to Batman. Just about every trope in the Batman mythos is here – the supervillains, the Batmobile, Commissioner Gordon, Gotham City as a major character – but given a heightened, slightly campy, comedic twist.
The writer-director is SNL writer Dennis McNicholas, who acknowledges the utter absurdity of Batman and gleefully embraces it. The result is a combination of the surrealism of the Bill Finger comics from the 1940s and 1950s, the hyped-up tone of the 1940s radio show, a modern, even more knowing, update of the campy Adam West TV show of the 1960s that can't not be a comedy where all the characters are aware of the inherent ridiculousness of the world they find themselves in. It's as if SNL was completely devoted to Batman and becomes so much funnier as a result. Where the comics contrived like crazy to make us believe in the epic gloom-and-doom of Batman's neverending war on Crime and Gotham City's perpetual apocalyptic doom, Batman: The Audio Adventures doubles down on how silly and hilarious it all really is.
Jeffrey Wright voices Batman as the straight man but with a sly tongue in his cheek over the sheer humorlessness of Batman's speeches. More than half the cast is made up of SNL regulars: Melissa Villasenor voices Robin without even bothering to pretend to be a teenage boy, Kenan Thompson plays Commission Gordon with his trademark exasperation at the way everyone is either nuts or dumb, Jason Sudeikis steals the show as the drunken and corrupt mayor Hamilton Hill who keeps going off-script to say what we all think of the absurdity of Batman and Gotham City, Bobby Moynihan plays The Penguin with a snarling relish that goes above and beyond, Seth Meyers happily voices snarky reporter Jack Ryder, Fred Armisen voices wannabe supervillain King Scimitar who quickly finds he's out of his depth, Tim Meadows plays a supercilious Dr. Arkham, Chris Parnell narrates the series with a panache of a 1940s radio announcer. Heidi Gardner shows up as Harley Quinn in a way that makes sense in the context of SNL. Rosario Dawson plays Catwoman. Brooke Shields plays reporter Vicki Vale as Gotham's version of Lois Lane. Alan Tudyk plays Alfred with a surprisingly convincing British accent. John Leguizamo chews the scenery so much as The Riddler you can almost feel his teeth. Brent Spiner plays the Joker with a layer of pomposity on top of the madness that feels fresh. Ike Barinholtz plays Two-Face like a 40s pulp gangster who seems to enjoy having two people inside him constantly bickering with each other. Ray Wise plays the announcer of shows-within-the-show that spoof TV and radio programs produced in Gotham, including some hilarious PSAs that are knowing SNL spoofs trying to warn the kids about doing "Scarecrow drugs". Virtually every scene is an SNL comedy sketch approach to a specific Batman trope. Batman actually only appears in about 10% of each episode because the show knows the real fun is in all the characters, even the bit players, in Gotham who have to react to his presence and the crazy villains running around causing mayhem.
There's a reason this show and the comedic WEBTOON Batman: Wayne Family Adventures are considered a lot more fun than the comics are. They prove Batman really works better when the story is acknowledged as ridiculous and silly, not wannabe-edgelord and emo. Just when you think nothing new could be done with Batman, along comes "Batman as made by Saturday Night Live" to give a fresh take that earns its place.
All 10 half-hour episodes of Batman: The Audio Adventures are streaming on HBO Max with the first two free on YouTube.