Today, Mark and Drew are discussing Batman Beyond 2, originally released July 1st, 2015.
Mark: With the release of Batman: Arkham Knight a few weeks ago I’ve been on quite the Batman kick recently, revisiting favorite catalog comic book issues and re-watching episodes of Batman: The Animated Series that I haven’t thought about for years. As part of this Batman binge, I listened to a podcast with Animated Series co-creator Bruce Timm where he discusses the origin of Terry McGinnis and Batman Beyond. According to Timm, the character was birthed when an executive at Kids WB asked for a show that could appeal more to young kids starring Batman as a teenager. Timm and company were originally repulsed by the idea, but when they started hashing out pitches amongst themselves they hit on the idea of keeping it in continuity with an elderly Bruce Wayne acting as mentor to his chosen successor. From there the character grew and the world of Batman Beyond was established over three seasons of television, a movie, and a handful of comic books.
Now, with Terry McGinnis dead after the events of The New 52: Futures End, Tim Drake has taken up the mantle of Batman. How does Batman Beyond hold up now that its central premise, teenage Batman, has been abandoned? Is Future Batman enough of a premise to hang its hat on?
Based on Dan Jurgens and Bernard Chang’s Batman Beyond 2 the answer is: probably. At the end of the first issue, after A.L.F.R.E.D. disarms a Brother Eye-controlled Superman by overloading the Batsuit’s power reserves, Tim Drake is captured and finds himself in a Brother Eye prison camp, The Lodge, with Barbara Gordon. Our heroes bolt to avoid processing — drug-based interrogation — by Brother Eye’s cyborgs. Not everyone is so lucky, however, and Max Gibson is captured. Despite initial resistance, she sells out Drake and Gordon’s position and Brother Eye calls in Batman Beyond favorite villain Inque to bring them in. During their confrontation, Drake is able to recharge the Batsuit, but it’s not enough to get away. After its long search, Brother Eye will finally have a chance to interrogate the Batman.
A lot of middle-of-the-road Batman comics can skate by with lesser characterization and plotting as long as they have one main ingredient: Batman looking cool. But since Drake’s still learning the ropes of the Batsuit at this point he’s doesn’t make for a particularly awe-inspiring Batman. That means a lot is riding on readers’ enthusiasm for the world of Batman Beyond and the personality of Tim Drake, neither of which get the most dynamic showcase here.
Does Tim Drake evoke much emotion in the heart of any comic book reader? Of all the Robins, he’s undoubtably the most milquetoast. He’s no where near as cool as Grayson (I mean, is anyone?), doesn’t have the personality of Damian, lacks the history of Jason Todd, and isn’t a fan favorite (or controversial) like Stephanie Brown. I’ve always liked him because of the Robins he’s the best at being like Batman — Tim’s a great detective, tactician, and leader — but that perfection means he’s not particularly interesting.
The other thing we leave behind here (at least temporarily) is the stark sci-fi Gotham of the Batman Beyond televisions series, replaced in the issue by a rather generic shanty town. Part of what makes Batman Beyond is it’s cyber-punk aesthetic, and so for the first half of the issue, with no Batman and no aesthetic touchstone, the issue doesn’t feel much like Batman Beyond at all and more like a continuation of Futures End.
All this means that the issue depends on the momentum of its plot alone to carry it through, and in this instance it’s basically enough. I give Jurgens some slack because he’s having to work outside the confines of the basic Batman Beyond structure to tell a new story, and that means allowing time to build the world out. So even if the issue isn’t the most interesting, what’s there is enough for me to see it through.
The same goes for Chang’s art. Previous Batman Beyond comics have aped Bruce Timm’s iconic style, but Chang doesn’t bother to do that here. Other than the Batsuit’s stark design, everything else seems right at home with DC’s current output. It’s a bold choice (I know I keep harping on this, but it’s a Batman Beyond comic for crying out loud so there’s some expectation it’ll be like the cartoon), but it’s one that makes this book different from the cartoon. This book will have to tell its own story if it wants to work long term, and just trying to do the animated show in comic book form doesn’t work. Just ask the previous, web-only incarnation.
So while overall this issue is only a solid “okay,” I have hope that the groundwork laid here will pay off over time. How about you, Drew? Did you find more to love here in the immediate?
Drew: I’m afraid I’m not even as optimistic as you are about this series going forward. You’re absolutely right to call this “a continuation of “Futures End,” a series so oppressively bleak that I dropped it within a few short issues. Beyond the grotesque cyborg-monsters of the Justice Leaguers and the post-apocalyptic air of what seems to be the entire planet outside of Gotham, my real problem with this series so far is how utterly joyless it is.
You’re right to cite the switch to Tim as a weird step back for this series, and while I agree that his lack of personality is a big part of why that’s so problematic — his quips during fight scenes feel more like both Dick and Terry — I think the bigger loss is a life outside of superheroing. Terry didn’t always lead the most balanced life, but he at least had a family and a (sometimes) girlfriend. That is, he actually enjoyed his life, leavening the sometimes bleak future he inhabited.
That’s not to dismiss this series for being different, just to acknowledge that it contains almost none of the elements that might have drawn a Batman Beyond fan to the title in the first place. Gone is the volatile relationship between Terry and Bruce, gone is the sassy kid learning the ropes, gone is the out-of-costume investment in a real life. What we have now is a man lost in a dystopian future, which isn’t inherently bad, but is different enough to warrant some re-evaluation. Are fans of Terry going to be won over by the surface-level similarities (a sleek batsuit in the future), or is this series aimed at a totally different audience?
Again, the most obvious parallel can be drawn to Futures End, which isn’t the most flattering comparison around these parts. This issue offers some insight into why that pervasive bleakness is such a drag by making Barbara Gordon of all people the hardened survivalist.
It’s clear that this is not the Barbara Gordon we or Tim recognize. It’s an effective, if obvious, way of illustrating how bleak this future is — a point that really requires no more clarification at this point — but it also utterly ignores our investment in this character. It trades in the can-do Babs that is selling comics in the present for a dead-eyed pragmatist willing to sacrifice her friends for the greater good. I suppose this disregard for fans of the character (or, perhaps more precisely, the exploitation of their fandom) is a microcosm of this book: goodwill is only acknowledged to remind us of how different this world is from the one we like.
Which is to say, even the more overt allusions to the show fell flat to me. Inque is one of the few villains I remember from Batman Beyond, but it’s because her powerset and personality are so distinctive. This issue is happy to take advantage of my fondness for the character, but not enough to give her any satisfying beats. Again, she’s taken so out-of-context that she kind of stops making sense. She tries to write off her allegiance with Brother Eye as a mercenary move, but it sure seems like there are still plenty of businesses in Gotham she could do her normal industrial espionage act with. Like Barbara Gordon, this was a character that had a personality. Here, she’s the dumb muscle for the big bad whose motivations are utterly impersonal and boring.
So I guess I’m not sure this series is ever really going to get better for me. I don’t love the world, the situations, the characterization, or the tone, which doesn’t leave me much to actually like. I wish I was as willing to give this series the benefit of the doubt, but I think it might be time for me to simply cut my losses.
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