There was way, way, way, way, way too much going on in this story for me to follow it across 12+ months of all-too-brief Batman Beyond Unlimited issues and I’m sure many of you either got lost like I did or didn’t even touch this thing until it came out in trade. Well, the wait is finally over and the first arc of the Justice League Beyond series has come to print in one single book that you can sit back, relax, and enjoy from start to finish.
Getting to read both Batman Beyond‘s first arc in full and Justice League Beyond‘s arc in full really puts in perspective how different these two books are. Batman Beyond is far more plot driven and focused on character development whereas Justice League Beyond is more about fan-service, character histories, and amazing artwork. The pacing is inconsistent, there are also some weird logic gaps and plot holes throughout that are a lot more obvious when you read it without the month long gap between every ten pages, but as much as I can slag off the story (and I will in a bit) these team-up books aren’t usually where you go for a rich story. This is something I’ve said in my reviews before. These books are capable of having great narratives, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that they are few and far between. For the most part these character crossover/team-up extravaganzas are just about having fun seeing all your favorite heroes on the same page fighting something way bigger than you would ever see in their solo titles. And in terms of having great character interactions and incredible artwork for you to ogle this book is a roaring success.
But the story? Well, it isn’t much of a story. It’s instead writers Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs having a hell of a time playing with as many toys in the DC toybox as they possibly can. It’s really fun and DC fans have a lot of easter eggs and fun anecdotes about the Beyond Universe history to dissect but the overall tale being told isn’t that great. When you’re done reading the book and sharing it with your friends (as you should do with all your comics) the conversation you have won’t be about the plot, it’ll be about how character X’s life turned out since Justice League Unlimited ended. It’s still enjoyable, just on a different level. You see, the story begins (and this is all in the opening 10 pages or shown on the back cover so no major spoilers) in Gotham with Terry teaming up with the Justice League to fight the Jokerz and the Splicers when suddenly there’s a call from Bruce stating that a horde of GOLeM robots is attacking Terry’s high school and there’s another call from Aquagirl saying that the Justice League needs to come back to Metropolis immediately for briefing. Since JLB takes priority, everyone heads back to Metropolis and we are left to assume Bruce took care of the GOLeM’s with some Ro-Bats (which sounds wicked awesome and we should’ve seen that happen). Back at the JL tower we get a briefing about Micron, who was discovered on an espionage mission regarding Kobra, who are trying to awaken a giant snake.
First off, pulling everyone away from an immediate threat in which multiple giant robots are attacking a high school is ridiculous. Superman’s chat could’ve waited. At this point the team didn’t know about the greater threat Kobra posed, they just knew Micron had been brainwashed. Secondly, how in the heck did Micron get caught on his spy mission? He is apparently an imbecile. His job was to not be seen and his ability is that he can shrink down to the size of a MICRON, yet when he’s in Kobra territory he remained full-size and, wouldn’t you know it, he got caught! How…wha…why wouldn’t you change into the size of a mote of dust for a job like this or at least a mouse? You had one job, Micron. One job!
After all of this we get to the greater threat of the book, a giant snake that eats worlds. And the goofy thing is, it’s not like it’s even attacking the earth at first, no. Kobra apparently loves the prophecy of the apocalyptic snake, but wants to take it on a test-run first to other worlds to make sure it really can totally eat planets. This of course, is just an odd plot device to give us even more cameos from DC’s outer-space related characters and it works well at that.
The list of cameos is exhaustive and turning the page and seeing a character you know and love return in the Beyond Universe is one of the most fun things about this book. Friedolfs and Nguyen dug deep into the DC lineup. Really deep. And they found characters you didn’t even know you wanted to check-up on again. Often times when a surprise character makes an appearance the entire Justice League decides to take a break from the impending doom of the universe to hear a super awesome story about how such-and-such ended up like this since the last time readers saw them. It’s fun, just go with it. I really think it shows that this first arc was made by a couple of guys who really love the source material and wanted to put as much of it in one book as they possibly could. The energy and nostalgia for the animated series radiates off every page. And they got the character interactions down-pat and that’s a very important thing they needed to nail. Bruce and Terry’s moments are great and there’s a really funny scene with Bruce and Superman, but many of the other characters have amusing dialogue as well. One of the only characters I felt was underused was Aquagirl who shouldn’t be the person behind the computer. Ever. I don’t understand why you would make the person who can control water your team’s version of Oracle. Luckily, she’s only handled like that for the first half of the book.
The artwork, as you can see, is amazing. It always is when Dustin Nguyen is involved. This is, without a doubt, the best-looking of all the Beyond comics. Just look at that image. If you take out the speech bubbles, you’d swear it was a cell from an episode of the animated series that you never saw. Not only does Nguyen capture the Timm designs precisely, but he handles action spectacularly and the faces on all these characters are incredibly expressive. It’s a book that I can recommend for the artwork alone, truthfully. The only instances of complaint would be with the coloring in the first trip to Metropolis and the size of the snake. It’s night when the League is in Gotham then daylight when they go to Metropolis. I tried to reason that they were out fighting crime really late in Gotham and it was nearly morning, but when you consider that a high school sporting event was going on at the same time, well, that probably puts us at around 7-10PM and it’s just a coloring mistake. As for the snake, its size is constantly changing like Godzilla in Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla movie, but on a way bigger scale. In one scene it’s wrapped around an entire planet and in the next, its jaw is being propped open by Aquagirl’s trident.
The Justice League Beyond Origins tales feel like bonus material so I’ll just count them as such. These three stories offer a glimpse at the early days of Warhawk, Aquagirl, and Barda. Each is written by Nguyen and Friedolfs, but features guest artists Eric Nguyen, James Brouwer, and Ben Caldwell. All of the artwork is really fantastic, but Ben Caldwell’s style didn’t fit the story of Barda well at all. It’s a chibi look that reminds me more of Li’l Gotham than a dark tale of Barda’s origin. The other two artists captured the look and feel of the animated series perfectly and the colors are even better than those found in the main JLB chapters.
You’ll also get full page covers of all 16 digital chapters and it’s really great to see them in their entirety without being cut in half for the digital market or cluttered with cover copy for the floppy version. After you’re done perusing the covers, Dustin Nguyen included a 4 page sketch gallery with minor notes. Overall it’s pretty good bonus material and if you see the origins section as a bonus then it’s definitely a book with incredible supplemental material.
Value: Full Price!
You would have to buy around 10 issues of Batman Beyond Unlimited to get this complete story on your shelf and at $4 bucks an issue, that would cost you a pretty penny. Unlike Batman Beyond: 10,000 Clowns, the entire epic from beginning to end is included so there’s no problem there. $16.99 is a great price for fans of the Batman Beyond animated series and this is indeed a must read for fans of that universe. If you’re not a huge fan of the cartoon but just curious about seeing some good artwork then I’d say pick it up for the sale price. Amazon is offering it for $12.16 at the time I write this article. I’m not so sure that the re-read value on this is all too high though. You’ll mostly be revisiting it simply to flip through the artwork again.
Are you a big fan of the Batman Beyond episodes The Call, part 1 & 2? Then this is a must-buy for you. It has art that perfectly captures the tone of the animated series and an overwhelming amount of character cameos and back-story that expand on the Beyond Universe. It’s really light on plot and the villains are rather unmemorable, but if you’re just looking for action and more insight into the world of one of your favorite cartoons, this is worth picking up.