Batman Beyond Universe #1 collects two digital firsts (Batman Beyond 2.0 and Justice League Beyond 2.0) into one $3.99 book. This is a relaunch that features all-new creative teams who have taken the story left behind by the previous series Batman Beyond Unlimited and jumped events ahead by one year. Didn’t read any of Batman Beyond Unlimited? Don’t worry about it. This relaunch is mostly friendly to new readers just as long as you at least know the Batman Beyond/Justice League Beyond basics from watching the original TV series.

Batman Beyond 2.0: Rewired– Nothing Lasts Forever

If you’ve read the interviews or listened to Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman podcasts then you know writer Kyle Higgins is a huge fan of the Batman Beyond animated series and it’s very evident in this book. He writes this comic with a confidence that only comes from knowing this world inside and out. Every character’s voice is spot-on, he uses characters from both the show and the movie (Return of the Joker), and is well aware of what aspects of Beyond can change and what must stay the same in order for us to reach a point where the Justice League Unlimited episode “Epilogue” can happen. But really, the thing that excited me most initially was how right from the very first page characters referred to Gotham as Gotham and not “Neo-Gotham.” That has always bugged me…

Anyway, so the story picks up one year after Joker Night, which isn’t a terribly important detail but occasional references to events and characters only introduced in the comic series during Adam Beechen’s tenure will throw the cartoon-only crowd for a loop (not so harshly that it will hurt your enjoyment of the book, though). If you are a new reader but an old fan of the show then I think you’re going to enjoy what you find here and it’ll only make you hungry to dig up Beechen’s books and see what you missed.

So what changes happened over the course of the past year? Big ones. However, I’m not going to divulge those details here. I recommend the book (or at least suggest you download the digital version from comixology) and there is one turn-of-the-page surprise that’s a definite “OH SNAP!” moment that I don’t want to spoil accidentally and I’m confident that it will get a lot of people talking. Instead, I’ll leave it to you guys to discuss the twist in the comments and I’ll go into more detail next month with issue #2.

Artist Thony Silas does a terrific job of capturing the look and feel of these characters and the futuristic world they inhabit while still putting his own stamp on it. There’s no stiffness here. The action scenes have a great sense of movement, every character has their own unique posture and distinctive face, and most importantly (and this is a big problem in most digital-first books) there are detailed backgrounds that make the whole thing come together really nicely. However, I do wish that the Arkham Institute shown in the comic’s opening pages had a look that stood out more from the usual Gotham offices. Other criticisms would be that it’s been a year and Dana is still wearing the same blue dress and Terry has the same red jacket. I understand why these clothes would be worn in every episode of the TV series because animation is a different animal, but with comic books we should be able to give these kids a more diverse wardrobe, no? And lastly, there is a scene in which Terry is interrogating a thug and it’s depicted in a way that’s far too similar to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Look at how Terry looms over the goon and the way the baddie’s hair falls back much like when Batman is gripping Joker by the collar in the film. And then the scene concludes with the same bad guy being suspended upside down as he mocks and laughs at our hero just like how The Dark Knight ended.

The last two points I want to make about the visuals will go into spoiler tags, but I don’t think there’s anything too earth-shattering in here.

Spoiler

If you look closely at the inmates of the Arkham institute you’ll see that they are not wearing numbers or name tags that read their civilian names, but they are labeled by their villainous alter egos. Either this just a rather blunt way of making sure every reader knows who these characters are or there’s a story in mind for this. If so, my guess is that it’s a shrink with an odd approach to curing these guys akin to making a kid smoke an entire pack of cigarettes in order to make them disgusted by the idea of touching tobacco ever again. Understand what I’m saying? Like having the inmates be as super-villain-like as they want and maybe after a while the thrill of the costumes will grow stale and they’ll want to regain their true identity once more.

And my final point also has to deal with character names and how they are introduced to the story. Each major player gets a little caption stating who they are and what their role is in the story but when Bruce shows up his says “Formerly Batman” and that just flat-out pisses me off. Bruce will always be Batman. I don’t even call Terry Batman.

Justice League Beyond 2.0: Power Struggle – Fantastic Voyage

Whereas Kyle Higgins took a lot of chances and the world felt large and thriving with characters and multiple interweaving plots, Christos N. Gage’s Justice League Beyond debut felt way more reserved and could easily have taken place during the original Unlimited: Justice League Beyond run. The only sign that anything had changes was a single panel in which Clark speaks to Bruce via hologram and asks a question left over from Higgins’ Batman Beyond 2.0. By the way, the talk with Bruce was a missed opportunity at a cool line. I wish that instead of signing off with “Wayne out.” he had said “Batman out.” either out of habit or because he really still thinks of himself as The Dark Knight.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

While this is a Justice League series the opening arc appears to be a Superman tale first and foremost, which I would be fine with if it was offering anything new. I don’t even read Superman comics and it feels like I’ve been here before. The concept is that something has impacted the sun and now the rays reaching Superman have over-charged him to the point where he can no longer control his powers. Throughout the comic we see several members of the League attempt to retrain Superman to use his powers in painfully obvious ways that Superman should be smart enough to figure out on his own, but ultimately everyone fails and the only option left on the table is for Kal-El to undergo a procedure that would strip him of his god-like abilities. So the arc is about Superman being a normal guy for a while.

While most of the supporting cast comes off as rather bland, I did think that Gage made great use of Micron. Never before has this character looked so impressive and been such a vital part of the team. It’s a nice change of pace, because the guy deserves it. If you can grow as big as you want and shrink as small as you want then I think that’s a pretty cool power that makes him a lot more unique than most of the members of the team. And the team has indeed stayed the same, at least it’s the same as how former writers Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs left it. Shazam and Flash are both a part of the group but neither character does anything all that memorable. Well, I kind of remember Flash just because I didn’t like her costume at all, but for the most part Micron, Barda (who has a funny moment), and… well, that’s about it. Those are the only characters that stand out. I still don’t understand why the team doesn’t hire someone to act as their Oracle because Aquagirl (who can control water) is completely wasted behind the computer.

To understand where Shazam and Flash come from you’ll need to read Volume 2 of Justice League Beyond (which isn’t on sale yet) and to fully grasp the important details about what Superman has been up to in his civilian persona you’ll need to catch Superman Beyond Volume 1 (which is on sale now and I highly recommend it).

The artwork by Iban Coello has its moments. Characters look great with plenty of detail and expressive faces, although I really don’t care for how Flash looks. This Flash is a girl and her breasts are way, way too big (especially for a runner, get this girl some support!) and she appears to be wearing extra-large bracelets which seem like a bad idea for a speedster. But besides her everyone looks fine, it’s just the world they inhabit that’s pretty much non-existent. One joke falls completely flat because it depends on you understanding that Superman crashed into something, but crashed into what is kind of a mystery since it looks just like everything else in the solid-colored background. As I said earlier, this is a major problem in digital first comics. Many illustrators don’t have enough time to render backdrops and still meet deadlines. However, one panel that was definitely inexcusable came near the end where we see a firefighter who is supposed to be shouting at Clark while examining data on a holographic screen. The composition is abysmal. We can’t see the firefighter’s face at all, instead the focus is on his hand and the holographic screen, however, the screen doesn’t show us anything. It’s just a blank blue sheet yet the panel is filled with two big speech bubbles showing that the character whose back to us should be showing sarcasm, the urgency, and then compassion. If you’re going to turn our attention to the hologram, put something on the hologram. If there’s nothing important to go on the hologram, then show us the character who has so much to say.

It’s a very weak start for Justice League Beyond 2.0.

Overall

Batman Beyond 2.0 raises a lot of exciting questions about what happened during the one year gap and it takes what was once more of a background character and makes him a lot more dangerous. Justice League Beyond 2.0 on the other hand doesn’t take any chances at all and feels like a Superman story we’ve all seen before. The book also comes with a really amazing cover by Sean Murphy and Jordie Bellaire that blows every Batman Beyond Unlimited cover out of the water.

SCORE: 7/10