Batman Beyond Universe #13 review

Batman Beyond Universe #13
Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel
Illustrated by Phil Hester, Craig Rousseau, and Thony Silas
Inked by Eric Gapstur
Colored by Guy Major and Nick Filardi
Lettered by Saida Temofonte

Apologies for the longer than usual credits list, but everyone who worked on this issue deserves recognition where it’s due. As difficult as it was to read at times, everyone puts in top-notch work crafting one of the best issues this series has had so far and cementing the stories in the DCAU continuity.

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that the Phantasm reappearing isn’t a spoiler, right? I mean, she’s on the cover (also, spoiler alert for a 21-year-old movie: the Phantasm is a woman), and the arc is called “Mark of the Phantasm,” so I’m pretty sure it’s fair game at this point.

With that out of the way, I think it’s also fair to say that this story is highly anticipated. The Phantasm is one of the most popular Batman villains of recent years, which is remarkable considering she’s only had two animated appearances and a handful of roles in tie-in comics. Andrea Beaumont endures as one of the great lost loves of Bruce Wayne’s life, and with good reason: even with the majority of the character’s story being contained to a single film, she’s fully realized and fleshed-out. The love of Mask of the Phantasm plays no small part in the love of the character, and it’s no surprise, because even when not viewed through the lense of nostalgia, it still stands as a fantastic film in its own right and not just as a great Batman movie. The mythos is rich, and perhaps the most surprising thing about the character is that, to my knowledge, she hasn’t appeared in the mainline DC continuity.

This story is almost impossible to talk about without some semblance of spoilers, so I’ll give a rough overview before taking it to the tag to share further thoughts: Terry approaches Dick and Barbara about their past with Bruce and what caused their falling out, while the Phantasm returns to target one of Terry’s confidants.

[SPOILER]The difficulty I had reading this, as I said before, was less with how the circumstances were handled than the circumstances themselves. As much as I love the DCAU and its continuity, and as great as movies like Return of the Joker were, I was never a fan of the treatment of Tim Drake’s character or the implied relationship between Bruce and Barbara.

The former, which isn’t dealt with directly here but the fallout of the situation is felt throughout, was disturbing as a child who was a huge fan of the character of Robin. Thematically it made sense, and the story was handled very well, but it never sat well with me. It was just a bit too dark, but again, it was written well and as I’ve grown older I’ve learned to appreciate it from a storytelling standpoint.

The thing between Bruce and Barbara, though, was a huge misstep, I feel, and the only one they really took in this whole universe. It just felt wrong and inappropriate, and even with the strained relationships between Bruce and Dick, it felt completely out of character for Bruce to do something like that. Add on to that my personal feelings as a fan of Dick and Barbara being meant to be together and I’m just not crazy about it.

The primary focal point of the book, aside from the Phantasm plot, is what exactly happened after the final encounter with the Joker and how Bruce, Barbara, and Dick fell completely apart. So even though I wasn’t a fan of these developments, it’s been established for years and I’m here to review the book how it is, not how I wish it was.

And it’s good. Very good. Tonally it fits in perfectly with the TV series and with the work Higgins has been doing on the book so far, while also bringing in elements from the previous Batman Beyond comics that exist in a slightly more shaky continuity. I won’t reveal the hugest spoilers here, but this book is heavy, to say the least.

Regarding the Phantasm storyline, Jake Chill is back in the picture which I actually like. The idea of the grandson of the man who killed Bruce’s parents being the same guy who killed Terry’s dad was… well, it could have been incredibly contrived, but he’s actually a deep character. I like the idea that he’s trying to get redemption by using the very tools he used to take a man’s life to now save lives. It’s a nice inversion of the trope, and Jake is an appropriately conflicted character.

Also, Terry finds out about their connection and, knowing Bruce knew, it… goes as well as you’d expect.[/SPOILER]

Unspoilering, the writing is phenomenal. Higgins and Siegel handle the weighty issues deftly, and the characters interact with each other in a completely organic way. Whether in flashback or the present, you can tell they care for each other deeply, even with this giant rift between them, they just don’t know how to resolve everything or flat-out refuse to try.

Even better, surprisingly, is the art. I’m not a huge fan of multiple artists on one book, and there are three credited here, but it makes sense. Thony Silas isn’t given much to do, with just a single page in the present (in-continuity timeline present, that is), but it’s still effective. Phil Hester takes most of the penciling weight and it’s similar to Silas’ style while still being unique. The Phantasm is sinister and really creepy, and everyone has slightly blockier builds, which I kind of like.

The real draw though, I’m sure, will be Craig Rousseau’s flashbacks. Everything looks close to the animated series style, which does nothing for my desire for another tie-in series set around that time, or even (especially) a revival of Batman Adventures, which had the potential to be one of the best Batman runs ever printed.

Even with losing the Justice League Beyond stories (though maybe having little back-ups every once in a while would be nice), this book consistently stays at the top of my pull list each week, and this arc is the perfect example of why: great art, fantastic storytelling, and a connection to the Batman of my childhood.

Overall: It’s tough to get through, but I’d rather read something good and challenging than something that’s just outright bad. With this story, Batman Beyond continues to be a textbook case of the former in every way.

Recommended if:

  • You want to know what happened to Bruce, Dick, and Barbara.
  • You like great storytelling.
  • You want concrete connections to the DCAU cartoons.
  • All this Mask of the Phantasm talk is making me want to watch it, so you know where I’ll be.

SCORE: 9/10