A scheming nemesis waits in the wings while the hero runs the gauntlet and faces each of his villains in turn. It’s a basic plot, but it only works when it’s executed well. The current arc in Batman Beyond, ‘The Long Payback,’ is not succeeding. In issue #14, Batman took on the Royal Flush Gang and ended up in mortal peril. In issue #15, Batman took on Stalker and ended up in mortal peril. I don’t want to spoil issue #16 but it doesn’t exactly break the mould. This story should be more than a series of fights. Terry can be an interesting character: he’s a passionate young man who is much more open and personable than his mentor; he has experienced his fair share of angst and misfortune over the years; he’s exhausted from his clash with the Royal Flush Gang and now he is suffering a betrayal at the hands of a formidable adversary. However, here Jurgens writes him as a generic, quipping superhero and side-lines all other plots for yet another battle.
It is quite a good battle in that it progresses in a logical way and the fortunes of each combatant rise and fall across the issue. It’s just I don’t ever feel that Terry is in any actual danger, especially with his new, improved suit. The suit is a blessing in that Terry can now believably survive impossible circumstances but it’s mostly a curse because it’s more difficult to care about someone who is almost indestructible (in addition to being lacking in characterisation). Superman being invulnerable works because everyone knows his greatest weaknesses (kryptonite, universal compassion and Lois Lane) and that’s what his enemies exploit. It’s pointed out in this issue that Stalker knows who Batman is. This struck me as strange because he doesn’t work this psychological edge by taunting or exposing him and he ceases his attack on Dana. This might have been a good tactic as Terry laughs off whatever you do to him in the new suit.
It’s not only Terry that’s acting out of character. Stalker remains respectful and almost complimentary toward Terry, as he was in the series, but he’s also determined to break their truce and kill him. His motivation is revealed in this issue but it’s pretty flimsy and there are definitely better ways of going about it. The real reason Stalker is fighting Batman is that it’s convenient to Jurgens’ repetitive storyline. As I mentioned before, the main plot has been put aside for a fight, though we do briefly visit the GCPD down on the street investigating the mysterious vigilante and there is a short visit to the Batcave. The characterisation dissipates here too with Bruce Wayne using Terry’s catchphrase ‘schway.’ It’s kind of naff when Terry says it but he’s young so I understand. When a serious, cranky character like Bruce says it, even if it is to ingratiate himself with Matt, it’s just wrong. Even more offensive to my ear is when Dana falls out of the sky she shouts, ‘OHMIGAWWWDDD!’ If she said this when walking down the street and spotting an adorable puppy, I could forgive it. When you’re falling through the air, you shout ‘argggghhh!’ or nothing at all.
The instance of Dana and Terry tumbling through the air at the beginning of the book (as a direct result of Stalker’s attack at the end of last issue) is where Phil Hester’s art shines most. The TV show aesthetic remains as purple buildings loom all around vertiginously. I once read in a book by Stan Lee that this kind of angle is so difficult to get right that a lot of comic book artists trace a photograph on top of a light box. I have no idea if this is the case for Hester but bravo either way. Michael Spicer’s colours also stand out here; the light beams emitting from Stalker’s staff cause a waning glow effect across all of the characters near to the discharge. Though my tastes veer more towards hyper-detailed, realistic art, there is much to admire in Hester’s cartoon-inspired work. Artistic flourishes in this issue include a vehicle on fire crashing past the GCPD causing the removal of outlines from each character in the scene to convey bright light, a digitally overlaid honeycomb effect telling us that Terry’s wings are repairing themselves, and a first-person-perspective of Shaka’s attack which makes him seem more fearsome because of his rapid movement across the panels and because his spear being aimed squarely at the reader!
· You’d like to see Stalker and Terry duke it out across a whole issue.
· You like the idea of Batman being as invulnerable as Superman.
· You’re collecting every issue of Batman Beyond.
Overall: A dull story gets worse with more repetition and questionable characterisation. If you’re here for action and explosions you’ll be alright, but if you’re looking for anything more than that I’d suggest picking up something else.