After months of boring, repetitive build-up, things are finally happening in Batman Beyond. Though in many respects issue #18 follows the by-the-numbers approach we’ve seen throughout ‘The Long Payback,’ it’s an issue with lasting consequences for both the heroes and the villains of Gotham City.

Last issue, Payback (the arc’s chief antagonist) finally came to the fore and kidnapped Ten when she came to our hero’s rescue. Throughout much of issue #18, both characters fall into cliché roles. Payback has spent a lot of time and money on weakening Terry but regards Ten as little more than a nuisance; he doesn’t even restrain her! As she fruitlessly tries to attack him, he bats her away and she’s left helpless as a medieval damsel in distress. This isn’t Dana we’re dealing with here; it’s a member of the Royal Flush Gang! Why can’t she bring the fight to this guy? Meanwhile, Payback monologues like a pantomime villain for the first half of the issue, speaking his every thought aloud.

Payback isn’t the only character prone to questionable speeches. Bruce is still explaining everything to Matt as if he’s stupid. I know he’s a child but no-one is that clueless and none of the information Bruce provides seems to be for our benefit either. There’s also a poor piece of editing as Terry perceives a water-filled tank and says to himself, ‘A tank? Filled with water?’ It’s a comic so we can see the tank! We don’t need to be told that Terry can see it too!

Elsewhere, Terry shines by taking the time to save several bystanders and firemen. Amongst all the devastation, technological and magical dei ex machina, villains grandstanding and heroes punching stuff, a lot of writers nowadays forget the people on the ground getting caught up in the chaos. Simple acts of heroism like this are largely absent so I appreciated their inclusion in this issue. The only problem I saw here is that Stalker is entirely unconcerned with the fate of Gotham’s citizens, which struck me as odd as it’s mentioned again this issue how much he cares about the people of his own village.

The second half of the issue is significantly better than the first thanks to an expected development which should affect the playing-field, and a satisfying twist, both of which I’ll discuss in the spoiler tag below.

Spoiler

  • As with every issue of the arc, Terry ends up in a life-threatening situation at the hands of one of his villains. However, this time the focus shifts from this and onto a much-needed change to the tired status quo. Most covers these days toy with our expectations (the previous instalment of Batman Beyond is a good example) so there was no guarantee we’d get to see Matt breaking out the Robin costume. Fortunately, the main cover of issue #18 is as honest as Shakira’s hips so we finally get to see Matt develop from pesky cave-dweller to nascent superhero. Terry McGinnis is no Bruce Wayne so there should be a very different dynamic than we’ve seen before between a Batman and his Robin. I’m also interested to see whether Bruce eventually objects to another innocent child being drawn into his never-ending mission. The only problem I see here is that Matt is smiling about being Robin while his brother is in mortal peril and Bruce is pondering the tragedy he let befall Kenny.
  • I kicked myself for not predicting that Kenny’s father is the new Payback! It’s like when you’re told how a magic trick works and you wonder how you were ever fooled. Admittedly, I can’t give any points for originality because this is kind of the same rug-pull we were treated to in the ‘Rise of the Demon’ arc. In my last review of Batman Beyond, I complained that it ‘feels as though this arc has been written for small children’ because it’s been a simplistic tale featuring plain heroes fighting a succession of one-dimensional villains. The death of Kenny and the effect it’s had on his father definitely changes my stance. For a comic based on a cartoon, this issue goes to some dark places. This approach is likely to divide opinions but personally I’m impressed. Not only has Jurgens (briefly) tackled the subject of suicide (which is an important social issue we should all be aware of. The annual U.S. suicide rate increased 24% between 1999 and 2014), he’s built on a story from the television show in a meaningful way. Bringing back Kenny would have been nowhere near as interesting as replacing him with his grief-stricken father. Initially, I was a little perturbed by the new Payback’s desire to kill Terry and Ten and let Gotham burn with the thin justification that his son was a product of the city. After all, killing people won’t bring back his son. Then I remembered that anger is born from an irrational part of the mind; if Dr Stanton took a moment to objectively consider his actions, he’d realise what a hypocrite he’s being and would admit that his failure to visit his son contributed to his death. It’s a bold move on Jurgens’ part because there’s no way Payback’s story can end happily.

Phil Hester provides large, clear panels of action (though many still lack a background, a problem I highlighted last month) and effectively shows us the shock and anguish on the faces of Bruce and Payback later on in the issue. I know it wouldn’t necessarily fit the traditional Batman Beyond aesthetic but I’d love to see Gotham look a bit more worn and lived-in in this series. I know it’s more a preference than a criticism but I think it would be really cool to replace all those plain, clean, polished surfaces with a Blade Runner style future. A few touches I did like were a colony of bats sweeping past Bruce at a dramatic moment, futuristic fire vehicles that are both cherry pickers and water hoses, and Michael Spicer’s use of every shade of orange imaginable in the fiery opening scenes.

Recommended if:

  • You’ve been waiting for this arc to finally reach its climax.
  • You don’t mind some flat-looking characters with flat dialogue as long as the story is going somewhere.
  • You like Matt McGinnis and wish he had a larger role in Batman Beyond.

 Overall: Though much of it is the same one-dimensional fare we’re used to, Jurgens bravely makes his mark on the mythology with a couple of big changes this issue. If you’re a disillusioned fan of the series, you may wish to tune back in for this one.

SCORE: 6/10