Issue #20 of Batman Beyond kicks off a new arc, ‘Target: Batman.’ Solicitations promise the return of a couple of classic Batman characters so this might be a good time to jump back on board the Neo-Gotham expressway, though it’s too soon to tell whether this will be a good story or not. Still, there’s plenty going on as this issue tackles the introduction of a new threat, the return of an old flame and the rise of a new Robin.

The new threat initially concerned me because it involves the return of the Jokerz gang. I didn’t feel they were very well handled in the opening arc of Rebirth, ‘The Return’ (and weren’t very interesting in the first place) but fortunately, it’s made clear that they’re just the warm-up act.

Meanwhile, Terry has to deal with his life turning into a soap opera, courtesy of Dana and Melanie. As a fan of relationship-based superhero books like Titans, for me this is a welcome new facet to the unfolding tale of Neo-Gotham. I didn’t enjoy Terry’s depiction this issue because he whines so much at Melanie and Bruce and it feels unnatural the way he keeps reminding us that his parents are dead (the scene with Melanie also includes a confusing fault- Melanie refers to Terry helping Batman when it should be Terry mentioning Melanie doing this in the previous arc). Despite this, he remains a relatable protagonist, particularly as I find myself agreeing with him on the subject of his younger brother.

The advent of the new Boy Wonder bothers me as much in this issue as it has previously and I feel like this might be intentional. Everything remains ‘Schway’ to Matt who doesn’t strike me as disciplined enough to take on the mantle of a crimefighter. I suspect that in time, he’ll prove himself but I’d be impressed if Jurgens decided instead to severely injure the new Robin and demonstrate to Bruce that he shouldn’t be dragging another innocent into his war.

Spoiler

• Not for the first time, Jurgens prominently features a broadcast of ‘News 52.’ This always reminds me of the feature of the same name that used to appear in the back of New 52 issues of DC Comics.
• Jack Ryder mentions the arrest of a Falcone. Are those guys still making trouble decades from now?
• The inclusion of Ryder isn’t accidental- later in the arc we should be witnessing the return of the wild, deranged superhero Creeper. When Scab mentions a Bat Monster this issue, I dared to hope Neo-Gotham might be beset by a new Man-Bat but it turns out that it’s just a hallucination…which may be the responsibility of the Scarecrow! I’m a present-day Batman fan first and foremost so it naturally leaves me grinning when I contemplate Terry taking on classic villains but given that the series has already included the Royal Flush Gang and a new iteration of the Demon’s Head, I can’t help but wonder if it’s time to invent some interesting, new villains.

Marco Castiello takes over on pencils for this arc and for me it’s a welcome change because they’re much more realistic than Phil Hester’s cartoon style. The cityscapes remain blocky and dull but in keeping with Castiello’s grittier approach, there’s a lot less purple being splashed around now that Quintana is doing the colours. Several of the faces are inconsistent and there’s an ugly layout wherein Bruce’s forehead is clumsily overlapped by a shot of Wayne Manor, but otherwise I can’t complain- the faces successfully convey emotion, Robin’s new suit is suitably futuristic and Scab looks appropriately creepy.

Recommended if…
• You got bored of the repetitive ‘Long Payback’ arc and are ready for a new story.
• You like it when Terry’s life gets more complex.
• You can handle Matt acting like a little brat (not arrogant like Damian; just immature)!

Overall: Issue #20 is not a blast of a read but some promising and unpredictable storylines are set in motion.

SCORE: 6/10