The last arc of Batman Beyond, ‘The Long Payback,’ wasn’t a particularly rewarding read. It briefly shone when the titular villain was given some depth and a new Robin emerged; otherwise, I considered it a slog to read as Jurgens threw a different villain at Terry each month for mindless kicks. By contrast, some writers (such as Tom King) make daring choices and this leads either to great success or provokes the ire of the fandom (often the result is both!). Throughout his tenure on Batman Beyond, Jurgens has chosen a safer road and this also yields mixed results; the last arc felt more like an old videogame than a story because of it’s repetitive nature whilst with ‘Target: Batman,’ he has so far delivered solid thrills by patiently focussing on his cast whilst reworking old concepts.

The ideas in question are: a) Batman being universally considered a villain and b) the Scarecrow driving Gotham into a frenzy. We’ve seen both many times before but what I appreciate here is that Jurgens is juggling multiple storylines and they will all be affected by the overarching Scarecrow narrative. Fear of the Bat spreading through Gotham hasn’t come at a random time; Jurgens has chosen a moment at which Terry, Dana, Melanie, Bruce, Matt and even Jack Ryder may all be at a crossroads in their lives. That’s good writing.

I’m also impressed by the pace. This time, Jurgens is easing us into the story, visiting the Jokerz, Matt, Melanie, etc. in turn and keeping the villain behind the curtain for the time being. It feels like the kind of straightforward mysteries Bruce and Terry used to face in their respective animated series.

Naturally, this means that Terry can only be as intelligent as the story allows; he still has no idea what connects the fear he’s witnessed in multiple characters, which can be frustrating when as readers we’ve already worked it out (or at least we think we have!). The story-comes-first argument must also be the only explanation for Batman failing to consider flying away when a mob of hundreds attacks him this issue! In every other respect, I was satisfied with Terry’s portrayal in Batman Beyond #21. The book never gets bogged down in negativity (which might easily happen when dealing with a city turning against it’s hero) thanks to his Nightwing-esque quipping in the face of adversity. It’s a well-balanced issue, so it’s a shame that it ends so predictably.

Spoiler

All throughout ‘The Long Payback,’ Jurgens ended each issue with the ‘cliffhanger’ of Terry finding himself in mortal peril. Issue #21 is unfortunately no different; Barbara and the GCPD turn up under the influence of fear, trying to gun down Batman and Terry tells himself there’s no way he’s walking out of here alive. This is unsatisfying because the reader knows he’s wrong – not only is Terry the main character (and therefore not expendable), we’ve also seen him escape these supposedly hopeless situations again and again. What this book needs is a different kind of cliffhanger; a dramatic reveal, a mystery, a betrayal or even just another character being in danger for once!

A few other things I spotted this month:

  • Dana Tan has the world’s cleanest kitchen.
  • ‘Bratz’ is not the sound a futuristic gun should make; it’s just not frightening enough!
  • Look closely at the issue’s only shot of the Batcave and you can make out a tiny, blue Lincoln Futura Batmobile!

Will Conrad’s art is pretty amazing in this issue (My only complaint is that he draws Batman’s eyes too large; they take up about a third of his face). Check out the picture above (believe it or not, this is only my second-favourite page in this issue; the best page features a horror version of Batman!). There’s a lot at work so I thought I’d take a moment to appreciate how the whole team have worked together. Jurgens’ script gives us a re-cap of last issue so it’s wise to give those of us who remember what’s going on something to look at and Conrad does not disappoint! There’s an unworldly, lithe Batman swooping dynamically, a variety of vehicle designs, some detailed buildings, a vertiginous sense of their enormity, and even a statue which will become important later in the issue.  David Baron imbues the scene with beautiful, waning sunlight, making the futuristic cityscape even more believable (he also impresses later on by colouring the Jokerz with a bright, aesthetically pleasing palette and by adding glare to vehicle headlights). Finally, Travis Lanham’s thought boxes are arranged so that our eyes track them across the page, reaching the word ‘Monster’ just before seeing the dark shape of the Batman, then reaching ‘street heist’ just before seeing the Jokerz attacking a truck delivering advanced tech gear.

Recommended if:

  • You like your stories well paced and evenly balanced.
  • You’re invested in Terry and his complicated relationships.
  • You’ve been waiting for an issue in which nothing is described as ‘schway.’

Overall: There’s nothing ground-breaking about ‘Target: Batman’ but so far it’s been a handsome and intriguing piece of escapism. If you like to see several characters attacked just when they’re reaching turning points in their lives, this could be the issue for you.

SCORE: 7/10