Batman Beyond #22 opened with Batman fighting a mob of Gotham citizens and ended with him still fighting the same mob. This was (partly) because the issue’s main focus was to provide a back story for Adalyn Stern. Issue #23 is equally slow-moving but this time writer Dan Jurgens has no excuse.
Terry McGinnis is purportedly the main character in Batman Beyond. However, lately he’s been taking a very passive role in his own title. He repeatedly lets the brainwashed mob take the upper hand, he keeps getting rescued by his immature brother, and he hasn’t even begun to work out the identity of his nemesis, while the audience has known for at least a month (in a mystery, we should always be a step behind the hero so our unanswered questions drive us to read on).
While Terry stands around waiting for the story to happen, a whole page is wasted in telling us that Bruce and Matt have a plan to rescue him (if it was important for us to know this, it could have been embedded in a single speech bubble instead) while Jack Ryder takes over from Matt as the character prompting Bruce to provide exposition. At least Ryder has some purpose though; in issue #22, he found out why Adalyn was so frightened and in this issue he sees the mayhem in Gotham and heads off to find her.
He’s also the only character applying any deeper thought to events. There’s the glimmer of an actual theme for the story as Ryder, in the wake of last issue’s revelations, questions Batman’s effect on innocent people. On my first read through, I was excited by this; I felt that perhaps the story might have something to say about Bruce’s legacy that’s only occasionally touched upon elsewhere.
However, on my second read, I decided that Bruce’s indulgence of the puerile new Robin (and the fact there will almost certainly be no serious consequences of this) signifies that the story probably isn’t going in this direction. We’ve seen enough of Batman counting the cost of his actions anyway (e.g. 2017’s ‘The Victim Syndicate’). Batman is always getting criticized for being Batman these days.
There’s been no shortage of this in Batman Beyond lately; as I mentioned last month, most of the villains in the Rebirth series have had the same motivation- revenge against the dark knight. Like Payback before her, the new Scarecrow monologues about this like a pantomime villain: ‘I do not like this! Not at all!’ Not only does this child-like speech reduce our fear and respect for the character, it also breaks a cardinal rule of writing which is that characters shouldn’t blatantly tell the audience how they’re feeling; we should infer their mental state from subtle hints in their speech, or from their body language. After I’d read a character in this issue telling Batman that he was intent on ‘Fighting you! Until you’re dead!’ I had to have a break so I re-read World’s Finest #3, the debut of the original Scarecrow. We’re supposed to be living in an age where comics have acquired a sophistication undreamt of in their early years but I’m pretty sure Jurgens’ dialogue in Batman Beyond #23 could be transplanted into one of these older stories without anyone noticing.
A few more things that bothered me this month:
- At the beginning of the issue, the mob see Robin as a monster as well, even though he doesn’t look like Batman. Then, once Robin is suffering from the same Fear, the mob inconsistently sees him as Batman’s victim instead.
- Jack Ryder, Melanie Walker and Terry McGinnis aren’t affected by Scarecrow’s new brand of Fear. I hope this will be explained.
- The cover gives away that there will be a fight between Batman and Robin. It is a great image, though; the villain looms over the exhausted heroes and the boxing ring ropes evoke the hangman’s noose traditionally found around the Scarecrow’s neck.
- Ryder mentions the death of the original Scarecrow. I’d like to know more about that!
- Is destroying Batman’s belt really all it takes to defeat him these days?!
- Yet again, an issue of Batman Beyond ends with the hero facing a danger we can be certain he will escape from. See my review for issue #21 for my last rant on this.
Will Conrad’s artwork is like a modern skyscraper; handsome, impressive, but cold and sterile. There’s little emotion in the faces of the characters and I don’t feel amused, endeared, thrilled or frightened when I look at them. Nonetheless, Conrad’s attention to detail is as apparent as ever; the skies are full of flying cars, the looming buildings feature hundreds of windows and flying debris streams down in the wake of an explosion. His storytelling is on point too; the same mobsters from issue #22 can still be picked out of the crowd, and there’s a scene in which we’re shown Barbara’s hallucinatory perspective and then the frame below depicts the same perspective in reality. Colourist David Baron makes an odd choice in giving the Batcave a green glow (maybe Bruce saw the lair of either Poison Ivy or The Riddler and enviously invested in some mood lighting) but his illumination of Conrad’s fires and his digitally painted addition of the shadows they create adds some admirable realism.
- You’re excited by the introduction of an enthusiastic Robin and an old-fashioned Scarecrow.
- You like simple stories with basic dialogue.
- You have $3.99 burning a hole in your pocket and you’ve already bought all the comics worth reading this week.
Overall: My patience is running out with this series. A few issues ago, I appreciated the slow pace because Jurgens was taking the time to flesh out his characters, but now he’s fallen back into the same old pattern of presenting one-dimensional protagonists facing transient, surmountable perils.