It’s the final issue of the ‘Target: Batman’ arc so it’s time for Terry to finally deal with the mob, Robin, and the new Scarecrow controlling them. But he doesn’t. Spoilers ahead.
Superhero stories are almost invariably driven by the actions of the villain so it’s important to have a good one. I like that Neo Scarecrow adds some diversity to the cast by being a woman of colour, and that she updates the old formula by transmitting fear via subliminal messaging. In every other respect, she’s a terrible villain. She recycles the Scarecrow persona and we’re given no further explanation for this than that she was treated with ‘technology derived from Crane’s work.’ As covered in my review for issue #23, there’s no sophistication to her speech whatsoever so she isn’t an interesting character to read. Her phobia doesn’t ring true (Adalyn, a successful TV anchor and tech prodigy, can’t understand that her father was a criminal and that Batman is therefore the good guy). Real people either rationally tackle their fears (which raises the question of who discharged Adalyn from the institution) or act irrationally, lashing out wildly or fleeing from the fearful stimuli; they don’t formulate intricate plans to share their fear with the rest of the city. The best villains exploit the hero’s weakness; Neo Scarecrow instead opts for attacking Batman with technology when he has always been well-equipped and thoroughly adept with technology.
This brings me to the nature of Adalyn’s defeat: Bruce disables the fear tech with a bit of hacking. That’s a prosaic method but what’s worse is that Terry wasn’t even involved! ‘Target: Batman’ is a storyline in which the hero, Batman, does very little and doesn’t affect the outcome of events at all. In fact, all peril in the story could have been removed if Terry had left his costume at home.
A few more matters that concerned me whilst reading Batman Beyond #24:
- The arc has no lasting consequences other than Melanie finding out Batman’s secret identity.
- Bruce explains that Melanie is unaffected by Scarecrow’s fear tech because she doesn’t own an A.I. Cube. It’s strange that we never see anyone else in the story that doesn’t own a cube; maybe in Neo Gotham they’re as ubiquitous as smartphones are now.
- Ryder is also unaffected. He claims this is because he ‘used fear’ when he fought as the Creeper. This feels like a weak explanation; I’d have been more prepared to believe that his super-healing power protects his brain somehow.
- The GCPD gets jet planes in the future?! I understand that a helicopter probably isn’t going to cut it in pursuit of flying cars but a fighter jet would be way too fast and lethal for police work!
- Matt, an immature kid who gets brainwashed into attacking his brother…is carrying explosives. Alfred would be disappointed in you, Bruce.
- It’s the final issue of the arc. The Dark Knight and his ward are reunited. They set off for a final showdown with their opponent. Usually at this point we’d expect the villain to play some unexpected last gambit. In this issue, however, this doesn’t happen- the fear tech attack was her only plan! Instead, Jack Ryder briefly spars with Terry but it turns out this was an unnecessarily dramatic method of stopping him getting to Adalyn (he could have just asked). How anti-climactic. I feel offended for Jonathan Crane when Terry describes the new Scarecrow as ‘more powerful’ than him.
- Ryder is angry about the toll Batman takes on the lives of innocents (a ridiculous stance as we know that, despite his escalating battles with supervillains, Batman does more good than harm) but Bruce remains unmoved. If Adalyn, a minor character in the mythos, is the only one affected by events then what was the point of the story?
- It’s strange that a mindless horde in the throes of primal fear had the time and concentration to make anti-Batman banners.
The first thing to say about the art is that Kalvachev’s cover has no bearing on what happens in the book. I definitely prefer Johnson’s moody variant; it could apply to any Batman Beyond tale but at least it isn’t misleading. There are weird pages inside as well; the odd choice of an aerial view for the first meeting between Ryder and the Scarecrow is made even more bizarre by the confusing apparatus above them and the featureless floor they’re standing on, and it’s perplexing to see so many empty frames on the walls of Wayne Manor. If you read these reviews often, you know I’m not a fan of Matt McGinnis but even I think he looks cool this issue when Conrad draws him in a dynamic pose, with a scowl on his face, looming large over his defeated brother and the distant mob below. As with last issue, the skewed perspective of those affected by Scarecrow’s fear is effectively conveyed with panels juxtaposing reality and the illusion, and the storytelling in Conrad’s work is evident in the expressions of realisation on the faces of the characters waking from their shared nightmare. Arkham Asylum makes an appearance this issue and it’s a pleasure thanks to Conrad’s intricate work on the iconic gates and the fact that, like Wayne Manor and the Batcave, it’s a part of Neo-Gotham that remains unchanged. Overall, Conrad’s clean, realistic artwork has been a breath of fresh air, though I do prefer the way Hester depicts Bruce and the Batsuit.
- You like straightforward stories with simple endings.
- You like stories in which the hero is entirely superfluous.
- You like dull, unthreatening villains who make no sense.
Overall: The resolution of the ‘Target: Batman’ storyline is as unsatisfying as sitting through the credits of a Marvel movie and finding out there’s no sting at the end. All matters are addressed as expected but there’s little logic to events and no consideration for whether or not the reader will be excited or bored by the plot’s chosen developments. The story visits the well-worn theme of collateral damage in Batman’s war with the criminal underworld but, like the plot itself, it’s a half-baked idea that goes nowhere.