Batman Beyond #25 kicks off a brand-new arc, ‘The Final Joke.’ It’s the story Jurgens has been building towards since Rebirth began, so it’s a golden opportunity for him to turn things around and make this title good again.
The issue starts strong, with the reintroduction of popular characters Dick Grayson and the Joker. Getting readers reacquainted with Dick on the very first page is a smart move, especially as Nightwing is presently all about the awful ‘Ric’. Here, Dick has been treated with the appropriate respect and has been allowed to leave the vigilante life and live normally in Blüdhaven. This is a believable path for him; Dick has never been defined by his mission in the way that Bruce has. Though the young acrobat was orphaned in a similar fashion, fighting crime was more about gleefully doing what’s right than finding an outlet for his pain. Unfortunately, for most of the issue, Dick is an exposition machine so we don’t get much of that old Grayson charm (he even tells his daughter a long story, standing on the same stage as Mayor Fox and Bruce Wayne while they’re giving important speeches only a few feet away). There are glimpses of the old boy wonder though, particularly in a flashback scene featuring Batman and Robin (appropriately dressed in their New 52 costumes); their spirited, straightforward dialogue feels like an homage to the Golden Age of comics.
The Joker doesn’t feature quite as much but he isn’t burdened with explaining everything to his daughter (and, by extension, new readers) so he gets to be himself. In the flashback scenes, he’s still the ebullient showman; his dialogue is peppered with words emphasised in bold lettering, giving the reader the feeling this incarnation has Mark Hamill’s wildly oscillating voice. In the future scenes, he’s a little more subtle; muttering and grinning from beneath a wide-brimmed hat or creeping up on a man and cracking a joke while he stabs him to death. This is only the beginning of his game so I’m sure he’ll get more theatrical as the story goes on but for now I’m quite enjoying this frightening, almost innovative take on the character.
His actual plan concerns a building we’ve never heard of before but which we are now told is important. This should have been seeded in previous issues so we can fully appreciate the impact of the scheme. The building is a symbol of progress, a theme in the issue that doesn’t quite work. In another flashback scene, we’re informed that Batman won his initial war on crime through increasing his use of new technology. To me, this partly negates the adulation due to Bruce, who is elsewhere being celebrated in the issue; if Batman is to win, it should be because of who he is, not what tech he can afford. The theme is further stretched in the flashback as Mr Freeze’s motivation becomes keeping Gotham as his wife remembered it, which just sucks. This also leads to the clunkiest, most unnatural line in the book, ‘The architects of tomorrow will not succeed!’
- Batman Beyond #25 makes reference to Terminal telling us the tale of the Joker’s death back in issue #2. As this happened back in 2016, I thought I’d join Grayson in reminiscing mode and provide a short re-cap: The Joker was terrorizing Gotham in a construction truck and Batman jumped onto it and engaged in combat with his arch-nemesis. Distracted, the Joker drove the truck onto a train track. Batman alighted dramatically just as a giant snow blower train ploughed into the truck. In issue #5, we discovered that the Joker survived and had infiltrated the Jokerz. He then attempted to throw Bruce from a tall building but this was unsuccessful. Bruce realised the identity of his disguised assailant and informed Terry (while, elsewhere, Joker was beating Terminal to death with a crowbar). He also told Matt in issue #6 but none of the gang seems to have been doing much about this revelation since.
- Bruce, Terry and Matt have apparently been slack on other crimes too. In this issue, the GCPD are aware of 21 murders that Batman knows nothing about.
- Either Jack Ryder is a total professional or he’s cheered up a lot since issue #24. He’s constantly grinning to the camera this issue as he heaps praise on Bruce Wayne, a man he was furious with the last time we saw him.
- A GCPD officer mentions the janitor of Ace Chemicals (where the Joker was born) as being named ‘Johnny Gobs.’ If the name is familiar, that’s because Jurgens is making a nod to the 1989 movie, Batman. In an early scene, a criminal reassures his colleague that the Batman doesn’t exist by explaining that fellow miscreant ‘Johnny Gobs got ripped and took a walk off a roof, all right? No big loss.’
- I’m always very strict about the Chekhov’s gun rule. Jason and Damian both appear in this issue so I hope they’ll be used wisely later in the arc.
- I didn’t notice that Joker refers to Batman as ‘Bruce’ until my third read through. How does he know who Batman is? We’ll have to wait and see. What is clear is that this makes him even more of a threat.
- Trains appear throughout the issue; Grayson arrives on one, recalls fighting the Joker on one and watches as one destroys the Wayne Family Centre of Tomorrow (and, as mentioned above, a train was responsible for the Joker’s ‘death’ in issue #2). I guess trains are a good metaphor for our journeys through life, which is relevant in a story about the march of progress and the past coming back to haunt you. However, when I read the issue, all I could think about was Batman and the Joker fighting atop a train in The New Batman Adventures episode, ‘Mad Love,’ and Detective Comics #532.
Cully Hamner and Marco Santucci handle the art for this issue and their styles mostly fit well together (despite a changeover scene in which Bruce suddenly looks more distinguished and Dick rapidly puts on quite a few pounds). Unfortunately, for the most part, I didn’t feel that the art lived up to the story this month. Terry’s batsuit still has those ridiculously large eyes but, thanks to Hamner’s enthusiastic shading, he also looks about thirty years older than he should. The action in the Mr Freeze scene is difficult to follow, and in a crucial moment during the Joker flashback, Batman’s gloves are indistinguishable from his cape. There are two shots in the issue that look as if they’ve been crammed in sideways because they didn’t fit vertically, and one of these is supposed to show viciously-murdered Jokerz but it just looks like three guys laying uncomfortably on the floor. A montage of Batman’s career also features in the issue and it’s totally inappropriate to the story; at this point Bruce is being admired by the general public who are still unaware of his retired secret identity so it would have made more sense to have a montage of his humanitarian work.
And off they flew…straight into the underside of a bridge.
It’s not all bad, though. As mentioned earlier, the Joker looks suitably creepy when his face is in the shadow of his hat, and he rocks a pretty cool shirt later in the issue. Both artists put a decent amount of effort into Gotham’s looming buildings as well, with plenty of detail and spot-on perspective work. There’s a really dynamic shot of Batman and Robin atop a train carriage which reminds me of a similar scene in All-Star Batman & Robin The Boy Wonder #10. Equally, when we catch our first proper glimpse of the new Batman and Robin flying over Gotham, Val Staples delivers some lovely glare from the setting sun, making them look particularly heroic.
- You like whole-issue history lessons.
- You miss Dick Grayson.
- You’re excited by the idea of Joker settling the score with Bruce, Dick and Barbara. Remember, Batman Beyond isn’t constrained by continuity; anything could happen!
Overall: Batman Beyond #25 is more of a prelude than an opening chapter; I admire Jurgens’ restraint in spending almost a whole issue getting his readers up to speed but delivering so much exposition in one issue means it eventually gets boring. The interludes that drive the story forward are promising though; if anyone can make this series shine again, it’s the Joker.