In part two of ‘The Final Joke,’ our heroes deal with the repercussions of the explosion in issue #25 and the equally explosive news that the Joker has returned. Though the issue is mostly non-essential to the unfolding plot, it’s an action-packed read featuring the dynamic artwork of Brett Booth!

In fact, most of the issue is action, as Barbara comes face to face with the Clown Prince of Crime, while Terry and Matt struggle to save citizens from the collapsing Wayne Family Centre of Tomorrow. Although it doesn’t really advance the plot, seeing heroes pitching in with the rescue effort rather than spending all their time punching villains in the face makes a nice change. It’s particularly effective this issue as Jurgens’ script injects some unforeseen peril into the process and we get to see Terry and Matt working well together, for once.

That’s right; in this issue, Batman doesn’t spend the whole time on the back foot! Lately, he’s needed saving by Robin a few times so it’s great to finally witness him acting like a good mentor and role model (and, thanks to Booth, he looks good doing it!).

Unfortunately, while Batman is back to being himself again, other characters aren’t as well-written. Jack Ryder is ridiculously cheerful for a man standing in the rubble of a terrorist attack (that’s on Booth as well; Ryder is smiling) while Bruce Wayne starts unnaturally reminiscing about Jason’s death (apropos of nothing but the Joker’s return; why only that memory?) and offers us two unnecessary flashbacks to the events of Batman Beyond #5. If you revisit ‘Escaping the Grave,’ you’ll find that Bruce was certain he’d met his old nemesis; now, for the convenience of the plot, he’s apparently spent the intervening time in doubt.

Perhaps the character most readers will be tuning in for is the Joker. As with the ‘Return of the Joker’ incarnation, this version is much more spry than his elderly counterpart, rambles manically in a familiar fashion, and retains the showmanship for which we know (and love?) him. My only concerns about him in this issue were that he didn’t crack me up, and that he’s laid low for so long and has apparently returned without a master plan.

Spoiler

  • At the end of the issue, Joker declares his intent to repeat history by murdering Robin with his trusty crowbar. Hopefully, this isn’t the entirety of his scheme; there’s only so far you can ride the coat-tails of a previous storyline. There needs to be something new that makes this a unique tale worth telling.
  • Dick mentions getting shot in the head (in Batman #55, 2018) this issue, while Bruce broods over the loss of Jason (Batman #428, 1988). These call-backs suggest Batman Beyond takes place in the current Rebirth continuity. However, throughout the series, characters have referred to events from the Batman Beyond TV series, which is part of the DC Animated Universe, a separate continuity. I guess Jurgens is just having his cake and eating it.
  • Kalvachev’s cover (starring an excellent vision of what the harlequin of hate would look like in old age; mutated crows’ feet and receding hair feature, yet the Joker remains as scary as ever) riffs on Neal Adams’ iconic Batman #251 (1973).
  • Dick’s warning message for Gotham seems very sinister to me. Is there more to him than meets the eye? Maybe Booth is seeding a revelation by showing a close-up on Grayson’s eyes and a similar close-up of the Joker’s on the next page?

As mentioned above, Brett Booth takes over on pencils this issue. Though I’m a fan of his crisp artwork and believe that it elevates the script in this issue, it’s not without it’s flaws. The first thing a reader will notice when picking up an issue drawn by Booth is that he insists on using dramatic, jagged frames, even during low-key dialogue scenes. Behind these cramped frames sit other shots, as if a broken mirror has been laid atop an existing page of artwork. Sometimes this works; sometimes it doesn’t. In some scenes, the rubble in the background frames blends together nicely but in the page below, for example, the shot of Bruce standing amid the rubble melts ineffectively into the plain view of a telescreen in the back of a taxi-cab.

In what should be a triumphant shot of Babs kicking the Joker in the face, Barbara’s foot bends back at an excessively unnatural angle, while Joker’s neck would definitely break were his head to snap back as it does here. Also, neither of the characters in this scene look their age; they both appear to be in their twenties or thirties. Bruce Wayne, Jack Ryder and Dick Grayson all look appropriately wrinkly, though.

Every page of Batman Beyond #26 is crammed with detail; the debris features cracks, weathering, shadows and intricate pipe-work, smouldering amid swirling clouds of smoke. Andrew Dalhouse has patiently imbued all of these with multiple hues, adding to their realism. Booth’s trademark lithe, muscular figures are surrounded by a recognisably futuristic cityscape akin to Will Conrad’s recent take on Neo-Gotham. The characters’ hair and bodysuits shine, all the faces are expressive, and Batman’s eyes are no longer ridiculously oversized.

Recommended if:

  • You dig the unique sartorial combination of a purple suit, an Aloha shirt, jackboots, and a train driver’s cap.
  • You want to see Batman return to being a hero in his own series.
  • Barbara Gordon vs. The Joker!

Overall: Batman Beyond #26 is a delicious mouthful but will leave you hungry. Jurgens’ has established a steady pace in previous arcs and this one is no different; exciting stuff happens in this issue but seemingly nothing of any lasting consequence.

DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.