I’ve been reading and watching a lot of Batman Beyond the last few weeks to re-familiarize myself with the world and its characters. In doing so, I’ve fallen back in love with all that the Beyond universe has to offer both Batman fans and those interested in more cyberpunk themes such as the danger of technology to both individuals and society at large. Up until now, I’ve found Dan Jurgens’ Batman Beyond to be a very successful run, filled with entertaining arcs, interesting themes and a great cast of characters to explore. Unfortunately, Batman Beyond #35 finds itself near the end of the book’s weakest arc so far. With some of the most inconsistent art I’ve seen in a mainline DC book in a while, it is up to Jurgens’ writing to keep the book from taking a considerable dip in quality.
As the issue begins, all the cards are now on the table. Bruce and Matt now know that False Face is impersonating Terry and has taken the Batman mantle for his own nefarious purposes. Also in the mix are villainous speedsters, Adam and Caden, otherwise known as The Splitt. The fight sequence that begins when False Face attempts to recruit The Splitt, exemplifies artist Rick Leonardi’s strength in clarity, but his weakness in style and refinement. The panel work is simple, but effective, and in general I’m a fan of the less is more approach when it comes to page layouts. But when the scene transitions to Adam and Caden explaining their backstory, Leonardi’s weaknesses stand out immensely. My main issue with the artwork are Leonardi’s faces, which range from rushed to almost non-human in appearance. Some faces don’t even have the impression of eyes or noses, either totally lacking them or having nothing more than a small line to suggest their existence. The anatomy on some of his figure work is also inconsistent, with some characters appearing to have no neck or having limbs bend at angles that shouldn’t be possible.
It’s a shame because the backstory Jurgens has created for Adam and Caden is solid. After their mother died giving birth to Caden, their father struggled to raise him due to his constant pain and behavior issues. Soon after, Adam emerged from Caden’s body as a shadow twin, explaining that Caden’s pain was due to sharing a body with Adam. To make matters worse for their father, Adam and Caden both have speedster abilities. Their father then brings both boys to Derek Powers for help, but also to free himself from taking care of his sons. Derek Powers’ inclusion in The Splitt’s origin is very enticing as Powers is both a key villain in the Batman Beyond mythos and the man responsible for the death of Terry’s adoptive father, Warren McGinnis.
The Splitt’s origin turns them from mysterious villains to sympathetic victims, especially since their powers are aging them at an advanced rate, making them look like full grown adults despite only being six years old. Making matters worse, they accept False Face’s help to fix their aging, not knowing he plans to steal their identities and powers next. With the odds stacked against Bruce and Matt, Melanie volunteers to take on False Face, arming herself with Terry’s belt. Melanie’s character development is a little one note overall in this series, as she seeks to redeem herself for her past involvement in the Royal Flush gang, but Jurgens has done a great job at making her a proactive character in her story line. She ignores Bruce’s refusal to let her act and has more than earned her right in the series to take on the spotlight. Her introduction page is also Leonardi’s absolute best work in the entire issue and is almost distractingly well drawn in comparison to nearly every other page.
There’s already a lot going on in this issue, but there’s also a few pages dedicated to a mind wiped Terry on the streets of Neo-Gotham. These pages mostly consist of a short fight scene that fares well both in the art and writing. Terry has been framed for murder in the previous issue and is soon approached by two officers who attempt to arrest him. Leonardi’s clarity in panel work and movement make the fight fun and engaging, despite some wonky anatomy that make Terry’s leg look broken in a few panels. Even though he has lost his memories, Terry has gone through a minor arc in his misadventures as a street vagrant. After being framed for murder by a passerby and accosted by two cops, Terry has gone from innocently naïve to a point of not trusting anyone. This is a minor case of character development that will more than likely be eliminated as soon as Terry regains his memories, but it adds just a little depth in what could be throwaway scenes.
Everything comes to a climax when Melanie, in her disguise as Ten, takes on The Splitt and False Face. The fight has a good amount of twists, with Melanie first gaining the upper hand due to her experience fighting Batman and her knowledge of how to best use Terry’s utility belt. Leonardi’s work here is also strong, primarily because he doesn’t have to draw any faces not covered by a mask. It’s no frills work in the art department, but impressive in that a fight scene with three of the four characters in extremely similar costumes was never at once confusing. (Ten, Caden, and Adam all have skin tight suits with two colors and a vertical line down the middle). I do think Leonardi’s pencils would be better served by a flatter coloring style, but Ande Parks’ colors do a good enough job of having our characters pop out against the otherwise neon drenched world. The lettering by Travis Lanham also effectively depicts how The Splitt speaks differently when Adam and Caden are combined together.
As I write this review, it’s hard to fault Batman Beyond #35 as the story is compelling and well written. This arc does feel like more of a side story in comparison to recent issues, and might have been better suited to a shorter length, but the brief appearance of Derek Powers hopefully foreshadows greater things to come. Powers, otherwise known as Blight, best represents the anti-authoritarian themes that make Batman Beyond unique. What we got here in this current arc is a fun diversion, with the emphasis placed on the twists and turns of the plot, and less so on theme and characterization. The pace of the plot is simply too fast to really dig deep into the characters and world. However, the main question mark in this issue is the art. There are some incredibly bad facial and figure work featured in these pages that I’m surprised to see in a DC book. Despite these stylistic shortcomings, the art is never confusing, and the essential storytelling elements are intact. Batman Beyond #35 is an entertaining book, especially for readers like me who have been invested in this cast of characters over the years.
- You’re a fan of the Beyond universe.
- Face swapping shenanigans are up your alley.
- You like having sympathetic villains fight your heroes.
Batman Beyond #35 is another solid chapter in Jurgens’ run that is unfortunately marred by inconsistent art. Despite the feeling that this arc should have been shortened to a two-parter, Jurgens has the advantage of having built a solid cast of likable characters who I don’t mind simply spending more time with. Additionally, The Splitt has turned from a rather uninteresting villain of the week, to a sympathetic child victim who has found himself in the middle of a dire situation. With a special guest appearance in the final pages, Jurgens has set himself up well for what I hope is a satisfying finale next issue.