Batman Beyond #36 concludes what is definitely the weakest arc in Dan Jurgens’ otherwise very solid run. Even at the series’ lowest point, Jurgens manages to put together a narrative that works despite questionable art that nonetheless gets the job done. This is a functional comic book and that isn’t meant to be a flippant dismissal of its quality as there is room in the world for traditional storytelling. The pieces are there, they fit together, but a lack of personality in the writing and no energy in the art makes the end result feel painfully average.
The plot picks up right where we left off, with Barry Allen arriving to help Melanie fight off both the Splitt and False Face who, has stolen Terry’s identity and batsuit. Almost immediately, the art stands out as being particularly weak. Rick Leonardi’s art has been a mixed bag the entire arc, but his undeveloped figure work had mostly occurred in smaller panels that were buried in the middle of the book. Here, the very first panel of the book features undefined blobs that are meant to resemble people getting ready for the big fight. First pages should illicit excitement, especially when you’re starting at the climax of an entire arc. Here we get an awkward standoff between Melanie and the Flash against False Face and the Splitt. The compositions are flat, the panel layout dedicates too much space to the credits at the bottom, and the characters appear to merely gawk at each other from afar, with the Splitt and False Face strangely hunched over as if confused instead of preparing for the final battle. Additionally, the muted colors by Chris Sotomayor make Neo-Gotham feel blank and empty and not the vibrant city of the future that previous arcs have established.
A faulty opening page is easy to make up for but the ensuing action sequence is just as uninteresting and repeats the same theme across the two separate fights. The Flash takes on the Splitt, composed of speedsters Adam and Caden, and easily handles them due to his lifetime of experience utilizing his abilities. Despite Leonardi’s often wonky anatomy, I do think his simple panel layouts offer good clarity, but still wish his action scenes either had more sequential flow or impact to the strikes. The writing is decent and it’s fun to see Barry utilize a variety of his abilities to take down the Splitt, but the art merely goes through the motions, relaying the appropriate information without any dynamic quality. The panels keep the reader at a distance from the action, with the only panel that changes perspective being a weak close up panel where Barry is hit on the head by a pipe. It’s not even clear exactly where the pipe hits Barry, or the general trajectory of the swing, and feels like a cheap way for Barry to momentarily falter as he otherwise dominates the fight. The only bit of fun in this sequence is Bruce talking in Barry’s ear (via communications in the batcave) and criticizing him for still fighting crime in his old age. The theme is clear, experience will emerge victorious over the up and coming no matter how powerful they are.
This theme also carries over into Melanie’s fight against False Face as Bruce repeats himself about how False Face lacks experience using Terry’s batsuit. This, of course, allows a more experienced Melanie to take the upper hand which exemplifies the main problem of this issue: every story beat is incredibly predictable. There are no twists, no drama, and every beat in the action is explicitly stated to be coming before it happens. Additionally, the way the arc has played out seemed to be building toward a big moment for Melanie to grow as a crimefighter, but her victory over False Face is essentially stolen by Bruce as he deactivates False Face’s oxygen supply remotely. Of course, I don’t mind our heroes working together, but I wish Melanie achieved her victory more on her own prowess, rather than having her merely throw a gas pellet. However, Leonardi does do better work in this action scene and seems to enjoy drawing Melanie flying around on her over-sized playing card as her poses are the most dynamic of any character.
Despite the first half of the book feeling like Jurgens has been going through the motions, the end result of it all works better. False Face interrupts Barry when he tries to help separate Caden and Adam from sharing the same body which results in an explosion. I do think it’s a bit of a stretch to have False Face be able to barge in and click a button before Barry can reach him (he is a speedster after all). Again, none of the art really impresses in this sequence, but Melanie trying to save False Face after the explosion is a good moment of heroism. Despite this, it’s a shame that the entire arc leaves the real Terry on the sidelines without ever regaining the Batman mantle. Terry’s adventures as a street vagrant continue here on a single page where he helps someone get a sandwich, which is not exactly the type of content I want out of my supposed lead character. The Flash, as the book’s guest star, gets the most action and the entire issue feels like it has left the characters we actually have invested in by the wayside. However, the last pages of the issue do promise some changes to come.
- You want to see Barry Allen fight in the Beyond
- You don’t mind a lack of Terry in his own book.
- You want to see change start to brew in the series itself.
Batman Beyond #36 is an adequate comic that does very little to satisfy any reader that isn’t already invested in its characters and universe. As the climax to an arc, it suffers due to a series of action sequences that have no real purpose other than to pad the book out. As a piece of fluff entertainment it fails to excite due to art that lacks any sense of energy and doesn’t bring anything new to the table. This issue, and the arc itself, feels incredibly removed from the series thus far as it sidelines Terry and doesn’t utilize Neo-Gotham’s unique setting in any way. Jurgens has crafted an interesting universe and a great cast of characters up until now and it’s clear that the more he moves away from that, the more the book suffers. With a last page that promises even more changes to come for the book, I grow increasingly worried that Jurgens is losing sight of what made the series work up until now.