I know books have been shipping the last few weeks, but I finally feel like I’m back in the comics world with Batman Beyond #43. It’s nice to be in the weekly grind, much like how Terry is finally back in the Batman cowl and fighting crime in Neo Gotham. Jurgens knows what works in this series, which was the primary reason why the last few arcs were so frustrating, but he wisely adds in a few new wrinkles among the books’ return to the status quo.
Things kick off in the Himalayas, where Damian was last seen running the League of Assassins, which is a nice call back to the series’ second arc. But something is amiss. Damian is nowhere to be found and a new master is in charge who goes by Zeh-ro. The cold open does its job well, setting up the core mystery in a small amount of pages, though I found artist Sean Chen’s panel layouts to be needlessly claustrophobic.
This leads us to the weakest aspect of the issue, which is the art. I’ve been a fan of Chen’s work so far on the series. His pencils are thin and just a little rough which lends a good deal of texture to a book that is comprised of many sleek, high tech environments and outfits. His page layouts are really the problem here. The gutter space between panels is often too thick and crowds a page that should otherwise feel wondrous. The opening page where Zeh-ro treks across the Himalayan mountains feels cramped, rather than spacious. A more intimate scene between Barbara and Dick has these gutters combined with thick blue panel borders which uses up a lot of space. This all results in emotional beats feeling small and further dampened by compositions that often pull too far away from the drama, leaving the reader at a distance both physically and emotionally. Chen’s facial acting remains sound despite this and the moments where we do get up close to the characters work well.
Luckily, Chen’s strong sense of motion in his action sequences remains unaffected. There’s a strong page where Terry takes out three “Slamjackers” by throwing one of them into the other two. The composition puts Terry in the background, but this allows Chen to have Terry throw the incapacitated Slamjacker toward his allies in the foreground, putting the reader up close to the action. Chen does utilize some slightly oblique panels, a practice I normally find distracting, but in this case it creates an appropriate off-kilter feel as our heroes and villains fly hundreds of feet in the air. However, not all of Chen’s layout decisions completely work in the action scenes. One page consists entirely of four, long vertical panels which seek to give a sense of vertigo to the mid-air acrobatics. To me, I think this results more in limiting variety in the compositions, making the action one-note in the process.
Jurgens’ script finds an easy balance between rebooting some aspects of the series while retaining what made the first few arcs of the book work so well. The batcave is no more after the team’s run in with Blight, so Bruce, Terry, and Matt now find themselves in a high rise tower with holographic projections surrounding the building to obscure any vigilante activity. There’s one too many logical compromises to make running a batcave out of a skyscraper in the middle of Neo-Gotham, but it does offer a fresh setting for the bulk of the non-action scenes to play out in. Chen draws a great Matt, who is just cocky enough to be interesting but his pencils also capture Matt’s innocent youthful features to make him feel vulnerable. The scene in the new “Batsuite” is largely expository to establish the new setting and introduce the Slamjacker threat, but it’s great to see our three lead characters back together again and hanging out. Less amicable is the scene with Dick, Elainna, and Barbara who are at odds over Elainna’s desire to be Batwoman. Hopefully Jurgens doesn’t drag out the interpersonal drama and gets everyone on the same page sooner rather than later. As it is, there are no surprises in the writing and the worried father/defiant daughter situation feels by the book. However, the moment where Barbara gives Elainna her blessing to be Batwoman is heartwarming, if not a little rushed.
The last few pages introduce the most interesting developments both on a character and story level. Terry, after being victimized by Blight and False Face, attacks the second group of Slamjackers much more violently than normal. Bruce calls Terry out on his violent tactics and Chen aptly sells the increased brutality in Terry’s strikes. There’s a great page where Terry throws razor-edge batarangs that break through panel gutters which makes his assault all the more vicious. It’s a good dilemma for Terry and Bruce to find themselves in, and Terry’s newfound taste for aggressive tactics makes sense as he was taken out of the game for such a long time. It’s one of the more nuanced character developments to have taken place in the series and stands in great contrast with the lighthearted quips that Jurgens wrote for Terry in the beginning of the issue.
- You want to finally see Terry back in the batsuit.
- Family drama between Dick and Elainna doesn’t turn you away.
- Seeing Damian and the League of Assassins return to the world of Neo-Gotham piques your interest.
Batman Beyond #43 does just enough to return things mostly back to status quo and set the stage for the next storyline. Chen’s pencils remain as strong as ever, but his page layouts take a step down and undercut some of the more intense argument scenes. It’s a bit of a reset issue, but there’s enough quality action and an interesting character turn in the form of a more violent Terry to make this chapter worth seeking out, especially for newcomers to the series.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.