After two months of basically non-stop action, Batman Beyond #45 smartly slows things down a bit and takes its time to properly set up the arc’s stakes and character motivations. While the last two issues were entertaining, Dan Jurgens’ script and character dynamics take a noticeable bump up in clarity and engagement. Also different is that Paul Pelletier takes over art duties from Sean Chen and turns in solid work. Unfortunately, the book’s uneven structure doesn’t give him quite enough pages to settle into the action sequences, which results in what definitely feels like a set up issue.
About half of this month’s chapter dedicates itself to showing exactly how Zeh-ro ousted Damian from his place as ruler of the League of Assassins. This backstory wasn’t exactly needed as Damian’s current situation was talked about enough to fill in the blanks, but it does add a certain amount of weight and context to Damian’s moral struggle and his mission to “save” the planet with Ra’s al Ghul’s legacy on his shoulders. The dialogue between Damian, Ra’s, and Zeh-ro is some of the strongest Jurgens has put out on the series in recent memory. There’s palpable tension in each page whether it be more overt between Damian and Zeh-ro or the more subtle moments where Damian tries to appease Ra’s, but still remain true to himself. If anything, the strength of the first half exposes that the actual main cast of the series has lacked a truly interesting personal obstacle to overcome for some time now.
Pelletier’s pencils and layouts work in these quieter moments because he changes up his angles and knows when to draw a close up and when a wider shot is more appropriate. Jurgens’ dialogue has Ra’s browbeat Damian over his reluctance to put the earth above its current population and Pelletier puts Ra’s in close up often to display his intensity. Pelletier also has a strong level of detail in these close ups that render each and every wrinkle on Ra’s face, but also imbues him with a level of strength and sternness in his eyes. When Zeh-ro enters the scene, Pelletier puts him standing over both Damian and Ra’s in a good bit of foreshadowing too.
There’s a great deal of care put into these scenes from both Jurgens and Pelletier and their work complements each other. The only hiccup exists in a couple pages where there’s too many panels and text bubbles squashed into a page, which makes everything feel a little cramped, but even Pelletier’s precise compositions make the power dynamics of the scene visually clear. As Zeh-ro looks down on Ra’s and asks for more support, Damian scowls in the background and the last panel has all three in silhouette, with Zeh-ro and Damian on either side of Ra’s. Even without dialogue, the visuals tell the story. Chris Sotomayor’s colors also do a great job of maintaining a level of visual consistency in the book even with a different penciller. Sotomayor’s skin tones give everyone a soft, pinkish hue except for Zeh-ro who remains more deathly pale and therefore more sinister.
The second half of the book feels similar to the previous issues as the League of Assassins once again launch an attack against Terry and the others. While Pelletier’s work in the first half is extremely strong, he does get lost a little bit in the ensuing chaos that unfolds. The beats are clear, but there’s so much happening on each page combined with the fact that each panel features a blizzard in full force that things get a bit messy and unintuitive. Jurgens’ script on the other hand does a great job of pulling together the series’ various plot threads and features a great team up with basically the entire cast. Yes, Elainna returns as Batwoman in a new Nightwing themed batsuit which is great, but even better is a brief moment between Dick and Damian as they revert to their usual back and forth banter.
This sequence really displays how the series is at its best when it features a large ensemble of characters with a long history between them. It’s simply fun to see everyone bounce off each other and Jurgens delivers that here. It’s a shame that Pelletier is put into a corner and forced to overcrowd almost every page with a bevy of action beats in the middle of a snowstorm. While Jurgens had the right idea to bring the entire cast together, perhaps there could’ve been a sleeker way to structure the action here. The League of Assassins using what amounts to a Star Wars Star Destroyer is also a big pill to swallow in terms of tone shift. The cliffhanger here is also not a surprise since last month’s issue covered the same plot development which makes this issue feel just a little bit like it’s treading water. Lastly, Terry feels like an afterthought, but he remains a stable force of authority and competence and the series can only better itself by delving into its side characters more.
- You want to see a glimpse of how the League of Assassins operates.
- Damian Wayne is a favorite character of yours.
- You’ve been waiting for Elainna to return as Batwoman in full force.
Batman Beyond #45 features a gripping first half that suffers only because readers already know the end result and a second half that loses itself a little in the resulting chaos. However, the stakes are at an all time high and I legitimately don’t know exactly how our heroes will save the world from Zeh-ro’s man-made ice age. With mindful art from Pelletier and sharp dialogue from Jurgens, Batman Beyond #45 overcomes its structural issues and delivers a piece of high stakes action with a surplus of character development for the series’ side characters.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.