Well, I suppose I did ask for this, after all.

My main complaint about Batman: Urban Legends has been the lack of standalone stories.  Almost everything has either been one part of a multi-part tale, or a “one-shot” that really just serves as a backdoor pilot to a forthcoming book.

Yes, I’ve brought this up a lot, so none of this information is new.

So, when I saw that issue seven was going to consist of one-and-done stories, I got excited.

When I saw that they were going to be set in Gotham’s future, I was… less intrigued, but still.  Maybe this would be a great single issue that stood on its own.

It is not, I’m sad to say.  Yes, three out of the four stories printed here are meant to stand on their own, without the promise of a continuation in a new title that’s still five or six months out.  That definitely works to the issue’s benefit, but unfortunately, the stories don’t rise above “pretty good” at best.  And the one “spotlight” story, the one that does lead to a new book that will come out next year?  It’s… pretty bad.

Really, I wish I could have started this review on a more positive note, but that’s not the case, so let’s just get into it.

Wake

Without mincing words, I did not like this story.

At all.

In fact, there are some story decisions that make it one of the worst Batman Beyond stories I’ve ever read.

Just from a broad perspective, the whole idea here is tired and uninteresting: an elderly Bruce Wayne is on the verge of death, thanks to an attack from an unknown assailant, and Terry McGinnis has one last conversation with his mentor.  These scenes serve as flashbacks when Terry canvasses the entirety of Neo Gotham to try and find out who murdered Bruce, with Wayne’s dying words echoing in his ears.

Very boilerplate, very basic.  A good story could have been wrung from this, no doubt, but it was not this story.  What really drags it down is the dialogue, especially from Bruce, which I guess is meant to prop up Terry as a worthy successor to the mantle of Batman but instead makes some pretty unnecessary changes to the Wayne murders.

See, I know that Bruce is all about striking fear into the hearts of criminals.  It’s all part of the “superstitious and cowardly lot” part of his M.O.  That’s fine.  It’s when Bruce tells Terry that Martha wasn’t proud, because she was dead before she hit the ground, and Thomas was afraid of what Bruce would become… that is not good writing.  We’re told that “in his last moments,” Thomas “saw far past the alley… he was afraid.  Not of a gun, or a criminal.  He was afraid of me.”  Afraid of Bruce.  Afraid of the bat, which he saw before Bruce ever did.

I don’t know what this is supposed to change, or how it’s supposed to strengthen Bruce Wayne, because it really just cheapens his parents’ murder.  If there’s poetry or impact here, it’s lost on me, because this does not serve Bruce, Thomas, Martha, or even Terry well at all.

I don’t think it’s necessarily because I bring baggage with Lanzing and Kelly, though they aren’t my favorite writers.  They did just fine wrapping up Grayson, as thankless a job as that was, and I really enjoyed their Star Trek: Year Five work (the final issue of which is out this week as well, and a better book to showcase their talents).  No, it’s not because of the writers, but what they’ve written, and I don’t like it at all.

It also doesn’t help that, like most of the rest of the Urban Legends stories thus far, this is just a prelude to a story that will come next year.  Next April, in fact, so keep an eye out for that.

The saving grace is that everything that isn’t the actual story is pretty good.  Aditya Bidikar has some truly phenomenal lettering on display here, particularly the different fonts and styles used for a technical presence that I won’t spoil.  Like all great lettering, it’s unobtrusive and supportive except when it needs to be flashy, like some bombastic sound effects in the story’s action scenes.

Max Dunbar and Sebastian Cheng’s linework and coloring, respectively, are top-notch as well.  Every page is beautiful to look at, be it an exhilarating set piece or a quieter, dramatic moment.  I love Cheng’s use of light and shadow, in particular, with the eerie glow of computer screens illuminating Batman’s cowl with an artificial light.  There’s only one sequence, late in the proceedings, that doesn’t really work, though I get what they were going for: Terry ascends a staircase, and rather than the action starting at the top left of the page, it begins at the bottom left and follows him upward.  Once I realized the order of the sequence, it was a cool effect, but that only came after my initial confusion of reading the captions backwards.

Still, just viewed as a silent story, it’s absolutely stunning, and some of the best artwork this title has seen yet.  It’s a shame that the writing can’t match the visuals, because it makes something that could have been truly special into a massive missed opportunity.

SCORE: 3.5/10

The Executive Game

It isn’t that much of a secret, but if you didn’t know, Grant Morrison’s entire run on Batman is some of my favorite comics.  Ever.  Save for that weird “Clown at Midnight” issue that (mercifully) comes early on, I love pretty much every weird, wacky, wonderful panel of that Batman stuff.  So if anything is going to pique my interest for this issue, a return to Damian Wayne as the Batman of the future sure fits the bill.  Throw in a script from Tim Seeley, some art from Juan Ferreyra, and letters from Becca Carey?  Forget about it.  That’s definitely my bag.

So, yeah, this is one of the stronger stories of the issue, if not the strongest.  It’s the most consistent, from a writing standpoint, and the artwork and lettering are aces.  Weirdly enough, it is both straightforward and abstract, with a pretty simple narrative throughline that still might make you scratch your head.

To draw a very crude comparison, it’s pretty much “The Raid, but with Damian Wayne.”  Which… who wouldn’t watch that?  Batman fights his way to the top floor of a tower in Gotham’s Restricted Zone, trading blows with (and melting the faces of) multiple macabre miscreants in the process.

It’s just broad enough to leave you asking questions, without being frustrating, and the fights are as brutal as they are brief.  “The Executive Game” is solid comics, which is all I really ask for.

SCORE: 7.5/10

Hunter… or Hunted

“Hunter… or Hunted” is really good, with two notable setbacks: the script and the coloring.  Guillaume Singelin pulls a “jack of all trades” here as he does everything, from writing to line art to coloring to lettering, which is commendable in itself.  The story is simple, as the Cassandra Cain makes her way across the rooftops of the Gotham of Future State.   It’s wonderfully illustrated, with Batgirl fighting against the Magistrate in a manner that makes it all seem almost like a game to her.

The problem with the script is that it’s almost unnecessary.  The dialogue isn’t bad, by any means, but the visuals are so fully realized that you could just look at the sequential art and know exactly what Singelin intends with every single panel.  That’s no mean feat at all.

As for the coloring, it’s also fine, but it’s almost too muted, with characters blending into the backgrounds.  Cass’ costume is black and yellow, and looks great, but the cityscape is awash in grays and browns and oranges and reds, so it all becomes a bit muddled.  There are brief sequences that have a greenish tint, and it’s then that the art pops the most, as the characters are finally allowed to stand out against the environments.  Again, it isn’t bad, just the stylistic choice didn’t complement the story.

Still, it’s a great time, and like the previous story, one of the more confident, solid entries I’ve read in this series so far.  Here’s to more work from Singelin in the future, because quibbles aside, I’m impressed.

SCORE: 7/10

The Batman With No Name

Now here’s the story I was waiting for them to tell.  A return to the world of DC One Million, with a focus on Robin, the Toy Wonder?  One Million is the greatest comic book crossover event of all time, just bursting with crazy ideas and an underlying sense of optimism.  And the robotic Robin of this future is absolutely adorable, so yes, more of this please.

So it’s a shame that this story is just very much okay.  There are some fun and cool ideas, and a really nice message at the end, but it just left me wanting more, like with the previous two stories.

First off, Robin is barely in it, which is fine, if not disappointing.  It’s still pretty neat overall, and finally made me wish there was more coming from one of these stories even if I’ve been complaining about that very thing from day one.  Ah well.

If you’re not familiar with Batman from DC One Million, then please go and read the entire event right now.  I’ll wait.

But seriously, in the 853rd Century, the Batman is the warden of the entire prison planet Pluto, which houses some of the most notorious and dangerous villains in the galaxy.  Accompanied by his trusty sidekick Robin, the Toy Wonder, the Dark Knight of the far future is as mysterious as he is terrifying, as his real identity has never been revealed.  “The Batman With No Name” here follows a similar structure as “The Executive Game,” at least in broad strokes, as the whole story is effectively an extended action scene.

Where the earlier story was focused on Damian’s mission, though, this one follows the villains that Batman attempts to detain.  Baldemar Rivas and the always great Alejandro Sanchez pull out some pretty fun visuals with Batman, as he used his advanced suit to effectively “reskin” himself with different Batman looks.  And we all know how much I love Tom Napolitano’s lettering, which is as strong as you’d expect.

AzBats and the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh were delightful surprises, and even if they served no purpose other than looking cool, they definitely succeeded.  There’s even a “classic” Batman suit that looks close enough to the costume we’re used to seeing, with enough differences to actual lend it more credibility.  After all, this is hundreds of centuries in the future.  Even if artwork and videos and other visual examples of Batman survived, the citizens of the 853rd Century would still probably have to make some educated guesses to fill in some informational gaps.

But that’s not really the point of the story, even if it’s what makes it fun.

No, the point of the story actually hits on some of the same themes that Jackon and Lanzing tried to incorporate in their script, but it’s done to much better effect here.  See, as much as Batman is a skilled fighter and devotes his life to stopping crime, even in the far future, he still holds out hope that his opponents will reform.  Here, he tells one of the villains he goes up against that while he has personally lost everything and has nothing but Batman, they still have hope.  A family.  A future.  Gifts and skills that can be used for the greater good.

Instead of looking at someone and only seeing something to fear and fight, he sees potential.  An opportunity for greatness.

Kenny Porter wrote a better Batman here than a lot of other writers in this same series, and I really hope he gets the chance to do it again.  If it’s with Robin, the Toy Wonder in tow, then all the better.

SCORE: 7.5/10

Recommended if:

  • You like Batman of the future, in any form.
  • You’ve been longing for the return of DC One Million and will take it however you can get it.
  • You really want more Batman Beyond, and… will take it however you can get it.

Overall: I’d be lying if I said my feelings toward the issue didn’t improve as I wrote this review, though that’s only because I enjoyed revisiting the second, third, and fourth stories.  They’re solid, entertaining Batman and Batgirl adventures, with some great artwork and good thematic material in there too.  Despite the strong visuals of the first story, the writing really drags it down to the point that I can’t give this more than a passing recommendation.  It’s strange, because it kind of gave me what I wanted (mostly standalone stories), but even then it wasn’t in the manner that I was expecting. That’s not always a bad thing, I just wish the overall package had been more consistent.

SCORE: 6/10