Advance review: Batman Beyond: Neo-Year #1

This coming April, DC Comics invite you to go back to the future in Batman Beyond: Neo-Year.  The six-issue miniseries spins out of Batman: Urban Legends #7, where the entire world of Terry McGinnis and his home of Neo Gotham was shaken up.  Bruce Wayne died, Wayne Manor burned to the ground, and the entire city became sentient and set its sights on Batman.

From a place of complete openness and honesty, I wasn’t a big fan of this story, thanks in no small part to a retcon to the Wayne murders that I felt was empty and kind of crass.  I could see why the decision was made, and the emotional weight it should have carried, but it fell flat.

Even still, the artwork and visual storytelling were fantastic, and the germ of an idea was at least promising, so there’s definite room to grow into the story.  In advance of the miniseries proper kicking off this April, DC have provided us with an advance review copy of the first issue, and I can assure you that it’s pretty schway good.

Like I said, with full transparency, I didn’t really dig what got us here.  Without going into any spoilers, though, this first issue doesn’t really dive too deep into anything that writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly used to tee off this story, which actually works to its benefit.  While the context of the Urban Legends kickoff would be necessary to fully understand why Terry’s doing what he’s doing, and why the city itself has put a target on his back, you could still read this on its own and get a pretty solid Batman Beyond story.

On its own, the concept is pretty interesting: Terry has lost almost everything after Bruce passed away, and save for his suit, he’s on his own and with limited resources.  The rise of a citywide menace and a brand new owner of the Wayne-Powers company have put a lot on Terry’s plate, and he has to resort to some old school Batman tactics to take them both on.

It’s a really interesting place for Terry to be, and in the best possible way, this is the most like Bruce Terry’s Batman has ever been.  In his twenty-plus year history, he’s always been portrayed as a rookie, constantly growing into the role under the tutelage of the original Dark Knight.  Now that he’s on his own, Terry has to make his own way as Batman, which is refreshing for us readers, even if it’s added stress for the character.  As strange as it sounds, the worst thing to happen to Terry in some time is the best thing to happen to Terry in some time, as he’s now able to progress and grow as a character in his own right.

Through it all, the returning team of artist Max Dunbar, colorist Sebastian Cheng, and letterer Aditya Bidikar bring Neo Gotham to life, visually speaking.  The issue is awash in bright, neon colors, with several impressive splash pages, double-page spreads, and varying panel layouts giving the book a sense of scope and momentum.  Dunbar and Cheng give the city a distinct personality, and have somehow side-stepped the trap that befalls too many comics set in the future: Neo Gotham doesn’t look like a modern city, but it doesn’t feel stale and cold due to it’s stylized futuristic trappings either.  The floating holograms and neon lighting and towering skyscrapers look like they belong to a city that is lived in, one that’s been added on to and built up over decades.

That the rain falls on Neo Gotham makes the city feel alive, in more ways than one.  Because the city is sentient and on the hunt for Batman, and Bidikar’s sinister font choice for Gotham’s opening narration is quite effective.  It was one of the aspects of the prologue that I appreciated, so I’m glad it carried over here.

Even when I keep my expectations in check, I’m willing to give a story a shot and judge it on its own terms.  That I enjoyed Batman Beyond: Neo-Year #1 as much as I did was a pleasant surprise, and it’s a strong enough first issue to retroactively make some earlier choices go down a little easier.  What’s bad for Terry McGinnis proves to be good for us, as his new status quo is one of the most compelling and interesting things to happen in a Batman Beyond title in a long while now.  When all is said and done, this might even prove to be the series that sees Terry become the Batman of tomorrow in his own right, and not simply the successor to Bruce Wayne.  It’s a tall order to fill, but if the next five issues maintain or even exceed this quality, it can be done.

SCORE: 7.5/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this issue for the purpose of review.  Batman Beyond: Neo-Year #1 will hit comic shops and digital retailers on April 5.