A complaint that I’ve brought up with this series a few times in the past is that it has a number of neat ideas that I like, but is rarely able to execute them satisfactorily. It would bring up something high-concept like money’s ability to control societal institutions, but then present it in a way that’s too over-the-top to take seriously. However, slowly but surely, the series has been improving with every issue. Batman Beyond: Neo-Year #5 is easily my favorite so far, and it’s because it so successfully focuses in on a theme and delivers on being able to meaningfully explore it.
Rather than running around Neo Gotham City, almost the entirety of this issue takes place deep in the Batcave while Terry tries to heal Detective Boonma. It could have very easily led to the story being boring with not much action taking place, but the claustrophobic and secluded depiction of the cave really enhances the stakes that the characters are faced with. With the looming fear that the Gotham AI could transform them into a mindless soldier at any moment, they are forced to retreat underground like a frightened animal. Everything, both narratively and visually, works together to make things seem hopeless. Something that adds a lot to that effect is the return of Gestalt, the three-minded human/AI hybrid, slithering through the ruins of the cave like a worm through its tunnels.
I’m really glad to see Gestalt back. I said in my review of Batman Beyond: Neo-Year #2 that they’re a really neat sci-fi idea for character that unfortunately felt wasted in what was little more than a chase scene. Well here we get to see more of what it’s like to live as Gestalt, who has taken up residence in the abandoned Batcave. The three minds are portrayed as speaking in unison, but at the same time are semi-independent. They have a way of speaking to each other while simultaneously communicating with others. You can also tell that they emotionally rely on one another, contrary to the mechanical and seemingly unfeeling way they speak. Gestalt’s dialog with Terry helps break up the monologuing and narration in an interesting way. When they begin to help him with his technological needs in the cave, it reminded me of them as a futuristic version of Harold, Batman’s assistant from the early 90s.
Part of what adds to the effect of Gestalt’s alien presence is the way their speech bubbles are drawn in a computer-like, but still distinctly organic style. I don’t think I’ve praised Aditya Bidikar’s lettering enough in this series, because it’s consistently been a highlight. In addition to Gestalt, the Gotham AI’s words as presented between the panel margins and drawn as if they were glitching out make a big difference in making it feel like an omnipresent entity that cannot be confronted normally. I also enjoy the giant, stylized impact-font word borders that the series has used a few times to put serious emphasis on a scene. Seeing the city itself fill the words of “three months later” really drives home the excruciatingly long time that they are forced to remain hidden away. It’s very impactful.
I’m not always the biggest fan of time skips in stories because they will sometimes feel arbitrary and unnecessary. Here, however, it works. The sense of extended isolation that I talked about above makes the passage of time tangible. The one thing that takes away from this effect, which is often a problem with time skips, is that seemingly no events of note have happened during that entire time. Terry and Gestalt spent the entire time devoted to finding a cure for Detective Boonma, and topside, Lumos has just been planning his big, upcoming party.
Dominic Lumos continues to be showboating and obnoxious, but I think that’s intentional. The reader is meant to hate him and everything he says. He represents everything that is wrong with the city. He is so obsessed with his outward appearance and own success that he crushes the poor beneath his feet, all with a smile. It contrasts strongly with the grim determination of Batman in a similar way that Joker does. However, a key difference between Lumos and Joker is that Lumos is meant to represent a serious social commentary that Kelly and Lanzing are trying to make. Some of that is lost when you have someone this over the top and ridiculous.
The comic often spells out the satire too clearly instead of letting it speak for itself. For example, there’s the fact that Lumos explicitly brags about the fact that the party will take place “above” the city to show how much more important and superior the wealthy are. This is all a minor complaint for this issue specifically because Lumos’ scene only lasts two pages, but it’s something I think worth bringing up as it relates to the series as a whole.
After the time skip, there is a real sense that Terry has grown. He acts like, and even looks more like, a young Bruce Wayne. He is much more stoic and has spent the past three months thinking of nothing but the mission. With that transformation comes an examination of what exactly is Terry’s relationship to the Batman mantle, and to the legacy of Bruce Wayne.
Terry comments on how his fight with the city AI literalizes Batman’s struggle against Gotham that’s been going on since Bruce began. He questions whether he can live up to the expectations that have been set in front of him. The shadow cast by the ghost of Bruce Wayne hangs over him at every moment, and now, at his lowest point, he is ready to quit trying to meet it. It’s a wonderfully introspective scene that highlights part of what makes Terry interesting as a character. It asks the question of what it means to live up to the legacy of Batman, and how Terry can grow as a person while fulfilling that role.
- You want a slower paced story that takes time to look at the emotional state of the characters
- Character growth is something you want to see more of in comics
- You like reading about what Batman means to his allies and to those he inspires
Batman Beyond: Neo-Year #5 is the best issue of the series yet. It takes the time to slow down from all the action and look at how everyone has been affected by everything that’s happened. These moments of introspection allow Terry to grow as a character in meaningful ways, which can be a rarity in a lot of comics. The dark, cramped artwork work alongside the narrative to create an atmosphere that brings emotions to their lowest point in preparation for the big finale.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided a copy of this issue for the purpose of this review.