If there’s one way I would describe this issue, it’s “missed opportunities”. In fact it’s something that I could use to describe the series as a whole, but it’s exceedingly apparent here. Every time the story touches on an interesting idea, talks it up as a big, compelling idea, and then has no meat to back it up. Sure, there’s always a big action set piece that comes of it, and some suitably dramatic speeches, but still so much left unexamined. Mindless popcorn spectacle can be fun, but it’s still frustrating when you can see that it’s trying to be something more.
I know I sound like a broken record discussing these opening monologues, but they’re just so exemplary of the sort of thing I’m talking about. Their purple prose and ponderous tone make the narrative out to be this complex conflict, but think about it for a bit and it’s not saying much if anything at all. Beam sends a message through the city’s old “hardcables” (which I hope no one is listening to, because she just says Terry’s secret identity openly) to plea for Terry’s aid against Lumos’ development project. The problem with this, aside from the fact it’s totally disconnected from everything else happening in the issue, is that it totally drops any pretense of the Lumos plot being anything more than a standard “villain is taking over the city”.
The book toyed with the idea of injecting a little bit of moral ambiguity into Lumos’ character when they had him gloat about providing housing to the poor, but when you intercut exploding buildings with a devilish grin that all washes away. I’m not saying that you always need to have a morally gray villain, and certainly not saying to portray slumlord developers in a positive light. However, the series clearly wants to allude to the very real problems of gentrification and housing insecurity. That’s why there’s such a tension between the seemingly genuine desire to tackle these weighty topics, and the inability to frame them as anything more than “well there’s just a super evil guy that we need to stop”.
The bulk of the story involves Terry and Kyle exploring the Court of Owls’ catacombs beneath Gotham. It’s the sort of setting that’s perfect for creating a mysterious, haunting atmosphere that’s perfect for this sort of story. To an extent, that’s exactly what happens. However, as with the previous issues, this one insists on putting as much focus on Kyle Selina the Catboi as possible. The dungeon filled with skeletons and traps is quickly glossed over so that Terry can ask Kyle more questions about his past. It’s a bewildering experience to read because you’re left wondering why we’re focusing on that instead of the fun dungeon delving adventure. Kyle even sort of acknowledges this point, when he wonders the same thing that the reader is.
It’s eventually revealed that the reason Kyle can do magic is because he was taught/cursed by John Constantine. As a twist I guess this works, but it feels like name dropping a reference more than anything else. The way Kyle’s magic manifests also feels very different than what Constantine can typically do. His magic is typically more about arcane rituals than throwing fire bolts like a wizard. It’s something that will (hopefully) be developed further in later issues and be better explained.
Finally, there’s the big final confrontation against the Owls. Unfortunately for them, they’re all decrepit zombies, so they wouldn’t be much of a fight. Fortunately for them, they’ve created a new Talon avatar to fight for them, and that avatar is in the form of… Batman! We get to go through the whole song and dance about them playing mind games using the voice of Bruce Wayne to demoralize Terry. The problem is that no one, neither the reader or even Terry himself, ever buys it for a second. It’s not clear who thought this would work, so it just comes across as yet another “neat idea” that is not thought through thoroughly.
So much of the fight’s narrative tension is a dud. What’s left to redeem it? Well it just looks really cool. Once again, Max Dunbar’s art comes to the rescue in making a spectacularly weird and exciting fight. The necrotic Batman design itself oozes horror and bile. The menacing ichor and tendrils which extend in every direction really sell the concept of an ancient, organic, and rotten being which threatens to infect anyone it touches. It’s art like this that can still make these stories enjoyable to read if you just turn your brain off.
- You’ve been dying to learn more about Kyle the Catboi
- You just want to watch some cool fights with lots of spectacle
- Batman should do more dungeon crawling
Batman Beyond: Neo-Gothic #3 has plenty of interesting ideas with ultimately uninteresting execution. The focus is put on all the wrong aspects of the story instead of what could make a truly compelling tale. There’s plenty of flashy, well drawn fights and villains, but beneath the surface there’s simply nothing of any depth to give it the meaning it purports to have.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman-News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.