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Batman Beyond Universe #1 – Review

by: Kyle Higgins (writer), Christos Gage (writer), Thony Silas (art), Iban Coello (art),

The Story:  Could your cell phone electrocute you to death? Tune in in twenty-seven years to find out! And we’ll get the weather from Aquagirl and find out why Superman is spontaneously shooting people.

The Review: Kyle Higgins has been very, very open about his love for Batman Beyond and judging by this issue it simply cannot be contained.  Other recent attempts to translate Batman Beyond to comics have generally failed to capture the tone of the beloved television show. But where many before him have failed, Higgins really succeeds.

I’m not sure but it seems likely that Higgins either watched a good deal of Batman Beyond in the process of writing this issue, or simply has the series memorized; both are strong possibilities. Whatever his method, he has a strong grasp on Terry’s voice. In truth, this is sometimes a slight detriment as Higgins’ script reveals how generic Terry can sound without Will Friedle voicing him. However I can’t blame him for so accurately replicating the series and, thankfully, many lines are good enough to summon Friedle’s iconic voice to mind. I can practically see one of the suit’s eyes widen when terry quips back, “Oh come on, it’s college. Aren’t I supposed to pull all-nighters?”

Commissioner Gordon, Ghoul, and even the news anchor all feel authentic to the show, but it’s not all fodder for nostalgia. Higgins writes an interesting plot that makes use of the Neo Gotham setting without obsessing over it. It’s still Batman Beyond but Terry’s clearly come a long way in terms of his detective work, which, given the shift in medium, seems a wise choice.

The one problem with this issue is that it’s not quite as accessible as one might hope. In fairness to it, DC has been publishing Batman Beyond comics for some time now, but with a new #1 issue on the stands and a new writer many, including myself, have jumped back on board here. People who last saw Terry in Return of the Joker or Justice League Unlimited might be confused to find that Bruce and Terry are no longer partners or that Ghoul has graduated to being his own supervillain. In fact, many of them are probably thinking, “who’s Ghoul?”

The issue is kind enough to supply the suggested reading, but it doesn’t do much to explain itself. It’s nothing that you can’t make your way through, but, without context, it might slow you down.

Matching Higgins’ success in script is Thony Silas, who supplies the art. It’s understandably hard for many artists to translate the Beyond-era batsuit into their own style, the thing doesn’t quite make physical sense after all, but Silas pulls it off with gusto. The resulting comic is familiar to the Batman Beyond fan without being slavishly devoted to Bruce Timm’s designs.

Silas really seems to enjoy the setting, getting great mileage out of the constant glow of Neo-Gotham. Not only does it lead to some excellent lighting choices but it helps limited backgrounds and motion lines feel natural, which only helps the sense of motion.

While it’s hardly the same as Higgins’ taste for acrobatics over in Nightwing, the comic is certainly lively. Action scenes give an idea of the pacing and slower sequences are punctuated with dramatic looks and expressions that recall the way the television series would end its scenes.

One thing that really helps is the variable panel count. This team doesn’t seem satisfied to fall back on the standard six panel layouts that tend to show up these days. Instead they go all out, often featuring pages with as many as nine panels or as few as three. Silas does a great job of keeping the energy up and the pages airy, allowing the reader to see each subtle change or the full range of motion without things getting claustrophobic.

As if that weren’t enough, we also get a Justice League Beyond story. I’d call it a backup, but it’s actually another full length issue.

The premise is fairly simple: solar activity is causing Superman’s powers to fluctuate wildly, making him a dangerous ally to the rest of the league. It’s original yet somewhat obvious, but what will determine your feelings about the story is how Christos Gage chooses to handle it, or rather how the characters do.

It’s interesting to see each member of the league giving Kal their advice on how to deal with his condition and it allows Gage to introduce us to each of his teammates. At times you may become aware of the author’s hand, which can be distracting. Other readers might have a problem with how superficial some of our time with the rest of the league seems. It’s a strong sequence, but one that is slightly awkward.

The answer to Superman’s dilemma is clever and does even more in its fallout than in its implementation.

Foremost of the issue, Gage relies heavily on the strength of his ideas (or at least I assume them to be his ideas, given the evident joy he displays when calling on them). Concepts like the nanodemons, the Flash’s connection to the Speed Force, Superman’s relationship with Lois, and his take on Kryptonian biology are thrown at the reader in rapid succession, making for an energetic if slightly haphazard comic.

The downside of this is a certain feeling of detachment on behalf of Gage. At times it feels like he gives us all these concepts to avoid having to reach a place of dramatic truth. Gage only escapes this problem towards the end of the issue where he writes Kal and his co-workers with all the heart  and charm they deserve.

Iban Coello’s artwork isn’t half as vital as Silas’, but it certainly is pretty. Coello takes a slightly greater risk and deviates further from Timm’s style. The result is a strong take on the JLB that suits Superman particularly well.

In some ways it’s kind of amazing how well his style suits such diverse characters, but here and there you do notice strain in a few of them. The Flash, for instance, always looks a little off. Her bug-eyed cowl and super-tight costume seem to be weaknesses of Coelho’s. However, he makes up for these with a number of images where he excels. I don’t know exactly what makes a sparring session between Barda and Superman in a bright Kirby-esque jumpsuit so much fun but I know that Coello draws the crap out of it.

The Conclusion: The Batman creative team does an excellent job of putting their own, eminently respectful, spin on the beloved world of Batman Beyond. The plot doesn’t advance as much as it should but it’s really amazing how interesting and fleshed out this issue feels in spite of that. Unfortunately, as a first issue, this book kind of falls down. Those who haven’t read the previous Beyond series will find only editorial boxes to aid them and those unfamiliar with Terry McGinnis are on their own.

As for the JLB team, they neither reach as high, nor perform quite as consistently but it’s still a solid comic.

Batman Beyond Universe #1 is a love letter to Batman Beyond. Especially at $3.99 for forty pages,  I think fans of the show will find themselves wishing that all of DC’s offerings could combine passion and quality the way that this one does

Grades:

                Batman Beyond: B

                Justice League Beyond: B-

-Noah Sharma

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