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Batman Beyond Universe #5 – Review

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

The Story: Terry learns better than to ask for advice. And this month in Justice League Beyond: old people complain about technology.

The Review: First up is Kyle Higgins with the first installment of his title’s sophomore arc. There’s no denying that this is something of a transition issue, as we both take stock of where we stand and establish a number of plot threads for the upcoming arc. Such a story could easily be clunky, but, though things are a bit scattered, Higgins does an admirable job of pacing his tale. Few, if any, of the numerous segments feel underdeveloped, which is fairly impressive.

Shriek is still on the loose after the events of Rewire, allowing us another entertaining battle with one of the Beyond era’s most well-loved villains. Unfortunately, despite his top-tier status, Shriek definitely loses something in the translation to print. Clever as the ideas that Higgins introduces are, the resulting combat is rather unclear. At one point it kind of looks like Terry is plotting the murder of a squirrel.

That said, audio balancing and good judgment always limited the magnitude of Shreev’s sonic attacks. It’s certainly clear just how powerful Shriek’s attacks are when represented as a cacophony of written sound effects.

I’m always a fan of seeing superheroics bear consequences, especially when they don’t dilute the action*. It’s unclear how long this will linger or how significant the effects will be, but it adds an interesting wrinkle to the story, while reminding us that Terry is all too human. I do wonder about the choice to devote a page and a half of a jam-packed story to a retelling of the Batman: TAS episode “Fear of Victory,” but for now we’ll just have to trust that Higgins feels it’s relevant.

The best part of the story is Terry’s interactions with Ten- I mean Melanie! Higgins avoids making Melanie into a rehash of Catwoman, which is really nice despite her introductory episode making it clear that that’s exactly what she was to her creators. Higgins seems willing to have Terry be a flawed protagonist and it’s extremely humanizing for a hero as big as Batman. Thony Silas grasps the relationship brilliantly; rendering Terry’s alternating judgment and smugness with crystal clarity that never quite makes you want to smack him.

It’s worth mentioning that none of what I’ve described is the supposed “A Story” of the issue, but for any claims for its centrality, this issue is really just set up – and that’s fine. The slow burn treatment allows us to build amusement before the title card pulls things into focus. It does a nice job of playing with expectation, something that must have been even more impressive over two installments, as originally published.

Silas is still my favorite artist to handle Neo-Gotham stories. His take on the iconic Bruce Timm designs captures the same moody dynamism as the show and even surpasses its forbearer in terms of expressivity and maturity. Not to mention that things just look cool.

Shriek’s body language captures the creepy, alien quality of his animated appearances, and Terry’s face captures each expression wonderfully, from shock, to cockiness, to skull-shattering pain. Just look at how strong and economic the first scene in Barbara’s office is; how many artists could get that much character into those panels?

Speaking of which, I really do have to praise Silas’ layouts again. Batman Beyond manages to replicate the nuance of the reaction heavy original. It’s what you love about wide-screen comics without all that pesky decompression spreading things out into a year-long slog.

Meanwhile, young Zod is beginning to acclimate to life on Earth. The Of course it takes nearly no time at all for him to be caught in the middle of another crisis, but the first two pages of  Zod and friends at the park are particularly effective at establishing character, not just that of our Kryptonian visitor but his League compatriots as well.

Meanwhile Christos Gage goes about his task of complicating Zod’s allegiances, not through the character’s struggle, but through our own. Once again we have a strong use of tropes in order to obscure the story’s outcome, but rather than the feint Higgins employed, Gage opts to simply spread his cards on the table and let us get lost in the sea of possibilities.

Despite the strong structure of the story as presented, the bipartite nature of this chapter does weigh on it a bit. While it was likely necessary to use Danica’s struggle to provide a climactic challenge for the original ten page version, in the composite it’s a somewhat lackluster action set piece that steals time from more interesting troubles down the line.

Indeed, one of the issue’s greatest failings is its unwillingness to explore the somewhat apocalyptic scenario it paints. Heroes gone bad, planet wide chaos, a third-generation AMAZO, Gage stacks the deck against the League, but every time the problem is reported and then promptly dropped, with many challenges met off-screen. There’s not enough showing and too much telling. Obviously Gage wants to establish what a real and present threat his big bad presents, but with pages at a premium, he doesn’t seem willing to do the necessary leg work. It’s a drain on a story rife with possibilities.

Between all the exposition, Gage provides some fun banter, which admittedly draws attention to the juxtaposition. He also brings in a mess of familiar characters, one of which brings an especially big smile to my face.

Iban Coello doesn’t handle transitions as well as normal this month, potentially creating some confusion. This isn’t helped by the many threats that our heroes face and the myriad locations in which they face them. Still, there’s plenty to applaud in his work. The improved motion present in last month’s issue remains, aided by some dramatic poses and a number of clever tricks that help provide a sense of speed.

This is also the issue where I realized one of the major reasons that Coello works so well for this series. Though Coello makes excellent use of carefully placed lines and significant shading, his style retains a cartoony flair, especially when drawing unmasked faces. It never tries to out-Timm Bruce Timm, but it does suit a comic based on an animated series. In fact, that’s why the characters that Coello seems to struggle with most often have blank eyes. That fashion made sense for Timm, but Coello is at his best with characters like Zod or Barda. Batman and Mr. Miracle look off at first because they’re different from the Timm-verse style, but Flash and Micron’s designs just don’t translate well. Coello also has a problem with drawing Warhawk with small images of him lacking the three-dimensionality that he needs. These problems will need to be worked on, but this issue focuses on Superman and Zod, as well as a number of characters in civilian garb, and accordingly these issues aren’t at all crushing.

The Conclusion: Both stories start at square one but present strong reasons to return by the time they’re over.

Batman Beyond digs deep into the DCAU’s history to craft a more engaging, if less focused, take on the animated classic, while JLB opts for breadth, providing a future that’s more in line with what we might see in the sprawling world of mainline continuity. Both are impressive, but personal taste will likely be very much in play. I can say that both are beautifully drawn and that the artists know well how to utilize their strengths to best effect.

Overall, Batman Beyond’s engaging story and spot-on dialogue feels like the stronger comic. Justice League Beyond is strong, probably an easy competitor for any current series bearing the prestigious JL name, however its dialogue is simply too expository and its plot just a little too jumbled to stand up to Terry’s adventures. With their first arcs behind them, both titles in Batman Beyond Universe show no signs of slowing down.  Plus it contains an epic Bat-beard.

If you’re not reading this series, it might be time to make sure you know why not.

Grade:

                Batman Beyond: B

                Justice League Beyond: B-

 

* I’m looking at you “Blind as a Bat”

 

-Noah Sharma

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