By: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel, Phil Hester; Eric Gapshur; Craig Rousseau; & Thony Silas (art), Nick Fillardi & Guy Major (color)
The Story: What finally broke two generations of the Batfamily?
The Review: It kind of feels like a new dawn for Batman Beyond Universe. Gone is the JLB co-feature and much of the continuity the franchise has gained in comics. Bolstered by call backs to the DCAU’s two biggest animated features, Batman Beyond #13 feels like an event, even on the tails of the “Justice Lords Beyond” arc.
The one element that viewers of the classic television series might not be familiar with is the new Vigilante who the issue informs us teamed up with Terry in “Batman Beyond: 10,000 Clowns”. Vigilante is actually the instigator of most of the issue’s drama, but the core of this story lies solely on Bruce Wayne and his young protégés.
It must be somewhat intimidating to finally reveal the details of one of the DCAU’s biggest secrets after a little over fifteen years, but, if so, Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel don’t show it for a moment, eagerly adding in the answer to one of this series’ most speculated upon questions. So if you want to know how Bruce fell out with Dick, Terry, and Barbara, this is required reading.
One of Kyle Higgins’ strengths over the course of his run has been giving the Bruce/Terry feud a respectful and visceral portrayal. That continues this issue, with Bruce’s need for control played as a flawed outgrowth of his concern for his partners. It’s not hard to see how his gruff demeanor strangles the best of intentions.
I’m quite glad that I picked this issue up in print rather than digitally. The early chapters are solid additions to the world of Batman Beyond, but they aren’t Higgins’ strongest work on this title. The first chapter, especially, relies almost entirely on its shocking twist ending. Each ten page installment is better than the last, with the final third of the book being an absolute roller coaster.
Though the apparent cause of Bruce and Terry’s final split is certainly of a worthy scale to break up the world’s greatest crime fighting team, it seems more than a little convenient. Throwing Terry’s new partner, one of Bruce’s most personal villains, and a key figure from both Bruce and Terry’s lives into one scene feels like a little too much of a dramatic trope meet & greet. While I definitely give Higgins and Siegel credit for finding natural holes in the Batman Beyond mythology, plugging them all with one cork feels excessive.
Nonetheless, it’s hard not to get excited about so many different elements that could each support their own story. Vigilante trailing the RotJ Jokerz, Dick’s discovery of Bruce and Barbara, The return of the Phantasm, Terry’s entrance into college, the truth behind Bruce and Barbara’s relationship; it’s a smorgasbord of big ideas. The concepts used in this issue are pretty amazing and the dialogue is solid as ever, though it occasionally lacks the purpose I’d expect from Higgins. Bruce is, by far, the strongest voice of the issue, but Terry, particularly angry Terry, is spot-on. I also really appreciate that we’re already in the era where Terry has told Dana about his secret. Not only does it demonstrate the difference between he and Bruce, but it allows Dana to play a larger role in his story, after being rather underutilized in the actual cartoon.
Particularly in the final ten pages, the writing jumps up in quality. There’s a natural desire to see Dick Grayson as the protagonist of this story, the kindly young man betrayed by his mentor, but both the character and the story press home that it’s Barbara’s story as much as his. Indeed, Higgins’ love and knack for writing Dick Grayson is on display, but it’s Babs who really blows me away. It’s great to see a story that focuses on Barbara’s agency and presents her, and to a lesser extent Dick, as an equal to Bruce.
Those who’ve seen any of Phil Hester’s work on Green Arrow will be familiar with his boxy, attractively cartoony style. His first image of Terry as Batman actually says a lot about how he handles this issue. Dynamically posed, carefully muscled, and wreathed in shadows, Hester recalls something of the original Batman: The Animated Series opening, presenting a rather movement-based, somewhat pulpier take on Batman Beyond. But while there’s something sturdier about Hester’s designs, he stays just on the right side of things and avoids the common mistake of giving Terry Bruce’s physique.
The level of detail feels slightly inconsistent, with pages like Barbara Gordon’s first appearance looking much more simplified than most of the book. The one exception is probably Terry McGinnis, who stands out as a lone deviation. It’s not that it’s bad art, but Terry is the only character who a fan of the cartoon wouldn’t immediately recognize.
Hester’s sense of momentum also extends to his layouts which make skillful and frequent use of negative space. There’s nice variety and every once in a while Hester knocks it out of the park with an instantly striking arrangement.
Craig Rousseau handles the flashback pages, capturing the feeling of the New Batman Adventures era while adding something of his own style. Some characters, like Alfred and Tim Drake, are nearly spot-on replications of the cartoon’s aesthetic, but our leads each look a little different. Honestly, I never quite warmed to the simplified designs of NBA and Rousseau’s more complex eyes and less stylized renderings do a lot for the art without abandoning the feeling of nostalgia.
Admittedly, characters can look a little stiff at times and the requirements of the style can lead to some unlikely anatomy. A side by side comparison of Bruce and Barbara’s necks is nearly laughable. Nonetheless, Rousseau’s sections really are about emotions. The script is all soapy drama, appeals to our optimism, and cathartic moments of triumph cut short. In that, Rousseau succeeds fabulously. Particularly in the final ten pages, Rousseau delivers a thoroughly emotional reading experience that’s direct and clearz without losing a sense of subtlety.
The Conclusion: It’s sad to see the Justice League co-feature go, but Batman Beyond Universe #13 really does make the best of it. Though things start out slow, they build to a fever pitch by issue’s end. Attractive art and dialogue with a laser sight on your heart make this an impressive addition to one of DC’s best books. Batman Beyond Universe #13 is a little too uneven to be an absolute must read, but it’s still pretty amazing. If the New 52 line could be half as consistent or brilliant as this supposed side-project, DC would be in a great place.
- What a week for Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel! If you’re not following these two, you’re missing one of the most impressive writing teams in comics today.
– Noah Sharma
Alec Siegel, Barbara Gordon, Batman Beyond, Batman Beyond Universe, Batman Beyond Universe 13, Batman Beyond Universe 13 Review, Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Barbara Gordon, Craig Rousseau, Dick Grayson, Dick Grayson (Beyond), Eric Gapshur, Guy Major, Kyle Higgins, Mark of the Phantasm, Nick Filardi, Phantasm, Phil Hester, Terry McGinnis, Thony Silas, Vigilante (Beyond)