Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Batman Beyond #1 - Future Awesome in the Present

There comes a time in every fanboy's life when they learn to accept that certain series are over and done with. They end sometimes abruptly, sometimes with a proper send-off and sometimes in a horrific act of destruction (Ultimatum comes to mind and kills a few more brain cells). Other times it's just flat out canceled. But whatever the reason, it's something you come to accept.

Batman Beyond was one of those series that was awesome in it's own right. The cartoon was an intense reworking of everything Batman and the future world of Gotham took on it's own unique light. The story thrived for a while, but it didn't prosper into something ongoing. So when it got canceled it pretty much faded, making only occasional appearances in shows like Static Shock and Justice League Unlimited.. Then DC drops a bombshell. It's bringing Terry McGinnis back into the DC universe.

For any fans of the old show it was like a beautiful supermodel knocking on your bedroom door and asking if it would be alright for her to lick melted chocolate off your dick while she stripped naked to the Dark Knight soundtrack. It came out of nowhere, but in a good way for once. Batman Beyond was a story that had it's own style and even in the diverse DC comic universe, it sets itself apart with it's unique brand of Batman meets Back to the Future. Now readers get a chance to see a full fledged story arc staring Terry McGinnis, Ace the dog, and a grumpy old Bruce Wayne. If that premise alone doesn't give Batman fans a boner, then they need to burn their copy of "The Killing Joke" and hold their heads low in shame.

Batman Beyond #1 is the first issue of this story by Adam Beechen. It starts off as if Batman Beyond was never canceled. There's no ink wasted on an origins story or some bullshit recap page. It gets right into the action and like many problems in the DCU, it starts at a lab for Project Cadmus in the heart of Neo-Gotham (that's another thing, for some reason Gotham decided to add Neo. Probably to sound cool or leech off the popularity of the Matrix, who knows?). An old foe has escaped their custody and is leaving a trail of bloody bodies in his wake. It's the kind of gruesome mystery that works just as well for Batman in the future as it does in the present.

While this is unfolding, Terry McGinnis is hard at work being the new Batman. He's caught up in a battle with his old foe, Spellbinder. Anybody who has seen the old show should remember him. He's the deranged school counselor who heard one too many students bitch about how hard homework was and went crazy, turning into a psychopathic villain who got his kicks casting illusions on people. He's basically the modern day equivalent Jonathan Edwards only not nearly as big a douche.

The fight between Spellbinder and Batman isn't taken lightly. It's a pretty extensive fight that's drawn out over the course of several pages. For a character that's been out of the picture for the past five years, it's pretty refreshing. He hasn't lost his touch and the writers aren't just relying on the novel nature of this comic to make it work. There isn't just action. There's some nice witty exchange between Bruce and Terry. Even though Terry has clearly been doing this for a while, he's still somewhat of a punk and Bruce is still trying to work the kinks out. For a guy his age, that can't be good for his health (as if he ever gave two shits for his own regard to begin with).

But even after the fight is over and Batman wins, there are some interesting developments that help show that this book is still tied to the greater DC universe at large. Micron, the future version of Captain Atom, shows up and offers Batman another chance to join the Justice League. Again, there's some reference to the old show here. There was an episode where Terry did get a chance to party with the big boys and party quite hard at that. However, just like his predecessor he doesn't work well in a team. He prefers to stay a solo act that works locally rather than flying off to some distant star system to save some pocket race of aliens who live on a planet wedged between a black hole and a pulsar whose mating rituals involve giving the finger to passing races of female warriors while they're on their period. So he tells Micron no and isn't very polite about it either. That's Batman for you. Terry still carries the mantel well after his brief affair with a mistress called cancellation.

While the superheroes are talking politics, the escaped killer is having an orgy of fun. He managed to steal some clothes Kyle Reese from Terminator style and slip into the safety of the crowd. That's really all he needs to get back to doing what he does best and what he does best appears to involve butchering people with surgical gear in a way that would make the guys from Nip Tuck castrate themselves. It's another gruesome scene that never would have made it past those pussies in the Parent TV Council for the cartoon. Seeing it in a comic like this just looks and feels so good. Take that Christian Conservatives!

We then get a glimpse of the Batcave and a visibly aged Bruce Wayne. The man has aged about as well as a mix of fine wine and milk. Here the dynamic between Terry and Bruce continues. Bruce is still conditioning him in many ways to be the Batman that Gotham needs. Terry's immaturity shows once again when he talks about that alien concept known as sleep. A real Batman knows that sleep is not in the vocabulary and he learns that the hard way when Bruce detects reports of the murders, thus finally tying this plot with the escaped Cadmus nutjob with the new Batman. Knowing full well it's not possible to say no to the cape, Terry suits up again and heads out to investigate.

What follows is more classic elements of a Batman detective story. Terry heads off to investigate the murders and some of the cool gadgets of the new bat suit, like for instance the microphones in the fingertips, come to light. It sure beats using the old utility belt. Bruce goes down the possibilities. The killer seems to be messing up peoples' faces without going through the usual routine of robbing their ass. It shows they're dealing with a psycho and not a thief with impulse control issues. The list of who it could be is short. Twoface's name is dropped and since Bruce mentions no body being found, common comic book physics take over. We all know the story. No body means the guy ain't dead. So the intrigue only grows.

The next stop is St. James Psych Ward, which is where all the old patients from Arkham got shipped to. Among those still breathing is Jervis Tech, the Mad Hatter. Batman pays the guy a visit only to find that his mind has turned to the consistency of armpit sweat. They guy has clearly warped the minds of one too many victims including his own. So there's not much questioning to be done unless they want to hear fairy tells as told by Charles Manson.

Lucky for Batman, the next clue comes to him. A nurse screams and Batman goes to save her. He arrives to only catch a brief glimpse of the figure running away, who for whatever twisted reason doesn't want to take a shot at Batman yet (probably wanting to brush up on his psycho as a show of mutual respect. All major villains have standards too, you know). Terry goes onto help the nurse, who is obviously traumatized and in need of more therapy than Opera and Dr. Phil can possibly provide. But she's still sane enough to drop an ominous clue as to who is behind this. It's best summed up in one word...Hush.

And wouldn't you know it? The comic ends here on this dandy of a cliffhanger. That's right, readers are left thinking "Are you fucking kidding me?! Instead something tried and overused like Spellbinder or the Jokers they go with something more novel like Hush? How dare they!" I'm shocked and appalled as well. Batman Hush was one of the most acclaimed Batman stories of the past decade and the possibility of it translating into Batman Beyond is just too awesome for words. They could have easily just tried rehashing some old plot from the show, but they didn't. They did something new and fresh and if that isn't enough to rekindle that latent Batman Beyond fan in you, then you're just being a dick.

This comic is awesome. Seeing Terry McGinnis back in action is a real treat. Seeing him back in action in a story that's engaging, novel, yet still contains all the elements that make Batman great only adds icing atop a strippers tits to make it better. It's not without some flaws. The biggest shortcoming of this comic isn't small enough to discount unfortunately. As great as the story and premise is, the art really doesn't measure up. The lines are weak, the coloring is bland, and the environment of Neo-Gotham just doesn't impress in the slightest. It would be perfect if there was some visual awe to go along with the awesome plot. Sadly, your eyes won't be in for a treat so you'll have to make due with the plot.

But since it's still such a strong story with Batman Beyond no less, the comic still gets a 4.5 out of 5. My love for Batman Beyond has officially been brought back from the dead and it is hungry for more awesome! This series has been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait. Nuff said.

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