Sunday, September 19, 2010

Batman Beyond #4 - Secrets and Setbacks

Batman Beyond has done a lot to try and recapture the magic of the old TV show. It's also done a lot to try and be like a real Batman comic and not be some cheap gimmick that has people going "Ooh, it's Batman...from the future! Wow! Take my money!" To do this the Batman Beyond series has focused heavily not on the hardcore action or fighting of the show, but on the old school mystery element that made the Batman comics so epic. And I'm not talking about the mind-bending Lost style awesome that requires three doses of LSD and two doses of meth to at least partially follow. I'm talking about the classic mystery we got tested in back in grade school with motive, clues, and what not. Even though I got a D- on those tests, Batman Beyond is a mystery written in a way that is easy to follow and pretty damn awesome.

The mystery in this mini centers around the new Batman, Terry McGinnis, trying to uncover the truth behind a string of murders involving Batman's old enemies. The face behind these murders is supposedly Hush, the classic Batman villain who had ties to the early life of Bruce Wayne. However, that would be a bit of a stretch and not just because the guy is supposed to be dead. This is 40 years in the future and Bruce is old as dirt. Since Hush came after him when he was still in his prime, he should be withering with osteoporosis and pissing into a bag. So what's going on here? That's the question Terry has to answer.

Batman Beyond #4 brings where the last issue ended. Hush was confronting yet another old Batman villain (at least an updated version) in Catwoman. He had been getting help from her in his screwing-with-Batman plan and to no one's surprise, he looks to screw her over and not in a way you could make Viagra commercials about. There's still no clue as to who this new Catwoman is. She doesn't offer any hints, only that she's not related to the old Catwoman. Yeah, that's really helpful. But before Hush can finish the job, Batman shows up. However, it's not the old Batman or even the new Batman. It's a robot Batman. Don't get too excited though. It's not as awesome as it sounds.

So Hush is only fooled for a very brief moment. He's about as impressed as the readers probably are when it comes to Batman using a robot. It's not even a very good robot either. Terminator fans who may be reading this will scoff at how ineffective this robo-Batman is because Hush only takes one blow before out-smarting the machine (take that Skynet!). Well he doesn't exactly outsmart it. The damn thing malfunctions like the Windows Vista beta version. It's pretty underwhelming and with all those billions, you would think Bruce would have at least tried to work out the kinks.

While robo-Batman is giving himself a bad name, new Batman is still working the mystery angle with another old Batman ally, Dick Grayson. This is a character that never showed up in the TV show so it's nice to finally see him in the world of Batman Beyond. He's got some white hair going like the rest of the old Batman cast and like Tim Drake he's left pretty embittered by Bruce. He still made a new life for himself, teaching gymnastics and acrobatics. Terry's only mildly impressed. He gets right to the good-cop/bad-cop routine, asking for an alibi since Dick is one of the very few who knows Batman's secrets. If Tim Drake could go a little nuts, why couldn't Dick? Well he does offer an alibi and he also offers some insight into his history. While he doesn't have the rogue's gallery Batman has in his cave, he did keep one of his old uniforms (albeit riddled with bullet holes).

Dick has the potential to offer some vital clues while filling in some of the blanks the show never got to. While Terry is getting this history lesson, the battle of robo-Batman continues to unfold. Not only that, the new Catwoman enlisted the help of some robo-Catwomen as well. It must be a mark of status in the future. You're not really awesome until you have your own army of duplicates doing your dirty work. Some may find the whole robot angle pretty lame, but since this is the future it does fit somewhat. It's just that for all the supposed advancements made, the damn things are still an insult to the Terminators and every robot movie ever made. That doesn't mean they don't kick a little ass though. Batman does manage to get some fight out of his robots and give Hush a good beat down.

Where it all goes wrong is in the design. Hush may be flesh and blood, but he still has a working brain. He quickly picks out a flaw in robo-Batman's design. He guesses that the main power supply is under the trademarked Batman emblem and guess what? He's right. It's just like those lame putty soldiers in the old Power Ranger TV show. One hit to a certain point and it's done for. Not a very effective design to say the least. The only thing Bruce can possibly do to not be completely humiliated is self-destruct the damn thing. In comics, that's like standing up with a bullhorn and admitting to a large crowd that you're a pussy.

It's clear Bruce is not doing very well without Terry, but someone has to do the whole mystery game. In the process, there's a quick flashback with Dick Grayson and this is where it gets a little muddled from the show. He says that during Bruce's final days as Batman the Joker showed up and abducted Alfred. But how can that be? It was already revealed in a previous issue that the whole plot of Return of the Joker still applied. Anyone who saw that story on a late-night rerun on Cartoon Network knows that the Joker was killed by Tim Drake. So how could he show up again to abduct Alfred? Moreover, how can this be the point when Bruce retired? In the first episode of Batman Beyond, it showed Bruce still going at it as an old man in the new suit. Something is clearly very wrong here.

It's the first major hiccup in the continuity with this series. So far the book has been very good at staying true to what the old show established. This is quite a misstep because it's flying in the face of events that were already established in this very mini. If Tim Drake never made an appearance, then one could say it was a retcon. But that's not the case. Someone drilled a hole here and it's big enough for Ron Jeremy to fuck. There is some other details about Dick getting shot during this process, but for most readers that will fly right over their heads as they're too busy scratching it trying to rectify this first and blatant inconsistency.

There may very well be an explanation for this, but for now it's a hole that this series will have to work around. There is some reprieve when another familiar face from Batman Beyond shows up, his old friend Max. Her hair is dyed a different color in this comic, but she's still clearly the new Batman's Alfred except she has boobs and no accent. She's able to give Terry a good pep talk and prompt him to quit with the detective shit and go do something about Hush and the shit he's been pulling.

What he ends up doing is luring Hush out by disguising himself as one of Batman's current villains, Mad Stan. He was one of the more colorful villains in the show, not so much a master criminal and more an overall trouble-maker. He was no Joker, but he was easy to laugh at. His appearance is more than enough to get Hush in the mix for another fight and this time he's packing more deranged madness this time. He's also got a spear, which admittedly isn't as subtle as a boomerang but even in the future being stabbed still hasn't been rendered obsolete.

The fighting is a lot more intense this time around. Hush isn't looking to taunt or tease Terry like some overpriced street hooker. He's out for blood. He rants on about how this is part of some bigger plan to do what's right for Gotham. Somehow killing Batman, the guy who has always taken it upon himself to save Gotham, is supposed to work. I don't get it either and it sounds like someone is off his meds for making this case, but Hush believes his madness the same way Donald Trump believes his own superiority. This seems to be enough because he ends up delivering a fatal blow to Terry.

Then comes the big reveal. Hush has taken down Batman. He's stabbed him, wounded him, and humiliated him. Now feeling his balls descend a bit more, he rips off the bandages covering his face to reveal his identity. Only it's not the same Hush that was described a few issues ago. This Hush is actually Dick Grayson. Yeah, the same damn Dick Grayson from earlier in the books! Somehow that alibi of his wasn't as solid as he claimed and somehow he figured out to be two places at once, fighting Catwoman while meeting with Terry. It's shocking and confusing, sort of like sitting on tasers while high on cocaine. It's certainly unexpected, but it offers more confusion rather than mystery.

So we've got Dick Grayson showing up and later revealing himself as Hush. This comes on top of that flashback that flies directly in the face of the story revealed in the cartoon. For a series that had been so streamlined and solid, it's like someone drove over a pothole laced with grease from a MacDonalds deep fryer. It didn't completely crash and burn, but it's swerving recklessly throughout a busy residential neighborhood and taking out a few kids and small kittens in the process. Even though these reveals made for some strong moments, they weren't all that striking and didn't hit an emotional chord. That in many ways is the greatest weakness of the book. Because of the confusing twists, it's hard to get really attached to it.

That doesn't mean it's been completely destroyed. This issue was not up to par with the previous three and it's really hurt the overall flow of the story. However, it certainly isn't beyond redemption. There could certainly be a worthy explanation in the next issue as there so often are with other mystery books. Perhaps that flashback in this book was a ruse. Perhaps that Dick Grayson that Terry talked to was a ruse. Perhaps even the Hush claiming to be Dick Grayson is an impostor. There are plenty of possibilities and it depends on how it brings the story together. For now though, this issue fell short of it's predecessors. That's why I give Batman Beyond #4 a 3 out of 5. It's not terrible enough to pan just yet, but it has some work to do to be awesome again. Nuff said.

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