Monday, January 17, 2011

Batman Beyond #1 - A New Ongoing of Awesome

Not long ago, Batman Beyond fans were drinking tequila and dancing naked in the streets to celebrate the return of this cult favorite series in the form of a comic six-part mini. After nearly a decade of nothing, it seemed for a while that the world of Batman Beyond would be a small sliver of gold lodged in a mountain of shit. It was beautiful in it's own right, but easily overlooked. The mini really re-captured the magic that made Batman Beyond such an entertaining ride as a cartoon (even without Kevin Conroy providing the awesome vocals for Bruce Wayne). I know I never got around to reviewing the final issue, but cut me some slack. There are only so many hours in the day and God had to fucking rest on the seventh so whose fault is that? But if drinking tequila and dancing naked int he streets was a worthy celebration for a mini, Batman Beyond fans may have to engage in a full on Roman orgy to celebrate the news of Batman Beyond the ongoing series.

That's right! In essence, that mini that brought Hush to the world of Batman Beyond was merely a prelude. This new ongoing picks up right after, continuing the story of Terry McGuinnis in this crazy non-apocalyptic future where there are flying cars, but teenagers are still dicks and crime is still rampant. It's billed as a possible future for the DC universe and not the future. Not only that, this series will be one of those rare day-and-date digital releases. So on the same day this book hits the stands it will also be available for digital download. It makes perfect sense. A book that takes place in the future is actually using a futuristic means to distribute itself. Never mind the fact that this futuristic means uses technology has been around since Bush (the president and not the pussy) was first in office. So I guess it's not exactly futuristic, but that's besides the point.

The first issue begins in a familiar yet classic predicament to set the tone. Batman (the new one) is beating the shit out of some Jokers. As anyone who saw the old show knows, the Jokers were the first villains Terry fought. They're just a bunch of thugs who dress up like the old clown prince of crime to win respect yet they end up looking like complete idiots. You would think wearing clown makeup and getting your ass kicked would make you think twice about taking up a life of crime. Apparently they still haven't fixed the country's shitty education system 40 years in the future.

Terry's enjoying himself, and why shouldn't he? Remember, this takes place after the mini so he's triumphed over Hush and gotten back to a semi-normal routine of balancing his teenage life with being Batman. Bruce is still Bruce, meaning he's an insufferably dark living manifestation of every Edgar Allen Poe poem. So that much hasn't changed. Now as normal as this seems, it would have been easy to just take another random villain from the Batman Beyond rogue's gallery or try to sneak a classic like Hush back into the mix. But instead, this book takes a different approach to bringing in a bad guy and it doesn't involve yanking a loser from Donald Trump's Apprentice.

Enter Carson Jatts. No he's not some classic DC villain. If you look him up in Wikipedia, he won't show up as some obscure character with a checkered history in the comics. He's actually a former employee at the Justice League watchtower. He also just got diagnosed with cancer. And rather than appeal to Bono or hold  a telethon, he uses cancer as an excuse to become a total dick. He's essentially a less sexy version of Gregory House in that respect. So seeing as how the Justice League doesn't rescind someone's clearance for being cancer ridden, Carson breaks into the Justice League vault which for some reason that must point to a laughably incompetent future isn't that well guarded.

Once inside, the lone guard (yes, only one guard is with him) doesn't seem capable of stopping some cancer ridden Lex Luther wannabe from taking a tiny wand that was hidden in a meta-human containment vault. Now you would think that if there was a magic wand that did more than spew smoke up someone's ass in a horribly botched trick involving a gerbil and Richard Geere it would be under heavier security. For whatever reason, this thing is kept in the equivalent of a locker at a bus station. So when Carson touches it, the damn thing reacts like a North Korean missile test and turns him into schizophrenic version of King Midas. Only instead of turning things into gold with his touch, he can turn anything into pretty much any material he wants and that includes lead. Although if that's the best he can come up with, he's got no imagination. Personally, I would have turned him into a barrel of oil because God only knows how expensive that shit will be 40 years from now.

So a new villain has been born. While this is going on, Terry is catching up with the girlfriend who has somehow stayed with him through the entire series. Either she's the single most patient in the world or Terry gives her the greatest oral sex in the history of mankind. Whatever the case, a rather messy intro leads to some general romance to show that for all his faults as the new Batman he knows how to handle women better than Bruce ever did. That's sort of like saying you're able to play soccer better than Tom Brady, but it still counts as something and does remind the reader that Terry has more of a social life than Bruce did.

It isn't just his girlfriend that makes an appearance either. Terry still has a mother and a little brother who weren't horribly gunned down (yet). They're still dealing with the trivial issues that 40 years hasn't seemed to change at all. Terry's mother is preparing his little brother, Matt, for his elementary school graduation. That may or may not be a sign of how bleak the future is because if people are still celebrating when a kid graduates from fucking elementary school then that's not much progress.

These happy and normal issues are quickly complimented by the over-the-top insanity that the DC universe brings regardless of what era the story takes place in. Remember Carson Jatts? Well now that he has his new abilities to turn anything he touches into anything else (yet he's still not using it to turn water into oil to help the energy crisis that has probably still being fought). He decides to joyride on a hover, which is only a mild upgrade from the hover-board scene in Back to the Future Two. Like Marty McFly, he ends up crashing it when Warhawk (one of the future members of the Justice League) locates him and attacks. Now it's not clear how he got away from the Watchtower beforehand, but what's important about this scene is that when Jatts crashes he crashes into the same mall where Terry's mother and brother are at.

Naturally, this gets Terry's attention. So he does what he did so often in the old show. He leaves his girlfriend behind to play hero. He's not a jerk about it this time though. He does give her a little smooch and finds a way to keep her busy, having her negotiate with a salesman in a way only hot young women can get away with. It's the kind of multi-tasking Bruce Wayne never had and can only envy albeit in his own brooding way.

The situation in the building gets serious. Gotham brings in the cavalry just as they always did in the past. Like the show, Barbara Gordon is leading the pack. She and the rest of Gotham have the added assistance of the Justice League. Anybody who remembers the show knows that like the Batman of old, the new Batman was not a full-time member of the league. He only helped out when he could. The team is small and doesn't contain the kind of classy names DC fans would expect. It includes Warhawk, Aquagirl, Micron, Barda, and a new Green Lantern who looks like Hallie Joel Osmond if he was a terminal cancer patient.

They all paint a pretty bleak picture. They explain that the little gizmo that Jatts stall is called metachem that was once wielded by a ridiculously unoriginal villain named Matter Master. He could turn anything into anything, but he couldn't turn his name into something respectable. They surmise that Jatts interacted with the material in the same way Ted Haggard interacts with a very fucked up sort of way. The see him basically as a rogue nuclear bomb with a big red button on it that says 'push for horny strippers.' It's dangerous and it needs to be taken out, implying that body bags may be required. That's when Terry shows up in full Batman mode. He flat out says to the entire Justice League that he won't let them go through with their little plan. Now it's worth noted the planetary sized balls it takes to say something like that to the fucking Justice League, but remember Terry's family is in that mall so he has more motivation than Bruce would have had. We can only assume that means the tone in his voice was rough enough to melt the testosterone from Clint Eastwood's face, making for a fitting ending even if it is somewhat abrupt.

It may not be the best place to end the first issue of this new series, but it does leave enough reasons for a reader to foam at the mouth and want to see what happens. Even if you didn't particularly like the book, you would be a douche-bag if a part of you didn't at least want to see how this punk kid stand up to the Justice League. It helps set the stage for what is sure to be a chaotic fight where Terry may have to fight the Justice League as much as Carson Jatts. It puts him in the kind of position that Batman always found so difficult. It part of Batman's charm and it's put on full display in a package nice enough that it could have it's own UPS commercial.

That still doesn't make the book feel any less incomplete. The book is good, but it feels short for the first issue and is a bit too abrupt. There's also a fairly large plot hole that you could probably go skydiving through in that it's not explained how Jatts got from the Justice League vault to the mall. That sounds like it should have been a hell of a chase. There were certainly some pages left to channel some of that Michael Bay style magic. It's that feeling of incompleteness that is this book's greatest shortcoming. There was potential that was left unrealized and in a book that was so well-done in other areas, that's a tragedy worthy of it's own reality show on Lifetime.

Despite satisfaction that isn't quite filling, Batman Beyond #1 is a nice start to a new series. It doesn't start off with a huge bang or a big moment. It's more personal, starting with Terry McGinnis and not just Batman. This guy has been on hiatus for a while so it will take time for readers to get re-acquainted. This issue begins the process and begins it well. That's why I give Batman Beyond #1 a 4 out of 5. This series should have come out when the show ended so that the fans wouldn't have skipped a beat. Since it didn't, Batman Beyond has a long ways to go in order to regain the prominence it once had. If future issues continue to be this well-constructed, it should definitely get there. It may require blowing more shit up in the future DC universe, but if that's the price one must pay for awesome comics so be it. Nuff said!

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