Saturday, May 14, 2011
Batman Beyond #5 - A Blight of Awesome
Let's face it, most of crazy futures predicted in fiction are complete bullshit. Whether it's the utopian future of peace, prosperity, and people generally acting like pussies or the post-apocalyptic future where humans are reduced to cattle it's always extreme in a ridiculously inane way. Then there's the future of Batman Beyond. From the old cartoon to the new comics, it's done something with the future that shocks any reader looking for a giant robot to floss it's teeth with the bones of captured humans. It shows frighteningly little progress in the human condition. The world of Batman Beyond and the new Batman, Terry McGinnis, isn't much different from the world of today. Crime is still rampant. Politicians are still dicks. Disease and death still make puppies cry. And corporations are still as greedy as ever. The only difference is the buildings are bigger and the cars are fancier. Seeing as how my old Chevy looks like a piece of shit compared to the latest Toyota, that's a future I'm inclined to believe.
It's this gritty realism mixed with futuristic elements that has made Batman Beyond such a joy to read. Since the series became an ongoing, it's gone beyond (I know it's a lousy pun so please don't bust my balls) picking up the slack from the old cartoon. It's become a force unto itself. The mini brought Dick Grayson into the mix. It also brought in a future version of Hush. The new ongoing brought in the future version of the Justice League and even Sam, the pink-haired chick who acted as Batman's annoying side-kick for the last two seasons of the show. It's been a unique blend of using new elements and old elements. Batman Beyond #5 continues that tradition by bringing in a plot that went unresolved from the show. It also has a theme that would make Ayan Rand rise from the grave and hang herself.
Batman Beyond #5 starts with our old friend, Paxton Powers. For those of you playing the home game, Paxton Powers is the douche-bag son of Derek Powers, the even bigger douche-bag that took control of Bruce Wayne's company and turned it into his own personal tool of douche-baggery. Derek Powers had to step down on account of being bathed in radiation and turned into a glow-in-the-dark supervillian called Blight. Paxton took over and did to the company what the Jersey Shore did to reality TV. It took a bad thing and made it even more shitty. He ended up in jail for the kind of corporate shenanigans that even Bernie Madoff would shake his head at. We revisit the bum in jail where he gets a very unwelcome visitor.
It's a one-page taste of foreboding. If you never saw the show you wouldn't know what the hell is going on. But if you're from Wisconsin you know all about what happens next. Batman's latest fight isn't against a new wave of Jokers, a new Mr. Freeze, or some terrifying futuristic villain with a terrible name (look at YOU Matter Master!). It's labor unrest. That's right. The future still hasn't resolved the issues between labor unions and businesses. Batman can do a shit ton of good, but he's powerless when it comes to angry labor unions.
What's odd here is the protesters treat Batman as if he's the one spending their pension funds on imported strippers and statues made out of cocaine. It seems to come out of nowhere. Bruce Wayne says to Terry that his company never had labor issues. But let's be honest, a business that never has labor issues isn't a business. It's a fantasy. This is just the first time someone had to use tear-gas. No really, that's how much progress they've made in the future. They still use tear gas at labor protests. So much for progress!
Now this is a pretty gritty issue for a comic to cover and that's actually worth noting. Whenever comics mix with politics, it's more awkward than a gay man marrying a trans-gendered lesbian. But this actually has some real-world connotations. Batman is up against a villain he can't just hand over to the commissioner. These are just regular guys who are pissed off at their jobs. Wayne suspects there might be mind control involved. Terry says he sees genuine anger. That may mean that this is real or just very well-hidden. Whatever the case, it's a very different battle for Batman to fight. The fact it takes place in the future while it's still a big problem in the present says a lot. I don't know if Adam Beechen is on the payroll for George Soros, but I'm sure he'll get a fruit basket for this scene. And just like in the present, news of labor protests don't bode well for stock prices. Wayne Enterprise's stock goes down faster than Snooki at a baccalaureate party.
If that weren't real enough, there's a quick break into Terry's personal life. At the start of this series and throughout the cartoon, he's been dating Dana Tan. On a number of occasions, Dana has broken up with him. She's done it with as much regularity as Barry Bonds faces new drug allegations. So it's not too surprising when she meets Terry at a diner and basically does it again. She makes some compelling points. She doesn't feel like she's treated well since he puts being Batman above everything else (granted she doesn't know about it). But what sets this apart from the past breakups is the backdrop. In the previous issue it was revealed that Dana's brother got out of prison. So it has the feel of something more complicated. And since Aquagirl has yet to dry hump Batman, Dana doesn't come off as being too serious.
The whole realism angle continues, which for a comic that takes place in a future fictional city is starting to get really awkward. A guy named Godfrey, who looks about as honest as hungry wolf with a full blown erection, meets with Bruce Wayne to discuss the labor issue. Bruce even points out that he's as corrupt as any guy in an imported suit can get. That doesn't stop Godfrey from smiling like a jackass and making demands so unreasonable that even a senile old man can smell the bullshit. That doesn't stop him from being the only guy who can resolve the labor dispute.
He may not be as deranged as the joker, but the sad truth is there are probably guys in the real world just like him. So if your faith in the future hasn't been shattered at this point, please let me know what drugs your on so I can get some.
If the book is too real for you at this point, I'm sorry to say it doesn't get much better. The next scene may be a painful reminder of your last family reunion because it involves an ex-con coming home. Remember Dana? The girl who just broke up with Terry? Well that brother of hers that's been mentioned a few times is back. As soon as she gets home, she confronts him. She looks about as thrilled as a girl who just saw her mother giving a blow-job to the mail-man. And her brother, Doug, looks about as honest as a guy who just blew up an orphanage and took a dump on the ashes.
There are so many unsavory characters in this book, yet they aren't even super-villains! Either I'm high or I'm missing something. Or both...either works. But Terry's personal issues are a secondary concern, at least for Bruce. We finally get some escapism as Terry dawns his Batman suit and flies around in his supped up flying car. Now there's a future to look forward to again! Bruce has him investigate that lawyer who tried to fuck his company with an eighty-story dick. He finds out that Paxton Powers, the same guy who got sprung earlier, is the one who paid him. So that's all the excuse Terry needs to find Paxton and beat the everloving piss out of him. All you ultra-liberal types are probably jerking off to the idea as we speak. I'll let you finish before I continue.
It doesn't take him long to find Paxton. He's set up shop in an old R&D building, which is about as generic a super-villain base you can get without it being at the south pole. Paxton looks about as thrilled a kid who just found out his dog was put down. He tries to explain to Batman that he's as confused as anyone else. He got out of jail and doesn't know how. That's either the greatest escape plan ever or the dumbest excuse ever. Terry is suspicious and probably ready to kick his ass. Then Bruce figures it out. It's a trap, which happens as often as the sun rises when dealing with corporate douche-bags. The whole damn building blows up. It may be a metaphor for corporate greed, but it's a pretty shocking way for Batman's meeting with Paxton go go in a book that hasn't been too heavy on shocks.
Now who would go through the trouble of solving problems by blowing them up? Outside of Mythbuster reruns, it takes a pretty unstable son-of-a-bitch to pull it off. On the final page of the issue, that's exactly what's delivered. The guy behind this explosive plot is not some lawyer or labor protester or ex-con of an ex-girlfriend. It's Derek Powers, aka Blight. There's no real-world metaphor for this guy. He's as basic a comic super-villain as they come and he's got a long list of reasons to blow up both his son and Batman. He disappeared from the show despite it being hinted that he would return. While I'm sure it would have made a killer episode, it's nice to see it finally come together in the pages of this issue!
The explosive ending was an explosive way to end a book that was full with more realism than you would expect in a comic book, let alone a book that takes place in the future. It's not a bad thing, trying to mix realism in with comic book stories. That's part of what makes them engaging. I'm all for escapism, but sometimes there's only so far you can take a story about an alien ripping the spinal fluid out of a giant insect. I'm also all for realism, provided it's balanced. This is a comic book. If I wanted to read stories about crocked lawyers and bad economic news, I'd watch Fox News without the mute on.
That's part of the problem in this book. I like that the realism elements were there, but it didn't feel properly balanced in the end. It wasn't until the final page that we got some genuine action. It was decent, but you could probably skip half the book and not skip a beat at the end. It leaves the book somewhat disjointed, but if you read it through it's still an enjoyable story. Batman Beyond has utilized a lot of classic Batman elements since it was brought back from DC limbo. This is the first time it's dipping into something new and overall, it's a very satisfying experience.
Batman Beyond remains a guilty pleasure for DC fans that offers a nice change of pace from the sheer scale of the current DCU. You won't be blown away, but you'll get a solid story with solid characters. So for a final score, I give Batman Beyond #5 a 4 out of 5. The story is opening new doors while connecting with old plots from the cartoon. It's a great time to get into this series and for that I deem it awesome. Nuff said!