First Impressions – BATMAN BEYOND UNLIMITED #1

This is going to take some explaining. Best get to it, because while I wasn’t eagerly anticipating this book until a week before it came out, this is one of the best first issues this year thus far.

Running from 1999 to 2001, Batman Beyond (Batman of the Future for Europe, Australia, Japan, and Mexico) was a television show set in the relative future of what would eventually become the greater DC Animated Universe. It’s a future where an aging Bruce Wayne was succeeded by a teenager named Terry McGinnis as Batman. It was generally a darker show than other DC animated shows before and since, dealing both with the perils of future advancement and the harsh day to day struggles of teenage life. It also examined the darker aspects of the Batman mythos, things that the Batman Animated Series tended to shy away from, and which generally became absent in later shows.

Needless to say Batman Beyond was a hit, only being canceled to make room for Warner Bros.’ next show in line, Justice League. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Because of the show’s success, it remained not only an important part of the Animated universe, it would occasionally come up in the comics, although only tangentally. It was, after all, based on the future of the animated universe, and as such doesn’t logically fit in the regular DC comics continuity. A certain Countdown to Final Crisis would place the show’s universe as one of the 52 parallel universes in DC comics (an honor dampened by being involved with Countdown at all). And naturally, 2011 brought us a short lived comic series of the same name.

Now as for Justice League, it was a successful TV series that eventually spun off into a second series that continued and expanded the concept to include not just the regular JLA, but also the extended DCU as a whole. It was called Justice League Unlimited. And since we now have a new Batman Beyond comic that follows from a pre-Flashpoint era of DC comics, we’ll be calling it “Batman Beyond Unlimited”.

Isn’t branding fun kids?

Honestly this bothers me in no way, mostly because I loved BATMAN BEYOND UNLIMITED #1. Since the Hub airs the old episodes these days, I’ve rediscovered how good this franchise is. But even if I hadn’t been watching the old show, this issue brings newcomers up to speed in a reasonable manner. After reading this issue, I actually went and rented the movie, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Maybe it was the better animation quality, but it felt like I was reading the comic again. Or maybe it’d be more accurate to say this issue felt like watching the movie, which was essentially the show at its height of production quality.

Not to mention it felt like a large issue, even given its four dollar price. The issue divides down the middle into two main plots. The first with just Batman investigating a large influx of out-of-town Jokerz (the future gang modeled after their idol, the Joker). The second has Batman teaming up with the future Justice League, investigating the apparent defection of Micron, the future Atom. And believe it or not, both break up into multiple smaller scenes that make the whole thing a dense read. It’s like the exact opposite of the Justice League relaunch, with its padded story that takes forever to accomplish simple things.

Let’s just take things one at a time. First we have a fight between Batman and some Jokerz. Then a scene with Terry’s female hacker friend sleuthing. Then a conversation between Wayne and Commissioner Barbara Gordon. Then some teenage angst of Terry trying to get his girlfriend Dana back since he’s frequently unavailable to hang out.

Incidentally, Dana would probably be more forgiving if she knew Terry missed their dates to fight crime. Just saying.

After that there’s another fight scene with a different gang of Jokerz from out of town. And finally, we get teased about who the mastermind behind the influx of makeup wearing hooligans is. All of this, by the way, is just the first half of the issue. A majority of the books in the New 52 would barely manage a fraction of what I just described in an entire issue, extra pages or no.

On the negative side, the art is kind of strange when dealing with Batman’s all black costume. The splash page at the beginning comes off as goofy, although the context makes this at least fitting. Personally, I also have reservations about the future Justice League. It’s roster bugs me for some reason, as well as being a little on the short side so far as numbers go. At least now the writers see fit to bolster their ranks with Micron. Speaking of Micron, I find the fact that the League jumps straight to defection and betrayal (whether intentional or due to brainwashing) when he’s found to be working in a terrorist group. Couldn’t he just be working deep under cover, and be reluctant to contact the League in case he’s being monitored? These are all small complaints, chump change when compared to how much I generally like this new book.

It gets pretty much everything out that new readers need to know in order to get a vision for what kind of world this is, while throwing in winks and nods to the show’s more esoteric details. I especially like the small (emphasis on “small”) cameo made by an elderly Harley Quin. Watch the movie to the end, and you’ll understand.

So I definitely recommend this new series, though watching the original show while it’s airing on the Hub helps immensely. Here’s hoping this book doesn’t get canceled like its previous incarnation.

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