Batman Beyond Universe #1
Written by Kyle Higgins and Christos N. Gage Drawn by Thony Silas and Dan Coello
DC Comics, $3.99
Rated T, for Teen
Of all the Batman animated series to come and go from television since Batman: The Animated Series debuted in 1992, Batman Beyond was the shortest lived, at just 52 episodes over three seasons (Batman: TAS hit 109 episodes, while both The Batman and Batman: The Brave and The Bold lasted 65 episodes apiece). And yet only the 1999-2001 Beyond series has managed to be revived and live on in the form of a comic book spin-off, perhaps because its premise was so incredibly different from that of the other Batman cartoons.
While those all featured the present day Bruce Wayne version of Batman and his sidekicks and allies battling their fairly familiar rogues gallery of villains in Gotham City, Beyond was set in the far future, when an elderly, ailing Wayne reluctantly accepted teenager Terry McGinnis as Batman’s successor. With McGinnis wearing a new costume and Wayne as cantankerous voice in his earpiece, they teamed up to protect a new Gotham from (mostly) new threats.
DC’s standard operating procedure for comics based on cartoons based on their comics is to release them while the shows are airing, and pull the plug on them once the TV series is canceled, despite the fact that those comics tend to be the most kid-friendly comics in their line, and thus make for good gateway comics (For example, an all-ages Justice League comic seems to make sense whether there are new episodes are appearing on Cartoon Network on a regular basis or not).
DC’s original Batman Beyond comic was itself rather short-lived (it’s 24th and final issue shipping in 2001), but it bucked the trend in 2011 with a surprisingly successful miniseries, which was quickly followed by the rather awkwardly titled digital-first series Batman Beyond Unlimited, which also featured the version of the Justice League from the Beyond universe (While DC returning to a cartoon adaptation was rare, remember that canceled TV shows continuing as comics became a trend that’s met various degrees of success since Dark Horse and Joss Whedon began presenting Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 in 2007).
Which brings us to the new Batman Beyond Universe series, a retooled and retitled version of Batman Beyond Unlimited (with a much less awkward title!), featuring new creators and a different direction to the series, brought on by the big events at the conclusion of the previous one (which I didn’t read, but had no problems following this).
As with DC’s other digital-first series, these comics can be purchased and read digitally or, if you wait a bit, multiple installments will be republished in big, fat, 48-page, $4 issues and—if you wait longer still—eventually in library shelf-ready trade paperback collections. The Sean Murphy-drawn cover features a trio of original, pre-Beyond Gotham heroes—Batman, Nightwing and Batgirl—all of whom do appear within the opening Batman story by Higgins and Silas, only in their older, somewhat retired forms.
Wayne is still alive and kicking (well, not kicking, but still alive and engaged with the never-ending war on crime), Barbara Gordon has long since hung up her tights, but has followed in her father’s footsteps and police commissioner of Neo-Gotham, and Dick Grayson, sporting an eye-patch and distinguished graying temples, has replaced Wayne as the new Batman’s coach and advisor.
The conflict involves a sort of locked room murder mystery—well, locked asylum murder mystery—with a high-tech twist, but the real drama is in the way these four crime-fighters deal with and relate to one another.
Thony Silas’ art keeps the basic designs of the television cartoon intact, but takes full advantage of the medium to render the characters in fuller, more finished detail. The result is a sharp-looking, fluid comic that is as visually accomplished as anything in DC’s grown-up focused main line of comic books.
The second half of the book belongs to the The Justice League Beyond, the futuristic Justice League of this era (which, of course, includes Batman).
Their line-up has expanded quite considerably when they first appeared on the cartoon, with a new Flash and a new version of The Atom (Micron) joining Warhawk, Green Lantern, Barda, Aquagirl and Superman (“our” Superman, in a new costume and graying hair even more distinguished than Nightwing’s). Also hanging around now are Barda’s husband Mister Miracle and Captain Marvel, who looks to be the original version, straight from the pre-New 52 universe.
Writer Christos Gage’s story is a pretty standard, even generic one—something is causing Superman’s powers to increase at an incredible rate, to the point where he’s a danger to everyone around him. After receiving advice and coaching from each of his teammates, he decides the safest course of action is to de-power himself, which will make his new day job—as a fireman—considerably more dangerous.
Dan Coello’s artwork isn’t quite as stylish as Silas’, but then, it’s much less beholden to a pre-determined designs, and his full, round figures have no real continuity with a particular production design, save for some of the costumes that carried over from the cartoon. While rated T for Teen, it’s well worth noting that Batman Beyond Universe lacks the extreme violence and occasionally dubious morality of the main DCU line (most of which is also rated T for Teen), and there’s nothing really keeping this from bearing an E for Everyone rating, save perhaps some reluctance on the part of whoever it is at DC that applies the letter grades.
In addition to all-ages content, it’s also remarkably new-reader friendly, and therefore offers the sort of self-contained, traditional superhero comics that many critics find missing from the main, New 52 line of comics.
With this, Lil’ Gotham and Batman ’66, DC’s got a decent handful of various Batman books for an all-ages audience, and there’s another on the way: In October, they’ll launch Beware The Batman, a new comic spinning out of the latest Batman cartoon.