The Matt Signal Beyond – Batman Beyond Comics: Part 2 (The Actually Good Era)

Contrary to my original claim I wouldn’t be covering the Batman Beyond comics because there are so many more of them than their BTAS/TNBA equivalents… let’s take a look at Terry McGinnis’ comic book exploits over the years.

These books can be divided into four distinct eras, and next up is The Actually Good, written by Adam Beechen and Kyle Higgins.

After completing the original run of Batman The Animated Series, Matt Waters looks to the future each Saturday and Sunday with recaps of every episode of Batman Beyond, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Notes

After Volume 2 of the tie-in comics ended in October 1999 and the show itself was not renewed for a fourth season, the world of Batman Beyond laid dormant for almost a decade. New Batman cartoons came and went, each with their own tie-in comics.

Then in 2010, DC attempted to integrate Beyond into their main comic continuity, tapping Adam Beechen to helm a third and fourth volume. They’re called volumes, but at 6 and 8 issues respectively, they’re really just a trio of one-off story arcs.

Following these two short runs, DC launched ‘Batman Beyond Unlimited’ in 2012, a trio of digital comic series covering Batman Beyond, Superman Beyond and Justice League Beyond. Adam Beechen continued to write, and it made it to 18 issues.

Determined to make a run stick, they commissioned a FOURTH run in this era in 2013, with Kyle Higgins taking over for another 16 issues of ‘Batman Beyond 2.0’ aka ‘Batman Beyond Universe’.

While it may sound like I should be breaking all of these up into separate columns, they actually form one unbroken 48* issue continuity, separate from both the show and the next reboot.

*Justice League Beyond involves Terry somewhat.

Art was provided by Ryan Benjamin, Eduardo Pansica, Chris Batista, Thony Silas, Norm Breyfogle and Dustin Nguyen. That’s a lot of artists across multiple volumes, but in general, they’re not attempting to emulate the look of the show, and are instead going for varying degrees of gritty realism.

Given we’re looking at far more content here and is written in longer-form narrative instead of isolated stories, I won’t be recapping and ranking every single issue, and will instead pick out some highlights. Overall this is my favourite era.

Hush Beyond

What better Batman story to riff on as the kick-off for your new era than one of the most divisive of all time?! To me personally, this six-issue arc (which composes the entirety of Vol. 3) is more interesting.

For one thing, the show’s mandate of trying to avoid leaning on the legacy of Bruce’s era is thrown so far out the window it’s almost funny. While the show’s creative team wanted their new thing to stand on its own, comics live and die by returns and cameos. Therefore, we get appearances from Mad Hatter, Calendar Man, Killer Croc, Two-Face, Penguin, as well as a brand new Catwoman (who is the daughter of niche DC character Multiplex and can make eight copies of herself… because nine lives) and even the descendants of Harvey Bullock and Reverse-Flash.

More importantly, an eye-patch wearing Dick Grayson makes his debut in the Beyond continuity after only ever being referred to in passing in the show. Why is that so important? Because the new Hush is a clone of him created by Amanda Waller and Cadmus! They briefly try to convince you that Dick has gone rogue and is murdering former Batman villains (because apparently Bruce is nothing without them), but if you think about it for more than 5 seconds, people can attest to what Dick’s life is like in this era (retired, runs a gym, has one eye now), whereas we see Hush break out of Cadmus in the opening pages… with two eyes.

Naturally, Terry, the real Dick and the new Catwoman join forces to defeat (read: murder) Hush. Dick refuses to make amends with Bruce, but Terry decides to make peace with the old coot despite revealing he’d built a fleet of Robo-Batmen he could pilot remotely as he never fully believed Terry could get the job done. Heck, even when they make up, Bruce admits he resents Terry for being able to avoid becoming a sociopath, in a monologue that I think Beechen intended to balance out what a dick Bruce had been throughout the story.

Bleaker than that, this book is incredibly kill-happy, as was the style of the times. Ryan Benjamin’s art is dour and gritty (people in costume look fantastic, but human faces are not his thing), and Hush murders SO many people, including Terry’s friend Jared and his parents (you may recall his step-father was Armory). They even suggest iconic Beyond villains Stalker and Shriek were among the victims, but Shriek would later return alive and well.

All of these cameos and grizzly murders come at the expense of some of the essence of Beyond. Dana and Max make the briefest of appearances, and Bruce and Terry’s personalities feel a little off. It’ll get a lot worse than this in the next era, but I’m defensive of Beyond, and this is the start of a weird quasi-contempt for the show by the writers trying to revive it.

Blight’s Back!

Volume 4 pulled back a bit from ‘Hush Beyond’s grim-dark tone and featured Dana and Max more prominently… but was also worse written. Possibly because Dana and Max’s subplots get put on hold for several issues at a time to make way for the Justice League Unlimited and the like.

The first arc is painfully dull, centred around Terry fighting the JLU and then teaming up with them to take down the ridiculously OverPowered ‘Matter Master’. The highlight is Bruce coaching Terry on how to take out each member of the team, but Terry hesitates with Aquagirl because she was the first one to be nice to him in ‘The Call’ (there’s also some possible subtext they crush on each other).

After that, the book focuses on the return of Beyond’s originally-planned main antagonist, Blight. I think literally every incarnation of the books have done this, with each ignoring the previous one to claim it’s the first time he’s come back since ‘Ascension’. Here, Paxton Powers is released from prison and targeted by an unseen person who is stoking fires in the workforce of Wayne-Powers, requiring Terry to protect him. Naturally, it’s revealed to be Blight himself, and Terry defeats him relatively easily. Bruce then buys all remaining shares of the company and officially removes ‘Powers’ from the masthead, as well as agreeing to all employee demands. Yay, Idealised Capitalism!

Legends of the Dark Knight

Starting with Volume 4, Adam Beechen established ‘Legends of the Dark Knight’, a series of one-shots spotlighting a side character. Almost all of them are interesting, and sometimes better than the main books.

Max reminisces on her time helping Terry hide his secret in a way that reads like she’s going to reveal she’s in love with him, but luckily does not. After a disgruntled cop leaks to the press that Dick Grayson was Nightwing, Max helps Terry pose as Nightwing in public to try and kill the story… but Dick admits it to reporters anyway. Max is then courted by a hacker cabal called Undercloud, which comes back later.

Beyond’s best villain, Inque, steals tech (that turns out to be super important later) for Cadmus in exchange for a stabilising agent so she can give her daughter (from ‘Inqueling’) a blood transfusion. We also see flashbacks into her time before her transformation, getting pregnant and going on the run (again, from ‘Inqueling’). It rules.

Jake Chill – as in the great nephew of Joe Chill, killer of Bruce’s parents – is revealed to have worked for Derek Powers, and was literally the person to pull the trigger on Warren McGinnis. The guilt from this drove him to alcoholism and bankruptcy, but then he fends off some thieves and decides to become a vigilante called… Vigilante… Words cannot express how much I hate this idea. It’s too cute. It’s too fateful/pre-destined. It ties Bruce and Terry together too closely. It might be the worst Beyond idea since revealing Terry is Bruce’s biological son.

In the aftermath of 10,000 Clowns (see below), Dana quietly takes Terry and Bruce aside and calmly informs them she has figured everything out. Bruce confirms, and for the rest of this continuity, she’s in on their secrets. This is a bigger, better story beat then she ever got in the show, as she actually links together the clues that are always obvious to audiences. She notes how often she runs into Batman, that she’s never seen him and Terry together, and that she recognises the way Terry moves and his manner of speech, even in a costume and trying to disguise his voice. She then used that to puzzle out Bruce’s past to boot.

Finally, while it’s not officially labelled as a Legends of the Dark Knight, there was a one-shot called Batgirl Beyond, written by Scott Peterson (who wrote most of ‘Batman: Gotham Adventures‘). Barbara Gordon struggles to quell rioting in the poorest part of Gotham, but a new Batgirl steps in to help. The two discover a fast food magnate has been poisoning poor people. There’s some arguments based around economic class, but the two come to an understanding. This new Batgirl is teased to be Max (as there are very few black characters in Beyond, and fans were always desperate for her to get to suit up alongside Terry)… but is instead revealed as a random called Nissa. This goes literally nowhere and she’s never seen again.

The Joker King

Unlimited felt like a giant crossover event, bringing together discarded elements for a big violent team-up that sees half of Gotham destroyed, and Terry nearly beaten to death.

As mentioned above, in the background of the mostly boring Volume 4, Adam Beechen began to seed a pair of stories centred around Dana and Max. It turns out Dana had a secret brother, Doug, who had been in prison for the entirety of Batman Beyond, because he used to be in The Jokerz. He starts to behave strangely once he gets out, not taking his medication, assaulting their father and when Jokerz from all across the country arrive in Gotham, he is revealed as their leader… The Joker King.

Look at that fucking design. It’s over the top, even by over the top Joker-related character design standards (and I wrote this BEFORE that The Batman deleted scene came out!) But I kind of love it? Like it’s completely ridiculous, but it’s also 100% what the leader of the Joker cosplay army would come up with. It doesn’t stop there, though! Doug claims nobody understood The Joker’s true message, including The Joker himself. And what is that true message? That nothing matters, so embrace chaos. Hey, apropos of nothing, did you know that The Dark Knight was released between Joker’s last appearance in Beyond and this story?!

Doug mocks Joker for using chaos as a tool to get money and fame and most of all to mess with Batman. By contrast his grand scheme is turning The Jokerz into suicide bombers and unleash them all over Gotham. It works, too, as hundreds of people die, big chunks of the city’s infrastructure are destroyed, and Terry can’t do much to stop it, even with the assistance of Vigilante (Jake Chill), (New) Catwoman and Dick Grayson. Terry even ropes Tim Drake into providing tech support, despite him only agreeing to a job with Wayne Enterprises on the condition he would NEVER have to help with superhero things due to the trauma of Return of the Joker. All of this while Bruce is dying of liver failure in hospital from years of painkiller abuse!

Despite his protests, Tim does save the day by reverse-engineering a magic remote control that can detonate ANY bomb, instead using it to disarm all the explosives. He also uses drones to disperse an antidote to Joker Toxin, so the remaining Jokerz give up and go home.

Doug heads to the hospital to try and kill his parents. Terry intervenes (after Bruce fails to stop him), and the two end up in one of the most darkly-violent brawls in franchise history. Joker King knows he stands no chance against Terry’s advanced Batsuit, but realises if he gives our hero a massive concussion, he won’t be able to use any of his gadgets. Sound strategy! He repeatedly rattles his brain to the point Terry nearly vomits himself to death. Luckily, the other ‘heroes’ arrive and corner Doug on the roof, but he grabs Dana as a hostage and in the struggle they both fall. Terry catches Dana, Doug dies, Bruce gets a new liver. Yay.

This may sound like trite edge-lord nonsense, but it’s actually a pretty compelling, bombastic Batman story, that not only picks up loose threads, but takes some smart steps with the legacy characters. Bruce regained full control of his company and immediately gets to work providing resources to the GCPD, meaning Barbara Gordon works with them more closely. Lucius Fox Jr. and Tim Drake are brought aboard as senior staff. If the show had gotten a fourth season, this is the kind of thing that might have given it longer legs, especially following Tim’s big role in Return of the Joker.

Justice League Beyond

We’ll keep this brief because both versions of the book were mediocre at best, and Terry’s involvement was minimal. That being said, Dustin Nguyen draws the most beautiful homage to Beyond in ANY of these books, lovingly depicting The Jokerz, Splicers, the weird holographic newsreaders, their future hockey-type game and more. I wish he had gotten to draw more of the main Beyond books.

Anyway, after reluctantly joining the JLU, Terry helps them with a plot involving Kobra. They have a Queen now, and she uses a magic book to awaken and control a giant snake called Ouroboros, which absolutely mops the floor with the JLU. They’re forced to team up with Darkseid, the New Gods, and the Green Lantern Corps, and Terry even transforms into fucking Etrigan the Demon to save the day.

Amidst all of this, Terry learns that Bruce banged the New God, Bekka, during his various escapades on New Genesis!

The true highlight is giving every member of the team an origin story, almost all of which drop Batman-related bombshells: Micron’s reveals it was Bruce himself who scarred the eye of Mr. Fixx (from ‘Rebirth’) during one of his final outings as Batman. Kai-Ro’s states that he was a strong candidate to become the new Dalai Lama… but instead became a Green Lantern. Oh, and his quasi-sister grew up to become Curaré! In The Flash’s, we discover Bruce built a secret underground morgue for supervillains as he believes public graves create martyrs. Finally, the new Shazam is revealed to be a little girl called Mary who was one of the prisoners of The Brain Trust (from ‘Revenant’). She can turn into any of the Shazam-related characters at will, which is really cool, and for some reason she’s able to turn into a male teenager, who ends up the boyfriend of The Flash, which is incredibly creepy when you consider they kiss in both his teen and adult forms.

The second incarnation of the book is all centred around Brainiac and gets very convoluted. It ends up bleeding directly into Batman Beyond 2.0/Universe, so it’s simultaneously required reading and completely redundant. Wonder Woman returns after vanishing decades ago (explaining her absence from ‘The Call’), but Superman doesn’t trust her.

Batman Beyond 2.0 aka The Best Book

After several years of Beechen’s so-so ideas, Kyle Higgins took the reins of Beyond, and not that I’m biased because I’m such a huge fan of his other work, but he’s quite plainly the best writer to touch any of these books.

He kicks things off with a total shift in the status quo, jumping ahead one year and gradually filling in the gaps of how we got here. Terry is now in college, has broken up with Dana and starts dating Melanie ‘Ten’ Walker, and Dick Grayson acts as Terry’s man in the chair instead of Bruce. It may not sound like much, but all of it lets Higgins play to his strengths, namely character development and authentic human moments. Everybody talks like a real person, and he knows exactly how to wield the mysteries of the missing year.

All of that makes it a more pleasant ongoing read, but he also introduces the only original villain creation from any of these books who actually sticks: Rewire. This new foe is the focus of the first arc of the book, and would not only return in the next two eras of the comics, but be treated as an equal to the likes of Inque, Spellbinder and Shriek… which is fitting, as he breaks them all out of prison and forms a team. Spellbinder even uses his illusions to make the villain group look like classic-era Batman, Nightwing, Batgirl and Robin, which is fun and made for some great art. Rewire is nothing tremendously special, the mentally ill son of Gotham’s mayor who wields electricity powers, but it’s a solid costume design, and the arc is so well written that he leaves a mark.

Terry and Bruce’s ‘break-up’ (as well as Dick Grayson’s feelings towards both) is the main ongoing story throughout the volume. Terry’s suit automatically takes him to Wayne Manor when he’s knocked unconscious fighting Rewire, and when he wakes up, Bruce has treated his injuries and left an envelope of evidence about the villain’s identity. That’s right, he solved the entire case without leaving his house. I know I complain whenever Terry is presented as a dullard and Bruce fixes everything for him, but this is done more in a way where Bruce is passive-aggressively letting them know he’s still in the game without their consent.

That leads directly into ‘The Bat Men’, in which Kirk Langstrom is making a cult of Man-Bats. Bruce gets to help due to his experience with Langstrom, and fills us in that following ‘Terror in the Sky’, Francine eventually died of Parkinson’s Disease. Kirk was so obsessed with creating a cure for her that he neglected her and their kids. Following her death, his cure ended up making him more intelligent as Man-Bat, staying in that form all the time, and even able to speak as the creature. In the end, Kirk kills himself instead of blowing up Gotham, but amidst all of this, Bruce had been trying to sew dissent between Terry and Dick, but they see straight through it and remain buds.

Justice Lords Beyond

Kyle Higgins clearly became a busy boy halfway through Batman Beyond 2.0, as the second arc saw him paired with co-writer Christos Gage. There is a clear drop-off in quality as a result.

The big one was Justice Lords Beyond, which continues the events of ‘Justice League Beyond 2.0’ (which Gage wrote, hence being the co-writer here), as well as paying off a fan favourite episode of the Justice League cartoon. At some point after their encounter with the Justice Lords, the Justice League learned their villainous counterparts had regained their powers so returned to their alternate-dimension to find it devastated by a super-powered civil war. The heroes joined with Lord Batman to defeat Lord Superman, and then Wonder Woman remained behind, as she had fallen for the alternate Bruce. This is why she is absent from the JLU line-up previously. Diana at last returned, but Superman was suspicious, so sends Terry to investigate if she’s truly ‘their’ Diana, or the evil one posing as her.

While in this universe, Terry meets a version of himself that never became Batman and is instead… in the Jokerz (and still dating Melanie, who gets a Joker-remixed version of her Ten costume, which is cute). He teams up with his alt-self, and by the end of the story leaves him with an even crazier version of the Batsuit and makes regular trips to this world to train him and spend time with a still-alive Warren McGinnis. All of that is very touching, and actually leads to Terry being unable to let go, with all the heroes having to convince him to stop visiting. Powerful.

The actual story with the Justice League 2.0 versus the New Justice Lords feels almost irrelevant by comparison. Diana is the real Diana, but the events of the other universe made her go off the deep end a little. The two leagues team up to defeat Lord Superman. Blah blah blah.

Barbara Miscarried Bruce’s Baby

Again, Higgins got a co-writer for this final stretch of the book, ‘Mark of the Phantasm’, this time Alan Siegel. The quality is still lower than when he was writing solo, but the main thing to point out clearly came from Higgins and is emotionally engaging.

Throughout Higgins’ time on the book, he played with some tension between Dick and Barbara, with a one-shot revealing that Dick had planned to propose in their past, tying a ring to the Batarang that he gave to her in ‘Shadow of the Bat’, her first outing with them. She instead married Sam Young as we know from Beyond, and he gave her the Batarang as a wedding present instead.

‘Mark of the Phantasm’ delves even deeper as it plays out in multiple time periods. Barbara tells Terry the reason for the old gang breaking up was that she and Dick got back together after the flashback events of Return of the Joker, but everything blew up when she miscarried Bruce’s baby during a fight as Batgirl. After learning the truth, Dick cancelled his proposal plans, beat the shit out of Bruce and left town. Barbara also naturally retired from being Batgirl.

Terry confronted Bruce with this information one year before this book began, but it was only after learning Bruce knew the truth about Jake Chill killing his father and kept it from him, that he finally dissolved their partnership. This closes the loop on the one year gap, with Terry instead sympathising with Dick and forming a new team with him.

If you’re wondering how Phantasm factors into all this, she was hired by Amanda Waller to murder Jake Chill as part of some elaborate plan to make a new Batman, somewhat evocative of the events of ‘Epilogue’, which all of the books resoundingly chose to ignore. Good!

Everybody makes amends and reunites in the book’s final story, which brings Rewire back, and also sees Melanie break up with Terry for not fully trusting her to have gone straight.

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie including Return of the Joker and most recently The Batman!

My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, returns this week to begin coverage of Moon Knight!

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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