If that’s how it’s going to be, I’m glad an issue like #28 has rolled around finally, because it stops treating the flashback storytelling as breadcrumbs of plot and finally makes them an integral part about the story we’re telling now. BATMAN BEYOND 2.0 #28 is primarily set up to tell an important part of this story: possibly the most important?
The DCAU (or DC Animated Universe, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s shared continuity for their animated cartoon series, including Batman Beyond) format of storytelling was always meant to take existing elements of the DC Universe and bring them down to their base level before doing things with them. So in a way it’s been long overdue that we see that approach taken to Dick and Barbara’s relationship outside of work. The Dick/Babs relationship has long been an essential part of the characters’ history together, and they’ve been on-again, off-again through numerous continuity resets and alternate realities. BATMAN BEYOND 2.0 #28 is a surprisingly emotional book for a weekly release. Being part of a longer story being told, this issue has the advantage of having a ton of build-up before a moment in it to create an investment from the reader.
Needless to say, when it actually happened, despite the fact that the story sets it up to not, you’ll be a little shocked. Yet at the same time, it doesn’t come out of nowhere and is perfectly in character for the person that perpetrates all of it. There’s even a pretty warm moment between Batman and Barbara that makes you realize there’s still a man under all of the armor and gadgetry. BATMAN BEYOND 2.0, and to a greater extent the entire type of storytelling invoked by the DCAU, was always deeply personal and involved a lot of emotional stories, for not just a cartoon but for such a generally episodic and pulp-inspired type of storytelling.
I wish all of DC’s weeklies had the quality of writing that’s on display in BATMAN BEYOND 2.0. It’s really the only book I’ve read in awhile to come out of DC that’s made me put it down for a second. There are some questions to be asked here, but I don’t really want to spoil the issue for anyone who’s waiting on a review of it to decide if they want to pick it up. You’ll know what the question is when you get through the book, and when it finally comes to it you’ll be asking how dark the story can possibly go from here.
However dark that is, if the creative team stays the same, then I’m thoroughly on board. Especially if Phil Hester gets to do more then a few pages an issue. And Craig Rousseau is certainly no slouch himself. It takes an awful lot of technical skill to be able to sell drawing in another artist’s style so well – but he’s still drawing in another artist’s style. Whether or not Rousseau himself is able to come through in the art on this book, I don’t know, because I haven’t seen him do anything besides Bruce Timm so far. Maybe if Hester gets to flex his art capabilities more, the book will further cement its own visual identity, and both artists will get to cut loose.
Is this going to be one of those stories where at the end of it Terry and the rest of the old bat family come together, rallying around Bruce in his old age and leaving him a better person than he was before at the end? Because if that’s the direction it’s going, I don’t want a part of it. I’m not levying a potential future end of the story as a criticism, mind – if all of this happened and supposedly drew everyone apart, then why have they spent so long in such close proximity to each other? I’m hoping the latter part of this story arc answers that question.
Until then, it’s more of a hook worth dwelling on than the central plot hook that’s been created in this story. Whoever the new Phantasm actually turns out to be- along with the resolution of the ongoing story of Vigilante- I don’t think it’s going to be anywhere near as interesting as the emotional drama between the shattered bat family.
Last week, a point of contention for me was that Bruce Timm’s art style was perfectly suited for animation over comic books for a reason, and I think the story in this issue drives that point home. In being so simple, Bruce Timm effectively had just enough of a caricature of a human face to relate believable expressions. But he did so through animation, and characters seldom held the same expression for more than a few seconds. That art style doesn’t suit comic books so well because comics rely on effective use of expression and body language- or both- to convey emotion, besides indirect things like lighting and layout. The reason Hester’s art works better is because Hester simply draws more expressive characters, and has more control over lighting. I can’t help but think the moment that made me put this issue down for a second would have been that much better with another artist on board.
BATMAN BEYOND 2.0 is almost one of those extra-special heart wrenching moments from the DCAU. Yet, in adherence to giving us a story that looks like it comes right from Bruce Timm himself, it misses the mark ever so slightly.