Batman Beyond #30 // Review
It’s difficult to imagine what might have been in the minds of the guys who created the Joker for Detective Comics back in 1940. The highly iconic villain is one of the more enduring figures in popular culture. So what happens when he dies? And what happens when that’s in the mid-21st century and the villain has a cult-like following? Writer Dan Jurgens takes a walk with this premise in the latest issue of Batman Beyond. Art is handled by Doc Shaner with color by Jordie Bellaire. It’s a valiant attempt at covering the fallout of the death of a legendary villain that doesn’t quite live up to its potential.
The issue opens as the Joker proclaims his life to a defeated aging Bruce Wayne, Batman Beyond and Robin. It’s totally believable that the Joker would have survived the heart attack he’d suffered the previous issue. Then Robin awakens from the nightmare with a shock of lightning in the night. There’s no mistaking that the Joker is finally dead. There IS, however, the small matter of a group of clown-based villains who are scared, desperate and suddenly without their charismatic leader. A young Batman goes out to dispatch the clown-faced residue of the Joker’s legacy.
There’s dramatic potential in the story that Jurgens isn’t entirely living up to. The Joker could be something of a messiah to a small group of clown criminals. What happens when the joke ends? Expanded into a more important series, this issue could have developed an in-depth analysis of the criminal mind without central charismatic schizophrenia to hold it together. Instead, Jurgens delivers a pretty standard story in which a young Robin heads off to aid a young Batman in the final defeat of Joker’s legacy...or is it? Jurgens goes for a multigenerational mutation of a pretty standard superhero story when he could have tried for something far more interesting.
After a shaky tangle with the nightmare of the first couple of pages, Shaner brings a respectably theatrical drama to the story with clever angles, well-developed physical action, and weighty emotion. Though there ARE some great moments here, the art feels a bit inconsistent. Intermittently awkward blockiness and apparently imprecise anatomy mar an otherwise enjoyable paced, well-framed action drama. Bellaire’s colors aren’t always given a great deal of room for expressiveness, but there’s some rather lovely radiance in the futuristic skylines and video screens. The defining sheen of the young Batman’s costume lends a slickness to the page. It doesn’t hurt that there seems to be some sort of rainless lightning storm going on the evening in which the issue is taking place. The electric crackle carving its way through the night is dramatic punctuation for the end of an era.
Obviously, this isn’t actually the end of an era. The Joker is worth too much money to ever get rid of the guy for good. So what’s the point in killing him off here? It makes for a potentially good story. It’s just too bad that the story in question isn’t framed better. Heroes have been dying in comics for decades. The death of an iconic villain seems relatively rare in comparison. There’s a lot that could have been explored here. Jurgens and company have missed an opportunity with this issue.