Batman Beyond: Neo-Year slowly built up a lot of good will before unfortunately dropping the ball at the very end. Its downfall was arguably due to biting off more than it could chew, and promising to tackle complex, nuanced topics that it ultimately couldn’t. Batman Beyond: Neo-Gothic #1 picks up after the end of that story left off, and right away stumbles in the pitfalls of its predecessor.
The story’s opening consists of narration overlaid on top of children being killed by deadly plants as a cat person (we’ll get to him later) looks on in horror. It’s very reminiscent of Gotham’s narration from the last series, with a similar visual style for the writing in between panels on black boxes. However, while Gotham’s narration in the gutters between panels was especially effective in conveying the sense of its omnipresence, this seems to simply be reusing a neat effect because it looks cool. The writing style itself, while not as narratively effective as the first time it was used, is not the main problem with this opening. No, what makes this opening a frustrated way to start the new series is the pretentiousness of its prose.
“Pretentious” is a word I am extremely hesitant to use, especially with how overused it is online. The reason I bring it up here because it’s a continuation of trends that the series has already demonstrated. In order to set a tone of morbidity, the narration contemplates about the meaning of death and how it impacts us. This would be fine, and even potentially excellent, if it actually said anything. However, instead, it simply exists as a series of trite aphorisms like “death is not the end” and “we stand alone, but death unites us”. None of this ties together in a meaningful way, but rather exists as high-sounding speech meant to come off as deep. I would not be surprised if later on these phrases are made true in some literal way through the villain’s superpowers à la Borg hivemind.
The narration is not the only example of this sort of writing. In Batman Beyond: Neo-Year, Lanzing and Kelly decided to use Lumos as a way to create a critique of corporatism and class divides. That commentary ultimately failed because Lumos was such a moustache twirling villain that any sort of nuance to the problems being discussed were lost in favor of defeating the bad guy. Well Lumos is back, this time trying to buy up low income housing for real estate development. The entire time he does so with a smug grin and bragging about how no one can stop him. It does not bode well for any sort of commentary on the sensitive topic of gentrification.
As for the story itself, it spends some time with an opening montage re-establishing the status quo of the series, both with Terry’s allies and his relationship with his family. Sebastian Cheng’s bright colors help bring this part to life, as the fights that intersperse the exposition keep things lively and visually interesting to look at. Narratively the fights aren’t meant to connect to the plot, but are rather establish that Terry’s continuing his work as Batman. While pretty, what it doesn’t do is clearly set up the rest of the story. Characters vaguely allude to events which are not made clear, and the disjointedness of the scenes takes a while to even establish that the driving action is discovering missing kids.
The plot finally kicks into gear when Terry heads into the “Gotham Deep”, a sort of dilapidated undercity beneath Gotham. Once again the art is the highlight of the section, as Max Dunbar creates an impressive setting for a dark, moody Gotham-beneath-Gotham into which Terry descends. It’s a striking contrast seeing the gothic cathedral architecture so near the sleek neon of the city above. There, Terry finds a resident of Gotham Deep who acts as his guide into this underworld. It’s a dynamic that I found interesting, and would have been more impressed with if it was not explicitly called out as being a Dante’s Inferno reference later on.
While I enjoy his role, I can’t go without addressing the cat in the room. Terry’s guide is named “Kyle Selina” and is anthropomorphic cat person from genetic splicing. The splicers are a group from the show itself, but this takes the concept so absurdly far that it becomes incredibly distracting. In addition to his name just being Catwoman’s reversed, he’s also somewhat part of a gang called the “catbois”, but Terry deduces that he’s a loner because he has matted fur and catbois usually groom each other. He also uses expressions like “Selina’s spit” among other cat puns. It’s such an intrusive presence that distracts for much of the second half of the issue. I expect that he’ll be sticking around for the foreseeable future, and I don’t look forward to learning more about the grooming habits and cat-themed behaviors of Kyle Selina and the catbois.
- You liked Batman Beyond: Neo-Year
- Social commentary is best served heavy handed
- You want more anthropomorphic cat people in your Batman stories
Batman Beyond: Neo-Gothic #1 follows up on Batman Beyond: Neo-Year by hitting all of the shortcomings of its predecessor. Its bright visuals can’t distract from clumsily handled social commentary and overly ambitious attempts at profound writing. The problems of old are compounded with the questionable addition of a half-human, half-cat sidekick who spends too much of his presence making cat puns.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman-News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.