It’s not the best or most interesting comic I read this week, but it is the best example of a kind of inadvertent theme I noticed in my purchases, and so there are spoilers ahead for…
Batman Beyond #19
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artist: Ande Parks, Phil Hester
Cover: Bernard Chang
“Live long enough and the debts of the past are bound to come due.”
I’ve been reading comic books pretty much since I could read – and was fascinated by them even before that – which totals up to more than forty years.
Beyond reading new comics, I have, of course, read old comics that hit the stands long before I made my debut, and more than a few books and articles on the history of different characters, creators, and the medium itself.
Over the course of those decades, if there’s one thing that’s stood out (though there have been many), it’s the notion of a legacy.
Legacy characters are a hallmark of comics, whether in the form of a straightforward notion of passing the mantle down from one generation to the next, as with the Phantom, a character who creates the illusion of immortality by bequeathing the role and responsibility from father to son, or with characters who are inspired by some earlier hero and take up the legacy, as with Mr. Terrific (who is at the core of one of my purchases this week).
There are legacies for fans and creators as well, with new generations carrying and passing on the torch of love for the medium, and the legacy – some would say baggage – of continuity and tradition within the stories that the comics tell.
Batman Beyond is, of course, a legacy character, one introduced as the titular character in an animated series nearly twenty years ago, a young man named Terry McGinnis, who takes on the role decades after Bruce Wayne retired from crimefighting.
Similarly, the current comic itself is a legacy, flowing from the different Batman Beyond comics that preceded it, and this storyline is driven by the appearance of a legacy character based on a character from the animated series.
The current run of the comic differs from the others that preceded it, in that they were set in the continuity established by the various animated series that made up the DC Animated Universe, while this comic hews a little more closely to the standard continuity of the current DC Universe.
The events of the animated series, are, however, still considered canon; it’s in the specifics where things differ.
When this series launched (or rather, the series that preceded it before it relaunched with new numbering), Terry McGinnis was believed to be dead, and a time-tossed Tim Drake had taken up the legacy of both Batman and Batman Beyond.
Terry turned up alive eventually – as did an elderly Bruce, who was also believed dead – and once again donned the cowl to protect the streets of Neo-Gotham.
The small circle of people in the know about Terry’s alter ego has expanded to include his kid brother, Matt, and Terry’s girlfriend Dana.
This issue is a culmination of a storyline that started with Terry facing off against another character from the TV series, a cybernetically-enhanced hunter called Stalker. It turned out that Stalker, with whom Terry had previously achieved a kind of détente, had been hired to capture Terry, and had only taken the job because he needed the money to provide food and supplies to his village in Africa. Stalker ended up quitting the job after Terry saved his life, and so the person who had been paying him stepped up to finish the job.
Payback, as the villain behind it all called himself, had been a teenaged victim of bullying who used advanced weapons to become something of a vigilante delivering, well, payback, on behalf of teens who had, like him, been victimized and ignored. But the last Terry knew, Payback was safely locked away getting the help he needed.
Thrown into the mix is a young woman named Melanie Walker – also from the TV show – who is grappling with her own legacy as the former Ten of the Royal Flush Gang, and the Gang itself is something of a legacy, and has been trying to make up for her former life by helping Batman.
She also has a bit of a crush – which is reciprocated, despite Terry’s feelings for Dana – on both Batman and Terry. (She’s not part of the large inner circle that knows that they’re one and the same.)
Both Batman and Ten are captured by Payback, who turns out to be the father of the original Payback, which makes it a rather unusual legacy. His son ended up taking his own life, and the new Payback blames his son’s suicided on Batman.
Payback is broadcasting his slow, torturous execution of Batman for all the world to see, there’s very little time to call in outside assistance, and Bruce is confined to a wheelchair, unable to intervene.
However, Matt has, of late, been obsessing over the careers of the various Robins, and, unbeknownst to Terry and Bruce, has begun a training regimen with an obvious eye towards taking a more active role in his brother’s second life.
Matt convinces Bruce – who, despite whatever recriminations he may feel, can always find a way to justify putting children in harm’s way – to let him take some equipment and rush off to Terry’s aid.
Initially, the mission for Matt is simply to cut off the power to the location in which Payback is killing Terry to allow Terry to break free and save himself. Dana, who had shown up after seeing the broadcast of Terry’s plight, thinks even that is too dangerous for a child, and chides Bruce for his apparent disregard for Matt’s safety, and wonders, as so many others have,
“What is wrong with you people? How can you live like this?”
Once Matt accomplishes his mission, however, he can’t help but try to get more involved, as Payback activates your standard “I’ll happily die as long as I take you with me” self-destruct mechanism. The only real result of Matt’s clumsy attempt at helping, though, is pissing off Terry, who manages to stop the destruct sequence, and delivers some hard truth to Payback, who had been a terrible, neglectful father, about who really killed his son.
With Terry saved, Dana leaves the cave threatening to call Child Protective Services on Bruce, and Matt and Terry return so that Terry can have an angry confrontation with Bruce. Most of that confrontation is set aside for a moment, however, as Terry wraps things up by leading a Wayne Enterprises-funded relief mission to Stalker’s village.
As I said, it wasn’t so much that this was a great story – though it was fine – that led me to write about it, but rather the way that it is so dependent on that theme of legacy, in almost all the forms in which that concept impacts serialized comics storytelling.
It’s a legacy book about a legacy character, featuring characters dealing with their own legacies in markedly different ways. Melanie is trying to turn her back on her legacy and to make amends for the harm it’s caused; Terry, sometimes reluctantly, accepts the responsibilities and the costs associated with the legacy he has taken on; Matt is rushing joyfully and heedlessly towards becoming a part of a legacy; Bruce examines the legacy of his own behavior; Payback takes up a legacy as a means of ignoring his responsibility for creating that legacy.
As a writer, Dan Jurgens tackles the legacy of the history of children donning colorful costumes and risking their lives as kid sidekicks, presenting multiple reactions to and perspectives about the idea, and as readers we contend with that legacy as an accepted part of super hero comics.
The concept of legacy in comics is something that I’ve struggled with throughout my years as a fan of the medium. It’s not something that can be ignored, but it is often – as with the case of kid sidekicks – something that we must find a way to reconcile. There have been many attempts at changing the narrative to make it more palatable – like the notion that Bucky wasn’t quite so young as he seemed, and that his apparent youth was simply a cover for the darker actions taking place behind the scenes – or to deconstruct it, or to parody it, or to follow the narrative to its inevitable destructive end.
But it remains an enshrined legacy, one that is foolish, and dark, and often silly, but one that has led to so many positive narrative developments. There are many ways in which the idea of Robin is ridiculous – beyond the hot pants and pixie boots – and there’s a strong argument for dispensing with the character entirely. And yet, for all that, the DC Universe would be so much poorer without the presence of Dick Grayson (and not just because of his butt), and it remains nigh-impossible to consider abandoning that legacy.
I don’t know that I really have much of a point beyond the obvious “Most fandoms have to find a way to deal with problematic tropes,” which isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it is something that I often think about. Not just in terms of kid sidekicks, but just…all of it. So much of what we love about comics is built on things that we’re also kind of embarrassed by, or that are there just because they’ve always been there, and we can’t conceive of them not being there, or we feel uneasy if they’re not there*.
Which is rather a lot like life, I suppose.
As for the comic itself, like I said, it was…fine. No specific complaints, though I’m not that keen on the art. Given the book’s ahem legacy I would like to see something either a little closer to the animation style, or a complete departure to something more conventional and detailed. The style here seems to attempt to strike a balance, but I don’t know that it works.
Like the story itself, it’s fine, and beyond that I have no specific complaints, but it just doesn’t seem like a fit.
CAPTAIN MARVEL: FIRST CONTACT – On the concept of legacy, it’s worth noting that for a time Genis-Vell, the titular Captain of this collection of the issues from the series written by Peter David, went by the name “Legacy.” Also, the “cosmic” part of the Marvel Universe is, understandably, on my mind.
INFINITY INC.: THE GENERATIONS SAGA VOL. 1 – Shunned by their parents and mentors in the Justice Society of America, Infinity, Inc. is a team made up of the best and brightest new heroes from the next generation of DC Comics.
Collecting a 1980s classic at last, INFINITY INC. follows the adventures of the Justice Society of America’s sons and daughters as they pick up the role of crime-fighters from their parents. Denied membership by the JSA due to a lack of experience, the young cast of Infinity Inc. decides to train themselves – including heroes Power Girl, Huntress, Jade, Obsidian, Nuklon and others.
THE NEW TEEN TITANS VOL. 1 – When the series launched, writer Marv Wolfman (CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS) and artist George Perez (FINAL CRISIS: LEGION OF THREE WORLDS, Avengers) crafted a timeless story starring Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Cyborg, Changeling, Raven and Starfire – a group of young individuals with great powers and strong personalities who learned their way in the world through the strength of their friendship and the adventures they shared.
That does it for this week’s Spotlight Sunday. Be sure to come back for the Showcase Saturday, the feature that tries to carry on the legacy of the old Weigh In Wednesday.
By the way, if there’s one legacy I’d like to see come to an end, it’s the continuing legacy of people not supporting OpenDoor Comics on Patreon.
*See also: Are Back, The Trunks