Wow, Bernard Chang read my Christmas list! With Shriek, Freon and Hacker, this month’s issue shows off some unique Batman Beyond antagonists fairly well. It’s a reasonably fun breather before the next arc, which quite literally grounds the comic. And it reminds me that the Terrific Trio existed and needed way more screentime.
Batman Beyond #13—Gotham Games, or, Three Is An Important Number In Storytelling
The issue opens with Terry at his Terry-est: bouncing off of a wall that he’s been blasted into. He’s fighting Shriek, who is claiming ownership of the underground train tunnels. Terry argues that he isn’t there for Shriek, but instead he’s trying to shut something off. We get a good idea of what when we’re shown Gotham’s “aerial defense system” shooting down a delivery truck flying over the city. Gotham apparently has a system of surface-to-air guns that have gone rogue and are shooting down anything in Gotham’s airspace.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon and Mayor Luke Fox are discussing the problem of the rogue gun system. It’s cool to see an older Luke too, but he looks tired and sad throughout the issue and doesn’t share Barbara’s faith in Batman. It looks like he’s going to be an important part of this arc, so I’m sure we’ll find out exactly what’s worn him down so much—probably Brother Eye, since that keeps coming up.
This section also has occasional strips of dialogue-free panels depicting flashbacks to how Shriek left Blackgate during Brother Eye’s attack, went underground and repaired his equipment. They’re very effective at communicating the absolute silence that Shriek normally experiences without his helmet. Dialogue only returns when he repairs his helmet and when he meets a community of refugees hiding out in the tunnels. Batman meets these refugees when he finds and turns off the first manual shutoff for the aerial defense system. He promises to come back to help them get out of the tunnels, but they don’t want to leave; they’ve made a life down there and are fond of Shriek, who protects them.
On the surface, the Gotham Games are starting, which is undefined aside from sounding vaguely dystopian. A three-way sports pitch is apparently involved, and Max and Matt are on one of the teams. The whole thing appears to be in celebration of Gotham surviving Brother Eye and rebuilding, and throughout the issue we get peeks at the three teams, representing three districts of Gotham, playing basketball. In classic superhero fashion, Terry has to save the city and get back to the stadium in time to catch Max and Matt’s game.
When Terry gets back to the surface to find the second shutoff, he finds himself in Chinatown. He is instantly accosted by a man with some kind of electro-staff that knocks out Terry’s suit temporarily. The man also comments on the suit’s coding being “remarkably similar to Brother Eye”. As soon as his suit reboots, Terry takes to the air to escape the attack and immediately realizes that he’s made a mistake.
Dodging missiles, Terry heads back to the ground, where his attacker introduces himself as The Hacker and a flashback informs us that his name is Bo Han. The two fight, and Terry theorizes that Hacker is responsible for the system malfunction, though this turns out not to be the case. Hacker simply wants to protect Chinatown and sees Batman, with his suit systems so similar to Brother Eye’s, as a threat.
Meanwhile, flashbacks continue, showing us how during the Brother Eye attack, Bo Han’s home was destroyed. Because he was busy hacking (of course) his hands were fused to his holo-computer during the explosion, giving him the power to interface with computer systems, a power he uses to destroy a Brother Eye robot. Once Batman is outside of Chinatown, Hacker isn’t interested in chasing him, and he makes it to the second shutoff switch.
But, Rule of Three—Batman has one more switch to find and one more villain to fight. The third villain is Freon, of the Terrific Trio, who I am delighted to see because I forgot that they existed until I saw her, and then I remembered what a fantastic episode that was. Freon reveals that she altered the defense system, intending to take revenge on Gotham because she blamed the city as a whole for the Trio’s transformation into monsters. More specifically, she also wants Batman destroyed for killing her fiance, which confuses him a little because he didn’t kill Michael.
Flashbacks reveal that Dr Howard Hodges, who was in love with Mary, created a suit to restore her to a physical form and contain her, but the containment was not enough and he died quickly of being exposed to Freon’s radiation. Before dying, he told her that Batman murdered the other members of the Trio, sparking her quest for revenge.
Before Freon can kill Batman though, Hacker and Shriek appear, Hacker having upgraded Shriek’s suit to make his sonic blasts stronger. The two have found out that Batman’s trying to save the whole city. Having both appointed themselves protectors of civilian populations, they’ve decided to team up with Batman to help stop Freon. Batman’s all for the team-up, directing Hacker to complete the system shutoff and Shriek to break the street, pulling up some magnetic strips attached to the stoplights and attaching them to a batarang to tie up Freon with. That done, Hacker is able to use his powers to reprogram her suit to contain her completely. The city is saved and Terry’s got time to make it to the game!
Somebody’s put Bernard Chang onto the Rule of Three for this issue, and though he’s not doing anything huge with it, it’s interesting to read. Matt and Max are playing tri-ball, which looks like three basketball games being played simultaneously between teams representing three districts of Gotham. The issue constantly jumps between three settings: the games, what Terry’s up to, and flashbacks. Batman faces three enemies while trying to reach three shutoff switches. You could even stretch it to Freon being the only appearing member of a team of three, though the actual fates of 2-D Man and Magma aren’t revealed.
All three of these villains are coming from different places, which is what’s interesting to me. Hacker really isn’t even a villain…he’s actually a vigilante, having dedicated himself to protecting Chinatown. He takes a dislike to Batman because his suit’s coding is similar to Brother Eye (having been created by the same person), but he comes around pretty easily when he finds out that his town is in danger.
Freon and Shriek, meanwhile, have had completely opposite arcs. Freon was originally part of a team of three superheroes and has now gone full supervillain out of despair and a need for revenge. Shriek, conversely, was once a supervillain driven by money and then revenge, but in the ruins of post-Brother Eye Gotham he found purpose in protecting desperate people. Despite blaming Batman for his hearing loss and attacking him on sight, Shriek’s also content to work alongside him to protect the people under his care. This is actually a very new direction for Shriek, and I’m interested to see how it plays out. Regular human but technical genius who comes up with ridiculous inventions is very much the kind of ally Batman’s been known to have–perhaps referenced by the appearance of Mayor Luke Fox?
For that matter, I wonder if Luke is going to be a regular feature in the comic and if we’re going to see more of his journey from the present-day comics to the future. What’s turned the enthusiastic genius of Detective Comics into this tired, sad old man with no faith in Batman? Brother Eye and Batman-AI suits have been featured in both Detective Comics and Batman Beyond lately, the latter created by Luke himself for Azrael. How much are those tied in? As ever, I’m split between wanting to know more about the lives of the old characters and not wanting their histories to overshadow the future characters.
Terry’s running issue of trying to balance civilian life and Batman comes up again, admittedly in a largely comedic fashion–“I’ve gotta save the city in time for the ball game!” is so tropey it’s just inherently funny to me. Aside from brief conversations between Barbara and Luke, there’s nothing at all from the old Batfam in this comic. It’s all about Terry, two of his better villains, and an entirely new antagonist/potential ally.
I’m particularly fond of Shriek’s flashbacks for their effective use of dialogue-free, sound-effect-free panels. They communicate a sense of silence very well in an otherwise very busy issue. It’s especially interesting that Shriek repairs his helmet, and thus gets his hearing back, at the same time that he meets the refugees. The first thing he hears is an explosion overhead as Brother Eye attacks. Sound returns to his life at the same moment that he finds a purpose.
This is also the first time any of the Brother Eye robots have been depicted in this comic. They are horrifying to look at, but if I’m honest, I was somewhat distracted by the discovery that, while “assimilating” victims, they constantly make awful eye-related puns.
Random Extra Thoughts
- Was Bo Han part of the hacker collective that Max was in in the anime? If they know each other, that could be interesting if Hacker works with Batman in the future.
- How did the players for the teams in the tri-ball game get selected? There seems to be a mix of adults, teenagers and kids. Is Max and Matt’s involvement intended to show that they are physically in exceptional shape and thus maybe able to handle a life of vigilantism in the future? Or is Matt involved because he’s the only kid in the city with a superhero big brother who needs to hurry and save the city in time for the game?
- Seriously, Luke, honey, what happened to you? He looks SO worn out and sad. Has he been worn out for a long time or is all the exhaustion and bitterness stemming from his city getting wrecked by killer robots and Batman not being there? Because if the latter, fair enough, honestly.
- I truly cannot decide if this is funny or frightening:
Final Score: 8/10
Decently entertaining little breather issue before the next arc starts. Bonus points for bringing back Shriek and Freon and Freon’s cool redesign.
Images Courtesy of DC Comics
Writer: Bernard Chang
Pencils: Bernard Chang
Inks: Bernard Chang
Colors: Marcelo Maiolo
Cover: Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo