Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Batwomen of Batman Beyond Are A Breath Of Fresh Air

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Given the number of extended Bat-family books already filling the comics market, I probably shouldn’t be hoping that this is a pilot for a spinoff comic, but damn if I don’t hope this is a pilot for a spinoff comic. This was a fun ride of everything that I like most about Batman and Batman Beyond. This comic is about ordinary people pulling badass shit out of sheer intellect and determination. It’s about clever plans, cool fights, and interesting team-ups. It’s about new heroes earning prestigious costumes. And it’s about people who started off alone working together, teaching each other, and pulling off greater things as a team than they could do alone.

And it’s about three well-written, well-drawn women. This is my JAM.

Batman Beyond Rebirth #12–Batwomen Beyond, or, This Is What A Healthy Mentor-Hero Relationship Looks Like, BRUCE

Our issue opens with Commissioner Barbara Gordon getting captured in the course of an investigation. She sets off her emergency beacon, but with Bruce and Terry in the Himalayas, only Max and Matt are in the Cave to see it. Meanwhile, a teenager called Nissa is complaining with her friends about getting in trouble for punching a drug-dealing teacher. They live in Crown Point, the worst neighborhood in Gotham, a city that is about 95% Bad Neighborhood. Nissa feels like neither Batman nor the police care about Crown Point, so she’s taking matters into her own hands by becoming the Batgirl of Tomorrow.

I don’t think you get to mock the ears when you also wear them, Nissa…

Matt is worried about Barbara, but even more worried about Max as she prepares to go after the Commissioner. Max assures Matt that she’ll be fine, then sets out in an outfit that might be meant to be a disguise, as the jacket zips up over the lower half of her face. It doesn’t exactly do much to hide her extremely noticeable pink haircut, though.

Over in Crown Point, Batgirl is beating up drug dealers to find their supplier and finds out that it’s the old bus depot. She runs into Max there, but doesn’t want Max’s help rescuing Barbara. Max suggests Batgirl should trust her because Max is a friend of both Barbara and Batman, but this turns out to be exactly the wrong thing to say. Batgirl argues that Batman’s never come down to Crown Point. Max admits that, while she’s never been to Crown Point physically, she’s pulled off a few cyber-attacks that have helped Batgirl out from behind the scenes. This gets her into Batgirl’s good graces just in time for the drug traders to arrive, doing business out in the open, because that’s just how Crown Point is.

Inside of the old depot, several of the criminals, crooked cops, are arguing about what to do with Barbara. Another bent cop called Flass, arrives and threatens Barbara. On the roof, Batgirl and Max have arrived. Max has a plan, something she saw Zatanna Zatara perform years ago. (The timespan between present-day comics and the time of Beyond is still unclear, but however old Zatanna was when Max was a kid, she looked good for it.)

Barbara is unintimidated by Flass and gets in a little bit of snark just before Batgirl and Max bust in through the skylight. The bent cops threaten to shoot Barbara if Batgirl or Max move. Barbara, still tied to a chair, manages to jump backwards and knock Flass over. One of the thugs gets the jump on Max, but it turns out that she was a hologram the whole time, a hologram that’s carrying a virus that deactivates Barbara’s cuffs. Because holograms can do that in the future, I guess.

In the ensuing fight, Barbara takes out as many of the bent cops as Batgirl, and the two of them get some quality bickering in while they do. Max proves she’s more than capable as well when she takes down one of the dirty cops with a net fired out of a rocket launcher through the broken skylight.

…but a rocket launcher is also pretty nifty.

Flass mocks Crown Point and Batgirl, but before Batgirl can do any permanent damage, Barbara steps in and points out that killing him will change nothing for Crown Point. Batgirl decides that the people of Crown Point are worth far more than Flass’ life, and Barbara says that if there’s any hope in Crown Point, it’s Batgirl.

A few days later, Max and Batgirl meet up. Max asks if Batgirl’s considered Barbara’s offer for the three of them to work together separately from Batman, and Batgirl seems to be thinking about it. When Batgirl leaves, Barbara arrives and Max worries that they don’t do enough for Crown Point. Barbara reassures her that if they can’t do enough, they can do all that they can, and none of them have to work alone.

Overall thoughts

This issue is packed, and I love it.

Her design is fantastic. I love how functional, intimidating and non-sexualized this costume is. And the batwings going up to the shoulders look brilliant.

Nissa is a great character that I’m hoping is going to be well-used going forwards. She comes from a completely different background to Terry or Bruce; it’s probably not a coincidence that the hero of the worst neighborhood in Gotham, suffering from unjust cops and corrupt school boards, is a black girl. She’s also got a chip on her shoulder about Batman never being around to help lower-class victims of crime. (It’s probably not unfounded, as Terry has nowhere near the number of sidekicks and partners that Bruce did.) So, Nissa just decided that if nobody’s going to come protect Crown Point, she’s going to do it, and I love her for that.

Even though this chip is a pretty big deal for her, though, she’s not stubborn about it. She’s not overly aggressive to Max before or after finding out that Max works for Batman, and respects her cyber-vigilantism. Nissa’s confident in her own ability to handle the situation, but still listens to Max. She snarks the whole way through, but isn’t that one of the entry requirements to become a Bat?

She’s hard to find background on as this is only her second appearance ever, but hopefully it won’t be her last. Without background, though, it’s easy to pick up the history between her and Barbara. Barbara shows unconditional respect to Nissa throughout the issue, stating more than once that Nissa was the right person to take up her old mantle. Barbara also shows concern for Nissa, having been worried when the girl vanished after Brother Eye attacked and relieved that she’s alright.

It’s clear that Barbara’s been a mentor to Nissa in the past and wants to keep looking out for her. Barbara as a mentor was one of the best things about her character development as Oracle, pre-reboot, and it’s so lovely to see that return here. Despite how standoffish she is, Nissa is concerned when she hears that Barbara’s missing, so she clearly cares just as much about her mentor. Barbara pulls her back when she’s on the brink of losing control against Flass, and Nissa takes everything Barbara tells her to heart.

After months of nothing, they seamlessly slip into fighting and snarking together and it’s an honest joy to read.

There’s a few hints that Barbara’s been mentoring Max in the art of cyber-vigilantism, too, and I am here for it. I mentioned a few issues back that I hoped Max might become Batgirl, but this issue suggests an even better possibility: Max becoming Oracle. Tech support and hacking are already what Max does well. She’s already established herself as not taking any of Batman’s shit (Terry or Bruce), so she’d be ideal to take up Barbara’s other former alias.

I also had a lot of fun reading Max this issue as she shows off a lot of badassery in different spheres from Nissa. She’s not the top of the class when it comes to “fist to the face” style plans, but off the cuff she comes up with a very clever plan to get Barbara free and let her do most of the ass-kicking. I also love that she was inspired to this plan by Zatanna.

Max is a deft hand with a rocket launcher, but what she really excels at, beyond tech and shooting, is empathy. When she meets Batgirl, she isn’t taken aback by Nissa’s anger because she immediately picks up on the real source of Nissa’s pain. Max gives Nissa her credentials not just to get on her good side, but also to show that Max doesn’t think she needs to do Nissa’s job for her. Max doesn’t think Batgirl should step back and let Batman’s crew handle things—she just wants to help.

Understanding the kind of help that Batgirl and Crown Point need isn’t just crucial to getting Nissa to work with Max, but to repair her relationship with Barbara, too. “There’s no spin to it. Just a promise. A trust that goes both ways. Someone calls for help? You give it. On their terms. Either in the streets… or from the shadows.” It’s a valuable point to make, that really helping somebody also means respecting them, enough to actually ask for what kind of help they want from you. That kind of obvious mutual respect is why everything between Max, Nissa, and Barbara works so well in this chapter, and why I’m dying for them to team up more in the future.

You certainly could. Please do. PLEASE.

Lastly, I wanna talk about how good the art is in this issue. Bernard Chang was still involved with the artwork, but the guest team all contributed to a clean, well-designed comic with some gorgeous colors. Max and Nissa both look great. I’m always a fan of women with human body shapes, and Nissa in particular looks sturdy and powerful. Barbara’s design is a bit off at times, sturdy to the point of stocky and her face is especially odd in some panels. But it’s not completely off-putting and doesn’t stop the issue in general from looking wonderful.

This issue is everything Batman Beyond really should be: new characters taking up old mantles and making them their own by deciding what justice means for themselves under the guidance of old favorites. Barbara clearly has a history with Flass, but so does Nissa. And the focus remains on Nissa and Crown Point rather than Barbara taking over the issue. It is only a single issue rather than a multi-issue arc, but the balance is pretty much perfect. Barbara is a guiding hand to Max and Nissa’s development without ever taking the story away from them, and she’s genuinely supportive and open about her pride and respect for them. It’s a refreshing change, to say the least.

This is also a great example of how to write character conflict that doesn’t depend on any of the characters being assholes to each other. They simply misunderstand each other, and as Max says, they have to learn to listen to each other to work together. And they do.

Somebody please pay this team to produce a regular Batgirl Beyond book. Please. Make my year.

Random Extra Thoughts

  • Matt worrying about Max is cute. Their adoptive-sibling relationship continues to be hella cute.
  • After being disappointed by Batman Beyond so often ignoring Terry in favour of Bruce, this really is wonderful to read. I’ve been hoping for more Max since the beginning and now I have it, and a kickass future Batgirl to boot. The only way this could be more exactly my jam is if Max and Nissa kissed.
  • I love that Max didn’t hesitate to jump to Barbara’s rescue, but I love even more that her biggest worry was that Barbara was going to judge the rescue. She wants Barbara’s approval and it’s adorable.
  • Max and Nissa are in sync in that neither of them waste time going “somebody should do something” when they can go “I could do something”. Then they do something. I feel like that’s especially important in Bat-books, as members of the Bat-family generally don’t have superpowers. They’re just ordinary people who dedicated themselves to doing extraordinary things. A lot of the time they’re much stronger or smarter than the average person, but what makes them exceptional is that they see something wrong and they don’t hesitate to do something about it, no matter how difficult or dangerous it is. Man I love Nissa

Final Score: 9.5/10

Please let this be a pilot. This was a really good issue and I’d love to see a book about Max, Nissa, and Barbara working together.

Images Courtesy of DC Comics

Writer: Steve Orlando and Vita Ayala

Pencils: Bernard Chang and Siya Oum

Inks: Bernard Chang and Dexter Vines

Colors: Siya Oum and Tony Avina

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