Shiny Shelf

Superman/Batman Annual #4

By Mark Clapham on 14 June 2010

‘Superman/Batman’ is an odd book, with one foot outside normal DC continuity.

If you’ll excuse the horrible metaphor, this annual topples over the boundary and lands in a different continuity altogether – that of the 1999-2001 animated series ‘Batman Beyond’ (called ‘Batman of the Future’ in the UK, for no readily apparent reason), in which Bruce Wayne mentored young Terry McGinnis to take on the role of Batman in a cyberpunky future Gotham.

The concept of ‘Batman Beyond’ was widely reviled as a gimmick by Batman fans on announcement, only for the execution of the finished product to be so good that it flipped that contempt into cultish adoration pretty much from first broadcast. That’s fans for you.

Perhaps to capitalise on this existing fan-loyalty, or perhaps because they’re mad and publish things for capricious reasons beyond human understanding, DC Comics are having a bit of a ‘Batman Beyond’ revival this year, with a six-part mini-series on the way. But first there’s this annual.

Writer Paul Levitz has only recently returned to his mortal writer-form after decades in the higher plane of existence of various senior exec roles, and there’s the odd hangover from his writing heyday early in the issue, a tendency to end every third line of dialogue with an! exclamation! mark!

Thankfully that settles down and for the most part this is a fun, done-in-one revisit of ‘Batman Beyond’ continuity. There’s a strong premise at the heart of the story, and it’s an alternate future story which manages to shuffle a lot of pieces around without melting into fanfic.

The art team (Renato Guedes on pencils and colours, Jose Wilson inking) capture the aesthetic and character designs of the series, but in a more detailed approach more in line with mainstream DC books. Levitz also nails the tone of the animated series just right – the SF setting makes the action more fantastical, but that fantasy is run through with a really brutal streak.

It’s a merciless world, the future of the ‘Batman Beyond’ animated series – many of Superman and Batman’s friends are long dead. There’s also a tendency for villains to end up lost beneath piles of rubble or in explosions – Batman never kills anyone directly, but a lot of his enemies are last seen in circumstances they’re unlikely to survive.

There’s less of the latter in this issue, as a central plot point holds a different fate for the bad guys, but the future is pretty grim. What’s interesting, and counter-intuitive, is that mainline DC books have become so bleak, misanthropic and generally unpleasant in the years since ‘BB’ went off the air that this dystopian future now seems like a light and fun alternative to the current DCU – the future may be grim, but at least this is a DC book where no-one gets raped, or has a limb torn off, or gives a long speech justifying torture, or any of the other adolescent nonsense clogging up DC’s current best sellers.

Nowadays, the smog of future Gotham feels like a breath of fresh air. I suspect that says more about the state of the current DCU than the virtues of ‘Batman Beyond’, but nonetheless I wouldn’t mind seeing more stories set in this relatively cheery dark future, especially if written by Levitz.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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