Batman Beyond Neo Year #1 (April 5) advanced review

Spinning out of September’s Batman: Urban Legends #7 (opens in new tab), writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing and artist Max Dunbar pick up right where they left off in the April-debuting Batman Beyond: Neo Year. Any work that involves Batman Beyond and his world of Neo Gotham has a pretty high bar to clear. There’s a lot of nostalgia tied up in the character and past attempts to explore what is clearly fertile ground for storytelling have had their ups and downs. This creative team did enough in their anthology story to make the promise of a continuation interesting, but can they deliver?

Batman Beyond: Neo Year #1 credits

Written by Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing
Art by Max Dunbar and Sebastian Cheng
Lettering by Aditya Bidikar
Published by DC
On sale April 5, 2022

As the first issue of a six-issue series, Batman Beyond: Neo Year’s writers have some expectations that readers have at least a passing familiarity with the story that leads into this one. If you aren’t, you might be a little lost. 

Kelly and Lanzing lean on Terry McGinnis’s internal monologue via a paper diary that he starts writing to deliver exposition but it quickly becomes a somewhat obtuse crutch. Despite Terry’s cachet as a known commodity to fans, he’s most effective with other characters around him, not when he’s essentially talking to himself. He’s not Bruce Wayne. He’s not Dick Grayson. He’s not a Robin. He’s Batman. But he’s a different Batman. He’s been tasked with “going beyond” by Bruce himself and yet, he’s falling back on an old Batman trope. 

Batman Beyond: Neo Year #1 cover

Batman Beyond: Neo Year #1 cover (Image credit: DC)

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But a scene he has with Barbara Gordon works extremely well. Not just as fan service, but to ground Terry in a way that Bruce usually would. I’m not saying that Terry can’t grow outside of the older characters that act as his mentors but it is nice to see him put back in a familiar dynamic. 

I think Kelly and Lanzing understand that. It’s just hard to get him there when Bruce no longer really exists. And I don’t think they let Terry fully embrace his new status quo – it’s almost done in half measure but maybe that’s on purpose to hedge their bets against readers who might feel like this version of Terry isn’t familiar to them. It’s a tightrope that Kelly and Lanzing are constantly teetering on and that’s definitely felt in their approach to the book.

Meanwhile, the idea of a Batman whose latest villain is the city he is sworn to protect definitely fits into the neo-noir aesthetic that keeps DC’s lights on. But it also feels like it might be taking the old cliché that ‘the city is a character’ a little bit too far. 

Even the idea of Batman against the city he’s sworn to protect is a little bit done to death. We’ve seen versions of it in ‘No Man’s Land (opens in new tab),’ ‘Zero Year (opens in new tab),’ Batman Eternal (opens in new tab), and even to some extent a story like ‘Dark Knight, Dark City (opens in new tab).’ A concept like the Sword of Gotham almost makes me a believer but then it also feels similar to Azrael’s arrival in Gotham. At points in this issue, it doesn’t quite feel like Kelly and Lanzing have anything that’s more than the sum of its parts.

Batman Beyond: Neo Year #1 page

Batman Beyond: Neo Year #1 page (Image credit: DC)

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Max Dunbar has an interesting style. He’s not as dynamic as Sean Gordon Murphy. His younger female characters have a little bit of J. Scott Campbell in them. His work would be a little bit more boring if his linework was cleaner – I’m thinking a Carlo Barberi or someone similar. But he flexes a lot in this issue when the script calls for it.

Despite the fact that this creative team has worked together before, I don’t think the writers are totally in sync with their artist. There’s a penchant for double-page spreads that don’t work as well for Dunbar but his single-page splashes are breathtaking. Dunbar does great work with Terry when he’s in the Batsuit but outside of that, the art relies on the narration to help a reader understand what’s happening. And there are some wasted panels across the book that even the book’s heavy narration can’t help make sense of.

I appreciate that colorist Sebastian Cheng doesn’t remove the contrast from the book with Neo Gotham’s neon lights. I think that Terry’s costume is one of the most iconic things about him and to let that be a void of light rather than let computer-generated lighting takeover is a good move. Contrast is infinitely important especially in a pop culture zeitgeist that seems to favor halftones, grays, and browns (see just about any modern superhero movie). 

Letterer Aditya Bidikar has a few standout sound effects but their panel-to-panel lettering leaves a little bit to be desired. For instance, why does supervillain have a hyphen? Come on.

Batman Beyond: Neo Year #1 page

Batman Beyond: Neo Year #1 page (Image credit: DC)

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Overall, this isn’t a bad book, it just doesn’t feel like everything that the creative team is putting on the page is completely coalescing. The creative team obviously has nostalgia for the property but hasn’t revealed how they intend to move it forward. The result is a book that feels like it needs to tread water at this stage in the narrative to make sure the audience is given everything they need to enjoy what comes next. 

The good news is that the sky’s the limit for a book like this. There is still a lot of space to move the character forward and deliver an all-time story. With a name like ‘Neo Year,’ that’s obviously something that DC is banking on. Otherwise, they wouldn’t trade on the ‘Year One’ naming convention. So is it schway? Well… kinda. It’s definitely not slagged. That’s something, right? 

Batman Beyond: Neo Year #1

Batman Beyond: Neo Year #1 two-page spread (Image credit: DC)

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Batman Beyond: Neo Year #1 has a real workmanlike quality to it that sees the creative team carefully balancing their story with the expectations of their audience but I’m curious to see them throw a little bit more caution to the wind now that they’ve spent so much time building a foundation.

We’re not sure Gotham City is ever going to make Newsarama’s list of the best Batman villains of all time but hey, you never know!

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