Artwork from Justice League Beyond, by Peter Nguyen
I see a lot of people who complain about the state of comics, for various reasons. Some complain they have lost originality. I have heard others complain about how dark they have become. Of course, the classic complain of expense will always come up. One I have heard come up time and again, is that they seem to have lost a lot of that simple fun we all loved when we first started reading them. When I say we, I mean those of us who started reading in the 80s.
Well worry not my friends. I have a cure for this complaint, of sorts. DC comics has a line of digital first comics. These are comics published to Comixology, and the like, first, and later collected to print. Among these titles they have the remnants of the Timverse. The Beyond titles, Batman Beyond, Superman Beyond, and Justice League Beyond, are very much a call back to a more fun sort of comics.
I find the experiment here of releasing these on digital first is a good one. It is a place where they don’t have to worry about circulation numbers as much and ideas like this can get some space to breath. I think comics will need to consider changing things up like this more often. Try it out in digital, then move it to print once you see the response.
But I digress..
These series are all set in the future version of the Timverse(That continuity created in the Batman Animated series and its successors), that we know from the Batman Beyond series. It is scifi setting with super heroes. They exist in their own sort of continuity. Well, actually the continuity of the cartoons, but don’t rely on the New 52, or anything like that. They are set in a 2020 era DC universe. A lot of the heroes are not around anymore. The Batman retired due to the fact his body can’t keep up any more, and let a younger man, Terry McGinnis, to take up the mantel. There is more to that story, but I will let you look into that on your own. Superman is still around, though older. The Justice League in this era are Aquagirl(Aquaman’s daughter), Micron(a succor to the Atom, but his past is a bit murky to me), Warhawk(Son of Green Lantern John Stewart and Hawkgirl), Big Barda(the same one as before just with a new outfit), Superman(see above), Green Lantern( a new kid named Kai-ro), and on occasion, Batman.
Why are these good? Well, the stories are solid. They are not Jason Aaron or Alan Moore good, but they are solid action adventure stories, with a dollop of nostalgia, and a slice of occasional subtext. They do have a lot of call backs to the cartoon, and DC comics in general, but not without explaining it, or dwelling on it. There is a great bit where they reference the Challengers of the Unknown in one story and it wasn’t hammering you over the head. If you knew who they were, you got a thrill, but it didn’t read like they would leave you out if you didn’t know. The art is again, very solid. They range from up and comers with a good command of the form, to some of the new hotness like Fiona Staples, doing fill in issues. They do have a contained continuity among the three titles and have had cross over, but not so much that it is distracting from the stories in the books.
On a game level, there is something to be said for this setting in a superhero game. There is a lot of room for people to play, without running into too many existing constraining you. Also the scifi element makes a lot of character concepts much easier. They do have all your usual superhero options, mutants, aliens, and gadget heroes are there, but a few new wrinkles pop up. There is an active transhumanist theme in this future, and a recreational use of illegal gene mods is common in the underground. Having a cat person with feline DNA, walking around with a cybered up bully boy, is a regular night on the town for Batman here. I could see a group of heroes trying to reclaim the legacy of heroes like Green Arrow or Steel.
Whether you are in it for game inspiration, or looking for a fun and light superhero comic, these would make a good choice to check out. Oh, and one of the best parts, they are cheap. They are 99 cents and issue on Comixology, so the barrier to checking them out is low. I pick them up when I can, because I am cheap these days and I like to maximize my bang for my buck. I will admit, I was more apt to take an interest in these, because I loved the Bruce Timm’s work on animated universe he fostered. If you loved those, you will find much here to love, but it is still good stuff, even if you have never seen them. You should go check them out.