When it debuted on television in 1999, "Batman Beyond" took the animated legend of the Dark Knight to the future as an elderly Bruce Wayne trained teen Terry McGinnis to be a new caped crusader in a desperate Gotham 20 years removed from our own time. This summer, "Batman Beyond" made its return in comic form both in the out of continuity "Superman/Batman" Annual #4 by Paul Levitz and the six-issue solo series from writer Adam Beechen and artist Ryan Benjamin.
The latter book has proved such a sales success that DC Comics has confirmed McGinnis will continue to don the Dark Knight's duds in an upcoming ongoing series, but as readers continue to be drawn into the new order of "Batman Beyond" (the fourth issue of which is on sale today in comic shops), the expectation that the character and future world of the series somehow fits with the animated series has been upended.
"I've written it with the idea in mind that it is part of DC continuity," Beechen told CBR News of the change that's made the miniseries strike with fans. "I wanted that to be a definite possibility, so I've referenced a lot of characters and events from Batman's past. Whether or not that ultimately proves to be the case 20 or 30 years from now, I don't know. I had talked with my editors on the book about what this was going to be, and we wanted this to be a book that could tie into mainstream DC Universe continuity if that's the way DC chose to go. They weren't 100% sure that's what they wanted to do when we started the book, but we wanted to leave them the opportunity of being able to say, 'This is the definitive future history of the Batman character.'
"The great thing about me writing 'Batman Beyond' is that no matter what I'm going to do, there will always be this period of time between what's happening in the Batman books now and what we know is going to happen with the Terry McGinnis character in 'Batman Beyond' in the future. Any number of things can happen between there that will make the 'Batman Beyond' future the actual future of Batman or not. And there are any number of explanations that can be made in the intervening years as to why it is part of DCU continuity or not – or why there are inconsistencies or not. I got handed a pretty good set of cards in that I could tell whatever story I wanted to and we can decide down the road whether it's 'official' continuity or not."
Whether the continuity-ologists of the internet declare "Batman Beyond" an official piece of DC's canon or not, the series is drawing much of its plotline from modern Batman comics featuring has-been villains like Signalman and Mad Hatter as targets of a mysterious version of the Bat-villain Hush, famously introduced in 2002 by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee. "Using Hush was part of this from the very beginning of the series," Beechen explained. "When [DC Senior Story Editor] Ian Sattler came to me and said, 'Do you want to do a Batman Beyond miniseries?' I said 'Yes.' And he said, 'Well, start thinking about ideas,' and I said, 'I've got an idea right now. It's two words: Hush Beyond.' And he said, 'Go!' That was all we needed."
The writer said that by "starting off with a character from existing Batman continuity that's never been a part of the series, that's your first connection right there. So from the get go we were looking at that idea." However, Beechen noted that the book adds information beyond Hush's origins to create this new futuristic version, whoever he may be. "The beauty of the Hush character is that the general M.O. of the character is that he's a guy that wears bandages and a trenchcoat and his past schemes have seemed to involve using Batman's enemies – and in some cases his friends – against him. There are any number of people that could adopt that mentality or say, 'This guy had it right. I'm going to do it that way.' Or who's to say it's not Tommy Elliot himself? We were able to tell the back story in two to three pages for that one issue while at the same time telling another back story about Hush – how Hush disappeared from Batman's life years ago.
"It's a great character, and it's really rife with great character conflict. The people who are calling this Hush 'Hush' are the media and the Bat-family. We've never heard this guy refer to himself that way. It's been a good mystery, I think, and people have been forwarding a lot of guesses on the web sites and message boards. It's been fun to watch."
Readers may have been pulling red herrings out from across continuities to attempt to explain the identity of the killer, but they won't have to wait much longer as the bandages come off in issue #4. "You're going to find out on the last page of this issue who this Hush is. We need to know, because it gives us a chance to put together the third act and the kind of finale that we need to really end this story right. If we were to save the reveal all the way to the last page of the last issue, it'd be more of a cliffhanger than an ending. We want to give this story the ending it deserves and the space it deserves."
Helping to drive towards that ending are a number of DC familiar faces, including Dick Grayson in his first "Batman Beyond" appearance and the controller behind Cadmus Labs who, until issue #1, had this Hush under lock and key. "Cadmus is involved in the 'Batman Beyond' TV series particularly towards the end, as well as 'Justice League Unlimited,' where we see things happen between Cadmus and the Batman mythology. That's important here as well," the writer said.
However, at the heart of this "Batman Beyond" comic, as well as the entire franchise, is the relationship between Terry and Bruce – one that will continue to strain as the book heads into its finale. "I think at some point in the character of Terry's life where he's working as the protégé of Batman, he has to make a decision: 'Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? Am I as committed to it as the man who's teaching me? Do I need to make that decision right now? And if so, what is best for me and for my relationships and for my family?' Being Batman isn't necessarily a career move. Terry doesn't have all the resources Bruce did while growing up, so would this make sense for him in terms of a personal standpoint, from a professional standpoint or from a financial standpoint? All those things come into play.
"And Terry has a life, where Bruce never did. Terry has a life outside of being Batman, so we wanted to show some of the strains and stresses as he was undertaking that life as Batman. 'Do I want to be doing this the rest of my life? Do I really want to be this tired and on the go? What's really important?'"
Those question loom so large that they may have to carry on into the confirmed "Batman Beyond" ongoing series. Although Beechen offered a firm "no comment" on whether he'll write the continuing adventures, he did share this on the future of the comic: "I am thrilled that it's going to be an ongoing series. It's a testament to the enduring faith of the fans of the character in this series and the overall power of Batman. I'm psyched that it has done well enough for DC to make it a going concern."
"Batman Beyond" #4 is in stores today from DC Comics.