NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for "Batman Beyond" #3
Since the very beginning, the characters of DC's "Batman" universe and the world adapted to animation have shared a unique relationship. While it isn't usually the case, the likes of Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond added several characters, themes, and touchstones to the comics over the years - with Harley Quinn and Terry McGinnis chief among them. The Joker's Girlfriend's impact on the DC brand has been hard to miss, but there's a good chance casual comic readers missed out on the world-altering storylines centered on Terry - and by extension, his older, greyer, future mentor, Bruce Wayne.
After the "Futures End" crossover event plunged Batman Beyond into the heart of DC continuity - and eventually saw the "death" of Terry McGinnis - it was Tim Drake who took up the mantle. Thankfully, "Batman Beyond: Rebirth" has returned things (generally) to the way they were before. Terry is Batman once more... and already tackling a plot to bring the Joker back to life in the future of Neo-Gotham.
At least, that's what we thought. Until Issue #3 revealed the true identity of the test subject masquerading as the Clown Prince of Crime.
The Joker's Resurrection
For those who missed out on the Rebirth of Batman Beyond, things have spun out of control for Terry quite quickly. As mentioned above, the "Futures End" event saw Terry launched back in time by Bruce Wayne to save the world from a robotic apocalypse. Things only got crazier from there, with Bruce Wayne and Joker being fused into one body and sent back to prevent Terry's success (think Terminator), and success costing Terry his life. That was until recently, when Terry was revealed to have been only brainwashed as a result of his re-writing of the future, and claimed the Batman mantle from the fill-in Tim Drake. Just in time for "Rebirth."
In a poetic twist, the return of Terry led to the looming return of both his and Bruce's cruelest foe: The Joker. How, you ask? In this new future, Batman's final decision to leave the Joker to his death only seemed final: Joker's goons gathered together enough of his genetic material to preserve him (with help from some resurrection-level technology). The plan was orchestrated by Terry's old nemesis, Terminal - leader of the Jokerz Gang - who already hinted that there was more to the plot than the chaos Joker would bring.
More Than Meets The Eye
While the mindless thugs of Terminal's gang were content to accept the plan as a return to anarchy, making The Joker being the first person to come back to life (a pretty good joke, in itself), Terminal's hostage wasn't. The hostage is actually Terry's ex-girlfriend Dana Tan, who will be familiar to fans of the animated show and comic books, although she's still under the impression that Terry remains deceased. And even as Terry infiltrates the Jokerz dressed as the villain and in the guise of Matches Malone's son, Dana is putting the pieces of Terminal's real plan into place. The claim that Joker's bank accounts would help bolster the Jokerz operation in his name threw her off the scent, but the readers now know the truth: the man strapped to the table isn't Joker.
The reveal comes in the final pages of Issue #3, with Terminal ordering all of his men out of the room in which Joker is being slowly resurrected. At present, the newly-arrived Matches has already been exposed as Terry McGinnis, allowing him to remove the only threat between him and success. And with the hero out of the way, it's time for the villain to begin his monologue, delivered to the unconscious, heavily-drugged test subject painted up to look like Joker. A man whose fortune Terminal is really after.
The Shocking Twist
Explaining that the "test subject" being dressed up to appear as Joker grants Terminal more control over the Jokerz than ever before possible (having the key to bringing their idol back from the grave will do that), the villain claims that, were they alive, the mystery man would appreciate being made part of such an elaborate joke. It's a cruel line, since Terminal's computer assistant soon informs him that the funds have been transferred from the accounts of the real victim: Bruce Wayne himself. Kept sedated, unable to move or speak, Bruce has not only seen his face and body made a mockery of his long stance against Joker, but removed a powerful piece from the board.
Terry has no idea that his former mentor is alive, let alone in the clutches of Terminal, but wouldn't be able to help if he could, given the dozens of Jokerz now holding him hostage. We can deduce an explanation for Bruce still being alive and well in the future, however, since the re-writing of the future that returned Terry to life could have, presumably, done the same for Bruce. It could be a simple explanation or a twisting and turning on delivered by writer Dan Jurgens in the next issue, so we'll hold off speculating too deeply for now.
What matters now is how the addition of the future Bruce Wayne will impact the rebirth of the "Beyond" universe. Will Terminal's secret be revealed, putting his operation (and life) in jeopardy? Will Terry be able to undo the treatments performed on Bruce Wayne, or regain his lost fortunes? Stay tuned...
Batman Beyond #3 is available now.