NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Batman Beyond #5
You have to hand it to the creative team behind the new Batman Beyond. Where other new or relaunched books in the DC Rebirth have started slow, establishing new characters, new villains, and new creative directions, Beyond has taken fans on a rollercoaster in less than half a dozen issues. First came the reveal that in the future of Neo-Gotham, a new gang of criminals had a plan to bring the Joker back to life. Then came the even BIGGER reveal that the man they thought to be Joker was actually Bruce Wayne. And if that wasn't enough, how about a brand new Batsuit?
If those bombshells led readers to believe that writer Dan Jurgens would be coasting for a week, they were wrong. Few would've complained if Batman Beyond #5 simply built off the momentum of the events mentioned above, holding off another jaw-dropping, game-changing reveal for the future. But with Bruce Wayne brought back to life, it only seems fair that his greatest nemesis should make as unforgettable a return, as well.
Bruce Wayne, Prisoner of Terminal
For the readers out there who haven't been following Beyond from its Rebirth relaunch, the good news is that this insane story of just four issues is easy to catch up with. But to put it simply: Terry McGinnis returns to the role of Batman, sets out to rescue his girlfriend from the clutches of Terminal, leader of the Jokerz Gang, and stumbles on a much larger plan than he expected this villain to create from thin air. Terminal used the sedated corpse of the Joker to rise to the top of the gang of Joker-wannabes, stringing them along with claims that he intended to bring their idol back to full strength.
After word broke that it was actually Bruce Wayne beneath the fog of medication and facepaint, Terry's mission priorities drastically changed. It isn't just Bruce's fortune that Terminal is after, but a tool he constructed in secret with Terry before his presumed death. A tool called 'Keystone' - a program intended to gather intelligence and information on all communications and those sending and receiving it. In the hands of Bruce or Terry, it would only be used for good. But if Terminal intends to steal it, it's worth much, much more than the money held in Wayne's name.
Needless to say, Terry heads to Wayne headquarters to prevent that plan from succeeding - getting one step ahead of Terminal in the process. But not before the villain has had time to spill his entire plan and methods to the hatted, hooded gang member he's enlisted to help ferry Wayne's unconscious body to the finish line.
The Twist of Wayne Waking
Fans of the Batman Beyond animated series and prior comics will be surprised to see Terminal at the head of such a complicated plan, since it truly is a stroke of brilliance, and spawned in a matter of moments. When the cyborg war that struck Earth - sending Terry back in time to save the future, creating this new timeline - left injured civilians in its wake, Terminal noticed the true identity of one elderly patient left for dead: Bruce Wayne. After that, he secreted Wayne away, applied the necessary pharmaceuticals (and makeup), and began the long journey of reuniting Bruce's unique palm prints and retinas with the Keystone vault.
Obviously he finds Terry waiting for him, putting the new Batsuit's weapons to use on the man Terry now knows is responsible for holding his mentor prisoner. As the two men fight, though, the attention turns to that faceless lackey of Terminal slowly milking his boss for information on his plan, including the true identity of his prisoner. And as he removes the tubes from the sedated Wayne, whispering the first words he's heard since he was injured, it's obvious there's more to his plan than sticking up for his crime boss.
When he moves Bruce's hovering hospital bed to the edge of the massive skyscraper and pushes him out, there's nothing Terry can do but rescue him (this is Bruce we're talking about). It gives time for Terminal and his pilot to make their escape... and the entire way down, Bruce is ordering Terry to leave him for dead, and instead focus his attention on the janitor responsible. Terry isn't one for following orders, or working alone - meaning he can save Bruce, and still trust his allies to back him up.
With backup like his brother Matt and friend Max, Terry needs little else. After all, they're the ones who even stumbled on Bruce's experimental Batsuit to begin with. Their rocket finds its mark in Terminal's getaway vehicle, but the victory doesn't last long. To Terry, the mission has ended in the best way possible: Bruce was dead just hours earlier, but is now alive to help bring the good old days back. And Terminal may be making his escape, but without a ship, he's easy pickings.
But Terry doesn't know what Bruce does. And once it's revealed, it's clear that this was the moment the entire story has been building toward...
The Return of Joker - For Real This Time
Once the issue's epilogue turns to Terminal's downed ship, the tone between the phony crime kingpin and his obedient 'janitor' changes dramatically. Instead of deferring to the insults of his master, the faceless criminal lets Terminal know what he really thinks. That only a fool could expect to beat Bruce Wayne. That using the Joker's name to fulfill his goal was insanity. And nobody, nobody uses the Joker's name and gets away with it. Especially not when the Joker is standing right next to them.
Once Joker reveals himself, the readers are robbed of seeing Terminal's reaction, since the villain relies on his signature crowbar to do the talking for him. It's safe to assume that Terminal is killed in the scene, leaving the Joker to muse on his own 'unkillability,' no matter who is trying to take him out. What this means for the comic's earlier dramatization of the Joker's presumed death, or how he's kept from aging to the same extent as his nemesis is unclear. But as Joker strolls off into the distance, cackling as only he can, the issue's closing words promise that this is only "The Beginning..."
So there you have it: after being teased with the return of the Joker, only to be given a resurrected Bruce Wayne instead, Batman Beyond fans get to have their cake, and eat it too. Now, the speculation can truly begin: where has Joker been hiding? What has brought him back into the game? And what will Bruce and Terry do to keep history from repeating itself?
Batman Beyond #5 is available now.