NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for "Batman Beyond: Rebirth" #1
It may be hard for some to believe, but in the minds of plenty of Batman fans, it isn't Bruce Wayne fighting criminals beneath the cowl and cape, but Terry McGinnis. And even though Batman Beyond provided a definitive final chapter for Bruce Wayne's story, DC Comics saw fit to make the futuristic TV series and comic books part of the official canon of the DC Universe with 2013's "Futures End" crossover. But those who define "Beyond" as only the animated series and film will be in for a few surprises.
Now that "Batman Beyond: Rebirth" has arrived, it's a new status quo for Terry and his allies (minus one major player). And in the first issue back, writer Dan Jurgens has already dropped one massive bombshell. That's if all is as it appears, at least. But no matter what twists lie ahead, the return of a famous Bat-villain - probably the most famous of all time - to the world of Neo-Gotham is... well, no laughing matter.
What Beyond Fans Might Have Missed
Where do we start... assuming most fans aware of Batman Beyond know the basic premise (a future hero relying on an elderly Bruce Wayne for guidance), the events of the past few years have been outlandish, to say the least. So keeping things simple: when Terry was sent back in time to prevent a disaster in the "Futures End" series (set five years ahead of the main DCU), he succeeded... but it cost him his life. Tim Drake honored Terry's wish of returning (with the suit) to the future he had left behind, now that it sat defenseless. And as that basic premise shows, things got confusing - fast.
Terry was nowhere to be found, leaving Tim to take up the identity of Batman Beyond, with the series brought to a climactic standoff between Tim, Commissioner (Barbara) Gordon and a villain named Rewire. The good news? Rewire was revealed to be a brainwashed but very-much-alive Terry McGinnis. Tim saved the day, restored Terry to his heroic role, and left the timeline riddles behind to ride off into the sunset... before being mysteriously snatched from the world (now doesn't that sound familiar?).
Terry stood poised for a "Rebirth", but it was more than the imitation 'Jokerz' gang he'll have to deal with.
The Joker's (Presumed) Last Laugh
Now, it's time for fans of the Beyond animated series to flex their fandom muscles, since the role played by the Jokerz of the comics clearly pales in comparison to that of the original Joker (the one who tormented Bruce during his earlier Animated Series adventures). The bulk of that story is contained in the animated feature film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, following the apparent resurrection of the Clown Prince of Crime in Neo-Gotham, and flashing back to the Joker's presumed death years earlier. A death that took place after Joker had tortured and brainwashed Tim Drake, but failed to corrupt him - Tim refused to kill his mentor, and Joker electrocuted himself.
The twist of Return of the Joker was that Tim Drake had grown up to be a brand new Joker of the future. Well, Joker had planted a microchip into the boy's brain that allowed the villain to slowly take over the former Robin's mind and body (far-fetched, sure). Electrocution proves the key yet again, frying the chip, freeing Tim, and killing the Joker for good... or so everyone thought.
As the rest of the DC Rebirth titles have shown, returning to a hero's most acclaimed storyline or villain is a wise move for a relaunch,. The same is true of "Beyond", finding Terry slowly returning to the normal swing of things, back to the daily routine of taking down facepainted Joker wannabes (the aforementioned Jokerz). But their mysterious leader is actually discovered by Terry's (former) girlfriend, Dana Tan, a social worker who finds herself nabbed off the streets of 'Jokerz Town.' Dana is brought face to face with the man giving the orders to the Jokerz - Terminal, another villain lifted from the animated series - who pulls back the curtain on the real boss of the organization: The Joker, unconscious but hooked up to machines claimed to be "raising him from the dead."
Or, at least a Joker. While the introduction of "Batman Beyond" into the DC Comics Universe was made with "Futures End", that doesn't mean every single story beat is adapted as well. All evidence suggests that the deceased Joker in "Batman Beyond: Rebirth" would be the version that tormented Bruce decades earlier, regardless of whether or not he died in the same manner seen in Return of the Joker. Once that riddle is answered (hopefully sooner rather than later), the question of exactly how Terminal acquired the corpse or the means to resurrect it will hopefully be addressed.
Whatever the answer, "Batman Beyond: Rebirth" succeeds in delivering a twist fans will need to see play out.
Batman Beyond: Rebirth #1 is available now.