A review of Batman Beyond: 10,000 Clowns (2013) by aiwac
Later stories, including a serious mishandling of Batman Beyond’s greatest original villain Derek Powers AKA Blight, gave me little reason for confidence. It looked as though Batman Beyond was fated to limp on through the comic world as an average but not particularly notable part of the Batman Universe.
Then the “10,000 Clowns” storyline appeared. Like genius and revolutionary, the term game-changer is oft abused. It fits perfectly with this arc. “10,000 Clowns” introduces the Batman Beyond comic universe to an entirely different level of storytelling – in breadth, scope and depth. Its few flaws are largely overshadowed by its daring and dramatic tension. There was rarely a moment in this story when I was not figuratively “glued to the screen”.
Introducing a Little Anarchy
The key element which makes this story great is the upgrading of the Jokerz from comic relief to serious menace. Originally bumbling biker gangs in the animated series, the Jokerz in this story are as the title suggests: a 10,000 strong army with worldwide chapters. All this army needs is a general to endanger the city of Gotham like no other criminal before them.
Enter the Joker King. The brother of Dana Tan, this kid is the genuine article of sociopath. He seems to be aiming to emulate the Heath Ledger interpretation of the Joker – a violent uncontrollable nihilist who is afraid of nothing and cares for nothing. While many of the details of his plan seem full of logical holes in retrospect, he brings just enough menace and determination to make it work.
One thing which initially bothered me about Doug Tan was his lack of any real motivation, or actually his having many conflicting motivations. Unlike Ledger’s Joker, who changes tactics but not ultimate goals, the Joker King doesn’t seem to know what he wants to accomplish. One minute he says none of it matters anyway so one might as well blow up the whole city, the next he wants to succeed at being the only one to kill Batman and in another he just wants to take out his family. It’s like he doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up.
Then I realized that this is not necessarily a weakness but actually a strength of the story. After all, Doug Tan is a raw, disturbed teenager, not a more intellectually mature person like Bruce or the Joker. Like all ambitious and talented youths, he has much potential but little clear direction. This is a kid who with some good guidance could become a true successor to the original Prince of Crime. I shudder to think what a partnership between the two would have looked like. He is thus potentially a perfect mirror for Terry McGinnis – but more on that below.
Another critical part of this story which turns it from good into great is its consequences. Again, just like the Dark Knight, this is not a story with a happy ending. The Joker King’s evil plot is not stopped before Gotham suffers horrific casualties. Hundreds if not thousands are dead and everyone is traumatized. How everyone will deal with the consequences of this disaster will surely make for compelling drama.
Moreover, the crisis forces every character to come to grips with their fears and tribulations. Whether it’s Tim Drake’s trauma from his past as Robin or Bruce Wayne dealing with his mortality or Dana Tan showing a heroic and noble side to her, most of the heroic side of the cast of this story show themselves to be quite compelling and multifaceted. I especially liked how Bruce showed his more noble and self-sacrificing side by refusing to leave the hospital before others – it’s a nice change from the insensitive, obtuse jerk we saw in Hush Beyond.
It’s Not Batman (or the Batsuit) That Makes Him Worthwhile?
There is only one major flaw in this story, but it’s a big one. Put simply, I do not believe that Adam Beechen has any faith in Terry McGinnis as either a compelling character or a convincing Batman. Beechen seems to make every effort to pad all his stories – this one included – with tie-ins to the old Batman world and focuses on them as much as possible. Whether it’s creating a new Catwoman or Hush or focusing on Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, Beechen goes out of his way to avoid shining a light on Terry McGinnis without a forced reference to the old and familiar world of Bruce Wayne.
Consider the story of a newly created character, one with a great deal of potential: Vigilante. We are introduced to this man as a tech-savvy guy who used to work for Derek Powers’ secret hit squad. We then learn that it was he who actually pulled the trigger on Terry’s Dad. Guilt for the murder led him to collapse into self-wallowing pity. Finally, hitting rock-bottom, Warren McGinnis’ murderer decides to atone for his sins and use his tech skills to become a crime-fighter. We then learn the man’s last name is Chill – a distant relative of the man who murdered Bruce’s parents.
Why? This was a great original idea, one which will likely force Terry to face hard ethical choices once he finds out Vigilante’s identity and past. There was absolutely no need to shoehorn in the Chill reference unless Beechen truly does not believe the Batman Beyond universe can exist without constant narrative infusion from the Wayne/Batman mythos.
It is a sad state of affairs when an author has no faith in his protagonist and it shows in far too many other ways. Take Terry’s skills as a Batman or lack thereof. Is this really a hero who’s been fighting crime for two years (at least according to the comic timeline)? He loses every second or third fight in ways even green heroes would not. He shows no special aptitude for anything. Neither does he seem to learn from anything. If Terry were hired to be a cop or a soldier, there would be good grounds for suing the people responsible for criminal negligence.
Perhaps Beechen’s plan is that Terry is supposed to slowly grow and learn, but I’ve yet to see any of that potential in evidence here, even when Gotham is being blown to bits. I can understand avoiding the trap of making Terry an invincible ‘Bat-God’ like Bruce is often portrayed, but surely this goes too far in the other direction.
Then there’s the matter of his personality and history. Beechenverse Terry has neither. His history as a former JD has never been mentioned as far as I know and his relationship with his family – Dad, Mom and brother never go beyond stock sitcom scenes. Serious events like stopping his father’s murderer and Gotham’s destruction wash over him far too quickly. He is a Teflon character, good for on-scene one-liners on occasion but no real depth. The ironic, hard-edged and creative persona of the animated series is not in evidence here and he has not been replaced with someone who is in any way memorable or relatable.
Adam Beechen is a gifted storyteller. He generally knows how to create compelling storylines and develop characters in a relatable fashion. “10,000 Clowns” shows the Batman Beyond comic universe has a real future. But it can only work if the series’ creator has faith in the main hero of the story – and it’s not Bruce Wayne.