With an oversized issue this week, the real Joker — no, really, this one’s the real deal — will makes his long-awaited Batman Beyond return this month after it was revealed last year that the character was surprisingly still alive in this future-set series.
This week’s oversized Batman Beyond #25, by series writer Dan Jurgens and guest artist Cully Hamner, will kick off a four-issue story titled “The Final Joke,” featuring Joker ruining the 100th birthday of Thomas Wayne. According to Jurgens, Batman’s arch nemesis will begin a plan to take back Neo-Gotham and return it to his former dark glory.
The comic book series is based in the world established during the Batman Beyond TV series — far in the future in a Gotham City now called Neo-Gotham where an old, disabled Bruce Wayne works to keep the streets safe with a young, new, high-tech Batman named Terry McGinnis.
After some drastic changes during the "New 52" version of Batman Beyond, the current “Rebirth” version has brought back key characters, returning Bruce Wayne to life and putting Terry McGinnis back in the Batman suit.
The series also recently established a new Robin, as Terry’s brother Matt took up the youthful mantle.
So how does the return of the Joker challenge Terry? What do Bruce, Barbara, and Dick Grayson think of the Joker being back? And what will the villain think of a brand new Robin? Newsarama talked to Jurgens to find out more.
Newsarama: Dan, you’ve been getting the Bat-family together over the last few months. Was it important to establish your Batman family (including the new Robin) for Batman Beyond before Terry had to deal with the Joker in this storyline?
Dan Jurgens: Yeah, if we go back to the first storyline we did as part of “Rebirth,” we introduced the idea that the Joker is out there and alive. What we wanted to do was kind of make sure that we’ve got everyone back in place, as far as Terry goes, as far as Bruce, and then obviously Terry’s younger brother Matt, and kind of get him on stage as a new, younger Robin.
By doing that, we complete this sort of Batman legacy that I think fits very, very well in the world of Batman Beyond.
Nrama: As you said, we knew this confrontation was coming for a while now. But can you go back to the original decision to bring him into the book and what you wanted to do with him as a character?
Jurgens: If you go back to the very first episode of Batman Beyond, I always thought they introduced something rather intriguing there, which is the concept of the Jokerz. They’re a gang of kids - and by kids, we’re talking about young adults - who aspired to chaos. They used the Joker as this inspirational model, and these Jokerz just wanted to run around Gotham City, and their goal was chaos. I don’t think they necessarily had a profit motive or anything else. It’s just that they found the Joker to be an inspirational figure.
I’ve always been intrigued by that. Who gets inspired by the Joker? And how does he feel about that, if there are imitators and people taking his name?
That’s really what gets us into this story.
The Joker’s alive, and he discovers that he has all these people using his name, which he actually finds offensive. As far as he’s concerned, there’s only one, and it’s him - he is the one, original Joker and that’s all there ever should be.
Nrama: OK, but as you just pointed out yourself, Terry’s had to handle Joker-type threats before. But none of them were the Clown Prince of Crime himself. How is this different for him?
Jurgens: This is different because, if you look at most of the other people he’s faced, in terms of villains, for the most part, they have been new villains as well. I think the presumption is that if we look at Bruce and consider him to be somewhere around 75 or 80 years of age, most of his villains have moved on. So Terry has always fought newer ones.
I think by bringing back the Joker, who really is Batman’s enemy, and Joker’s history with Jason Todd and everything else that has gone on in the Joker’s life as compared to Bruce’s - there’s a lot of stuff to be mined here, to create a new and different kind of story for Terry McGinnis as Batman.
Nrama: Seeing him against Terry is one level, but this is a whole different type of experience for Bruce, right? Yet he’s too old to fight his old nemesis.
Jurgens: Right. And in a story we had done earlier, we basically painted a picture that said the world at large, and this includes Bruce, pretty much considers the Joker to be dead.
We very carefully, in our first arc, referenced the scene where we saw the Joker die… we thought. And we introduced the idea that Bruce had been kidnapped and drugged up by Terminal. He thought he may have heard the Joker’s voice. He couldn’t be 100% sure.
But now we’re verifying that.
So in a way, what we would consider to be Gotham City’s greatest threat is back.
And you’re right, Bruce is not really in any shape to go after him. So we introduce this whole new idea of, this is now Terry McGinnis’ enemy. And with how deadly the Joker is, how does Terry cope with that?
Nrama: Will we learn more about the Joker staying alive all this time? And his motivation for acting now?
Jurgens: We definitely explain that in the first arc, as to how he beat the odds and how he kind of just lived underground, working as a janitor, basically assisting Terminal without anybody really realizing who he was, and has since surfaced.
But I think what he’s going to find is a very different Gotham City. Is this the Gotham City he wants, this Neo-Gotham of bright, shiny, futuristic towers? Or does the Joker want his old world back?
If you sort of play with the them of aging and how many people perceive it, in a way, by the time they get to that age, what they really want back are their own glory days. And the Joker’s no different. It’s just that his perception of what those glory days were is very different from anyone else’s.
Nrama: The solicitation for the next issue teases a meeting with Barbara Gordon. What can you tell us about that encounter?
Jurgens: Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that, as most people regard DC canon and DC history, obviously everybody is aware of the Joker and Barbara Gordon and what he did to her, shooting her and paralyzing her for a time.
So when he resurfaces, and she sees that - and of course, Barbara is now commissioner of Gotham City - it is a shocking event, and one that she’s going to have to react to.
What we really have with the Joker on stage is this echo effect of the past, for both Barbara and Bruce, while at the same time, it’s all about Terry having to meet it in the here and now.
Nrama: What other Bat-family members get involved? I know Dick Grayson is mentioned as someone who’s in an upcoming issue. And is Joker really going to target Matt? Can you talk about the other characters and their roles?
Jurgens: Yeah, one of the characters that I haven’t had a chance to really work with yet in this world of the future is Dick Grayson. We’ve touched on Damian. We pay some attention to Jason Todd here as well. But it was fun to bring Dick Grayson back into this story, because I think Dick has very strong opinions now on the role of anyone who claims the costume of Robin.
So Dick is in Bruce’s ear on this one.
Dick is currently mayor of Bludhaven. We also introduce his daughter Elena into this story. And it really starts to build this family story for Bruce, who is now no longer Batman. He’s just sort of the patriarch of these people who have different experience and different viewpoints on what it means to defend Gotham City, fight crime and, in particular, fight the Joker.
Nrama: I assume there’s no link here, but with this story on the horizon, I have to ask - does this story deal at all with the Three Jokers story that Geoff Johns is telling soon in the present day of the DCU, or tie into it in any way?
Jurgens: No, we’re very much into our established continuity that we have as part of Beyond, and it takes off on what was established on the TV show.
Nrama: You’re working with Brett Booth for most of the story, but Cully’s on the first issue. Was there a particular reason to bring Cully on for this issue?
Jurgens: Besides the reason that Cully is absolutely fantastic?
Nrama: That’s really all the reason you need.
Jurgens: Yeah, Cully and I are friends. We have not had the chance to work together for a couple of years now. We’ll see each other and say, "Gosh, you know, we’ve got to do something again. We’ve got to do something again."
So we were very fortunate. Brett had not yet freed up his schedule to work on Beyond. We needed someone for this 25th issue. So we were fortunate enough to get Cully to step in.
He just did this really incredibly, magnificent job. His style is just so perfect for the world of Batman Beyond. And he’s an absolute joy to work with.
It’s a double-sized issue, so we also needed some help from Marco Santucci, who had been working with me more recently on a couple of other things - most notably Action Comics. So it was good to have him be able to step in as well.
Nrama: How many issues is “The Final Joke"?
Jurgens: The main story runs from #25 to #29. We have an epilogue of sorts that really ties everything up in issue #30.
Nrama: And with a word like “final” in the title, is this the end game for one or more of the characters? Should we be concerned about some of them?
Jurgens: I would like everybody to always be concerned about the characters in the book, yes!
Nrama: Is it final for you? Or are you on Batman Beyond for the long haul?
Jurgens: We are already working on the next storyline after this. So it is not final for me. I’m the one you don’t have to worry about. Everybody else, yes, but me, no.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about this issue #25, or the storyline in general?
Jurgens: We kick it off with #25. It is absolutely gorgeous artwork. It is a double-sized issue. And then in #26, Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund come on as artists, and they will continue the momentum in what I think is going to be a very nice, special story for people.