Judge Jonathan Weiss wonders why this show had no evil mutant future version of Bat-Mite.
This is not your daddy's Batman.
One part Batman: The Animated Series, one part anime, and one part Batman: The Dark Knight Returns—Batman Beyond exploded onto television screens just as the fear of Y2K began to spread and almost everybody was looking towards the future.
Now, the idea of a continuing Batman legacy that ranges far into the future is nothing new if you're a comic book historian. In the 50s and 60s there were a myriad of "imaginary tales" wherein Batman passed the torch onto either Robin, who would take up the Batman mantle with Batman's own biological son taking over as sidekick, or the cowl would be passed straight to Batman's son depending on the story in question. And in the 70s there were tales of "The Super Sons"—following the exploits of Batman and Superman's sons—usually having to do something with being sick of having to live under their super fathers' enormous shadows.
However Batman Beyond is the first time the mantle would be passed to a complete unknown. So does young Mr. McGinnis have the crime-fighting chops to do justice to the Batman legacy? Don't touch that Bat-keypad because you're about to find out.
Facts of the Case
Fifty years into the future and twenty years since the last Batman sighting, young Terry McGinnis finds himself facing off against a futuristic biker gang called The Jokerz. To his surprise an old man with a cane steps out of the shadows to help. After a good trouncing, the Jokerz take off, but it's obvious that the fight took its toll on the old man.
Terry helps him back into his dilapidated mansion and gives the old man his pills—after which the codger promptly lapses into a deep sleep, Grandpa Simpson style. Trying to leave through the front door Terry runs into the old man's snarling guard dog. Trying to find another way out, Terry finds a bat trapped behind the glass of a grandfather clock. As he tries to free the poor mammal he inadvertently trips a switch that leads him down into some sort of cave.
It doesn't take long before Terry realizes where he is but before he can get any further, the old man appears behind him, whacks him with his cane, and demands that he leave immediately, which he does.
Approaching the apartment he reluctantly shares with his father, Terry realizes something's terribly wrong. Police are everywhere. The hallways are vandalized with garish graffiti, and his father, well, his father has been murdered over a computer disc that holds some kind of terrible secret.
Before you know it, Terry has raced back to Wayne Manner, found a way to tie up Ace the Bat Hound, and steals the last Bat-Suit the Batman ever wore—a computerized, high tech marvel that increased his strength, lets him fly, and who knows what else.
Not one to take any kind of theft lightly, Bruce tracks Terry down with his computer and demands that he bring the suit back. Problem is Terry is already in the thick of crime fighting and hot on the heels of those responsible for his father's death. That doesn't stop Bruce from totally immobilizing the suit leaving Terry a sitting duck. After taking some serious punishment, all of which Bruce hears from his cave, he finally gives in and reenergizes the suit.
Terry takes names, kicks butt, stops a dangerous biological weapon from falling into evil hands and transforms a powerful and incredibly corrupt businessman with connections to Wayne Enterprises into what will undoubtedly become the new hero's very own archenemy.
The next morning Terry's mother wakes him with the news that an important visitor has come a calling. Bruce Wayne has an offer to make. He wants Terry to be his…gopher. "You know, go fer this, go fer that." And if Terry accepts he needs to know that Bruce Wayne expects nothing but excellence from him.
Terry thinks it over for about half a second and the two shake hands; Terry has just sealed the deal as well as his fate.
Batman Beyond—Season One comes in a two disc set that saves packaging costs by layering the two discs one on top of the other. This new industry set-up is annoying at best, but it gets excruciatingly annoying when the top disc doesn't click properly into place—which is what's happening in this case. That said, if you don't plan on walking around with your copy of Batman Beyond—Season One you, and your disc, should be fine. Okay, enough griping, on with the show.
It's no surprise that Batman: The Animated Series holds up well year after year, because even though there are obvious retro influences, it's actually pretty timeless. Batman Beyond takes place fifty years into the future, but series creators Bruce Timm and the boys made sure that it's a generic kind of future, one that's plausible but nothing that grounds it to a specific time period. In this way Batman Beyond holds up too—in the way that nothing here on the plausibility meter (other than a guy in a flying bat-suit) takes your attention away from the stories. But don't think that means it's a blatant rip-off of the all-too-successful formula. Be assured, there are differences. The opening credits can attest to that.
The influence of anime and the use of thrashing electronic beats during action sequences gives Batman Beyond a distinct look and feel that differentiates it from its predecessors, but not to such an extent that you don't know you're watching something from the Batman Family animated universe. It's a beautiful blending of the new and the old.
Which brings us to the characters. First, let's meet the new. Will Friedle does an excellent job of voicing Terry. When first we meet him he's your typical angry young man. He doesn't get along with his father. He's a bit of a loner. But there are also hints to the goodness inside. For instance, he comes to the rescue of a lady on the subway when a member of the Jokerz is accosting her. When his father dies and he dons the bat-suit, it's as if he's made for the role.
In some ways that's part of the problem. Terry goes from troubled teen to superhero a little too quickly. If anything, the death of Terry's father reeks a little too much of convenient plot device instead of an actual "awakening." And after listening to the commentary you kind of see why. This is a show that got an immediate green light based on a conversation. The creators admit that they basically had to make things up as they went a long. As it turned out, the elderly Bruce Wayne becomes Terry's true father figure and their relationship is one of the highlights of the show.
Good thing that Terry showed up when he did too because before his presence Bruce had been sitting in the dilapidated remains of Wayne Manor—alone, impotent, and angry for close to twenty years. Terry becomes the field agent Bruce needs to continue his life's work. He gives Bruce a purpose again. For the most part the characterization of an elderly Bruce Wayne is pretty bang on—which shouldn't come as a surprise since he and his animated creators have such a long history together. And yet, in some instances, Bruce's character feels a little off.
Sure, a lot of time has passed between series and Bruce is somewhere in his eighties, but still, would the Bruce Wayne you know ever freak out because an unidentified voice in his head tells him to commit suicide as it did in "Shriek"? Would the Bruce Wayne you know ever even consider taking Batgirl as a lover as Commissioner Barbara Gordon hinted at in "A Touch of Curare"? Holy cradle robbing Batman! Still, there's more right about Bruce than wrong—especially when voiced by Kevin Conroy, the definitive voice of Batman.
It's also nice to see Barbara Gordon back and following in her father's footsteps as commissioner of police. As voiced by Stockard Channing, Barbara is a no-nonsense professional who doesn't seem to have too many pleasant memories of her days as Batgirl. She also doesn't seem to like the idea of a new Batman on the scene. As mentioned above there's one episode that centers around Barbara, her husband (!), and her history wearing a cape, but it brings up a whole lot more questions than it does answers. Hopefully more of her past will come to light in future seasons.
In the commentary we learn that the creators didn't just want to recycle villains as in "the son of Two-Face" or "daughter of the Joker," and instead wanted to come up with villainous archetypes in the mold of the originals. The two most significant villains to date are Blight and Inque. Blight is in fact Derek Powers, CEO of the Wayne/Powers Corporation and a presence in many of the first season episodes. In the very first story arc we find out that he's an evil and corrupt man who is trying to enter the biological warfare business. When Terry, as the new Batman, crashes the party, one of the canisters explodes right in Derek's face infecting him with the biological virus. In order to survive his doctors treat him with massive doses of radiation that cure him of the virus but radically change his biology—which is the only way to describe transparent glowing skin pulled tightly over a charred skeleton. The Derek Powers/Blight character is, in many ways, a combination of Lex Luthor powerful businessman and the Joker, whom if we believe Tim Burton's Batman was created when the Batman couldn't stop Jack Napier falling into a vat of toxic goop. Terry created Blight and in so doing created his very first archenemy.
The second villain is Inque—who is significant because she appears in two first season episodes. Inque, being a shape-shifter, is born from the same mold as Clayface. In "Black Out" she's the best corporate saboteur money can buy, and Derek Powers hires her to take out a business rival who is bidding on the same project. Obviously this gets the attention of both Bruce Wayne and Batman—especially since Lucius Fox started the competing business and he's a good friend from Bruce's past. "Disappearing Inque" shows what happened to Inque after her capture. What makes this episode particularly interesting is that Bruce, for all intents and purposes, comes out of retirement to help Terry and he's wearing an exoskeleton reminiscent of something in the influential comic book mini-series Kingdom Come.
There are other new villains as well. You'll get to meet newbies like Shriek, Curare, Spellbound, and even Derek Powers own son, Paxton—but whether these evildoers ever rank up there with the likes of the Riddler, the Penguin, or even the Ventriloquist remains to be seen.
Other episodes of particular interest are "Heroes," an inspired homage to The Fantastic Four; "Meltdown," which focuses on the redemption of Mr. Freeze, back from his chilling fate; "Shriek," an episode that turns cartoon principals on its ear by showcasing a completely effective prolonged action sequence almost completely devoid of sound; "The Winning Edge," that reveals what the future had in store for Bane; and "Dead Man's Hand," which reintroduces the next generation of the Royal Flush Gang as well as a possible continuing love interest for Terry (outside of Donna).
For those keeping track, here's a complete rundown of episodes:
• Rebirth Part 1—Rating: 92
• Rebirth Part 2—Rating: 94
• Black Out—Rating: 80
• Golem—Rating: 73
• Meltdown—Rating: 85
• Heroes—Rating: 81
• Shriek—Rating: 89
• Dead Man's Hand—Rating: 85
• The Winning Edge—Rating: 82
• Spellbound—Rating: 75
• Disappearing Inque—Rating: 89
• A Touch of Curare—Rating: 92
• Ascension—Rating: 86
There are two commentaries included on Batman Beyond—Season 1. The first is appropriately on "Rebirth Part 1" and the second is on "Shriek." It's obvious that the creators have fond memories of the show, but outside of series creation, most of the comments tend to be about the actual "art of animation" as opposed to characterization. It would have been nice to get a little inside scoop here and there about where they thought certain characters wound up or what Bruce had been doing for the past twenty years. Still, if you're at all interested in the series, they're both worth a listen.
Picture quality is acceptable, but you will notice, as the creators laughingly did in their commentary, specks of dust that show up here and there. Sound is strong and well balanced and does a good job of delineating between spoken dialogue and action.
Batman Beyond—Season One is far from perfect. But for any true fan of the character and his history, there are enough goosebump moments to make the future a place worth visiting.
Batman, as an unofficial enforcer of the law, is hereby asked to track down the think tank at Warner Brothers who thought putting Batman Beyond—Season One in a layered disc package was a good idea and give them the Bat-Wedgie they so richly deserve. After which he is free to continue fighting crime as only he can. Case dismissed.
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