Judge Jennifer Malkowski wonders what kind of futuristic, ultra-high-tech mechanism allows Terry McGinnis to go to the bathroom while suited up as Batman. A zipper, perhaps?
Bruce Wayne: "When I was younger, women used to throw themselves at my
feet all the time."
The above snappy dialogue between Bruce Wayne and his trainee, Terry McGinnis, should be the bread and butter of Batman Beyond, but by its third season, the series was not doing too much to capitalize on its rich Batman history. A few episodes integrate the mythic DC "past" with its futuristic "present," but all too often the series feels like just a formulaic, generic superhero show.
Facts of the Case
Fifty years after Bruce Wayne fought cowardly and superstitious criminals as the legendary Batman, the old codger has (grudgingly) decided to take on an apprentice. Terry McGinnis now wears the cap and cowl as Batman, but with a decidedly higher tech suit. When he's not wearing the mask, Terry tries to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend, Dana, and looks to his tomboy buddy, Max, for help staying sane with such a big secret.
The 13 episodes of Batman Beyond: Season Three are split between two discs, with extras on the second one:
• "Big Time"
• "Out of the Past"
• "Speak No Evil"
• "The Call, Part 2"
• "The Curse of the Kobra, Part 1"
• "The Curse of the Kobra, Part 2"
As a series, Batman Beyond was kind of like Batman: The Animated Series junior in just about every sense, including quality. While it's fun to see characters like Bruce Wayne, Barbara Gordon, and Superman 50 years in the future, it's hard to get too invested in new characters like Terry, Dana, and Max. The best episodes of this season are the ones that integrate the DC mythology most fully. "Out of the Past" brings us back into the dearly departed Ra's Al Ghul's world, into the psyche of an aging Bruce Wayne, and includes a climax that is not to be missed! "The Call" plays around with future JLU members, sets up kind of a neat little mystery, and briefly revisits the enjoyable antagonism between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. Plus, the second part of the pair offers up one of the few memorable bits of dialogue in the season. As Batman is being pursued in his jet by Superman, he asks Bruce,
Terry: "What's the top speed on this thing?"
Compare this well-written exchange with the following, which is far more typical of the season:
Barbara Gordon: "They tossed you in the discard pile, Jack. So talk to
I guess this kind of torturous punning is what happens when you decide to use villains who dress up like playing cards.
An exception to the mythology-equals-quality trend is "Curse of the Kobra, Part 1," which begins a simple, but compelling, character-driven story about a friendship between two young men embarking on different paths to "heroism." But I have to agree with producer Bruce Timm that a great set up fails to deliver in the second episode when Xander becomes just a goofy, evil bad guy. As Timm says, "I think he had the potential to be an interesting villain if only he didn't turn into a dinosaur at the end!" And while we're on the subject, becoming a dinosaur is not a great way to take over the world. In fact, it sounds more like a plot from Pinky and the Brain than a storyline from an animated superhero drama.
Along with "Curse of the Kobra, Part 2," the season contains a few other mediocre episodes. "Untouchable" has a decent romantic side plot, but the main story about an "untouchable" villain is really just about a guy in a force-field suit. Force-field suits are nothing to write home about, especially 50 years in the future! "Speak No Evil" is a sensitive tale about a talking gorilla who finds out Batman's secret identity! And Bruce Wayne has no problem with that. "Unmasked" isn't great, either, and is intensely disappointing as a series finale. In the special features, the producers admit that they had failed to plan anything spectacular for the finale. This episode certainly qualifies as nothing spectacular, plus there doesn't seem to be any justification for why the story about the little boy has to be told as a flashback.
On the technical and aesthetic side of things, Batman Beyond: Season Three performs reasonably well. The absence of any chapter breaks in the episodes can make disc navigation cumbersome. Other than some fragmenting of lines in motion, there's nothing to complain about with the video and audio presentation. The source material follows the clean, minimalist look of Batman: The Animated Series, which is far more creatively sophisticated than most kids' cartoons. Once in a while, though, "artsy" and "austere" slip across the border to "lazy" when the animators fail to deliver adequate backgrounds and detail, as in this frame from "Inqueling:"
As for the audio, the heavy metal/techno feel of the theme song and much of the scoring was an artistic departure for this kind of superhero show that definitely did contribute to the series' harsh, futuristic feel. But it also got a bit tiresome and headache-inducing after a few episodes. The voice talents are pretty strong, with Kevin Conroy wonderfully reprising his role from Batman: The Animated Series as Bruce Wayne—albeit an older, more gravelly-voiced Bruce Wayne. Will Friedle's rendition of Terry is more than adequate. His Batman voice can play as comically overdone once in a while, but one could say the same for Christian Bale, after all. A few notable guest voices spice things up, including Buffy and Angel's Alexis Denisof, who plays Xander (ha!) in the two part "Curse of the Kobra." Azura Skye, a little known actress with a memorable voice, also excels as Inque's daughter in "Inqueling." Again, Buffy fans may remember her from her stellar performance in the seventh season's "Help."
The special features here are comparable to those on the Justice League Unlimited DVDs, with a ten-minute roundtable discussion amongst producers Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, and Glen Murakami kicking things off. The other features are five-minute discussions amongst producers, directors, and actors about four individual episodes. Though they are short, all of these features are worth watching, mostly because the participants are totally candid about the strengths and weaknesses of the episodes they are reminiscing about. Too often, these kinds of segments succumb to a rosy view of past projects that makes for boring viewing and a disingenuous tone. But here, producers aren't afraid to explain plot points like so: "Superman cleans out the cage and Starro just jumped on him, and that was it…something as dopey as that." And then there's Bruce Timm's lovely summation of "Curse of the Kobra, Part 2": "In the final analysis, turning people into dinosaurs is just not that cool. It's kinda dumb." I couldn't have said it better myself.
Despite some lackluster episodes, Batman Beyond: Season Three remains a decent remnant of the golden decade of superhero cartoons, when high-quality fare like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League dominated the airwaves.
Judge Jennifer Malkowski deems Terry McGinnis almost fit to don the Batman suit. Maybe he can have it without the pants…
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