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Batman Beyond – Batman Month on CartoonClack

Batman Month continues on CartoonClack with a look at the futuristic continuation of the 'Batman: The Animated Series' universe, now featuring jetpacks, club music and a really cranky old man.

Last week, we looked at the first (and arguably best) series in the DC Animation UniverseBatman: The Animated Series. During the B:TAS run, Warner Bros. also created the next DCAU show, Superman: The Animated Series. The series were combined into The New Batman/Superman Adventures, which showed reruns of both B:TAS and S:TAS while also showing the re-designed Batman episodes that became B:TAS season 4. After season 4 concluded in 1998, Warner Bros. brought a good amount of the writing staff from B:TAS back for a new show within the same continuity … but set in the year 2039.

When I first heard about Batman Beyond, I was skeptical. Part of me was just disappointed B:TAS was ending, but I was worried the network was going for edgy visuals over compelling storytelling — style over substance. The show was far from a failure — it ended up lasting three seasons with 52 episodes and a straight-to-video movie. But while I did watch a few episodes during its original run, I just didn’t keep up with it like the original series. However, when I decided to do Batman Month, I knew Batman Beyond had to be a part of it. I sat down and watched the majority of the three seasons and I came to the conclusion that this was a much better show that I gave it credit for over ten years ago.

Going completely off-canon from the comics, Batman Beyond is the story of Terry McGinnis, a teenager living in Gotham in the not-too-distant future. After meeting an 80-some-year-old Bruce Wayne during a run-in with a local gang of Joker-wannabes, Terry stumbles onto the Batcave and realizes that the old man is (or was) Batman, who hasn’t been seen in 20 years. Terry ends up “borrowing” Bruce’s last version of the batsuit soon after to find the men who had recently killed his father. At the end of the pilot, Bruce asks the teenager if he wants the job, under the guise of being Bruce’s personal assistant.

If I can say anything about why DC fans should give this show a shot, it’s that crotchety old Bruce Wayne is amazing. This older version of Bruce really highlights Batman’s “doesn’t give a crap” attitude. While the series has some dark themes, a lot of the inherent humor comes from Bruce and his snappy responses to Terry. But with the fantastic Kevin Conroy returning as the voice of Bruce, you still feel like this is the same Bruce Wayne we grew to know in B:TAS … he’s just a little rougher around the edges. You also get a profound sense of how strong the will of this man is. He’s over 80 years old and can still put the beat down on a handful of thugs with only his cane … in multiple episodes, no less. Often his body struggles after and he has to take his heart medication, but he’s 80 years old! And if you’re doing that math, that means that he only stopped being Batman when he was 60 years old. Yeah, Bruce Wayne is a bona fide bad-ass, and I laughed and cheered every time he got to do something awesome on this show, which was often.

It would have been really easy to make Terry an annoying character or a carbon copy of Bruce (more on that later), but the dynamic between Bruce and Terry actually works. Terry is played by the very talented voice actor Will Friedle and his back and forth with Conroy seems natural and authentic. In the back of their relationship is always Bruce’s past as Batman — all the guilt — and while he rarely ever explains these ghosts from his past to Terry, they’re always hidden within the advice or even orders he gives the younger Batman. But this younger Batman isn’t hardened and cold-shouldered like his mentor — Terry does have that thirst for vengeance thanks to losing his dad, but it wasn’t brewing in him for years. He still has some sense of innocence when it comes to protecting the city and that’s where his appeal lies.

Thankfully, the writers avoided making too many doppelgangers of the original Batman villains. The most copycats you see are disorganized sets of gangs who dress up like the Joker but who are more into petty crime than terrorizing the city with nerve gas. A shape-shifting thief named Inque is similar to Clayface and we do get one-shot appearances by Bane, Mr. Freeze and Talia al Ghul, but the large majority of the antagonists are originals. Well, maybe not all of them were original — a season one episode has an obvious jab at Marvel with “The Terrific Trio,” a group of scientists who gain very Fantastic Four-like powers but ultimately go mad. The one other person from B:TAS we get to see come back multiple times is Barbara Gordon, who is now Commissioner of Gotham. Voiced by Stockard Channing and later by Angie Harmon, Babs has become a tough broad by this point and it takes her quite a while to accept Terry as more than a nuisance. I liked that the writers went there — it meant that when Terry did gain her trust, he really earned it. But like many fans, I still don’t like that Barbara  reveals to Terry that she and Bruce dated sometime after B:TAS ended but while she was still Batgirl. It’s not just because I’m a Batgirl/Nightwing fan; she and Bruce just didn’t seem to have that kind of relationship. I don’t know, it rubbed me the wrong way.

From the art side, I really like how they did the new Batsuit. Sure it’s not traditional, but it was sleek and intimidating with updated technology. The rocket boots are the most obvious upgrade, but my personal favorite are the sound-wave fingerprints in his gloves that let him listen in on crooks’ conversations just by touching a nearby wall or window. Maybe fans were missing the cape, but I appreciated the simplicity of the costume. The fight and chase scenes were also highly enjoyable to watch, just like B:TAS.

The show does falter in some places, most of which are how they wrote the future. This is a future where hovercrafts are on the market but we still use CD-roms as our information transfer unit of choice. There are also some pretty silly lingo the kids of the future use (“schway” means cool) and little details like that lean towards trying too hard. I also noticed a pattern in the plots — many of them had an environmental or controlling teenagers focus. These aren’t necessarily bad themes, especially when we’re looking to a future where media, technology and multinational industry is becoming more and more prevalent. It’s just that the show started to pour it on thick when every few episodes focused on nuclear waste or on a villain trying to lure teenagers in with the newest fad that also happened to be mind-control. Most of the episodes have the impact of lesser B:TAS episodes, which doesn’t mean they’re bad … they’re just not as effective.

On top of that, the opening title sequence is absolutely ridiculous. While the B:TAS opening sequence used simple visuals and that dynamic theme to represent the series’ vision in less than a minute, Batman Beyond‘s opening sequence was a menagerie of random images and words that vaguely mean things.  Apathy! Greed! Corruption! Hope! Courage! It’s all backed up by futuristic techno music and as if it hadn’t driven the point home, there is an extended section of random teenagers dancing in a club. I started fast forwarding through the sequence a couple episodes in.

The show has been called darker by some reviewers, but really the darkness comes from Bruce more than anyone else. He’s only a figurehead of Wayne Enterprises now — he even discovers in the pilot that the company his father built on integrity is now making biological weapons illegally and there’s little he can do about it. Most of his friends are either dead or walked away from him or broken. And before Terry finds him, Bruce is just a sad old man in a rundown mansion. It really does hit you how much of his life he sacrificed because of his obsession. So yeah, that’s where the dark parts come in.

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Categories: | CartoonClack | Columns | General |

5 Responses to “Batman Beyond – Batman Month on CartoonClack”

July 4, 2012 at 1:47 AM

I found the revelation that Bruce and Barbara had dated kinda creepy.

You didn’t mention the break-out character of the series, IMHO, Bruce’s companion Ace the Bat-Hound. I liked that it took awhile for Terry to earn his trust too.

July 8, 2012 at 1:51 PM

Nice. I loved Batman Beyond and watched it when it originally aired. Admittedly, I had the same concerns, but the pilot put them to bed. The only thing I disliked is that Terry acted like the physical body with Bruce as the mastermind. If Terry wore the mask, he should’ve had more mental independence.

I loved the opening techno sequence and the Barbara-Batman romance. It made the show seem grittier and more realistic. However, it felt creepy because I thought Barbara’s cartoon BatGirl was probably in the 18-20 range. While I assumed their relationship happened when she became older, but still ….

July 12, 2012 at 10:20 AM

Maybe it bothered me most because in Barbara’s very first episode of B:TAS (before she was even thinking about becoming Batgirl), she says hi to Bruce and he mentions to Jim that he hadn’t seen her since she was a little girl. It’s one thing to have a relationship with a much younger adult (even one that was your protege), but to date the daughter of a friend AND have known her when she was little? … Yeah, a little creepy there, Bruce.

Oh, and also the ex-girlfriend of your adopted son.

July 11, 2012 at 6:52 PM

Thank you for mentioning Return of the Joker! That movie snapped my mind.

July 12, 2012 at 10:16 AM

You’re welcome! I heard a recent interview where Mark Hamill had said he was glad his Joker got to go super dark for the video games, but honestly his Return of the Joker version was on a completely different level from the B:TAS version. I still have that particular scene rolling in my head and it’s unnerving.

I’m glad I was able to find a copy for this review because it really did change the way I saw both shows. I didn’t have time to watch (or re-watch) all the B:TAS movies, so maybe that’ll be a future post in itself somewhere down the line.

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