Directed by Curt Geda
Written by Alan Burnett and Paul Dini
The kids show is understandably a maligned genre in the eyes of many adults but lately, that has started to change at least in the critical community. Having tiny humans as the target audience doesn’t necessarily mean it can only be enjoyed by such and you can make great programming that is suitable for the wee ones. Animation in general has similarly been cast to the ghetto of “for kids” for much of its existence and even with the existence and huge popularity of The Simpsons etc., it’s not one that has gone away. Still, let’s not pretend that Batman Beyond wasn’t intended for the children as they were very much the intended audience with the show originally being intended to be a lighter and softer follow up to Batman: The Animated Series. Based on reputation, that latter bit was obviously not realized as by most accounts they seemed to have gone in the opposite direction. Batman: TAS was one of, if not the, most notable of that movement to for kids shows being appreciated by a larger audience. Besides being rightly considered one of the greatest animated shows ever created, it was an Emmy winner which produced two movies (one intended for DTV but promoted to theatrical at the last minute and flopping and the other doing the exact opposite), was promoted to primetime at one point (also failed), and helped make drama a valid option in an animated show (though in the long run this too has largely fallen by the wayside). Even more so than the movies that inspired its creation (the still awesome Tim Burton Batman films) helped modernize the Batman mythos in the eyes of the general public following up on the legacy of the 80’s graphic novels of Alan Moore and Frank Miller. It’s retro futuristic design will probably always be that definitive visual representation of Gotham in my mind as well as many of the versions of the characters depicted within.
It also launched the DC Animated Universe which ran through Justice League Unlimited and a total of eight series, four films, and quite a few comics and video games. The follow-up, The New Batman Adventures, was released to be paired with the currently running Superman: The Animated Series (can’t say I’ve watched it since I was a kid but maybe one day I’ll watch that too) and botched the designs of most of its non-Scarecrow characters (this is a good time to mention I hate the prototypical anime styling and seeing that influence in a show is a huge turnoff) while it sadly minimized Batman’s involvement. It did smooth out the unevenness of the prior show a bit and had a number of truly classic episodes in its relatively short run but it was certainly a step down and lost a degree of the complexity.
All that introduction brings us to the fourth series in that universe, Batman Beyond. I have no memory of the show growing up and to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never actually seen an episode of it. It’s debut in 1999 was after I had pretty much left kids television behind (and much of non-sports television for that matter), not that the show’s premise/modified art style would have sold me on the show. The show takes place in the future (2019) with an older Bruce Wayne mentoring a young Terry McGinnis who serves as the new Batman. While there is certainly precedent in the comics (The Dark Knight Returns had done the older Bruce Wayne while other characters such as Azrael and Dick Grayson had donned the cowl in Bruce’s place at other points in the run), on paper it is a lousy premise. It’s the stuff of goofy Gilligan’s Planet style crap with a teenage protagonist that just reeks of “kids will relate to this more” babble from network heads that previously forced the animated version of Tim Drake onto us and the noir/gothic imagery replaced by cyberpunk and sci-fi imagery.
“Rebirth” opens with Bruce Wayne’s final night as Batman. Bunny Vreeland (daughter of Veronica Vreeland who recurred on TAS) has been kidnapped but not been released even after a ransom payment. Of course, this means it is time for Batman to step in but it becomes evident quick that this isn’t the same man. Bruce is clearly in pain while fighting, has grey hair, and has around long enough that a thug remembers Batman from when he was a kid. After being nearly beaten to death due to some apparent heart condition slowing him up, he pulls a gun that had been laying on the ground on the last remaining thug. Disgusted by this act, he hangs up the suit and vows never to don it again.
20 years later, the awesome Gotham City appearance that combined Art Deco and Gothic architecture in the 40s (with technology from whenever was convenient) has been replaced with the city from Blade Runner complete with flying cars and all sorts of things pulled from your generic future. I guess that’s not completely fair since there is more to 2039 Neo-Gotham (ugh) than that, but it’s certainly lost its distinctiveness. Our new hero, Terry, is introduced defending a woman whose purse is nicked by a member of the Jokerz gang (ugh again). He does well enough fighting him off but less so the next day at wrestling when he’s clearly outmatched and shows some anger issues. While not fully explained just yet, the anger issues don’t seem to be helped by the fact that he is a teenager and child of divorce.
After he gets into another fight with the Jokerz Gang after they start up again with a crowd of people and his lady friend, Dana Tan (Lauren Tom ofFuturama), before they chase him up to not so stately Wayne Manor, our two heroes meeting when Bruce turns into Clint Eastwood, ordering the youths off his property before he beats the shit out of them with his cane. After Bruce, tuckered out from a hard fight (and appearing to suffer from some heart condition), falls asleep in his chair, Terry goes and accidently discovers the Batcave. While this is normally where Bruce would take him in and make him his new child sidekick, it’s clear that the spectre of that last night still hangs over him.
Terry returns home to find his home allegedly burglarized by the Jokerz and his dad (Michael Gross of Tremors) murdered in actuality over a CD a colleague slipped him. When Bruce rejects Terry’s request for help (since Terry’s dad worked for Wayne Powers) preferring to let the cops handle things, Terry steals the batsuit (which apparently fits him perfectly) and Bruce almost gets him killed by paralyzing the suit from afar. He backs down though and winds up helping him as a sort of Oracle like figure thanks to his appealing to Bruce’s memory of losing his parents. Turns out the Powers of that name, Derek Powers, has been secretly developing a viral mutagen of some sort and will do anything to get that evidence back while also selling this tech to a foreign power. Terry is able to stop things, exposing Powers to the gas in some karmic retribution with his hulking assistant Mr. Fixx likely drowned (hell of a way to start off your heroic career even if it wasn’t like he did it intentionally) and Bruce hires Terry as an assistant, ostensibly to help him around the house, but in actuality welcoming him to his world. The Dark Knight Returns this is not, as we have a new Batman in town instead of a returning Bruce Wayne.
There is plenty of angst right off the bat for Terry as the series establishes itself quick as wanting to be super dark and edgy and I’m not quite on the series’ wavelength just yet. There is maybe one moment of actual humor throughout when Terry starts telling everyone the gig is up as a claw like piece of construction equipment moves closer slowly behind him before swinging and knocking him out of frame. It’s a good moment but TAS had a perfect balance of the two at its peak and I guess it isn’t fair for me to be comparing them so much two episodes in but it’s hard not to. The episodes do everything it needs to in order to set things up and that should be enough, but it’s just trying too hard to be different.
– No, three series are not too much to cover.
– Okay it probably is, which is the reason (along with the fact that I’m watching these via disk) that I’m writing these up with a few episodes backlog and after that runs out I would be very happy to hand this off to someone else for reasons that will become increasingly clear. I’m only running this when I am because of some issues in obtaining the current Doctor Who serial so once I get on that (which will involve gutting my Netflix queue and renting it like a savage) this will get shunted off unless someone else takes over.
– I skipped Batman: The Animated Series because the AV Club already did it and more importantly I just finished up watching it myself so thankfully we can get back to plugging holes in their coverage.
– The fact that this is also sci-fi is just a coincidence.
– That intro is so incredibly 90s it hurts. The theme, the random numbers, the almost Seven like text that pops up, the silly dancing, just everything gives it that trying extra hard to be edgy feel. Both the themes for TAS and TNBA had a fairly timeless quality to them which has made them (particularly the former which is one of the greatest intros ever made) age perfectly.
– Gone is the old costume and in is a new skintight costume that looks like something Catwoman would wear with jet boots, a wing suit, power amplification, listening devices in the fingers, glowy eyes, and the capability of hanging upside down. It frankly looks terrible from top to bottom (a B-rate Nightwing knockoff) though less so on Terry.
– In general, the art has sadly continued to evolve into embracing the anime influence especially in the faces and action.
– Also the tommy guns and such of TAS have been replaced with laser guns which are just so much less satisfying to watch.
– Bruce now has an angry dog named Ace and while it makes sense for him to have a tough guard dog considering his wealth, isolation, and ill health (not to mention is ill temper), I just imagined him with a big, old, sad dog.
– Commissioner Barbara Gordon is referred to but is as yet unseen. Is it wrong that I wish she grew up into something other than just a cop especially with no real indication from TAS that she was heading that way (especially since she was in college)?
– Terry is surprisingly good at using the Batcostume on his first freaking time out and having never been told how it works.
– Powers is saved by doctors and becomes a glowing skeleton-like creature when not exposed to direct radiation and is clearly set up as a bad guy going forth (a villain later revealed to be called Blight).
– I like the set up of Powers as the big bad, a sort of Joker analogue (well depending on which origin anyway) for Terry in that he is a bad man but turned into a monster accidentally as a result of the action of the hero.
– So far the only returning cast member is Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne and he’s as great as always. Shirley Walker has also returned but with a much more 90s and industrial/electronic influenced and guitar heavy score that I can’t say I’m too big a fan of thus far.
– Guest stars for this episode include as Teri Garr (Young Frankenstein) as Terry’s mother, Seth Green as Nelson Nash, series creator Bruce Timm as the Jokerz Leader, CCH Pounder as an anchorwoman, George Takei as the hulking Mr. Fixx, and Rino Romano who would later play Batman himself in The Batman as a kidnapper.
– Sorry for the recap heavy review but boy was this two-part episode complicated plot wise and by serving as an origin story, introduces tons of new stuff.
Directed by Dan Riba
Written by Robert Goodman
Now that the plot is in motion, we can start to see how the show plans to settle in or see if they are going to build directly off last episode in a more serialized fashion. For this episode at least, it’s a mixture of the two.
Derek Powers is back and looking normal (at least until he’s angered and it’s revealed he’s just wearing a skin suit over his body) and is behind this episode’s plot as well. Foxteca, a company associated with the Fox family (presumably including Lucius Fox) and Wayne Powers are competing for the contract to build a lunar base and Powers being the poor sport that he is has resulted to ordering the sabotage of Foxteca’s production. To do this, he employs a black goop with a blank white eye that moves about in the shadows. This goop is revealed to be Inque, a shapeshifting woman (or at least that’s the form she seems to take and matching her voice) and corporate saboteur who has obtained her powers from a mutagenic experiment (which is quick becoming plot spackle).
She uses her powers so that she can slip into tight cracks and destroy various equipment while also able to hide against black objects. Think fast moving T-1000 combined with the ability to reconstitute when broken apart and the ability to survive just fine after leaving parts of her behind. She also seems capable of surviving explosions going off around her and in general is an incredibly resilient foe. Since all of Bruce’s adversaries are presumably as old as he is (or older), the show is going to need a new crop of villains with Powers and now Inque setting the tone. Inque is fine and I’m happy they are setting up another recurring baddie already but she just seems like an overpowered Clayface and not really like a Batman villain. She has weaknesses to water, extreme cold, and at plot important times electricity but she’s still the kind of big challenge you don’t start your new hero off on, you build to this.
She’s ultimately defeated by being shot by Mr. Freeze’s gun and shattering her into dozens of pieces (though clearly still alive in moving in there which is a horrifying sounding punishment) which already starts to raise the question of what kind of standards this new Batman will be holding himself to. It’s understandable that he can’t just beat these people up and send them to Arkham, but is the show ever going to address this and the further extremes he is having to go to over his predecessor? The episode is an improvement on the last but I haven’t seen anything to hook me just yet.
– Apparently some futuristic variant of jai alai with goals and skating on walls is considered a high school sport. I get that you want to show how in the future this is, but sports are such a conservative thing that you can rest assured that basically the same sports played then (especially the popular ones) will be played for years to come.
– Bruce: “How have you been holding up”
Powers: “With a cane”
– I feel like Terry should have been questioning how Powers survived and yet he’s not even the slightest bit shocked.
– Bruce is embracing the detective (and scientist) parts of Batman, doing the work investigating Powers and the mysterious black substance which I have to say is my favorite part so far.
– Well aside from the pure fanservice of Bruce dressing up as the Grey Ghost at one point
– Why exactly does Bruce have a Joker’s card, a shot up version of Scarface (from “Read My Lips”), the costumes of Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze, the Mad Hatter, Catwoman, Firefly, etc. just lying around his Batcave? I get the Grey Ghost because Batman is nothing if not a giant fanboy, but I never pictured Bruce for a trophy sort of person. Inque’s destruction of them seems to be saying something about how they are all in the past now and she is the future but being the jerk I am, I choose to believe they are saying that the writers want to destroy their legacy.
– The new Batplane/Batmobile debuts and it lacks all the style of the original ones.
– There’s a scene where Inque forces herself inside Terry’s body through his mouth, a cool effect to be sure but I did have to make sure to look up and confirm as he pukes her back up that yes, this was meant for kids
– The Jokerz gang makes only a brief appearance as we see a few of their members being processed at the police station
– Barbara Gordon makes her debut looking older than I expected and as a reminder just how old Bruce probably is by this point.
– Last episode featured The Batman’s Batman, but this one has that show’s Joker in the prolific Kevin Michael Richardson as a security chief. Stockard Channing (The West Wing) plays Barbara Gordon and Inque is played by Shannon Kenny, the wife of Nestor Carbonell (The Tick).
Next Up: Since I am sadly unlikely to pick up the next Doctor Who serial (“The Tomb of the Cybermen”) by next Monday, we will return to Batman Beyond for at least one more pairing with “Golem” and “Meltdown” with the latter seeing the return of Mr. Freeze. Since this was originally going to run in the Star Trek: TOS spot on Fridays for a few weeks while I took some time off from it, that show will return to Fridays with “The Conscience of the King” and “The Galileo Seven”.