Hi! In celebration of the anniversary of these episodes, this is a one time addition to the Batman Beyond reviews AWP started in the long ago. All episodes are available on DC UNIVERSE. Since I know this is really out of the blue I don’t expect anyone to be ready to talk about these, but this way there’s a space in case anyone does ever want to put down some thoughts on a future rewatch.
Directed by Butch Lukic
Written by Robert Goodman
The first character we meet is Aaron Herbst, a loser whose only friend is the frozen supervillain Inque who we watches over and cares for — and kisses. He is quickly fired for being creepy. So he hatches a plan to get the respect he feels he deserves.
This “proto-incel” is an ongoing motif in Batman Beyond, the young white man who thinks he is owed success and romance and “cheats” to get it. The series, of course, always knocks these kids down. But it does so in a way that suggests that these kids were right: they are such LOSERS that of course no one would like them! It’s a mockery of incels but at the same time, a confirmation of incel philosophy. It’s incels as they see themselves, and that’s less than an ideal viewpoint to be agreeing with (a much later episode shows virgin-nerds in a kinder and heroic light for a much-needed but almost too late counter-balance). It’s also worth noting that the epilogue of the episode has an uncomfortable coda to this theme: that being stuck with an unattractive woman is poetic justice for an incel that tries to rise above his station.
The plan is nothing super clever: he merely unfreezes Inque and then happily becomes her henchman. Inque is a returning villain, first seen earlier in the season in “Black Out.” Inque is basically just a sexed up Clayface. Shapeshifting villains have always been extremely boring to me, as their powers are never well defined and since they can look like anything including just blobs, there’s little discipline needed from animators. Worse than playing tennis with the net down, it’s like trying to use the net as the racket. It’s all over the place and impossible to tell if things are connecting as they should.
And yet Shannon Kenny’s Inque works better for me than Ron Perlman’s Clayface ever did. Maybe that’s because Perlman basically just growled through the role, his performance being as nebulous and ugly as his character. Shannon, on the other hand, contrasts her character’s shapelessness with a disciplined performance that reveals Inque’s desire to retain control.
Meanwhile, Bruce finally gets around to showing Terry the batcave (in this episode it is indicated Terry has been Batman for six months now) and shows him an old mechanized suit that he stopped using because of heart strain. Chekov’s power armor as it were. When they get word that Inque has escaped, Terry takes along Mr. Freeze’s Ice Gun — a nice bit of continuity to how they beat her the first time. She destroys the gun, of course, so that the episode isn’t six minutes long.
One of the best things about Batman Beyond is the way it continually found ways to keep Kevin Conroy in the storylines. He’s not just a glorified switchboard operator — they are partners. Two of Batman Beyond’s ongoing themes are the new villains of Terry’s time and Bruce’s unfinished business from the original era. The themes come together in this episode quite literally, as — after Inque bests Terry — the climax has a new villain fighting the old Batman in the power suit from somewhere between the two series. There’s a little bit of exploration into why Bruce quit being Batman, which I guess is a mystery to Terry but I felt was pretty well summed up in the very scene of the new series: Bruce felt himself losing the ability to handle himself without taking a life. It was not only physical degradation but him realizing that as he became weaker, he would become more afraid. Further insight into the ways Bruce’s bat-world fell apart come in the very next episode, my favorite of the first season.
“A TOUCH OF CURARE”
Directed by Dan Riba
Written by Hilary J. Bader
This episode has everything. The society of assassins. A tight plot. And best of all, loads of service for fans of DCAU continuity. We’ve seen little glimpses from the past series before — Terry finding a jacket that once belonged to Dick Grayson for instance. But there’s a tragedy that occurred somewhere between TAS and Beyond that is (so far) oblique and only hinted at, and episodes like this offer insight into that period in the form of beautiful character moments. It’s the relationships that I think are really why Batman Beyond is the transitional series in the DCAU between tight beat em up series like TAS and deeper explorations of how different characters interact like in JLU.
The episode opens with Barbara Gordon, police commissioner, and her husband Sam. We’ve seen Barbara before, but only briefly. Why is she so distant? Why isn’t she a member of the Bat crew, happy to see it back in action? We soon find out.
Barbara’s husband is in danger because he is about to testify against an arms dealer. They are attacked by an assassin and Barbara competently and professionally keeps her husband safe until Terry shows up.
Stockard Channing’s performance throughout the episode is commanding. She’s a perfect choice. I absolutely believed she was an older version of the character from TAS/NBA and the progeny of Bob Hasting’s Jim Gordon.
Despite Terry’s help in protecting her husband, Barbara Gordon wastes no time in making her way to the Batcave and telling Bruce and Terry to keep their noses out of her business. She’s not a fan of “costumed justice” (her words) anymore and she specifically declares that she is NOT her father.
What follows is an iconic conversation between Bruce and Barbara. We learn that the last time Barbara was in her costume, it had bullet holes. Barbara chastises Bruce for still trying to make young people in his image. “It’s what I wanted,” Terry says. “That’s what we all thought at the beginning,” Barbara replies, echoing ex-cult members and survivors of inappropriate relationships in a way that had to be intentional by the writer. The entire depiction of Barbara as someone who sees herself having escaped Batman is a fascinating and scathing deconstruction of the Batman mythos. Barbara and the writers are both saying “this is something I love(d), something I pour(ed) my heart into, but let’s be real about it for a second — it’s got issues.” It’s the kind of sincere and nuanced indictment that only comes from a writing staff that knows and loves the characters, warts and all.
(Speaking of writing, it’s worth noting that the credited writer on this episode is Hilary J. Bader, who wrote a number of DCAU episodes and got a story credit on several really fine episodes of various Star Trek series. )
So after the commissioner tells Terry to stay out of it, he of course doesn’t, and ends up borking a police operation. Barbara is having none of it and threatens to arrest Bruce and Terry next time she even catches sight of them. Terry, who has always been more affable than Bruce, does his best Steven Universe impression and convinces Barbara to open up about why she hates him.
Over coffee, Gordon tells Terry about how she and Dick Grayson dated and how Dick “finally got fed up with living in Batman’s shadow.” Then Barbara drops the bombshell that after Dick left, Bruce and Barbara became lovers. But Barbara wanted to grow up, and Bruce wouldn’t or couldn’t see life as anything other than being Batman. So Barbara left. As they finish their coffee, Barbara reveals that she doesn’t hate Bruce, but she hates “what he’s become. Such a great man, so alone.” For as much as we the audience sees Batman as the ultimate hero, Barbara sees Bruce as a man who never achieved the potential or personal fulfillment he might have if he had just been able to find more balance.
The rest of the episode returns us to the action, as the assassin comes for Sam once again and Barbara and Terry work together to keep him safe. Barbara even throws a bat-a-rang. But despite the more than competent action sequences (really, I think this episode could’ve been expanded into a feature length), it’s the adult conversations that really make this episode special. And really, how often can you say that about a cartoon that originally premiered on Kids WB? There’s a gray nuance to the relationships that is fully revealed for the first time in this episode, and it strengthens the emotional reality of the DCAU from here on out.