Batman Beyond

I am on a mission to experience every amazing TV show and movie that the DC Animated Universe has to offer. And the next stop on that journey is Batman Beyond.

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Batman Beyond
Writers and Directors: Loads, but mainly Butch Lukic, Dan Riba, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini
Starring: Will Friedle and Kevin Conroy
Aired: 1999-2001

Batman Beyond is the sequel series to Batman: The Animated Series, taking place in the same continuity. It starts off many years after Batman’s last chronological appearance in Justice League Unlimited, with a prologue that shows his decision to hang up the cowl after his failing health forces him to pick up a gun to defend himself. Twenty years later, Gotham is as crime-ridden as ever, and Bruce Wayne is a recluse with only his guard dog for company–until he runs into a teenager named Terry McGinnis, who stumbles upon the Batcave. At first Terry agrees to keep the secret to himself. But when his father is murdered for knowing too much about the dealings of a corrupt CEO, he decides to steal the Bat-suit (which has received a few upgrades over the years) and bring the killers to justice. Bruce isn’t happy about this at first, but once he sees Terry in action and understands his intentions, he agrees to teach him the ways of crimefighting. The rest of the show follows Terry’s adventures as the new Batman, battling foes that range from a gang of teenage Joker wannabes to the radioactive supervillain Blight, all while trying to keep his grades up. He occasionally clashes with Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon, picks up a part-time sidekick named Max, and is constantly guided by Bruce’s expert, if grumpy, advice.

This is actually the last major show in the DCAU that I watched, and not just because it’s a little harder to find than any of the others. I was honestly pretty reluctant to try out a show about a Batman who wasn’t Bruce Wayne or even any other member of the established Bat-family. How could some random kid from the future ever hope to be worthy of the name?

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And one with an emo haircut at that!

Well, as it turns out…he kind of is. Terry’s a compelling character in his own right, with a sarcastic sense of humour, a bit of a rebellious streak, and the same upright morals and compassion that helped make the original Batman great. And since the we never really got an origin story for the Dark Knight in this universe (except for the flashbacks in Mask of the Phantasm), it’s nice to be able to watch someone becoming Batman. Terry starts out as a hotheaded kid with a super suit and some natural athletic ability, but over the course of the show, he gradually becomes a better detective and fighter until he’s almost at the level of his mentor. Note that I said almost. Thankfully, said mentor is still a major character who appears in almost every episode. Even though he’s no longer the protagonist, Bruce has lost none of his awesomeness with age, and he delivers some of the show’s best lines and coolest scenes.

One of my favourite things about B:TAS was its dark, noir-style atmosphere. Atmosphere is also one of Beyond‘s biggest strengths, but this show ditches the noir in favour of cyberpunk. We’ve got flying cars (including the Batmobile!), super-advanced robots, futuristic slang, gene splicing as a fashion trend, and a city-scape that could have been ripped straight from Blade Runner. I love it. Not only does it provide a cool backdrop for the action, this setting also allows the writers to explore neat sci-fi concepts like artificial intelligence, instant gratification technology, the morals of messing with DNA, and dangers like nuclear waste and pollution.

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Gotham’s a lot…shinier, these days.

The funny thing about this show is that, from what I can find on the Internet, it seems to have been conceived as a way to get younger kids into Batman–thus the idea of making him a high school kid. But in addition to having just as much nuanced, mature writing as its predecessor, it’s actually far less child-friendly. It features lots of gruesome deaths that occur just off-screen, more brutal violence in general, and lots and lots of drug metaphors. Unlike in B:TAS, drugs are never mentioned by name (isn’t it weird how censorship changes over time?) but several episodes show the consequences of addiction in rather graphic detail by inventing sci-fi substitutes for real illicit substances. Many of the villains are still tragic, but this show really drives home the fact that “tragic” isn’t always the same thing as “sympathetic.” Beyond villains have a tendency to act like they could be redeemed, up until the last second when you realise that they were either faking those good impulses or they’re just much too far gone.

When you come down to it, this show is good for the same reason that B:TAS and every other show in the DCAU is good. It’s smartly written, constantly going beyond (heh) the basic superhero premise of “good guy fights bad guys” to explore deeper questions about what makes a hero and a villain. The voice acting is top-notch as always, as is the animation. And the theme song…well, like the one for B:TAS, it does a great job of establishing the story and the universe where it takes place in just a few seconds. And in the words of Terry, it’s “unbearably cool.” Take a look-see:

My problems with this series can basically be boiled down to three. 1) It establishes that Bruce and Barbara Gordon were in a relationship at one point. If I were to list all the reasons I think that pairing is sick and wrong, it would take up the rest of this review. I will never understand why cartoon writers are so obsessed with making it a thing. So in my mind, it never happened, and Barbara is just losing her memory in her old age. 2) Speaking of relationships, this show focuses on Terry’s just a wee bit more than I would like. One of the many things I love about the original Batman is that he never had a steady girlfriend who knew him as Bruce Wayne, so he never had to do what I call the “secret identity dance,” where the hero constantly has to make excuses to a love interest about why they’re sneaking out every night. Terry does a lot of that, and it’s rather dull as conflicts go. His girlfriend, Dana, is also rather dull. 3) I wish the show could have done more with Blight. He’s something of an archnemesis to Terry in the first season, and an effective one, but he just kind of disappears after that. Seems like a bit of a waste to me.

But those are minor issues, in the grand scheme of things. For the most part, this is an excellent show that lives up to its predecessor in almost every way.

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“Very good then, Mr. McGinnis. Welcome to my world.”

A note on formatting: In the version of the show that I watched (which I streamed from Amazon), several of the episodes are listed out of order. They’re self-contained enough that it’s not usually a big deal, but once in a while a character will mention something from a previous episode that you won’t get if you’re watching in the Amazon order. Also, like B:TAS, this show never got a proper finale during its own run, but it does have a movie (Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker) and its storyline gets wrapped up for good in an episode of Justice League Unlimited called “Epilogue.”

Whatever order you watch it in, I highly recommend this show, especially for fans of the original Batman series.

Grade: A

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4 thoughts on “Batman Beyond”

  1. I’m so glad you asked! Hang on, this will be a long list.
    1. Bruce is old enough to be Barbara’s father.
    2. Barbara is his apprentice, so they’re not really on equal footing even without the age difference.
    3. Before the supposed “relationship” with Bruce, Barbara was dating Dick Grayson, aka HIS ADOPTED SON.
    4. It cheapens Barbara’s character development up until this point. She started fighting crime for the same reason Batman did: she wanted justice. She was inspired by him, which is why she took on his logo, but her actual reasons for becoming a vigilante had nothing to do with Batman. In this show, it’s implied that she stopped being Batgirl BECAUSE she broke up with Batman, which makes it seem like she was only doing it to get close to him.
    5. It’s completely out of character for Batman. Like I said, he never had a steady girlfriend in the original series, which was clearly by choice. Like he says in Justice League, “Dating within the team always leads to disaster.” Batman’s only other canon love interests are Catwoman, Talia al Ghul, and Andrea Beaumont, all of whom are a) his age, and b) perfectly capable of keeping up with him both physically and mentally. They’re also all slightly evil, because Batman digs bad girls, not Batgirls.

    I could go on, but those are the main reasons why I refuse to accept that particular ship.

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    1. Oh nostalgia!

      Several thoughts:
      – Return of the Joker features Mark Hamill.
      – Hamill is also frequently excluded from “Best Joker” comparisons because of his “No contest” status.
      – Protect your canon. Avoid The Killing Joke

      I’m glad you enjoyed this series, even today — not because it’s coded to an era (quite the opposite), but because of it’s legacy TV episodic format. Or maybe that’s why it’s enjoyable today, among some series with serious pacing issues and tendencies to unreasonably delay plots.

      This show was the reason I’d set an alarm for Saturday morning, and no other weekday. Even today I enjoy Mr. Fries regretful episode; or that the girl who played Matilda was the voice actor for Tamara; or fierce Barbara Gordon who didn’t marry Bruce Wayne; or the possibilities explored in a quickly shifting technical capability. This show was the end of my Batman chronological train — no other series comes close. And, well, my youthful focus turned to anime at that point.

      I’m curious: What’s your path on these? Are you hitting up all the classics to understand how we arrived at this point in culture? Or are you just riding the DCAU train until it’s not fun anymore? Maybe it’s to maximize dissection and enjoyment of an upcoming Whedon-directed Batwoman movie? Or just hitting up nostalgic recommendations?

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      1. – Yes, no other Joker can hold a candle to Mark Hamill. He is a genius, and “Return of the Joker” might possibly be his best performance.
        – The Mr. Freeze episode was great, but I think my favourite was “Out of the Past,” because: Batman musical. And some other reasons.
        – In answer to your question, it’s my ultimate goal to watch (and probably review) every Batman movie made in the last 50 years, so I thought I’d start with the shows that defined him for the current generation. Also, I just really love the DCAU.
        – I did not know there was a Whedon-directed Batwoman movie in the works. I also know nothing about Batwoman, but the Whedon part certainly piques my interest.

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