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STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RUNNING TIME: N/A
• Audio Commentary
• Music Only Track
[Note from George: Since Sean Fahey still uses a Commodore 64 for the purposes of word processing, this review will feature no screen captions. It’s a good review, though. Read it anyways!]
Warner Brothers Executive: “Bruce, Bruce, come on in. Good to see ya. I tell ya what… the Board absolutely loves what you and your team are doing with the Batman Animated Series. They want to see you keep that thing going for the next forty years!”
Bruce Timm: “Ahhh, can’t we just accelerate things a little? Or, you know, pretend like we spent the next forty years doing this?”
Twenty years after Bruce Wayne hangs it up, a new Batman emerges as Gotham City’s protector.
Batman Beyond happened almost by accident. Feeling that their critically acclaimed and insanely popular Batman the Animated Series had outgrown its intended (younger) audience, Warner Brothers basically gave producer Bruce Timm the go-ahead to create an entirely new series focusing on a teenaged Batman, without ever really being pitched the idea by Timm or his team. I guess sometimes corporate does know best. Regardless, Batman Beyond was born – and the DC Universe is a better place because of it.
The series takes place roughly forty years in the future, twenty years after an aging Bruce Wayne comes to the painful conclusion that he just can’t do it anymore. The Batcave is shut down, and Wayne Manor becomes, for all intents and purposes, a haunted house evocative of an Edgar Allen Poe tale. Wayne slips into obscurity as Gotham City becomes a very different place from when he left it. Enter teenager Terry McGuiness, who’s looking for a little payback after his father is murdered. Through a series of events, Terry puts two and two together with respect to Old Man Wayne, steals a high-tech batsuit, and sets off to get his revenge. Reluctant to help at first, Wayne ultimately sees promise in McGuiness (and a second lease on life for himself), and the two forge a partnership to bring Gotham’s criminals to justice.
As a series, Batman Beyond is incredibly well designed and thought out. Generally, the “future adventures of…” stories are dicey propositions. But this is intelligent and logically constructed. Their version of the future of this universe makes sense. Gotham City is undeniably a much different place than that of the Batman Animated Series, but there are enough ties between the old and the new to make the show fresh and accessible and yet familiar enough for all fans. Gotham looks like a bright and shiny version of Blade Runner, with huge corporate temples and flying cars. And a lot of the players have changed, specifically the emergence of corporate shark Derrick Powers – who transformed Wayne Enterprises into Wayne Powers after a hostile takeover. But the familiar faces are still there. Following in her father’s footsteps, Barbara Gordon is now the Gotham City Police Commissioner, and Wayne Enterprises mainstay Lucious Fox is the head of his own company after getting booted out by Derrick Powers. Then, of course, there’s Bruce Wayne himself. The old and the new elements mesh well.
The most significant changes however come, of course, with Batman – both with respect to the new identity and the new look. The new Batsuit is sharp, a testament to how well designed this show really is. Its dark streamlined aesthetic captures the stealthy, black-ops style M.O. for this new Batman. And the entire suit is a utility belt, stacked with amazing features. Enhanced strength and agility. Cloaking device. Night vision. Microscopic listening devices on the tips the gloves. Compacted batarangs that magically appear and take form with the flick of a wrist. Jet boosters. Talk about an army of one! This Batman is the superhero equivalent of Eric Bana from Black Hawk Down.
Of course, every good hero needs good villains, and the rogues gallery for Batman Beyond is yet another example of how well thought out this series is – a marriage of old and new that makes sense. While the emphasis clearly is one creating new villains, the legacy of older ones is still felt. The most notorious street gang in Gotham, The Jokerz, draw their inspiration from the Clown Prince of Crime. The Royal Flush Gang, always rotating their membership, is still making waves. The cryogenically preserved Mr. Freeze is of course still around, and though Bane isn’t exactly stirring up trouble, the incredibly addictive strength enhancer Venom still is. That said, in order for the series to have its own identity Terry McGuiness needs his own villains, and the producers of Batman Beyond come up with some good ones ranging from the uber-assassin Curare to the sub consciousness manipulator Spellbinder (another great character design).
Interestingly enough though, the real villains of Batman Beyond are unscrupulous corporations and the military industrial complex. And this gives the series a bit of edge, in that like most good futuristic tales Batman Beyond is incredibly topical and socially relevant. (Yes, I know the series came out in the late 1990’s. But the problems that it addressed then were real, and have only gotten worse.) Episode after episode pits Batman against some greedy corporate figure (usually, but not exclusively, Derrick Powers) that ultimately gets what’s coming to him. The two-part pilot “Rebirth” involves the illegal sale of poisonous nerve gas to an Eastern European warlord. “Meltdown” begins with Batman putting the kibosh on a couple of midnight dumpers, pouring drums of hazardous waste into the river. Bruce and Terry fight the good fight, both in the field and in the boardroom, to stop Powers from tearing down Gotham’s historical district to make room for high-priced condos in “Shriek.” “Ascension” opens with rioting in Latin America over Wayne-Powers negligent environmental policies. And “Heroes” centers on a superhero team created and sponsored by the military industrial complex. What’s more, Terry’s two primary foes – Powers and the shape-shifting Inque – are, respectively, a corporate shark and an industrial spy. To think, most people believed that the end of socially relevant cartoons ended when Captain Planet was cancelled! Seriously though, the message is there. It ties the episodes together, but it’s not in your face. This is entertainment first.
All that said, the whole “marriage of old and new” theme and the social relevancy really are just the backdrop to what this show is really about – Bruce Wayne handing the mantle over to Terry McGuiness as the two partner up to fight the good fight. Their relationship is incredibly well developed, and follows a logical progression throughout the season. The two clearly are their own men, and it’s far from being just a generational gap. Terry isn’t the eager beaver that some of Bruce’s former protégés were, disobeys orders frequently, and even tells the old man that he’ll never end up like him. He’s also got a complicated family dynamic and personal life (in that he allows himself to have one) that Bruce never did. As for Bruce…well, he’s Bruce. Now, add forty years to that! But because of their differences, the two respect each other even more, and their partnership benefits from that. Over time, Bruce scales back on the micromanaging, and allows Terry to follow his instincts more; while Terry tucks his rebellious streak away and trusts in the Old Man’s wisdom and experience more readily. And that – in my opinion – is really the most interesting part of the series, watching Terry go from being just an extension of Bruce (in the field taking orders from the Batcave) to actually becoming Batman and working with Bruce as an equal.
Batman Beyond is a Bruce Timm series, and it has the patented Bruce Timm look and feel forged during the first Batman the Animated Series and carried all the way through to Justice League Unlimited.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about then God help you. Seriously.
The main extra is a short (and I mean short) feature called “Inside Batman Beyond,” basically a round-table with the series’ creators. It’s not bad, but it really is just a Cliff Notes compression of the information you’ll get from the two commentary tracks – production history, anecdotes, character designs, themes. Then again, if you’re someone like me (someone who hates commentary tracks) this little feature serves its purpose.
It would have been nice perhaps to have a feature about Darwyn Cooke, who designed the sharp looking opening credit sequence and was one of the primary storyboard artists for the show during its run. But, no dice. Maybe on Volume Two? One can hope.
Far and away, Paul Newman’s best performance. As for
Batman Beyond Season One… it’s far and away Paul Newman’s best