Batman Beyond: The Complete Series
First, an apology — the Batman Beyond: The Complete Series set is very cool and deserves more attention than we give it here, but KC is currently recovering from eye surgery (he’s fine, thanks) and wasn’t able to write about it as much as he’d like. I’m working from his notes, and any errors are probably mine. — Johanna
It’s hard to believe that something this good came out of a meeting that started “we need a Batman show that skews younger.” If I say “teenage Batman”, you’re either going to laugh or start a continuity discussion about whether Nightwing qualifies, depending on your take on the character.
Batman Beyond is neither comedic nor fannish. Instead, it’s a surprising, action-packed take on a futuristic Gotham City with an unexpectedly dark undertone that provides meat for older viewers. Our Batman, Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy, THE voice of Batman to this generation), is no longer the central character; instead, he mentors Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle, Boy Meets World and the voice of Blue Beetle on Batman: The Brave and the Bold), a teenager seeking revenge for his father’s death.
The first five minutes of the first episode begin with Bruce, in a modernized costume, getting beaten up while trying to stop a gang of criminals. He suffers a heart attack, which forces him to pick up a gun (although he doesn’t use it) to scare the criminals away, instead of being able to fight as he used to. He returns home to Wayne Manor, hangs up his costume, and says “Never again.”
Later, Terry finds out Bruce’s secret identity (like Robin Tim did) and, when Bruce refuses to help, Terry steals the costume (which reminded me of Jason, the 2nd Robin, who tried to steal the tires off the Batmobile). After working together, they form an uneasy partnership. Terry brings a necessary companionship to the older hero, just as the original Robin, Dick Grayson, did.
Wayne’s age is never specified, but in one of the special features, the creators say they envisioned him in his 80s. He’s living alone in Wayne Manor, with only his dog. The Commissioner of Gotham City is a middle-aged Barbara Gordon, but aside from her, not many well-known characters appear. One recurring group of villains are the Jokerz, a street gang inspired by the original villain, but he doesn’t appear in the series. (He does show up in the follow-on movie, Return of the Joker, which unfortunately, isn’t included in this set. That original animated film is also the only place Tim Drake appears.)
As the series went on, some hints were dropped about how this future came about from the previous show, but not all questions were answered. Part of that stems from an understandable unwillingness to commit to exactly how far in the future this is. We assume, for example, that Barbara’s father and Alfred have passed away, since they’re never seen. Some other information about the backstory was provided in the Justice League Unlimited episode “Epilogue”, which serves as a kind of final episode for Batman Beyond.
That’s not the only cartoon connection — in the “Future Shock” episode of Static Shock, which ran two years after Batman Beyond ended, Static meets Terry when Static’s sent 40 years into the future. Also, The Zeta Project was a spin-off from Batman Beyond, piloting in the second season episode “Zeta”.
The Box Set
As originally aired, Batman Beyond lasted for three seasons, a total of 52 episodes. (Season 1: 13 episodes, Season 2: 26 episodes, Season 3: 13 episodes.) In this collection, the DVD configurations of the original season sets are duplicated on eight DVDs, all with the same Special Features (commentaries and featurettes). This Complete Series set also has a bonus ninth disc with three all-new featurettes.
“Tomorrow Knight: The Batman Reborn” is a 10-and-1/2-minute overview and origin of the series with comments from most of the key creative team: producers Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, Glen Murakami, and Bruce Timm; directors Dan Riba and James Tucker; and writers Stan Berkowitz and Rich Fogel. “Gotham: City of the Future” is a five-minute discussion about redesigning Gotham City for a more dangerous future with steel and glass. “The High-Tech Hero”, a six-minute look at the futuristic gadgets and sleek costume of the new Batman, concentrates on the science behind them. Also included in the set is the new Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics, a 90-minute feature about the comic company also available separately.
Like its companion, the now out-of-print Batman: The Complete Animated Series, this new Batman Beyond: The Complete Series set is packaged in an oversized box of similar (but narrower) dimensions. This is mostly to house the very attractive 28-page full-color booklet, which features lots of facinating artwork, including character designs, early pencil roughs, and painted backgrounds. There’s also an introduction by series story editor and writer Stan Berkowitz and a complete episode guide to the set. While the overall set is a little bulky for normal DVD storage, the discs themselves are stored in a fat keep-case that will easily fit on most DVD-sized shelves.
Why Should You Watch This Show?
Aside from the excellent creative talent behind the show, who did an outstanding job of making the show they would have thought cool when they were 10 years old, this cartoon is a fascinating look at a futuristic Batman as well as an intriguing treatment of how superheroes age. It’s fully justified in being considered an equal to the Batman, Superman, and Justice League cartoons.
Batman Beyond broke new ground in animation design. For example, the opening sequence was designed by Darwyn Cooke, and it’s fun to watch all by itself. The show also changed the way music was used in TV cartoons; its soundtrack is primarily electronica instead of orchestral. The episodes throb with a driving beat that helps propel the action. It was a new part of the DC Animated Universe we’d never seen before that stands alone and yet stands up to the original.
Although originally envisioned as a more kid-friendly Batman, the end result, with its dark subjects and tone, was a much more adult project, enlivened with youthful exuberance, as if Firestorm became Batman. (The studio provided a review copy.)
I do own all of Batman Beyond in the original DVD releases, so there’s no nice booklet or DVD of featurettes for me, but I’ve always felt that the TV series never quite lived up to the potential of its absolutely stellar opening credits sequence. I always forget that Darwyn Cooke was the one who made that. It was done in a style resembling the cutscenes to the first two Thief videogames for the PC, which remain among my all-time favorites.
If I had to pinpoint why I felt the series fell somewhat short for me, I’d say that the “ordinary teenage life” component of the series which accounts for so much of the running time never quite worked for me. I don’t care about Terry’s family, I don’t care about Terry’s classmates, I don’t care whether Terry’s going to get the girl, and so on. Any time he found himself in conflict with that part of his life and being Batman, I was solidly on the side of “ditch these losers and be Batman already.” I don’t think that’s what the writers intended, and so that’s why I can’t quite rank Batman Beyond on the same level as Batman/Superman/Justice League/JLU. I think Batman Beyond is still worthwhile, just on a definite tier below those. I’d put The Zeta Project and Static Shock one level below Beyond, but that’s just me (I can think of some bloggers who hold Static Shock in quite high regard).
To date, I’ve only ever seen the uncut Return of the Joker, and in retrospect I think that’s probably the only “you must see this” installment of Batman Beyond. That movie, after all, is what explains so much of what influenced Batman’s change in character between the original animated series while serving as an epilogue to Batman: The Animated Series…before the “Epilogue” episode of Justice League Unlimited, that is.
Recently, DC Comics put out a 6-issue comic miniseries for Batman Beyond to relaunch the property as a new ongoing monthly comic. My feelings on it are that it’s okay/so-so, but just not as good as I want it to be. I suppose that means it’s faithful to the source material, but I don’t think I’d go far enough as to suggest it be featured on “Comics Worth Reading.” (It’s written by Adam Beechen, so…)
In a previous publishing life, I was involved with a couple of BATMAN BEYOND book tie-ins–a small, illustrated guide to the characters of the first season and a published screenplay to RETURN OF THE JOKER. It really was a fun show, and I loved showing parts of early episodes to colleagues. Generally, “civilians” gravitated to the fact that Batman was no longer Bruce Wayne–and that the elderly Bruce Wayne had become a really grumpy fellow. ;-)