Full disclosure: I didn’t like this show when it started. I remember watching the primetime premier, showing the first two episodes, and hating it. Yelling at the TV in my best lispy nerd voice “This is totally non-canonical! Batman wouldn’t pick some high school kid as his successor!” I also thought jean shorts were a good idea, so, take that for what it’s worth. Anyway, Batman Beyond is the third show in the Bruce Timm-verse, after the Batman and Superman animated series. The show did something that the comics had rarely dabbled with (at that point): passing the torch.
Twenty years in the future, after TAS, Bruce continues to venture out as Batman. His aged and beaten body slows him down, and he suffers a mild heart attack while rescuing an heiress. To avoid death, he breaks his number one rule, threatening to use a gun. After this incident, he closes down shop permanently. Flash forward another twenty years, and we’re introduced to Terry McGinnis. In a series of events that I won’t go into detail about, Terry learns of Bruce’s past, and after experiencing a similar tragic origin he steals the suit, becoming the next Batman.
From there, the series delves into weekly adventures featuring a new cast of rogues while others have inherited the mantle of the predecessors. Gotham is infested with a gang known as the Jokerz. Bane’s venom has become the new drug of choice for athletes. Again, the writers more often chose to favor original creations like Inque or Mad Stan rather than relying on what came before, greatly benefiting the show.
The best aspect was the new dynamic established between Bruce and Terry. Bruce has trained many people before, but never like this. He was always hands-on. Now, he can do little more than guide with his voice and knowledge. When Terry goes out on patrol, Bruce is the voice in his ear, constantly communicating with him and monitoring from the Batcave via the suit’s built-in camera. Batman (Bruce) has always been self-reliant; it defines his character. Seeing that taken away added an amazingly deep, interesting layer that was constantly mined throughout its 52-episode run.
Kevin Conroy returned as Bruce, while Will Friedle took on the role as Terry. Conroy has always played a perfect Bruce, and here he displays the range he can give the character, showing Bruce as a curmudgeonly old man. Friedle is a great voice actor, having voiced Lion-O on Thundercats, and Ron Stoppable on Kim Possible, though he’ll always be Eric Matthews to me. With Andrea Romano directing all the voices for everything DC, you know the high level of quality to expect.
While there were many amazing episodes, I have two (okay, sort of three) that stand above the rest as my favorite. The first being “Shriek” for two reasons. Here, Batman battles the sound-manipulating villain in complete silence. This was really risky for the network as people flipping through might pass, thinking something was wrong with broadcasting. Instead, as sound is a vital component for cartoons, it lets the animation stand on its own. I also loved the line from Bruce at the end of the episode “…the voice kept calling me Bruce. In my mind, that’s not what I call myself.” Watch and you’ll see.
My other favorite episode came from “The Call” parts one and two, where Batman joins the new, futuristic Justice League. With the exception of Superman, the members were original creations, though they are based on iterations of past members (Green Lantern, etc.). It’s no wonder this episode flowed so well as it was crafted by Alan Burnett and Paul Dini. Upon my first viewing I only caught the first part. Since I had to work during the second part the following weekend, it was years before I saw the conclusion.
Sadly, the show was cancelled before its time, though there were little ongoing threads that needed wrapping up. Years later, Justice League Unlimited finished its second season with an episode to spare, dedicating the time to conclude Batman Beyond. Set 15 years after the series, Terry learns the truth of his origins. This was a wonderful surprise complimenting what came before. Batman Beyond was seen earlier in the Unlimited series during a time-hopping episode where a few Leaguers found themselves in the future.
Two other notes about the series: There was a direct-to-DVD feature film released in 2000, Return of the Joker. This was an amazing movie that I’ll dedicate a post to in the future. Also, spinning out of Beyond was a 26-episode show titled The Zeta Project. It was an interesting companion to Beyond, but felt a little shoehorned in just to get a pump in viewership.
Batman Beyond is an amazing show and, in my opinion, the best of the Bruce Timm shows. It took a few chances in creating new characters that completely paid off. Watch this show.
Did you love or freaking love Batman Beyond? What was your favorite episode? Discuss!
Used the Beyond suit in Arkham City as soon as I could.
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