Animation Retro Review: Batman Beyond
When I was a kid, Batman The Animated Series was a staple of my childhood afternoon entertainment. I think it was on at about four, just enough time for me to get home, pretend to do my homework and then park my butt down in front of the television for a half hour of crime fighting fun. However, because it was on Channel Nine, and they suck (Aussies, you’ll know what I’m talking about) even more than the other free-to-air networks of the nineties and early two-thousands the episodes were shown in no specific order, often with large gaps in new airings that would be filled by weeks of reruns.
I guess it couldn’t be avoided, the show was on daily after all and there aren’t exactly an infinite number per season but the point of this long winded introduction is that when I saw them, pointed out by my good friend Andy, on iTunes for $7.99 a season, I couldn’t resist. So I bought the first season, and I watched the episodes and I remarked at how inconsistent the animation was, and I looked it up on Wikipedia to learn why (turns out there were a ton of animation studios involved in the making of the episodes, some were great and some were poor – one was so poor it was fired). Then I bought the other seasons and it was at that point (he says, finally reaching something similar to a point) that I noticed the first season of Batman Beyond on sale too.
I remembered Batman Beyond as the interesting, quirky take on Batman of the future (as it was, incidentally, known in some places, including here apparently although I always remembered it as BB and not BOTF). I figured more cartoons are always better than fewer cartoons and so I acquired the run.
Batman Beyond is smart, funny, well written and a lot more adult than I first recalled. I so enjoyed it that I in fact couldn’t put it down. BTAS was relegated for later viewing and I became firmly enraptured in the world of Neo Gotham in the mid 2040s.
The story is, without wanting to spoil too much, that while going about his normal workday, Warren McGinnis discovers that his boss, Derek Powers, is making and selling deadly nerve gas to the highest bidder, in clear violation of the law. Before he can blow the whistle, Warren is murdered by Powers’ goons and Powers is exposed to the nerve gas.
We meet the series protagonist here: Terry McGinnis. A high school senior with a somewhat delinquent history, he is the eldest son of Warren and through a series of events takes a job with aging billionaire and shut-in, Bruce Wayne. Bruce has long since given up the cowl and Gotham is a city without a protector. Jim and Alfred are dead, there is no Robin by his side and former Batgirl Barbara Gordon is now Commissioner of the GCPD. More things happen, Terry stumbles across the Batcave and decides to steal the bat suit in order to have his revenge on Powers.
Bruce objects initially, even shutting down the advanced, cybernetic bat suit to prevent Terry from doing much of anything, but eventually he comes round and thus begins the saga of a new Batman, aided by Bruce in his dealings with enemies such as Blight, Shriek, Inque, The Royal Flush Gang, an outlaw biker gang called The Jokerz (modelled after one of Arkham’s most famous inmates) and Spellbinder. There’s also a guy called Mad Stan, who while deranged is probably the best parody of the NRA’s core membership in history.
From its brilliant opening credits (above) Batman Beyond cements itself as a cyberpunk thriller. Gotham of the future is the best parts of the art-deco wonderland we know from the animated series and the dystopian megalopolis of Blade Runner. There are hover cars and synthoids (the series name for advanced robotic androids) and the series manages to have a real science fiction feel about it while still remaining true to the traditional Batman ethos: take the worlds greatest detective, add masked villains, combine and bake until awesome.
The Batmobile has been given an upgrade and now works directly through the new bat suit, which is described by Terry as ‘old but still cutting edge’ – much like a combination of the Batmobile, Batwing and Batsubs of old. There are no Robins, and the cast of familiar characters is limited mostly to Bruce and Barbara, with the occasional glimpse of a more classic villain. This means the series never feels derivative; it doesn’t rely on the original mythos and its rogues gallery to keep people interested.
There are new villains: Blight, the radioactive and cruel archvillain; Inque who can change her form and become liquid; Spellbinder, who dresses in a morphsuit and uses fantasy to control his victims; Zeta, the renegade synthoid who may be more than he appears. Series stalwart Kevin Conroy remains the voice of Bruce, which gives the series a grounded link to the old world. It’s pretty much the perfect evolution of Batman.
If you’ve never seen Batman Beyond, do yourself a favour and grab it on iTunes. It’s cheap as hell and I’m under the impression more seasons will be available for download soon. Until then, all three seasons are available on DVD. It’s the best imagining of the future of Batman, and of Gotham, and my only complaint is that the series ever ended at all.
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