We look back at Batman Beyond–for the first time.
Everyone misses out on something the first time around. Nobody has time to keep up with every new show, book, or comic that comes out. What did I initially miss out on? Batman Beyond. I’ve always been aware the show existed, and had a vague understanding of its concept. I also thought that its Bat-suit design was great, and that Inque looked really cool as well. I even read the first arc of one of its spin-off comic books (the Jurgens/Chang run specifically), but it wasn’t until recently that I got a chance to start watching the actual show. In the spirit of Batman Day, I’m looking back at Batman Beyond as it holds up now, eighteen years after its debut.
It sounds a bit obvious, but the first thing to strike me about the show was its opening theme and visual design. It definitely fits America’s turn of the century ideas regarding what a dark future would like. The use of bold words (such as “apathy,” “corruption,” and “hope”) flashed across the screen in the intro may be a bit (okay, very) on the nose, but at least it’s clear that the creative team had a vision they were trying to achieve. Just because something is deeply rooted in a specific cultural zeitgeist doesn’t mean that everything about it is dated in a negative sense, after all. Even the early CGI effects used in the opening (such as renderings of Bruce Wayne’s now older, even gruffer face) are charming in their own way.
So, is it good? Yes, absolutely. The DC Animated Universe’s various series are thought of very highly, and with good reason. Batman Beyond should be no exception. The writing is strong, and the cast of characters have consistent, well-crafted personalities. The new Batman, Terry McGinnis, is likable and feels like a worthy successor for the mantle. Superheroes as a concept represent the best of humanity, people doing what they can to stand up for what is right. Terry speaks to that spirit. He doesn’t seem incidental, or like some kid who just stumbled upon the Bat-suit. His actions when he’s not Batman demonstrate that he’s worthy of being Batman.
One of the series’ main hallmarks is that it’s a Batman show, but not like one we’ve seen before. Batman Beyond, like the more recent The Lego Batman Movie, occupies a unique space in terms of comic book-inspired media. It draws heavily from the Batman mythos, but isn’t strictly an adaptation in the most conventional sense of the word. There is as much (or more) about the show that is new as there is derived from source material. Depending on what any individual viewer might prefer, this departure from the standard canon could be considered disappointing, engrossing, or something in-between.
For the most part, I’m a fan of how Batman Beyond juggles the old with the new. The old characters who return do so in ways that feel true to their previous incarnations. The elderly, hard-ass version of Bruce Wayne presented here contains both the compassion and the edge that make Batman so intimidating yet admirable. Barbara Gordon’s status as police commissioner also puts her in a unique position when dealing with Terry and Bruce’s vigilante activities.
In my opinion, the show’s most notable blending of new and old concerns Terry’s rogues gallery. As mentioned previously, I’m a fan of Inque. Her power-set and design lend themselves to animation that is an striking as it is unpredictable. Other new foes, like Spellbinder, also have great designs and motifs. One of my favorite antagonists, though, is the show’s version of Mr. Freeze. After making the character truly memorable for the first time back in Batman: The Animated Series, the show-runners reinvented him yet again for Beyond, reinvigorating his storyline with questions of redemption and the human capacity for change. Season one episode “The Winning Edge” also incorporates past Batman mythos effectively by hinting at a Bane return, before revealing that it’s actually Bane’s assistant who is now profiting by distributing Venom as a street-level drug.
Overall, Batman Beyond is a very good show that accomplishes one of the harder tasks in Saturday morning television: it is capable of entertaining both children and adults fairly equally. Watching it for the first time, I’ve been happy to discover that its fantastic aesthetic and concept are propped up by strong writing, animation, and music. That’s not to say that I love every episode; I don’t. But Batman Beyond‘s worst episodes are still solid, and if that’s not the mark of a good show, I don’t know what is. If you, like me, somehow missed out the first time around, I highly recommend tracking down and watching this unique contribution to the Batman mythos.
You can pick up Batman Beyond: The Complete Series DVD set on Amazon for $39.99.