Ever since the show itself ended in 2001, DC hasn't done a whole lot with "Batman Beyond," the story of a teenager 40 years in the future who becomes the new Batman while being mentored by an aging Bruce Wayne. This week, though, DC kicks off an all-new "Batman Beyond" comic, and between that and Terry McGinnis's recent appearances in "Superman Batman" and "Batman #700," I've been thinking a lot about the Tomorrow Knight -- who, fortunately, is a way better character than that nickname would suggest.
All in all, there were 52 episodes of "Batman Beyond" (plus a couple of appearances on the "Justice League" cartoons and a crossover with "Static Shock" and a pretty awesome movie), so over the past week, I've been sitting down with the entire series to pick out the five best!
Written By: Stan Berkowitz
Directed By: Dan Riba
What Happens: When the secrecy that comes with his double identity causes problems with his girlfriend, Terry gets awfully friendly with a Melanie, a pretty new girl in town. Unfortunately, Melanie has a secret of her own: She's actually Ten of the Royal Flush Gang, a family of card-themed super-thieves with a grudge against Batman.
Why It's Awesome: The key to "Batman Beyond" is that it's basically "What if Spider-Man was Batman in the future?" This isn't a bad thing at all -- it is, in fact, two of my favorite things in the future -- but seriously: High school kid struggling to balance his personal life and his super-heroic responsibilities while being yelled at by an angry old man? That's Spider-Man all the way through. Even his Rogues Gallery draws from Spider-Man, but with twists: Inque is visually similar to Venom and the alien costume, Stalker is a cybernetic Kraven the Hunter, and his arch-enemy is an evil green industrialist. Heck, he even teams up with the Terrific Trio, a Johnny Storm-less analogue for the Fantastic Four.
In that pattern, Ten, seen here working a lamppost like a stripper pole...
...is Terry's version of the Black Cat: Blonde, larcenous, and aggressively sexual. Of course, seeing as the Black Cat was at least partially inspired by the Batman franchise's own Catwoman, who also displayed those qualities (albeit as a brunette) the whole thing becomes an ouroboros of comics that reference each other.
Either way, Ten's function in this episode and her other appearances as a reluctant participant in a legacy that she does her best to get out of makes an interesting counterpoint to Terry's own story as someone who actively sought out a legacy in response to a change in his own life. Plus, the episode features one of the series's amazing dance club sequences...
...which are basically the funniest things ever.
Written By: John P. McCann and Paul Dini
Directed By: Dan Riba
What Happens: Terry's nerdy friend Howie -- who bears a striking resemblance to episode writer Paul Dini -- has trouble with the ladies, so he takes some inspiration from "Weird Science' and decides to... well, you've seen the episode title. Unfortunately, while his newfound ladytron certainly makes him seem cooler (and thus more appealing to the fickle girls of Hamilton Hill High), she's less RealDoll and more Combat Droid, and she's also the jealous type.
Why It's Awesome: In a lot of the episodes, the makers of "Batman Beyond" were essentially just doing Batman stories with a younger cast, dealing with plots to assassinate the commissioner, the spread of Venom among high school athletes, and so on. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- it's actually pretty great most of the time -- but it's nice to break the trend every now and then. Even the title is out of the norm for a show where the episodes usually had punchy, ominous one-word titles.
For all its killer robots and people getting punched through walls, this is a story that's based on goofball comedy and the fact that Terry McGinnis hangs out with people and goes to parties and has a good time, and that's not really the story the Animated Universe version of Bruce Wayne was really built for. With Terry, though, it works, and the contrast makes for a entertaining story.
Plus, the guy who sells the sexbots totally looks like the DC Animated Universe version of Steve Buscemi:
If only they'd gotten him to do the voice.
Written By: Stan Berkowitz, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini
Directed By: Butch Lukic
What Happens: In an attempt to root out a traitor, Superman comes to Gotham City to recruit Batman into the Justice League, hoping that his detective skills are as good as his mentors. The good news: Terry does find out who the traitor is. The bad news: It's the world's most powerful metahuman: Superman himself.
Why It's Awesome: It's the Justice League!
Specifically, it's the first Justice League the DC Animated Universe had seen since "Super Friends." Superman and Batman had teamed up before (and with other heroes like the Flash and Green Lantern) on their own shows, but this was the first time the team had been named in the DCAU, airing a full year before the team would get its own show on Cartoon Network. In a very real way, it's this episode that bridges those shows with their follow-up.
And even better, it's actually a really good story. It plays with the futuristic setting in a neat way with a new Green Lantern, Aquaman's daughter and the immortal Barda, and also manages to throw in not one good twist, but two, making the most of being a two-part episode. Plus it manages to hearken back to the Justice League's first appearance in the comics in its choice of villain:
Uh, Spoiler Warning, I guess! But come on, guys: It's been ten years. That one's on you, not me.
Written By: Bruce Timm and Dwayne McDuffie
Directed By: Dan Riba
What Happens: Fifteen years after the events of "Batman Beyond," Terry confronts an aged Amanda Waller to find out why he's a genetic match to Bruce Wayne. Waller reveals that she not only overwrote Warren McGinnis's reproductive DNA (which happens on screen, the first Cartoon Network appearance of robo-sperm), but arranged for his parents to be killed in an effort to create another Batman to follow in the original's footsteps. As a result, Terry's relationship with the increasingly crotchety old man gets even worse, but it all works out in the end.
Also, the Batman of the Present fights a Royal Flush Gang version of MODOK:
Why It's Awesome: This isn't actually an episode of "Batman Beyond" -- it's an episode of "Justice League Unlimited" -- but since it functions as the last episode the series never got, I think it counts.
Either way, one thing's for certain: The future of "Batman Beyond" is, well, really dark. The creators had already pushed the envelope with the "Return of the Joker" movie (which was censored on its original release for violence, specifically scenes of a child being tortured), but even beyond that, Bruce Wayne just doesn't get much of a happy ending. All he's done for the world, and he ends up bitter and feeble, sitting alone in his basement after all of his friends have either died or been driven off by his anger.
So yeah, kind of a bummer.
But with this episode, Timm and McDuffie explore the idea that there must always be a Batman and bring it back around so that there's at least a glimmer of hope. It's masterfully played out, front-loading all the heavy (and utterly depressing) stuff and then ending with Terry deciding not just to keep up the legacy, but to learn from Bruce's mistakes and not give up on his friends and loves, too. Sure, he and Bruce fight, but Bruce also worries about him when he doesn't call and makes him soup:
And even with Terry's unfortunate hair choices (and Bruce's unfortunate hair consequences), that's pretty great.
Written By: Paul Dini
Directed By: James Tucker
What Happens: After becoming increasingly embittered about his further decline into old age, Bruce is tempted by Talia when she offers him the use of the Lazarus Pit that has kept her young all these years. Bruce agrees, and he and Terry travel to her island, only to find that "Talia" is actually Ra's al-Ghul, inhabiting his own daughter's body and planning to steal a rejuvenated Bruce Wayne and resume his position at the head of the League of Assassins.
Why It's Awesome: Oh man, where to begin with this one? For starters, it opens with Bruce and Terry watching the Batman Broadway Musical, and I'm just going to go ahead and call that the high point of Paul Dini's writing career:
But what's great is that the rest of the episode lives up to its beginning. I mentioned above that there are a few episodes that could only be done with the character of Terry McGinnis, but this one brings back Bruce's old plots and loose ends better than any other attempt that the series made, and considering that they did a pretty good job with Mr. Freeze and Bane, that's saying something. It's the perfect episode, dealing with Batman's age and resolving his reluctance to hand down his legacy, featuring the only real physical team-up between the two Batmen, and it's just downright creepy when David Warner's voice starts coming out of Talia's mouth.
Seriously though, that musical. It's amazing.
Congratulations: You'll be singing that to yourself for days.
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