DCAU #269: Rebirth

IN THIS ONE... Bruce Wayne retires, and 20 years later, Terry McGinnis takes on the mantle of the Batman. (Two-parter)

CREDITS: Written by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini and Stan Berkowitz; directed by Curt Geda.

REVIEW: Now we're in uncharted territory. Though Batman, Superman and Justice League have all been living in my memory since they first aired, I've never watched a single episode of Batman Beyond. It's all new, and it's a little more exciting for it. It helps that I love this comic book trope, which Beyond shares with Marvel's original Guardians of the Galaxy and its 2099 universe. It's fun to look in on your favorite shared universe decades after the present day to see how the heroes and villains' legacies have manifested. 20 years from the New Batman Adventures, Bruce Wayne is wearing the Beyond suit, rescuing Veronica Vreeland's adult daughter and quitting because of health concerns. 20 years after that, he's a crabby old man, Barbara Gordon is Commissioner (she's mentioned but not yet seen, but this is a strand that interests me immensely given how corrupt the police force appears to be), the Joker has inspired a colorful gang of thugs called the Jokerz (which are pretty fun, spiked woopy cushion and all), and Gotham City has become the Metropolis-like Neo Gotham.

The show's aesthetic is cool. A mix of Akira (the motorcycle race especially), A Clockwork Orange, and Blade Runner. The red skies have turned yellow, perhaps it's smog. The rock music I've hated on the other shows (Lobo's theme, for example) here works well, with some strong cues (the sad guitar and keyboard as Terry prepares to ask Bruce for the mantle) and some coming off as rather cheesy (the acoustic strings of Bruce giving Terry a job, though they nicely turn into organ sounds once he's accepted). The driving theme of the opener is pleasant, and the show goes for a crazy montage of weird CG, slick action, stamped key words... and people dancing in a night club? On the action side of things, it's acrobatic and exciting; the producers know they've got to hit the pilot out of the park. Will it hold?

One of the things they manage to do very well is go more violent without showing that violence. When Warren McGinnis is killed, we don't follow Terry to the body, but instead pan to a wall with Jokerz graffiti "Ha Ha!" When Batman is crushed by a mechanical claw, we see it from the operator's servo hand. When Mr. Fixx hits Batman inside the carrier ship, we cut to the outside and see the hit smash the glass behind Terry. The terrifying deaths of those infected by Derek Powers' virus are likewise not shown, except on their witnesses' faces.

But all of this is secondary to Terry McGinnis as protagonist. Is he a viable hero? Definitely. He's got the physical abilities, but the way he gets on his father's murder, he's also a detective worthy of the cowl. But he's not Bruce Wayne (who is in the show as mentor, regardless). He's a troubled teen with a girlfriend and a family. How will this play in his story? It's maybe a bit too Spider-Man at times, what with the Flash Thompson stand-in spitting at the back of his head during wrestling practice, but this entirely new dynamic should provide an experience different from that of the previous Batman shows. He has a small frame and a quick temper, both things that differentiate him from the elder Batman. Fatherless, Terry may have to turn to Bruce Wayne as a father figure - and there's an indication that he is the latest in the line of orphaned boys taken under the Bat's wing, and that perhaps, there's a tragedy there that's stopping Bruce from doing so early on; where are the boy?! - but he has enough of a support system left that he doesn't have to take any abuse from Bruce. The old man still has enough energy to partake in an action scene, so he remains a vibrant link to the past. Who doesn't love his smirk when the street gang claim to be the Joker?

The villain, Derek Powers, is more Lex Luthor than Joker, though his final fate may turn that on its head. We know he doesn't die, and we wait for their next engagement. Mr. Fixx also has an out though we don't see it. I can't believe that was his end either. Obviously, the series will present us with a whole new Rogues Gallery, and perhaps some of the old. Or takes ON the old. I had concerns that I wouldn't necessarily love Batman Beyond when I finally got to it, but the pilot has sold me on the premise, the world, and the characters.

IN THE COMICS: Though "Batman Beyond" made cameos in the DC Universe proper in the early 2000s, hinting that the continuity was either a probably future or a parallel Earth (Earth-12), it wasn't until the 2010s that DC made a real push to make Terry and Neo-Gotham a tangible part of the mainstream universe, and perhaps not until the New52 that it became undeniable, with Terry appearing in the Futures' End event. The latest Batman Beyond series had Tim Drake replacing Terry in the lead role. Kingdom Come also had a grizzled, older Bruce Wayne working from behind the scenes, while The Dark Knight Returns kept the old man in the suit. Bruce's line here, "Never again" is straight from that Frank Miller's book. Bruce's dog is named Ace, after the "Bat-Hound" that was part of the Batman Family in the Silver Age. At the end of the episode, Derek Powers becomes the still unnamed Blight, who shares notable characteristics with another Batman villain, Dr. Phosphorus, though the way the origin is told, it mirrors the Joker's (at least when Batman is involved in his accidental creation).

SOUNDS LIKE: Terry McGinnis, the new Batman, is played by Will Friedle, who was in the main cast of Boy Meets World. Lauren Tom (Angela Chen, Friends) plays his girlfriend Dana. For Derek Powers, they got Sherman Howard (already Steppenwolf of the Superman series, and the live action Lex Luthor in the Superboy series). His henchman Mr. Fixx probably has the most recognizable of voices, that of George Takei. The McGinnis family is played by Teri Garr (as mother Mary), Michael Gross (best known for Family Ties, as late father Warren), and Ryan O'Donohue (as kid brother Matt). Seth Green (Buffy, Robot Chicken) is Terry's school rival Nelson Nash. The Jokerz' leader is voiced by Bruce Timm himself. Corey Burton (the voice of Brainiac, Shockwave and Megatron) shows up as Kaznian oligarch Vilmos Egans.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A well done pilot that looks back at the past to build a new future. I'm in like Flynn.


Anonymous said...

The show found the only grounds for Bruce Wayne to quit that I can really buy into: he came dangerously close to becoming the thing he hates. Anyone else would have said, "this just means I need to put more tasers and pepper spray in my bat-suit". Bruce Wayne decided instead that he was no longer fit for the role.

This show will always be Bruce Wayne's, with Terry McGinnis as the new Robin. I don't mean that as a criticism of the show, just that Bruce Wayne is the only Batman. At least for me.

The Jokers are a bad joke; we're going to see that all the good villains are hand-me-downs of Bruce's.

Gene Hendricks said...

I agree that this was the ONLY way that Bruce would quit, but while it was caused by health problems, I don't see that as the reason itself. The reason was that he, like Anonymous said, had to pick up a gun to finish the fight. Once that happened, Bruce could no longer be Batman.

I disagree with Anonymous that all the good villains are hand-me-downs. There are several new foes in the show, Shriek, Spellbinder, Inque, and Robert Vance, just to name a few.

I'm looking forward to your discovering this show, Siskoid. I'm really looking forward to you getting to "The Call", which has the future League, and "Return of the Joker", since that's a great end cap to the series. There are others, but I don't want to spoil them for you. :)

Anonymous said...

Inque isn't bad, especially since her story revolves around her mother as I recall.

Maybe the problem with the other villains was that they simply weren't developed to a degree where I could care about them.

LiamKav said...

Arrrgghhhhh! I ordered and received the first two Justice League box sets from Amazon US (as there aren't UK releases of these), and completely forgot about Batman Beyond. Now I'll be hopelessly behind unless there are comics getting in the way.

FACT: In the UK (and elsewhere), the show was called "Batman of the Future" for some reason that I can't quite be bothered to look up.

Isn't "Return of the Joker" set between season one and two?

Oh, and Apathy! Greed! Corruption! Power! Hope! Courage! Sexy dancing! Honour! Justice!

Siskoid said...

Return of the Joker was released in December of 2000, in the middle of the third season.

Sorry about the scheduling! After Season 1 there SHOULD be quite a lot of comics to cover though. After Beyond, Static Shock should be alternating with Beyond's seasons at some point(still have to find those), then Zeta Project (same) is right after (but was concurrent with) Justice League Season 1.

It gets complicated.

Green Luthor said...

"The Jokers are a bad joke; we're going to see that all the good villains are hand-me-downs of Bruce's."

Actually, they're more hand-me-downs of Spider-Man's, I'd say. :) (More than a few of the new villains in Beyond would seem to have counterparts in Spidey's rogues' gallery; enough that it really doesn't seem unintentional...)

Gene Hendricks said...

I always put Return of the Joker (I can't abbreviate it because ROTJ = Return of the Jedi in my mind) after the 3rd season because it's got Mark Hamill coming back to the role, and that's too special not to have on it's own.

Brendoon said...

I really like the aged Bruce.
I DID find the series a bit "shouty" though, if you know what I mean.
Kinda angry in tone, pr'aps not as bad as some of the Transformer cartoons from the same time.

Anonymous said...

Ooooooh, no dude! Beast Wars was great and one of the best Transformers cartoons that there was!

Wait a sec... Sorry, my mistake. It was concurrent with Beast Machines. You're right. That was very shouty.

Regarding the Spider-Man comments... I've seen a fair few people describe Batman Beyond as "what if Marvel's best character was also DC's best character", so I guess it makes sense. (I was gonna say "what if the best comic character was also the second best comic character, but that way fanboy arguments lie.)

Andrew said...

When the network demands you make tham a teenage Batman show, you know people are going to compare the final product to Spider-Man (even if Spider-Man hadn't been in high school in decades and the Ultimate launch that would put him there was still a few years away). Makes sense to lampshade it in the rogues gallery.


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