Back when Bruce Timm’s critically acclaimed award winning groundbreaking “Batman: The Animated Series” finally bowed out after branching off the “Superman” animated series, Warner approached Timm and his creative team with a mission. They wanted Batman back but this time younger, and geared to a much less mature audience. And Bruce Timm obliged and by god, he gave them a youth oriented Batman show, but he did it his way and on his terms. And what Warner likely intended to be a fun hilarious goofy series, ended up being just as moody, adult, grim, and bleak as the original Batman series. “Batman Beyond” is one of the beloved relics of the late nineties entering in to the millennium that managed to completely re-think the Batman universe, but also stay true to the themes and adult nature of the original series.
In this new world of Gotham, there isn’t much of a difference. Sure, cars fly, currency is used through credits, and there are laser guns, but the police force is still as stressed as ever and crime still has a stranglehold on the entire city with murders and robbery running so rampant not even Batman can handle it all himself. In the opening episodes, we meet an older Bruce Wayne who has taken to a new costume with technologically up to date digs and a whole new design. But his confrontation with smugglers ends horribly as Bruce is beaten horribly and becomes so desperate to beat his criminal element he draws a gun on them. Now realizing he’s reached the end of his rope and can no longer confront the new breed of criminals, he retires the cape and cowl and becomes a recluse hiding in his mansion from the world.
We then meet Terry McGinnis, a rebellious young man prone to getting in to trouble and deals with his family which include a doting mom, a bratty little brother, and a workaholic father. Fate knocks down his door when after being assaulted by a cult like gang called The Jokers, Terry is saved by the elderly Bruce who heals him, but is unfortunately discovered to be Batman. When Terry’s father is viciously murdered, Terry seeks revenge when he discovers a conspiracy is at work, and steals Bruce’s new Batsuit to strike down at the murderers. “Batman Beyond” is very much a visually stimulating and richly told epic remake of the Batman lore where Timm takes every advantage to reference his old groundbreaking his series while also creating villains who have their allusions to the classic Batman rogues.
There’s the cult-like gang called The Jokerz who wear clown make-up, there’s Inque who is very similar in design to Clayface, Terry falls deeply in love with a young girl named Ten, who has a criminal element to her constantly challenging his loyalties to crime fighting, folks like Mr. Freeze, Ra’s Al Ghul, Bane, Barbara Gordon all make appearances, Superman and the new Justice League step in for a two episode stint, and there’s Dee Dee, two high flying Joker gang members whose grandmother happens to be… well you’ll see when you watch the show. There’s also Warhawk, a superhero who has a close tie with two DC superheroes that isn’t explored until “Justice League.” Thanks to the legendary Andrea Romano, “Batman Beyond” is very well acted bringing aboard Will Friedle as Terry, with Kevin Conroy returning as Bruce Wayne, while Angie Harmon and Stockard Channing play a truly convincing Barbara Gordon who becomes the commissioner and proves to be a very vicious antagonist to Terry and Bruce. There are also guest voice roles from Teri Garr, Michael Gross, Rachel Leigh Cook, Seth Green, Henry Rollins, and of course Mark Hamil as the one and only Joker.
While I wasn’t always a Batman fan, “Batman Beyond” is a gorgeous companion piece to Timm’s incredible original series, and fans of dark and grim science fiction will surely want to see where Terry goes in his quest to fight crime with his mentor Bruce Wayne at the helm with his trusty Great Dane Ace. Sadly, the series was cut short thanks to Warner ordering up the future “Justice League” animated series, so “Batman Beyond” draws to a mediocre close as Terry comes face to face with a reptilian cult that threatens to destroy Gotham. I never was a fan of that final storyline, but I consider “Return of the Joker” to be the actual closer of the series. Of course that didn’t stop Timm from closing the series in Justice League twice, and in the comic book. The one major caveat of this set is the failure to include “Return of the Joker,” which would have sealed the deal as the perfect set for anyone to grab on to. “Return of the Joker” is considered by many the true finale, and it’s a shame Warner never thought to include it here for fans. Whether it was a rights issue, or just their nagging greed to cause consumers to buy the movie separate for extra money, I guess we’ll never know.
The Limited Edition complete set comes in a beautiful box set with a plastic slip that leads in to a large box. Inside there’s a great 24 Page booklet with an essay about the series, a complete listing of the series episodes, and conceptual designs of the characters, landscapes of Gotham, and weaponry. The set comes with nine discs and all 52 episodes of the series with all of the special features from the prior releases including “The Panel” and a featurette about the striking original score of the series, and the ninth disc features “Tomorrow Knight: The Batman Reborn,” “Gotham: City of the Future,” “High Tech Hero,” and the feature length documentary “Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics.” Told you so. Nonetheless, this is a marvelous collector’s set for folks who didn’t grab ahold of all of the season discs (moi), and it’s a definite keepsake for the respecting nostalgia buff or Batman buff.
And did I mention a perfect holiday gift?