In 1999, “Batman Beyond” Continued the Batman Animation Legacy Flawlessly

With the end of Batman: the Animated Series, the DC Comics/Warner Bros. animation golden boy of the 90s, Bruce Timm, was called upon once again to create another hit Saturday morning series. This time it would a series geared to a much younger audience, full of futuristic technology and action packed, and it would be called Batman Beyond. The show wasn’t a pandering, youth-oriented take with no substance (I’m looking at you Spider-Man Unlimited) either; it was a dark, complex, and very unique spin on the Batman lore.

Timm manages to create the new Gotham as a landscape that evolved technologically but not morally, with its core rotting from crime, corruption, and gang warfare. It’s this very background that allows the series new hero to experience life both as the Dark Knight and as a young man growing into adulthood. Batman-Beyond-Rebirth-gunTwenty years after the original series, Gotham is still a dark and crime ridden city with Batman still serving as its protector. Bruce Wayne is well into old age, and still fighting crime, but finds that the younger criminals aren’t just larger, they’re getting faster and deadlier than him. During a routine heist at a warehouse, Bruce is overpowered and collapses from a heart attack during combat.

Out of an act of desperation, he defies his number one rule and pulls a gun on one of his attackers, prompting him to realize the reign of Batman has ended. We’re then introduced to a rebellious juvenile delinquent named Terry McGinnis, whose fate clashes with Bruce when he accidentally discovers his identity as Batman. Almost immediately after, Terry’s father is murdered in a seemingly random incident. Terry discovers that his dad was actually the target of a larger scheme involving chemical weapons and steals Bruce’s suit seeking revenge. Despite some early resistance to the idea, Bruce reluctantly decides to teach Terry not only how to handle the suit, but how to harness his vengeance in order to protect the future of Gotham City.

Batman Beyond didn’t reinvent the Batman mythos, but rather remolded it to where it could fit in seamlessly with the established DC Universe. It’s very much a cyberpunk apocalyptic story of new heroism meeting a new wave of crime, and how the Batman legacy always finds a way of resurfacing. Terry is cast very much in the vein of the classic serial heroes, a young braggart with a bone to pick who becomes a better hero thanks to a seasoned mentor (Bruce). Unlike the serials though, Bruce has to sit on the sidelines and help Terry remotely while he dons Bruce’s futuristic Batman suit.

Kevin Conroy returns once again as a much older Bruce Wayne who is wily and clever, but sadly incapable of doing battle with anyone. The addition of Ace is a welcome change as he forms a unique bond with Bruce, one that’s emphasized in a touching episode centered on Ace’s past and his fateful adoption by Bruce. Despite its focus on younger audiences, Batman Beyond possessed much of the same maturity and depth that the former series did, portraying its heroes and villains as individuals with shades of gray, all of whom seem destined to clash – no matter whose under the masks.

The new Bat suit itself, a sleek and streamlined evolution of Batman’s previous costumes, paid tribute to the past while also introducing some new ideas and unique weaponry. Helped by Will Friedle’s enthusiastic voice performance, McGinnis is a very likable hero, tasked with being Batman, while also maintaining his relationship with his girlfriend, his school work, and helping his widowed mother raise his bratty little brother, Matt. McGinnis is always on the verge of falling to pieces, but always manages to pull it together and defeat his ever-growing rogues gallery. The series garnered interesting and brutally harrowing villains, all of whom constantly kept McGinnis on the edge of death (but just the edge thanks to the tutelage of Bruce).

There’s the radiation born villain, Blight, the incredible sound based villain, Shriek, and obvious descendants of Batman villains that included the shape shifting villainess Inque and established Batman villains including Mr. Freeze, Ra’s Al Ghul, and the Royal Flush Gang. To make things worse, Barbara Gordon returns as the new commissioner of Gotham who has little patience for Bruce and his new protégé. She not only catches on to their new pact early in the series, but she makes catching McGinnis her number one priority, which becomes an incredibly tough task considering Barbara is just as clever as Bruce is.

Batman Beyond was a surprise hit, managing to last three seasons before ending its run in America with Timm moving onto a bigger project known as Justice League. Episode repeats flourished in syndication for years, spawning fast food tie ins, a soundtrack, and a critically lambasted video game. There was even a short lived spinoff named The Zeta Project, and an excellent direct to video movie taking off from the series entitled Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, where The Joker mysteriously returns once again to wreak havoc on Bruce Wayne’s life. Even today, Batman Beyond is a fantastic continuation of the Bruce Timm 90s series, and one that earns itself a ton of clout, and yes, it deserves a live action movie.