Supers looks at series that focus on superheroic beings, from Spawn to The Tick.
With the recent release of The New 52 – Futures End–the new weekly comic book series from DC starring Terry McGinnis, (the future Batman)–I thought it apt to revisit DC’s 1999 television series, Batman Beyond, the show from whence Terry was born.
Batman Beyond is a close descendent of the critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series, both sharing creators/writers Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett. The problem with Batman Beyond, is that for years the show hasn’t gotten its due credit, being in the shadow of Batman: TAS. The show is certainly worth a more critical look, as it not only touches on many of the same ideas of its legendary brother series but also introduces fears of technology and societal breakdown, inherent in its dystopian future setting.
The premier episode of Batman Beyond, “Rebirth, Part 1”, begins somewhere in the not too distant future. Before long, we’re thrown into the day to day of the original series, with a new costumed-Batman raiding a warehouse where criminals have recently brought a kidnapped woman. In the midst of a pivotal fight with one of the kidnapper’s however, Batman has an inner pain that brings him to the feet of the street thug. Before he knows it, Batman has to resort to pointing a gun at the kidnapper, who runs out of the warehouse and is accosted by the Gotham police. The day is saved, but at what cost? We see a beleaguered Batman leave the warehouse and throw his mask off, revealing a much older Bruce Wayne than the one seen in Batman: TAS. He wanders off into the night, defeated. Back at the Batcave, we see Bruce putting away his costume and shutting off the lights with a final, “Never again.”
This dramatic opening sets the tone for the rest of the episode and the series as a whole. We flash forward 20 years to a Gotham city that clearly lacks the hero it needs. The future Gotham’s rampant technology is worthy of Blade Runner or The Minority Report and innocent civilians are hassled by gang members during their daily commute. Terry McGinnis just so happens to be on a train where a member of a most prevalent gang, The Jokers, tries to shake down a passenger for money. Terry, the good citizen with an attitude, squares off with the gang member, unknowingly filling in the Batman role, though on a much smaller scale.
Earlier in the same scene, we are provided with more world building as anchors on the news discuss several corporate takeovers by Derek Powers, the CEO of the merged Wayne-Powers Corporation, one anchor extolling of Powers that, “Everyone loves a winner”. These two set pieces introduce us to a world without the Batman and showcase the importance that such a figure represents to a jaded society, one that devolves into a sort of capitalistic anarchism without him.
Eventually, we find that Terry’s father works for the Wayne-Powers Corporation and has come into some powerful, and thereby dangerous, information stored on a data disc which Powers wishes to collect. As a side note, the way that the data–and most textual technology–is displayed in the show, makes little to no sense. It’s portrayed as various hexagonal shapes that everyone can read/understand somehow. Or maybe it represents encrypted data? Either way, if you’ve bought into the futuristic setting this far, the data/text design comes off as somewhat charming in its simplistic futurey-ness.
When we jump back to Terry, we find him getting into more tussles with members of the Jokers after trying to protect some of his fellow classmates. We’re shown fight scenes and a car chase that both prove him as a worthy adversary of the A Clockwork Orange-esque gang and lead him to the gates of Wayne manor. Just as the gang members surround Terry, Bruce Wayne steps out of the darkness to frighten them away. Of course a fight ensues and Terry ends up in Wayne manor, helping an ailing Bruce Wayne who is slightly hurt. Another series of coincidences lead Terry to find the Batcave and Bruce Wayne’s secret life just before Wayne kicks him out. All of this comes off as somewhat contrived but these are the necessary moments that build the inevitable origin story.
The last piece falls into place as Terry returns home to find his father’s house trashed, vandalized and now a crime scene. Terry’s mother is waiting with the police and consoles Terry, telling him in so many words that his father was murdered. The loss of his father, much like Bruce’s loss of his own parents, are what lead Terry into action. Soon, he comes upon the data disc that was left in his father’s safe keeping and, after a quick read of the hexagonal shapes, is off to Wayne manor, presumably to solicit the help of Gotham’s long lost hero. The episode ends on this cliffhanger, setting up how the second part may play out but keeping us intrigued as to how we’ll get there.
This inaugural episode of Batman Beyond serves to give us an introduction to the world of Terry McGinnis but also to bridge the gap between Batman: TAS and this series. The animation style flows smoothly between the two series, though Batman Beyond ends up using lighter colors than were used in Batman: TAS. Through this, Batman: TAS can be seen as a show about dark things happening in the night while Batman Beyond is about dark things happening in the day, a far more unsettling idea.
In the end, “Rebirth, Part 1” serves as an excellent starting line for this dystopian Batverse. Tune in next Monday when we look at the conclusion to this two-parter, “Rebirth, Part 2″… obviously.