Why "Epilogue" Honors Terry McGinnis
Epilogue just might be one of the best remembered episodes of Justice League Unlimited, if not the DC Animated Universe itself. For DC animation fans, it hardly needs introduction. In terms of chronology it currently stands as the last DCAU episode, and it ended it where it began: with Batman. Rather than the usual action story, the writers crafted a calm and dignified tribute to this iconic superhero. As an added bonus it was a two-for-one achievement since it offered focus for Terry McGinnis, the hero of Batman Beyond.
I believe that Epilogue offers satisfying closure for Terry. However, it is on this point that the episode has invited some controversy amidst the gushing praise that persists even today. At issue is the revelation that Terry’s biological father is actually Bruce Wayne, thanks to Amanda Waller conspiring to overwrite Warren McGinnis’ genes with those of Bruce’s in her attempt to create a new Batman just like the old one. Though her plan to have Terry’s parents killed to put Terry on the same path as Bruce was abandoned, it would still be the eventual untimely death of Warren that put Terry on the path to meeting Bruce and becoming Batman. For some fans, this was an unwelcome development. Suddenly, the argument goes, Terry’s independence was compromised and a message was sent that being a hero like Batman is just a matter of lucky genetics.
I understand this criticism, and I would agree with it if I thought that this were what the episode was getting at. However, I do not. Why? For starters, it seems to me that the critics are essentially taking the side of Terry at the beginning of the episode. He asks “How can anyone be their own man living someone else’s dream?”, a question any concerned fan could have written. He refers to his life as Batman as a “curse” that he never had a chance to get away from. Consider Terry’s state of mind at that point. He was acting as a bitter, distressed young man who believed that he wasn’t really in charge of his own destiny. Opposing this is our narrator and guide for this episode: Amanda Waller.
Firstly, let us note that Waller’s plan was abandoned and incomplete. Yes, Terry lost his father, but unlike Bruce he kept family–his mother and brother. This gives him attachments and love that Bruce didn’t get to enjoy during his life, Alfred’s critical presence notwithstanding. Furthermore, Waller declares upfront that Terry is not Bruce’s clone. The choice of words used is “son.” This is no small point. After all, are children fated to mimic their parents down to the last detail? Of course not, far from it. Secondly, as Terry did, some fans fret that Warren McGinnis’ influence on Terry was severely undermined. But is this really so? In one imagined tirade, Terry lectures Bruce about all of the good things his father had done for him. He calls it a lie in his anger, but the fact of it is that the time he had with his father was precious to him. The fact still remains that Warren is the one Terry grew up with. At the core of this issue is the old nature vs. nurture debate, but no winner need be chosen. Neither is inconsequential. Every individual inevitably has different experiences unique from another, and these unique chains of events lead to their own results. That no two people are alike is a literal truism. So it is with Terry.
Thirdly and most importantly, there is the issue of free will. On this count, Epilogue does not split the difference: the concept of fate is soundly rejected. Terry insists to Waller that “no matter what you did or didn’t do, I was gonna end up being Bruce’s carbon copy.” But Waller insists that we are all given free will and explains both similarities and differences between Terry and Bruce. In the canon, we are given multiple signs that Terry has learned his lesson. Toward the end, Waller offers him sage advice: “You want to have a little better life than the old man’s? Take care of the people who love you.” Bruce Wayne is nothing if not a lone wolf. This is the man that was technically always a “part-timer” in the Justice League, the man whose connection with Wonder Woman never developed beyond a tease, the man who eventually drove away his crimefighting companions, the man who spent his latter years living a lonely life in Wayne Manor until Terry came to his doorstep. Now look at Terry. He does not quit the Justice League, he’s off to meet with Superman at the end. Most importantly, he makes the life-lasting decision to live a married life with his longtime girlfriend Dana.
I will end by highlighting Terry’s decision to continue on as Batman. It’s critical to remember that this is something he also decided for himself in the film Return of the Joker, long before he knew the truth:
I ask you: what part of this history, this determination, is a “carbon copy” of Bruce Wayne? None of it. This is a fundamental aspect of Terry’s character that remains unchanged by Epilogue. This is a path that is entirely Terry’s own. Far from enslaving Terry to Batman’s legacy, Epilogue dares to let Terry redefine it. Unlike Bruce, Terry has decided that being Batman doesn’t mean having to be alone. Batman’s iconic image is that of a “dark knight” living in the shadows, but Terry’s future is one of hope and optimism. For my money, that’s the most satisfying possible sendoff for the Batman of the future.
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