Terry McGinnis becomes the new Batman; Derek Powers has an accident.
Story by Alan Burnett
Written by Alan Burnett and Paul
Dini (I) & Stan Berkowitz (II)
Directed by Curt Geda
Music by Lolita Ritmanis (I)
& Michael McCuistion (II)
Animation by Koko/Dong Yang
Will Friedle as Terry McGinnis
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Teri Garr as Mary McGinnis
Seth Green as Nelson Nash
Ryan O'Donohue as Matt McGinnis
Lauren Tom as Dana Tan
Sherman Howard as Derek Powers
Bruce Timm as Jokerz Leader
Corey Burton as Vilmos Egans
Michael Gross as Warren McGinnis
Phil Hayes as Guard
Clyde Kusatsu as Coach
Yvette Lowenthal as Chelsea
Sam McMurray as Harry Tully
Rino Romano as Kidnapper
CCH Pounder as Anchor Woman
Jack Roth as Virtual Newsman
John Rubano as Reporter
George Takei as Mr. Fixx
Marc Worden as Joker on Monorail
Since the early 90s, the team headed by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett has toiled faithfully in the gardens of DC Comics, adapting, tweaking or reinventing such characters as Batman, Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing; Superman, Lois Lane, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen; the Joker, Lex Luthor, Darkseid, Mr. Freeze, Clayface, and the Toyman. Their efforts have paid off handsomely for themselves in accolades and awards; for Warner Bros. in ratings and profits; and for the fans in having a show that can be watched, taped, and passionately argued over in even the silliest venue (like a web-page). Thank God (or Jean MacCurdy) that the franchise was entrusted to these guys.
But as terrific as such an experience must be, it's almost always going to be more fun to create and explore your own mythic realm, to invent not just your own characters and settings, but also the histories and geographies that form and explain the stories and conflicts. Corporate, commercial television, of course, is not the place for such mythologies to flourish; the boob tube is less likely to give us Tolkien than Transformers. But when the stars, the talents and the merchandising possibilities are in the correct alignment there is the chance that something worthwhile will emerge. From some such collision of creative ambition and corporate opportunism (the latter not always a bad thing) springs a previously undiscovered Batman: Batman Beyond.
It's the same city but now it is the future, and we find that time has not healed but only eaten further into many wounds. Bruce Wayne, who has nurtured many a young crimefighter, is nurturing yet another. But now being too old to don the Bat-suit himself, he's turned the franchise over to Terry McGinnis. Terry is still in high-school, which means his double life is a bit odder than that of some other superheroes. Where Batman and Zorro masqueraded as aristocrats, and Clark Kent and Peter Parker had professional lives, Terry balances crime-fighting with homework, girlfriends, younger brothers, working mothers and zits. Given these changes, there cannot help but be a shift in tone between the original series and this spin-off.
Hence, a conundrum: Given the inescapable differences that must follow from such a shift, it is impossible to compare the new series to the old and at the same time be fair to Timm, Dini, Burnett and company. Since it is impossible not to compare the old and new (at least occassionally), perfect fairness is likewise impossible. But would the Bat himself have expected any more?
Looking at the premiere in light of the subsequent series, it is best to concentrate on the promise, and on the promises kept. There is much to the series that is excellent. Glen Murakami, the art director who worked on the redesigned New Adventures, here achieved producer status, and Batman Beyond retained and intensified the same beautiful, blade-like character designs. Old Gotham was decadent Deco while the new is Aztec apocalyptic; either way, it remains fearsome and menacing, an architecture of pathology. True, the euphonious and romantic symphonic scores have been dropped for a techno motif, but even that amplifies the series' edge, giving the shows a jittery, hypnotic feel. And the directors in particular seem energized by the new settings and designs: Riba's "Black Out" and Lukic's "Spellbound" are possibly their finest efforts, melding a lucidity of action with an attention to detail that makes these intensely visual stories mesmerizing.
For all their terrific production values, the previous series thrived because of their attention to character and conflict, and in a sense they had it easy. The old characters were known quantities, and the shows could deal with their pasts and their psychoses briefly and allusively. "Rebirth" had its eyes forward and impressed with its fecundity of opportunity. Beyond the flying cars, the Jokerz, the glancing references to old friends gone into new lines of work, there was the central character of Terry McGinnis.
Watching subsequent episodes like "Betrayal" where he whines like a tenderfoot, it is hard to remember that Terry was supposed to be an ex-delinquent. How surprising it is, then, to become reacquainted with the ill-suppressed anger and resentment he shows in this episode and the thorny relationships with family, school, and girlfriend. He looks like a boy delicately balanced between a lonely vigilantism (to be released, possibly, in a life of crime) and social integration. Most of us follow the latter path, and Bruce Wayne was cut off from the world at an early age, so Terrys life held tantalizing promise: How does someone from such a seemingly mundane background choose to become Batman and begin to turn himself into such an iconic character?
There is also the byzantine intrigue of Wayne-Powers. In one of those twists that is both totally unexpected and retrospectively inevitable, Waynes company now bankrolls one of his adversaries, Derek Powers. This is the guy who muscled his way into Wayne Enterprises, ordered the death of Terry's dad, and who has a really bad skin conditionone that is fatal to others. Meanwhile, references to a cozy and corrupt relationship between Powers and the police, and the fawning media play he receives, immediately suggest STASs Lex Luthor. Back in the days of BTAS Wayne faced no "legitimate" adversary worse than Rupert Thorne or a devious city councilman. Derek Powers, an near-omnipotent tycoon with his own nocturnal secret identity, immediately excited.
Compared to these the character of Bruce Wayne looks positively retiring. His moment of glory in this episode comes in the prologue when, suffering a coronary attack during a hostage-rescue, he uses a gun to fend off a thug. Itsa moment of acute drama. And he still has the look of a haunted man, whose memorieswhose very soulis wracked by ghosts. He still has the voice, too, and special praise must go to Kevin Conroy for the way he handles the character. His Bruce Wayne sounds genuinely ravaged by age and disappointment without falling into cheap mannerism. Especially impressive are the subtle inflections he achieves when speaking to different audiences, alternating a steely menace when confronting the Jokerz with the treacly syrup served up to Mary McGinnis.
It is one of the more wearisome arguments you can find on the web: Is Batman Beyond canonical, or is it merely an Elseworlds to the animated continuity? Mixed in with that debate is usually another, over whether the series itself stands up to sustained scrutiny. (A supposed lack of quality is sometimes the barely implicit reason some want to shunt it aside.) It speaks for the high quality of "Rebirth" and the immense promise if offered that to the question "Is this the future of Batman?" one would without hesitation murmur, "Yes, please."
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