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‘Batman Beyond’: The Future’s Bright!

by on March 30, 2006

After a few failed attempts at bringing the show to DVD, Warner Home Video has finally released Batman Beyond: Season One to the joy of Batman fans everywhere. The show features an all-new Batman approximately 40 years in the future, with Bruce Wayne now a bitter, broken old man. The show’s origins trace back to Kids WB! wanting a younger Batman to reach their target demographics, with Buffy: The Vampire Slayer as their inspiration for the new show.

The show itself is utterly fantastic, as for once, the new character proved to not only be likeable but downright loveable, and he made an interesting contrast to Bruce Wayne. A smart mouthed, funny and charming young man stands as the polar opposite of Bruce Wayne, especially now that he isn’t Batman anymore and has managed to become an even darker character. Many fans complain about Bruce’s transition to an old man who no longer wears the cape and cowl, but I thought it was the perfect ending for Bruce Wayne, a tragic character from the moment we met him, right up until the end. It adds so much to the character to have him unable to fight crime due to his heart and threatening to kill a punk with a crowbar. I always saw Batman Beyond as a second chance for Bruce Wayne; rather ironic as Terry himself fights crime in order to make up for his own past sins.

Visually, the show is absolutely stunning. With sleek, futuristic buildings surrounded by a beautiful purple sky, the show is as sharp as you can get. Breaking away from the usual model formula found in the previous shows, Batman Beyond manages to give everything its own unique feel, whether it’s the models themselves, the vehicles or even the props, with its super cool batarangs. The designers went all out here and made a show that feels like the polar opposite of the original Batman animated series. Grim, dirty buildings are replaced with lustrous, spectacular skyscrapers; the 1940’s cars are gone, in favor of sleek flying automobiles. The comparisons are highly interesting, but I don’t think any review can tell you which is better; it’s simply a matter of personal taste.

The show took an interesting route with its villains, usually designing them first and then coming up with their background and motivation. This allowed for some really funky, weird designs that would’ve looked far too out of place in the original Batman or Superman shows. Thankfully, the show had no interest in simply adding new twists on existing villains or bringing the original rogues back from the past. Having seen how diabolically poor the ‘fresh spin’ on classic rouges were over in Spider-Man Unlimited, I’m glad we got all new rouges here. It certainly helped that we got some damn cool adversaries for the new Batman here; Spellbinder, Shriek and Blight all made for great villains and the majority of them took full advantage of having the show set in the future. Most of them wouldn’t have worked story wise in The New Batman/Superman Adventures in the same way that they would’ve clashed with the visuals of the aforementioned shows. It’s arguable that a lot of them are inspired by Spider-Man’s rouges gallery, but given that he has some of the most obscure but still utterly brilliant villains in all of comics, it’s not really that surprising, especially considering the new Batman himself shares striking similarities with the webbed wonder.

This season was perhaps more daring than either show before it, with the mini-movie format being slightly turned on its head by offering a bigger villain in the arc and having some of the most brutal fights ever seen in animation at the time. Blood pours, punches crunch and the kicks simply aren’t for the squeamish—there’s not a chance anything like this would appear on Kids WB anymore. It’s a very serious contender for the very best season the DCU has ever had, which is no small claim. This set has it all; wonderful characters, bone breaking fights, originality in abundance and a hell of a lot of heart.

The set itself is the usual standard. The packaging is a tiny digi-pack with the discs overlapping on the inside, similar to Buena Vista’s recent box set releases, such as Lost, Scrubs or The Fantastic Four, only much, much smaller. Menus are spectacular, much better than we’ve seen on the previous Batman sets, even topping the cool animated menus found on both Superman sets. The dark red and black works wonderfully, bold and smart at the same time.

The same transfers from the previous Batman Beyond DVDs appeared to have been used here, which means no chapter stops. I assume the following sets will feature them but I’ve never been that bothered with them to being with. Given how quick it is to fast-forward to the point you want to get to, it’s not really something I have an issue with. Of course this means that the transfers aren’t really as popping as The New Batman Adventures set, but they still look fine to me. No real complaints here with the visuals, or the audio.

Inside Batman Beyond is a thoroughly entertaining and informative feature and is moderated by Jason Hillhouse. If you’ve seen any of the previous features like these, you already know what to expect, but it’s always great to hear from the creative team, especially as there isn’t a lot to be found online about Batman Beyond.

The isolated scores feature is fantastic. I’ve always hoped that they would include these on the Batman: The Animated Series sets, but alas, it wasn’t to be. Batman Beyond featured a vastly different musical tone from the previous shows and this give us the opportunity to experience it in all its glory. As a bonus, it also features tracks not found on the Batman Beyond soundtrack that was released when the show was still on air. Thus, those of us who have the soundtrack are still getting something new.

The commentaries again live up to what we’ve come to expect. I was glad to see Stan Berkowitz’s inclusion in the line up, as it’s always great to hear from writers of the show, especially considering the unique situation that Batman Beyond found itself in with regards to its villains. “Shriek” is probably my favourite episode on the set, so I was personally glad it was selected for commentary.

Overall, I think you will struggle to find a stronger season of a cartoon than this. The features are a welcome addition to the previous barebones releases and there is a hell of a lot fun to be found here. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait long to get the rest of this outstanding show on DVD.

The Images in this post appear courtesy of The World’s Finest Batman Beyond subsite.

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