The ‘90s and early 2000s yielded some of the greatest cartoons ever created. Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS hereafter), which aired from 1992-1995, is still regarded by many to be one of the best cartoons of all time. The show’s dark atmosphere, unique storylines, and well-developed characters are just a few reasons why it still holds up 25 years later. However, BTAS merely paved the way for the pinnacle Batman animated show, and it is one that I feel gets overlooked in discussions of great Batman content. Yes, I’m talking about Batman Beyond.
Batman of the Future
Set in 2039, Batman Beyond takes place in a crime-infested Neo-Gotham and follows the story of a retired, decrepit Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis, a 16-year-old troublemaker who dons the new cape and cowl. Well, without the cape. “NO CAPES,” Edna would say if she saw the BTAS Batsuit.
In all sincerity, the Batman Beyond suit takes Batman to the next level. Jet black from head to toe, minus a striking red Bat symbol, this suit nearly boasts a darker, edgier feel than its predecessor. Plus, the suit has invisibility, jet boots, and microphones in the fingertips. What’s not to like?
Before I lose anyone, I’m not saying a cooler Batsuit makes Batman Beyond the superior show. Anyone who has seen the show knows it has more than just great suit design, it has depth as well. Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett really dug deep with Batman Beyond. The show explores many complex themes – redemption being one of the main themes explored.
Bruce is a bitter, old loner when we first meet him in the show. He has all but abandoned his company and has had a falling out with all of his past sidekicks – people he treated as family. However, he has a change of heart when he meets Terry. He allows Terry to become the new Batman (after some reluctance) and becomes actively involved once again with fighting villains from behind the scenes. Bruce’s involvement shows his new sense of purpose, which ultimately reflects a desire to change himself.
Bruce’s growth is a great story of self-redemption that I feel has never been explored in a superhero before. Life after being a superhero may not sound as exciting, but Batman Beyond was not afraid to explore this unknown territory. Some of my favorite stories explore “beyond the frame.” These stories are often the most rewarding to explore because they offer a refreshing look at something that we’ve all seen countless times.
Batman Beyond Bruce Wayne
Again, BTAS is an incredible show and explores new depths as well, but Batman Beyond pushes these depths further because it is also about more than just Bruce Wayne. Terry McGinnis is part of this refreshing aspect to Batman Beyond and the Batman character as a whole. In BTAS and in other previous iterations of Batman, the younger characters were always the sidekicks; yep, good old (or young) Boy Wonder. They had a lot to learn from the Caped Crusader, which made Bruce seem like an ideal hero to follow.
But in Batman Beyond, the script is flipped. Bruce is a flawed character, and 16-year-old Terry is our main guy. “I am BATMAN!” he exclaims in his fight with Mr. Fixx (that part still gives me chills when I watch it). While he often makes mistakes too, it is captivating to watch a younger Batman on his own fighting crime. He does have Bruce’s support via his suit’s intercom, but he is physically out there on his own – succeeding and failing on his own.
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Terry is also flawed, but this aspect makes his story of self-redemption just as interesting (if not more) than Bruce’s. Terry spent time in juvie, picked fights, and did not get along with his parents. Through his journey of becoming the Batman, you can see that he is making reparations for these past mistakes by saving people.
The ability to change who you are and how you view yourself is a very powerful theme. And I feel by exploring this idea with a young character like Terry, it is more accessible to a younger audience. Always striving to grow and become a better person is an important value for everyone to have, but the fact that Batman Beyond makes this theme targeted towards a younger audience is one of the main reasons it has an edge over BTAS.
Didn’t think I was going to go there by talking about Batman Beyond, did you?
Batman Beyond’s Rogues’ Gallery
I could dive deeper into the various themes Batman Beyond explored, but I’d rather go into the excellent lineup of villains that came out of this show. Now I know BTAS gave us THE standard for many Batman supervillains, and it would be silly to compare Batman Beyond’s villains to BTAS iterations of the Joker, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, etc. But that’s what I’m gonna do.
Talk about an original cast of villains (and yes, I know Harley Quinn was original in BTAS). I mean, you’ve got Blight, a radioactive skeleton man who also happens to be CEO of Wayne Enterprises. There’s Shriek, a brilliant sound engineer who manipulates sound waves to shoot out of his killer sound suit. And you can’t forgetSpellbinder, a school psychologist with a hypnotic eyeball that projects false realities onto his foes.
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However, one of my favorite villains of the series has got to be Terminal, also known as Carter Wilson, one of Terry’s classmates. Although he only appears in one episode, Terminal leaves a lasting impression. It is partially his badass appearance — his skull face paint and the torn straightjacket makes him look like an unstable, evil character. But, what I like most about his story is that he is similar to Terry in many ways, but the complete opposite when it comes to how he views himself.
Carter Wilson also lives a double life, one as a perfect student, the other as leader of the Jokerz gang. However, he favors his criminal life over his student life. Whereas Terry chose to leave his criminal life behind and save people. This is the perfect dichotomy to have between a hero and a villain because it highlights that we always have a choice. Carter and Terry came from similar backgrounds, but each chose to go in different directions. Sorry, we’re back on themes again. But, this goes to show that even the villains were carefully crafted to drive home strong themes like the ones we’ve discussed.
And here is what I’m really driving at…if you haven’t watched Batman Beyond, go watch it! If you haven’t seen it all the way through, watch it from start to finish. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. And do not forget the movie, Return of the Joker. I also encourage you to watch Batman: The Animated Series, of course, because it is a great show as well, and Batman Beyond would not have been possible without the groundwork that BTAS laid before it.
All that being said, I am ready to see a resurgence of the Batman Beyond story, because a 52-episode show is not enough to satiate my desire for more Batman Beyond content. I believe this is a better time than any other to bring this story back. Between all the TV shows and movies, I feel that we need a refreshing take on the character, which is why Terry McGinnis should be the next Batman.
Even if we get a Batman Beyond return through the new Arkham game that is in the works, I would be thrilled. I have a hunch that there are those at Warner Bros who also have the same love for this character that I do, and that is why they are holding onto this character until the time is right. Until then, I’ll be enjoying my once-a-year rewatch of Batman Beyond.
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