Reviews: Batman Beyond

If Batman Were Spider-man; Or, How To Make a Great Show Out of an Executive Mandated Premise

Batman Beyond is a fantastic-looking television program. It takes the best elements of its predecessor's famous neo-noir aethetic and adds just enough cyberpunk to be stylish without coming across as trend-chasing foolishness. It features the same high-quality-for-television animation as all the best DC shows, and was helmed by a team of steady-handed veterans who knew their stuff forwards and backwards.

It features good storytelling throughout. Even the weaker plots are well-paced and carry a variety of tones. The rogues gallery strikes a good balance between giving Terry villains of his own and giving classic Batman enemies their moments of homage. It carries on the DCAU tradition of (mostly) treating serious subject matter with maturity and respect while remaining accessible to children. And, save for the comedic episodes, the contrast between Terry's civilian life and his time as Batman is well-handled, just as in the best early Spider-man material.

Thematically, it does a better job of examining what would happen if Bruce Wayne got old than any other DC property, including both Kingdom Come and The Dark Knight Returns, as he moves from a bitter, withdrawn man who's given up to a benevolent power-backer for his city and his protegee.

But probably the best part of the show is the characterization. Terry has something Bruce rarely displays: an arc. He grows from an angry, vengeance hungry kid to a Spider-man-esque teenage superhero who struggles to balance his home life and "work" and uses humor to cope with tension, to a seasoned crimefighter who maintains the best of the Batman identity without feeling compelled to repeat some of Bruce's mistakes. The excellent "Epilogue" episode in Justice League Unlimited gives both he and Bruce something rare in Bat-media: closure. And while his family and classmates could perhaps have benefited from being a little more-deeply sketched out, they never quite become tiresome or unreasonable.

It's fashionable today to portray Batman as an obsessed jerk, barely different from the criminals he fights. But Batman Begins, like its predecessor, helps show us that it wasn't always so. While its owners have never seemed sure what to do with the property (and while it was the origin of Bruce Timm's unfortunate obsession with pairing Bruce with Barbara), there is and should be a place for it in the constellation of DC media. What started with a mandate by a clueless executive grew into a unique, interesting piece of Batman that isn't afraid to assert its own identity while still remaining recognizable as a Bat-thing.

Also, the movie was great, and you should totally watch it even if nothing I've said about the show appeals to you.
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