Friday, February 15, 2013

Batman Beyond the series and Return of the Joker

Despite my love for Batman The Animated Series, I never watched Batman Beyond until recently. I had already been pretty disappointed with the direction The New Batman Adventures had taken with the change in design and general tone of the episodes, so when they introduced Batman Beyond, I just couldn't get behind the concept that when Bruce got older, Dick and Tim wouldn't be around to take over for him. Who was Terry McGuiness and why should I care about him?

Honestly, having now watched the show I still kind of feel the same way. I know the show has its fans, but beyond a handful of episodes this version of Batman just didn't appeal to me. Terry lost his father, but past the first season we barely ever hear about how that affected him. He still has his mom and kid brother, but beyond the token "Terry never does his chores" comments, there's no real drama or touching moments to be found there. And Bruce constantly keeps Terry at a distance all throughout the series so that they at most only ever develop a sort of quiet respect for each other. Bruce as father figure to Dick Grayson and Tim Drake and Alfred as a father figure to Bruce is a core element that makes the Batman mythology appealing to me. This version is just plain stripped of that.

But yet we do have to be reminded a couple times that Bruce and Barbara were lovers. They attempt to make that less disgusting by making Bruce look a lot younger than he actually was during the original series but I'm sorry, I'm not buying it. He's noticeably older than her in the actual episodes, you can't change it via flashback later on. He's old enough to be her young uncle if not her father.

Terry's peers are not particularly interesting either, for the most part. His relationship with Dana becomes tedious from the very beginning, with her constantly whining about how he never spends time with her but he can't explain to her that he's Batman. Then in season 3 she's magically okay with it, realizing that he's built a relationship with Bruce Wayne who depends on him. But working for Bruce Wayne has been the cover from day one, so why was she so unable to understand he had to work a job back then? It just makes her look bad.

Max had a lot of potential to be a more interesting character. I even like the way she jokingly refuses to be called Robin. She's essentially his Oracle, but the constant "you can't join in on the fighting, it's too dangerous" is just really annoying. Why can't she fight? Because she's a girl? Get over it!

Not a single one of the new villains they introduced appealed to me. I think it's pretty telling how weak and uninteresting most of them were since a lot of them appear once and never again. I'm really glad they dropped everything being about Derek Powers after the first season, because he was such a boring one note villain. The Royal Flush Gang had a slight amount of potential, but that was mostly because of Ten and Terry's romance. But isn't that just a rehash of the Batman/Catwoman attraction? Just like Inque is essentially Clayface? Of course since the Mr. Freeze episode is basically the best of the series, I can't blame them for trying to basically mimic the real thing.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (contains spoilers) 

And speaking of, the direct to video film they made does that once again by bringing back the Joker. The feature is a slight improvement over the series itself, as the longer length allows them to explore things a little more. It feels a lot like a primer to the series, as it touches on Terry's relationships with Dana and his family, and also mentions his past where he had trouble with the law. He tells Bruce that the main reason he wants to be Batman is to make up for the sins of his past, and while that was briefly touched on in one episode of the series, I wish they would have explored it more often.

I also think the mystery element was much stronger in the film than in the show, where often a process of elimination was all that was needed to figure out the villain. Here it was much harder to guess, but of course, that's because they pretty much cheated. Having the Joker living inside Tim in a Jekyll and Hyde fashion was just too overly silly. Also, did the microchip have to be so visible? Are you really going to tell me that wasn't noticeable to Bruce, Barbara, or Leslie when she was treating Tim? That his wife never asked "Hey, honey, what's the weird black dot on your neck?" Not to mention the absurdity of having a microchip somehow completely transforming your body, but the "science" in Batman Beyond is often so warped that you just have to accept it.

It was nice to see Harley again.  Her warped logic of how raising a child with the Joker would fix everything is so very her, but even better was her appearance in the epilogue.  That was a Harley who had moved on with her life, and isn't that what we really want for her most of all?  Though its sad that they actually wanted to kill her off and Dini had to insert that extra scene in because he refused to kill his baby.

Perhaps worst of all for me was the constant teases of Dick Grayson and Nightwing with no appearance of him at all. It happened so frequently, and with the added detail that originally when Joker trashed the Batcave, it looked like the Nightwing uniform was missing, that I started to think that it might have been Dick who had become the Joker, that in this reality he had become so bothered by Bruce that he wanted revenge on him. I could also see him convincing Tim to join his side possibly, with their mutual history of trouble with Bruce. Of course, if that had been the big reveal I probably would have blown a gasket complaining about how Dick could never, ever be a villain, so this slightly underwhelming variant is the better alternative. It just pisses me off that he never once showed up through it all. You're going to bring back all the other major players from the original series, but not him? It's a slap in the face. Apparently Nightwing eventually appeared in the Batman Beyond comics, but reading about what happens there doesn't make me feel any better.

On the bright side, Tim's transformation as a child was well handled.  His Joker smile and staring eyes were creepy, and the insane laughter, killing the Joker, and then breaking down were heartbreaking.  I don't want to give the impression that I hated everything about this film.  There are things that were handled well.  I just have a severe problem with the concept of the series as a whole, and it bleeds frequently into the details with reasons why.

Basically, I can't enjoy Batman Beyond because it seems to exist in a future of the darkest timeline. It features a Bruce who is a complete asshole, who supposedly doesn't truly care about anyone or is at least incapable of expressing it anymore. And that's not my Bruce or my Batman. The joke is that this is a continuation of the original Batman: The Animated Series, and that version is my Batman. I'm sorry, but I just can't accept that these two are one and the same.

Obviously, this is a very personal and biased review.  The series and the film are both well loved by many.  If you're a Batman fan and have never watched it, it's worth checking out.  I'd say the film is a good way to introduce yourself to the series if you're curious but aren't sure if you want to invest the time in watching three seasons of the show.  Go into it expecting a much darker and far out sci-fi version of Batman, and you could end up really enjoying it.

2 comments:

  1. I just have a severe problem with the concept of the series as a whole, and it bleeds frequently into the details with reasons why. Basically, I can't enjoy Batman Beyond because it seems to exist in a future of the darkest timeline. It features a Bruce who is a complete asshole, who supposedly doesn't truly care about anyone or is at least incapable of expressing it anymore. And that's not my Bruce or my Batman.

    And that right there is exactly what the deciding factor has been for this series since episode 1. I really dig it as an alternate future reality with wild "cyberpunk to the extreeeeeme" concepts, but it's not so good of a series that it can rise above people who just can't get past the conceits of its central concept. And yeah, I could never figure out why they completely ignored Dick beyond a mention now and then.

    The Mr. Freeze episode is my favorite of the batch, too, mainly because of the theme of lost redemption heaping yet more tragedy on him as a character. And Return of the Joker is mostly remembered for just how dark it went in the backstory of what happened to Tim. Otherwise, it's no better than a typical episode of the show. And I think the reason they made it a primer of sorts that touches on the roots of Terry and why he's doing what he is, is just because they wanted it to be accessible to people who haven't watched the show.

    There is one other bit I like in it, where Terry realizes that Joker's beef with Batman is because the caped crusader never laughs at any of his jokes. She he just starts laughing, driving the Joker into a rage.

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    1. The Mr. Freeze episode is my favorite of the batch, too, mainly because of the theme of lost redemption heaping yet more tragedy on him as a character.

      And that's a great example of something that paid off a story that was building over the entirety of the series, from the original B:TAS to SubZero to TNBA to here. I can understand their desire to break new ground, but I wish they could have built on some of the other characters as well as they did him.

      There is one other bit I like in it, where Terry realizes that Joker's beef with Batman is because the caped crusader never laughs at any of his jokes. So he just starts laughing, driving the Joker into a rage.

      Yeah, I didn't care for that scene either. Mostly because Terry largely antagonizes the Joker by telling him he's not funny, and the Joker responds by getting very flustered and angry. I've never seen the Joker as really giving a damn whether or not anybody else gets his jokes. The only thing that's important is that what he does makes himself laugh. Well that and hurting Batman, of course.

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