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Batman Beyond Was The Cyberpunk Animation We Deserved

Batman Beyond artwork by Uncanny Knack

Batman Beyond: Old Age, High Tech, Low Life

Batman Beyond is the short-running yet much-loved near-future peek at the twilight years of Bruce Wayne as he tutors the new teenage Batman, Terry McGinnis. Batman Beyond was pretty dark for a kids show–and that was what made it absolutely perfect. The old bat-team is in pieces, and even Bruce Wayne suffers heart trouble and even more emotional issues from the years of fighting crime. The series was a magnum opus not because of its attempt to re-create the previous Batman universe, but rather because it was willing to introduce darkness and grittiness to what was formerly a simple story of good beating evil every episode.

The Future is Cool but Brutal

Predictably, the Gotham of the near-future is just as much of a mess as its contemporary depictions. Now known as Neo-Gotham, the plot of Batman Beyond begins in 2039. Rather than the austere art-deco Gotham of the previous Batman cartoons, Neo-Gotham is reminiscent of Blade Runner’s screen-studded high-rises. A flamboyant culture is presented, with widespread apathy and pleasure-seeking among the young, as seen through the eyes of the young new Batman. Terry is a bit of a square in his own environment, although he keeps diverse company.

At a minimum, it seems as though the citizens of Neo-Gotham have found a comfortable way of life, indulging in bizarre fashion trends, drugs, experimental music, and body modification. Morals seem to be relaxed, and wealth seems to be concentrated around the top of society. At the top is the Wayne-Powers corporation, a diabolical conglomerate of Bruce Wayne’s former company and their direct competitor. Of course, the CEO of Wayne-Powers is a supervillain in the series.

Crime is as bad as ever. Terry’s father is murdered by gang members, providing a point of bonding with Wayne, and ultimately setting him up to become Batman.

Batman Beyond’s Batsuit

Of course, Terry wouldn’t actually be Batman without 2039’s version of the Bat-suit. The Batsuit has gotten a very large update and is now best understood to be power armor which augments Terry’s abilities substantially. Interestingly, the suit seems to labor the most to streamline actions that were already undertaken by Batman prior to its creation.

The suit launches Batarangs, flies, offers protection, climbing rope, and augments the user’s senses substantially. Later in the series, the Batsuit that Terry uses is revealed to be a more mobile iteration of a previously designed suit, which appears large and clunky in comparison. Bruce claims that he can’t use the larger suit because it gave him heart trouble, but ends up doing so anyway to save Terry at a critical moment.

The most important functionality of the Batsuit is the communications link, however. By offering an audiovisual link to exactly whatever Terry is doing, he can draw on the tactical experience of the elder Batman. The batsuit is also linked to the new Batmobile, which is actually closer to a VTOL jet fighter than car within the series’ imagination. Wayne plays the role of headquarters quite enthusiastically and seems to take pleasure in ordering the younger Batman around, despite clearly wishing that it was actually him in the suit.

McGinnis vs Wayne

Terry is, overall, a weaker and more realistic Batman than Bruce Wayne as depicted in his prime. This makes him much more relatable, and a subtler character. Sometimes the viewer dislikes Terry for his attitude or actions. Sometimes the viewer dislikes the elderly Wayne for his grouchiness and intractable disposition. These are the result of strong writing and careful character development. The protagonists are putatively the “good guys”, but that doesn’t mean that they bear the weight easily. Terry’s struggle through puberty is exacerbated by social and romantic opportunities dashed by his commitments to being Batman.

The two argue a lot. It’s clear that Wayne is a bit too comfortable with the role of disapproving father to Terry, which Terry deeply resents. Wayne has little patience for Terry’s desire to have a social life, and even less patience for Terry’s techie sidekick Max. It’s also clear that Wayne views Terry’s past as a juvenile hall ruffian quite negatively.

There are a few moments of grudging respect between the two, but overall, there is little compatibility to be found. Wayne is clearly the smarter of the two, and sees little point in Terry’s dalliances with a “normal” life, viewing them as temporary and inevitably falling apart. He’s not wrong, as evinced by Terry’s turbulent personal life, where he is barely present physically and also mentally. Terry’s grades are poor, and his family and girlfriend complain of his absence. The two Batmen are united by their shared work. Thankfully, Wayne’s Great Dane named Ace (or “Batdog“, in my mind) takes to Terry, and manages to frequently smooth over their quarrels, somehow.

The premise of Cowboy Bebop doesn’t seem to allow so much flexibility at first. Cowboy Bebop takes place in the mid-term future, where humanity is a multi-planet yet not multi-star species. As crime in the solar system grows beyond governmental resources to police, a program of bounty hunters (called “cowboys”) is implemented. Crews of these cowboys roam the solar system, hunting down their bounties, often employing violent or unscrupulous methods. Of course, the anime [Click here to read more…]

Heavy Issues in Batman Beyond

Batman Beyond is an excellent show because it doesn’t attempt to look away from emotional strife or the underbelly of society. Many of the episodes deal with addiction, human enhancement, poverty, infidelity, failed relationships, greed, trauma, low self-esteem, and shame. Frequently, the villain-of-the-week sheds light on an issue that has haunted one of the main characters–typically Terry or Wayne. Within Batman Beyond, the viewer sees a broken Wayne who still envisions himself as Batman, and the upcoming Terry, who would rather be hanging out with his girlfriend. Both hurt from loss, and are barely functional. Unlike Wayne during his time as Batman, Terry struggles financially, in part because Wayne pays him poorly.

All of these difficult details add to the series. This isn’t the Batman who gets to go home to Alfred and a mansion; Terry sneaks home to his mother’s house in the early morning and tries to hide his bruises. The viewer grows to expect a struggle that is ultimately barely scraped through. While one might expect the high technology setting and tools of the Bat-team to make up for the difference, it seems as though the series wants the viewer to realize that technology can’t remedy personal social problems. Additionally, the villains of Batman Beyond have access to advanced technology, too. As if it weren’t hard enough to kick ass.

Featured Image: courtesy of the one, the only, the amazing Uncanny Knack

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1 Response

  1. adrian

    Nice article… you described perfectly the show. But I have to make two objections:

    1. It was not the Gang members that killed terry’s father. It was derek power henchman who did it and it was staged to look like the jokers did it.

    2.The actions in the series happens between 2049 and 2051… Bruce timm said himself that the action is set 50 years in the future.

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