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Batman Beyond: The Complete First Season

Warner Bros. (1999), Warner Home Video (March 21, 2006), 2 discs, 280 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, Not Rated, Retail: $26.98

Storyboard:

Years after Batman has retired, he finds himself with a protégé who wants to use a high-tech version of the batsuit.

The Sweatbox Review:

I thought that I had at last fulfilled my dream of owning every season of Batman: The Animated Series on DVD a few months ago, but I had sort of forgotten about Batman Beyond. It’s kind of easy to do. Batman Beyond is its own show, with a certain edginess in its design, music, and stories. In many ways it seems far removed from the Gotham City that we knew in Batman:TAS. It’s decades later, and most of the old cast is gone, yet that’s the undeniable voice of Kevin Conroy as an aged Bruce Wayne, a lonely old man who reluctantly agrees to manage a protégé. I can understand that some people never warmed up to Batman Beyond, a show practically forced on its producers in 1999 when the network decided they wanted a new marketing scheme for the Batman animated franchise. Fortunately, the Batman producers decided to do the show anyways, determined that no one else be allowed to screw up the Bat-franchise.

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The challenge was to take a corporate “high concept” and make it into something of quality. They worked hard to make Batman Beyond just as good as its predecessor series; and the result was surprisingly good, whatever your opinion of the final product. The key, of course, was focusing on the relationships and personalities, and not just the “Batman of the Future” gimmick. Bruce Wayne is the main holdover from Batman: TAS, still driven and secretive and somewhat controlling. Twenty years after reluctantly retiring as Batman, he encounters a teenager. The boy is named Terry McGinniss, and soon after meeting Bruce he loses his father to crime and wants revenge— a happenstance with an all too familiar ring to it. This time, though, Batman is not looking for a new Robin. He stopped being Batman long ago and has lived in solitude since. Bruce offers no encouragement to Terry, but Terry is rather insistent about taking on the Bat-mantle for himself. The development of their relationship, and what they come to mean to each other, is at the crux of the show.

The first season of Batman Beyond was 13 episodes long, and the new 2-disc DVD set places them in airdate order (just a little different than the production order).

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Disc One: The origin of this new Batman took up what became the first two episodes, in a story entitled Rebirth – Parts 1 and 2. I remember watching the double-length premiere in 1999, and not being quite sure what to make of the show. It certainly had style, but seemed to borrow heavily from an anime aesthetic, particularly Akira, but without the production values of that famous Japanese movie. There was a positive, however. Somehow, the new design sense that Bruce Timm had been bringing to the DC Comics animated universe since Superman: The Animated Series seemed to work the best in this brave new Bat-world. The simplified character designs perfectly suited the bold design choices made in the series, seeming to gel much more organically than they had previously on the last season of Batman; that “Gotham Knights” version had a cheaper, less lush look than the original BTAS shows, but Batman Beyond looked pretty spiffy.

Still, I wondered if the creators would be able to find their own groove and make Batman Beyond unique enough to stand proudly as part of the continuity shown in their respected Batman and Superman series. The next few episodes eventually made me a believer.

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Black Out tells a simple story, but does so in an appealing way. The shape shifting Inque is introduced, as an industrial saboteur hired by Wayne’s slimy business partner Derek Powers. Her shape shifting is inventive and impressively animated, and it is here that we meet the current police commissioner, Barbera Gordon. Next, Golem is about a nerdy fellow at Terry’s school who succumbs to despair at the hand of bullies and an overbearing father. To get even he steals a two-story “Galvanic Lifter Machine” robot and sends it out to wreak some havoc. Mixed in with some typical cartoon violence is a real story of a sad young man and his separation from his father and his peers. At this point, it is becoming more apparent that this show would have heart as well as cool graphics.

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Even better is Meltdown, the first episode that deals with an old Batman foe, appropriately featuring Mr. Freeze in a bittersweet tale. The script is very mature and intelligent, dealing with Terry’s and Bruce’s conflicting responses to the resurrection of Dr. Victor Freeze. Even at the end of the episode, it is not clear who was right. This ranks with the best of the BTAS episodes for pathos and smart writing. Next we have Heroes, which is just plain fun for showing a Batman Beyond version of the Fantastic Four, looking much more tragic than usual. Better yet, it is another well-written outing that is both exciting and unpredictable.

Shriek is one of those episodes that does not resonate much with me, although it is actually pretty good and includes a sympathetic villain and a lovely ironic ending. Like Black Out, it involves a clash between Wayne and Powers, and an adversary for Batman that is sponsored by Powers. Dead Man’s Hand, though, has always been a favorite of mine— a poignant tale of young love that also features the Royal Flush Gang. By now, the series had some serious momentum.

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Disc Two: The Winning Edge takes place at Terry’s school, where several of the athletes are using a drug that seems related to “venom”, once used by Batman’s old enemy Bane. An added aspect of the story is Terry’s mom having suspicions that Terry himself is an abuser. Spellbound introduces another villain, one who once again has an eye-catching visual but this time has hypnotic powers.

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Disappearing Inque brings back the oozy mercenary. Rather than simply having another fight with Batman, though, Inque is joined by a male admirer who has set her free from her prison. Bruce and terry get a few more great moments together, and the episode gets another great ironic ending.

A Touch of Curare is momentous for showing much more of the new Commissioner Gordon, and reveals more of the back-story of how the “Bat family” broke up so long ago. At least one revelation raises an eyebrow of both Terry and the viewer. Aside from all the continuity goodies, there is also a pretty good story about the new Batman’s trying to protect Barbera’s husband from an assassin. Finally, Ascension puts some first season closure to the Derek Powers story, as his condition is revealed and his son comes to Gotham. But is the son more of a monster than his dad?

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Once one is accustomed to the different vibe that this show has, one can see that is has the same sharp writing and attention to characterization that Batman The Animated Series had. Additionally, Batman Beyond has a unique look that shows a whole different design sense and sends notice that we are in a different time. No longer held to creating iconic looks for pre-existing characters, the creators tore loose and created numerous interesting-looking villains.

You don’t have to love Batman Beyond to still be an official Batman The Animated Series fan, but any BTAS fan does need to give this new version of Batman a chance. It may look and sound different, but there is a core here that is recognizably a part of the universe that we all fell in love with back when BTAS debuted back in 1992.

Is This Thing Loaded?

Warner has become fairly consistent with their extras on the DC animated series sets. As usual, we get a couple of Audio Commentaries with the creators (here including Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Glen Murakami, Paul Dini, Stan Berkowitz and Curt Geda). They cover “Rebirth Part 1”, where they discuss how they envisioned the series, and “Shriek”, where they discuss how villains were created, and using soundless scenes in this episode.

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Inside Batman Beyond (9:36) is similar to what was found on the Justice League set. Jason Hillhouse moderates a discussion with Timm, Dini, Murakami, and Burnett, where they talk about the genesis of the show and how they made a wonky idea into a pretty decent series.

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Music of the Knight has a one-minute intro with Timm, then offers five scenes form Season One with music-only audio. Timm makes the point that fans may not fully appreciate the music at times, since it is covered up partially with dialog and sound effects. Watching these clips with just the music certainly makes one even more aware of how much the feel of the show is due to the score.

Case Study:

Well, Warner Home Video has certainly jumped onto the “slimmer is better” packaging bandwagon. This 2-disc set is even thinner than a regular DVD case. This package basically compacts the regular Warner animation DVD digipack-in-a-slipcover scheme, by using the overlapping technique for the two discs. If you hate overlapping discs, you’ll hate this, but for those of us that will do anything to keep a disc’s original packaging intact on our crowded shelves, this new strategy is helpful. The artwork, incidentally, is pretty nice too.

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Ink And Paint:

Very nice. This is quite a handsome show, and it is shown to good advantage on the DVD set. There is barely a trace of dirt or grain on these prints, and the 4:3 image has been compressed for DVD very nearly perfectly. The occasional scene comes off a bit soft, due partially to these still being done on cels at the time rather than computer-scanned, but overall the video is impressive.

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Scratch Tracks:

English Dolby Surround Stereo is offered, and it s just as good as it likely can be. You get an appropriate amount of rumble where needed, and sound effects are nicely directed. The most remarkable aspect of the audio on the show, though, is the music. The producers used the musical score to further distinguish Batman Beyond as its own entity, ditching the much-admired orchestral arrangements of previous series with a techno metal sound. While I found the music jarring when I first saw the show, it has become a huge part of its identity.

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There are French and Spanish subtitles.

Final Cut:

If you have been collecting the box sets for the DC animated properties, there is little reason to stop now. Only the last episode had not appeared on DVD singles in the past, but it’s great to have them in one compact set with such nice extras. The video and audio are also as good as can be. This new Batman may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you like Terry are have not seen much of this show in the past, I would suggest you give it a try. I actually saw very little of this show past the first season, as my life got pretty busy at about that time, so I’m quite looking forward to seeing future volumes.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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