Thursday, May 27, 2010

TV Show Review: Batman Beyond

First things first: don't give me that look!

Now...what would inspire Spencer to watch and review an entire kid's show? I'll tell you.

Running from 1999-2001 on "Kid's WB" (Warner Brothers for children), Batman Beyond took the original story of Batman and tweaked it into a very interesting new creature. Set around 2040, the old, "retired" Bruce Wayne comes to bring on a young teenage Batman, Terry McGinnis. Equipped with a very different Batsuit (It has wings and thrusters!), Terry, guided by Wayne, does the job that had been left vacant.

I remember watching it when it came out when I was a kid...watching the reruns every day...and loving every minute of it. I gradually came to the decision to pick it up again (now that it's released in the form of Seasons 1, 2 and 3 on DVD) for several reasons. One, I have many fond memories of watching the show with my sister (together we developed the knowledge that might have suited a series manual), two, I was interested to see it from the adult perspective concerning the futuristic aspects of the show, and three, after being 100% sold on Nolanized Batmanology, I wanted to see the show again (as, until Nolan came around, it is my opinion that this was the best Batman adaptation out there).

For several reasons (largely because it's a kid's show), the series had a level of comic-ness that just doesn't sit well with me. Far too many costumed, crazy criminals, a few too many stupid episodes, and way too much unrealism. The unrealism extends further than the original Batman stories. Villains such as Inque, the woman made into black liquid, Blight, the radioactive green glow-worm, humans spliced with animal DNA, rock/dirt monsters ("Earth Movers"), and even, in one weak episode in Season 3 ("Speak No Evil"), a talking gorilla, just to name a few, all were too far out there for me (although I must admit that Inque, and even Blight, make for powerful episodes). Therefore, this version of the dark knight rests firmly in the realm of science fiction. (Oh no, are those the Lazarus pits again?) There were plenty of fun villains, however. The Jokerz (a copy-cat gang of punk kids), the T gang, the ninja-esque assassin girl Curare, the sound-manipulating Shriek (He can blow through walls, he can!), the primitive hunter Stalker (one of my personal favorites), and a few others were interesting. And who doesn't love Mad Stan?

As to the writing, of course plenty of elements were weak, but it wasn't too shabby for a kid's show.

I mostly tired of the repetitious aspects of the show (Just how many times do we really need to see yet another fight in futuristic factory? And we've had just about enough criminal events centering around Terry's high school, haven't we?), and I was also annoyed by the lack of continuity as the show wore on (in the way of the tools that Batman uses, such as the batarangs).

As to the irksome aspects that I disagreed with:

I was surprised to catch a sexual reference in Season 1 (the episode "Golem", if I remember correctly). What's that doing in a kid's show? There was also a quick reference to girls' showers ("Revenant") and a not-so-subtle, but off-screen scene inferring a "girlfriend" robot improperly fondling her "boyfriend" ("Terry's Friend Dates a Robot").

In one episode ("The Winning Edge"), Batman stops a gun shipment to the Jokerz gang, and later makes a reference to taking guns off the "street". In another episode ("Eyewitness"), it is said that the DA cracked down on "unregistered" guns (and he's one of the good guys...well, at least that's what the show seems to tell us).

The supernatural is touched on; when the idea of a ghost is explored by high schoolers, Bruce affirms his experience with beings such as demons and zombies (which could be considered a reference to the show this version was based off of, The New Batman Adventures). Later a few girls half-seriously hold a seance, replete with a ouija board ("Revenant"). The mysterious events are later discovered to be merely someone's telepathic powers, which is also a subject touched on, also with some almost occultic overtones (as in a floating man sitting in a lotus position, in "Mind Games").

In one two-part episode ("The Call"), Batman partners with the Justice League for a brief period (and yes, that means Superman and all his wimpy pals). I again refer to my strong dislike of aliens.

Terry has some interesting dealings with the ladies. He tries to carry on a relationship with his Asian girlfriend, Dana Tan (who of course is constantly frustrated with his absences, not knowing the true story). While they are together for virtually the whole show, difficulties do arise. When Dana drops him after Terry being late yet again (because he was out being Batman, of course), he quickly finds himself in a relationship with a strong young (and somewhat provocative) girl by the name of Melanie ("Dead Man's Hand"). After discovering that she is actually a criminal that he has dealt with as Batman, Terry is hurt, but his feelings remain, arising again the next time he sees her ("Once Burned"). He then begins doing what is essentially, in my book, cheating, but he does make a strong choice in favor of Dana in the end. When Melanie returns a third and final time ("King's Ransom"), he remains strong and resolute. As tough as it must be for Terry, good for him. Terry also is a bit interested in a seemingly flirtatious girl ("Untouchable"), he struggles with liking the attention and yet trying to tell the girl that he's already in a relationship. Bruce offers him some sage advice, perhaps even useful in real life. When he was young and rich, he said, many women threw themselves at his feet. What did he do? Terry wanted to know. Bruce replies, "I stepped over them."

In "Ace in the Hole", the back story of Bruce's Great Dane, Ace, is explored. Dogfighting is dealt with, and while I would never support such a thing, I was incredibly annoyed with the episode. The dogfight baddie is called "the scum", and Terry makes a comment about him being surprised that he could "sink any lower". I'm sorry, but sure, the guy's a criminal, but what about all the villains in the show that tried, or even succeeded in taking innocent lives? A dogfighting boss is somehow worse? (In a flashback scene, showing Ace the puppy be electrically shocked with a special glove is apparently far too much! So why is it ok to see people get shocked just about every other episode?) There's also a cheap statement against poaching ("Speak No Evil"). For the most part, however, the "statement episodes" were mostly well-intentioned and towards youth (such as the anti-drug episodes "The Winning Edge" and "Hooked Up").

In one travesty of an episode ("Zeta"), an infiltration/assassin robot finds a heart and comes to desire good upon mankind. And what's even worse, Batman helps him escape from the NSA agents attempting to destroy him (as he truly has gone rogue). Doesn't it just give you the warm fuzzies all over?

In the two-part "Curse of the Kobra", the snake-obsessed cult Kobra find a way, via stealing from a paleontologist, to splice dinosaur DNA with humans. Everyone can guess just how I felt about this episode; I need go no further.

The music to the show is quite intense. A mixture of hard rock/metal and techno, the music helps give the show its edgy feel. While not every single segment of the score is amazing, the majority of it is nothing less than awesome. Somewhat less multi-dimensional than Hans Zimmer's scores for Nolan's films, I still find it hard to ask for better music for a "kids' show" version of a futuristic Batman. A soundtrack was even released, featuring parts of episodes from Season 1. (Together with the main theme, the opening title to the show is amazing.) The only unfortunate thing is, the rest of the music is unavailable. Oh, woe!

The show is a tad darker and scarier than one might expect for children. People occasionally die, and many of the villains are quite frightening looking. The grittier aspects of the show were more a pleasant turn of events for me, however. I did enjoy the futuristic elements, quite a bit. For the most part, it was only "cool stuff" such as technological advancements and the like and little of the darker side of the future that I believe in (and much science fiction touches on), but I suppose that's all right.

In the end, the strength of the show comes from Batman and Batman alone. Barring all the disenchanting elements listed above, barring the fact that the young Terry is often beaten up and groans in pain too much, we have the best adaptation of Batman up until Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The suit technology (it can appear invisible--and if you think that's pure science fiction, then may I say that you are behind the times), the revamped Batmobile (It flies!), and all the advanced aspects of him, his tools and tactics, and also the show make this a not-to-bad attempt at the Batman franchise.



olde.fashioned said...

I think I will forever love this show more for what it reminds me of than because of what it actually is... ;-)

When you keep in mind that this was a CHILDREN'S show, it's quite good and even better in that context. I mean let's face it, this is from the same generation as Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs, and Pokemon. The fact that people actually get punched, beaten up, and KILLED, is nothing short of shocking! (I can just see pansy parents forbidding their impressionable little angels from watching such "horrid violence". Yeah, Cain killed Abel because of all those butt-kicking cartoons he'd been watching all Saturday morning...)

I still want to see this adapted to the live screen!!! In twenty years when Christian Bale is old enough...LOL! (Though Clint Eastwood would be tolerable I suppose.)

Jonas said...

You know, I'm a bit frightened by this whole concept, being a fan of Batman: the Animated series from the early 90s... You've seen those, haven't you? Some 85 episodes, with a grown up Robin and very marginal Batgirl, before all the stupid kids got on, and of course the weird Superman crossovers, and most importantly before they revamped the drawing style... I can't help but find this all an interesting take on a character that's been used to the death but the Batman universe will always remain "dark deco" to me ;)

The Warrior said...

Yeah, I've seen plenty of BTAS episodes as a kid. Honestly I preferred the newer version's animation and all, especially their Batman, but of course, the Superman crossovers and the kids (Robin must be, what, nine?) are abhorrent!

All this, of course, is coming from someone who truly does not care about Batman. So....

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