Batman Beyond: Season 2 (US - DVD R1)
Gabe stays shway, and gives a glance to the continued adventures of Batman...
In the year 2000-something, Bruce Wayne is forced to put the Batman suit on the shelf and close up the Batcave indefinitely when his aging body forces him to use a handgun to defend himself. About 30 years later a punk kid named Terry McGinnis figures out Wayne's secret past, and the Battorch is passed. McGinnis and Wayne fight crime in the future Gotham City, Bruce as the brains, Terry as the Brawn. Futuristic villains call for a futuristic Batman, and all the technology at Wayne's fingertips is utilized in the name of a safer city.
Season two of the series delves more into Terry's struggle to maintain a school life, a home life, a love life, and his secret nightlife. New villains arise, but powerful enemies from Batman's past also rear their evil heads. Terry gets assistance from an unlikely source in the season's new good-guy character, Max, a smart friend who figures out Terry's dark secret.
If I'm watching TV you can bet I'm watching a nature or historical documentary, a pop culture countdown special, or cartoons. Usually it's cartoons. I love a good cartoon. It's almost as if I never grew out of those Saturday mornings on the couch at six a.m., bowl of cereal in one hand and a pencil an pad in the other, furiously scribbling monsters and super heroes while slurping down Honey Nut Cheerios and milk. I only turned the TV off when the live action shows began (damn you Saved By The Bell).
Most of my friends outgrew cartoons around Junior High. I didn't, and do you know who I blame? I blame Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Dan Riba, and anyone else involved in the 1992 production of Batman: The Animated Series. The show was too good to pass up. It was graphically interesting, with its square jaws and Art Deco architecture, and its story's were just adult enough to keep me intrigued. Best of all was how thematically and physically dark the series was, great stuff for an angsty teen.
I use to think that I just loved all cartoons, but re-watching some of my childhood favourites (like Super Mario Super Show and C.O.P.S.) has proven that my tastes have matured quite a bit. Batman just matured with me. In 1993 the creators came out with a feature length film, Batman: Mast of the Phantasm. Mask of the Phantasm is so good it ended up ruining all past and future takes on the Dark Knight. Yes, Batman Begins is a great movie, but Mask of the Phantasm is even better. Better visuals, better characters, and it covers the origin story just as well. And Batman Begins didn't have Mark Hamil's Joker. Good luck Heath Ledger, you may think you're standing in Jack Nicholson's shadow, but in this fans eye's Luke Skywalker himself is the man to live up to.
The creators revamped the series for its last season, and branched out into a Superman series, a Justice League series, and a futuristic take on the Dark Knight called Batman Beyond. Every one of these shows was met with skepticism by yours truly, and it took me a little while to appreciate them. They all grew on my (especially Justice League, which may be my favourite television drama ever), and I greatly appreciated the creator's attempts at a greater animated universe continuity. Like good comics, it's hard to talk about just one of the four shows with out mentioning the others (which also included Static Shock, which was aimed at a slightly younger audience).
Batman Beyond could've easily been a gimmick show (sticking a popular character in a futuristic setting was a big thing in the '90s, and got really old), but Timm and company brought life and dimension to all of the characters, and put real effort into their stories. The show was originally intended to be a lighter series than Batman, but the creators eventually faltered to superior story telling. Like every other show in the universe, it took time to build on the foundation, and the first season isn't as good as the second.
Batman Beyond and Static Shock are the lesser shows in the cannon, and similar in many respects. Both shows represent the most unbridled universes in the Bruce Timm cannon, as neither was based specifically in a comic. Timm and his crew may've reworked Batman, Superman, The Justice League, but they still stayed very true to the character's origins. With these series they were able to create more of their own characters.
Another shared trait of the two series is the age of the main characters, and this is what ends up paling the show when compared to the other series to an adult viewer. I've never had much interest in the hardships of teenagers, even when I was one, and Batman Beyond spends a little too much time in that territory. Don't get me wrong, I love melodrama and soap opera in my cartoons (Batman and Catwoman's relationship, Batman and Wonder Woman's relationship, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl's relationship, etc.), but I'm not inclined to care very much about the love stories of children. And like Clark Kent's love interest in Smallville, Lana, Batman's high school sweetheart is a pretty uninteresting chick. The teen angle also makes for some undesirable Spider-Man parallels.
When watched back to back with season one (as soon as I found out this review disc was coming I went out and bought season one, something I may've done with Gilmore Girls or Smallville had there not been so many seasons previous to the ones I was sent), it's clear that the animation in season two has improved. This is in keeping with most animated series, as animators must get into a groove with the style and characters. The action scenes are bigger, and the action itself faster paced, not to mention more brutal. I'm surprised some events got by the children's television standards people (though apparently it didn't in the UK).
The Bruce Timm series are, on the whole, some of the only successful American animated series that don't emulate Japanese animated series. There is an overlying style similarity, and it is original to the universe. I'd call it Art Deco meets Jack Kirby. Batman Beyond mixed in some interesting colour patterns, such as making background characters monochromatically purple in some shots, and has a hint of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira, making it a perfect future stand-in for the already effective universe.
Though Bruce Timm's animated universe is a visually striking and memorable one, it usually succeeds in the grand scheme of all animated entertainment due to its characters. Batman Beyond has some very well drawn characters, and a believable supporting cast despite its fantastic realms. This sets a very high standard, and when a character does something emotionally unrealistic, or the writers try to please the audience in inorganic ways, it stands out.
The incorporation of Terry's sidekick Maxine Gibson smacks of some kind of awkward appeasement to fans (or in this case, Warner Bros. brass). The character is well written and acted, but entirely unnecessary. I'd argue that Terry is already Bruce's sidekick, or vise versa, not to mention Bruce's dog, Ace, who decides he like Terry this season. I think two Batmen and a Batdog are enough. Had Max acted as Terry significant other perhaps this would've been a different story, but he already has a flatly drawn harpy to come home to. As is, Max feels like a Lando character – a female minority figure included for the sake of having one, not to better the story.
I also don't like the fact that Terry really isn't concerned with helping criminals, just stopping them, and often offers great assistance in their demises, or at the very least simply looks on. Bruce Wayne always offered compassion for his enemies as soon as he'd gained control over them. I see it as kind of the point of the character, having rules against death and murder are what separates this Dark Knight from other vigilante riffs like The Punisher. Batman is dark and brutal, but not heartless. It could be argued that the future timeframe looses its compassion, but I'm not sure I buy that.
What really makes the show for me, beyond its lovely visuals, is the witty banter. It's hard to write good witty banter, just look at the veritable flood of bad one liners that drool out of most action heroes' mouths. For such an overall dark show, Batman Beyond is genuinely funnier than most adult comidies on television.
It's too bad that of all the DC animated shows only Justice League was presented in widescreen. Batman Beyond looks great, but I really wish it filled my entire 16 x 9 television screen. It just seems a little too epic for square boarders.
Minor ratio quibbles aside, this is a solid transfer. When the Batman series sets came out, Timm and crew were quick to mention the fact that they didn't want the episodes overly cleaned. They liked the dirt and grain. The follow up series is slicker, and benefits from a more crisp transfer, but there are still hints of dirt here and there. The colours are solid and bright with very little digital noise, and there's very little bleeding, even on Batman's bright red logo. Only darker backgrounds ever seen to suffer from compression issues, and these are very easily ignored. Edge enhancement is almost non-existent, but there is some distortion on the hard edges.
I love you Shirley Walker. Your music on the original Batman series is magnificent. Mask of the Phantasm may have some Danny Elfman influence (edit: thanks to reader Admonisher, pictured here I beleive, for making it clear that Walker did not, in fact, take cues from Elfman on her score), but you made it special, and I've had it on my iPod ever since I bought the thing. Kristopher Carter and Michael McCuistion, I like you guys, but just as friends. Some of your electric guitar work on Justice League Unlimited rubbed me the wrong way, but on the whole it was pretty magnificent. Here on Batman Beyond you guys have gelled pretty well. I prefer orchestral scores backing up my superheroes, but if techno/metal was ever needed, this is the series.
Batman Beyond season two has a fine Dolby Surround 2.0 mix, which sounds better than quite a few 5.1 tracks I've been privy to. A lot of the success of the track falls on the series sound designers, who create an expanded and fleshed out future world. Though infinitely imaginative, these sounds help root the series in reality. Surround effects are busy throughout, and I do pine for a 5.1 track, but it isn't required. Bass is heavy while still remaining punchy, as sometimes more aggressive Dolby Surround tracks will simply buzz. Dialogue is always clear, and the aforementioned score sounds great.
The cast and crew see fit to supply us with two commentary tracks. The tracks are a little busy, but very informative. The participants total recall is pretty amazing. Timm often takes over the track, but rarely interrupts. The discussions often go beyond the episode in question, causing me to personally pine for a few more tracks. The episodes chosen are Splicers and Eggbaby. Splicers is an obvious choice because it was the season opener, it's Eggbaby that reveals a little something about the talent, as it's easily the quirkiest episode on the run.
The last disc in the set includes a short round table discussion with the four producers and a moderator (the same chubby geek on all the other DC Animation releases). The participants all seem quite happy with the final product, unlike the first season of Justice League, which everyone seemed to hate. It is officially revealed that the character of Max was a studio-imposed addition, as was the centering of the story threads at Terry's high school, which were both problems for me. Sometimes the creators really should be left to their own devices.
All this talk may seem overly negative, and maybe it is, but Batman Beyond doesn’t reach the dizzying greatness of Justice League. It is a very entertaining and emotionally centered series, and judged on its own merits a near classic animated series, but one simply can't ignore the other pieces of Timm's puzzle. I ended up watching all 26, 22-minute episodes in less than a week, while busy with other projects, because I was enjoying myself. I admit that the series got better with each episode. Batman took a few seasons to be great, and Justice League was a direct extension of two very successful series, so perhaps the final episodes of Batman Beyond will live up to the status set before it. The final episode, Epilogue, was actually released as a Justice League Unlimited episode. It's one of the best episodes of any Timm series, beautifully emotional, and it ties up a lot of loose ends.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 24th October 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Surrond 2.0 English
Subtitles: Spanish, French
Extras: Inside Batman Beyond: The Panel, Commentary on episodes "Splicers" and "Eggbaby"
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Will Friedle, Kevin Conroy, Jane Alan, Rachael Leigh Cook, Yvette Lowenthal, Frank Welker
Length: 544 minutes
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