In late 1998, I was nothing but a kid watching his favorite Saturday morning cartoons. Then there started to be advertisements for a show called Batman Beyond. The ads made it very clear that this was not going to be a show about Bruce Wayne as Batman. Instead, Wayne would now be an old man and a younger person would take up the mantle of Batman. I remember thinking that this kid would have to be his son as it would make sense from a soap opera-ish level. The ads also made it clear that it was not going to be set during the modern day but in some sort of future.
Come January 1999 and the first episode of Batman Beyond debuted on a Friday night. The pilot episode was a unique one as it was a two part episode at that. The show introduced us to an aging Bruce Wayne as Batman and his final night as Batman. After suffering a heart attack while trying to rescue a hostage and getting nearly beaten to death, he resorts to pulling a gun to fend off his attackers. Wayne has a strict “no gun” policy and this was seen as the final straw for himself and he announces his retirement to himself. This kicks off the opening credits of the show and flings us further into the future and hints at the type of world that has come.
The show then introduces us to Terry McGinnis, a somewhat troubled youth who lives with his father, who works for Bruce Wayne. Wayne no longer has control of his company (hinted that he devoted so much time to being Batman he lost track of his family’s company) as it is now run by Derek Powers who has turned the company into Wayne-Powers. Powers is a corrupt businessman who is into some shady dealings and when Terry’s father stumbles upon it, he is murdered. Terry had met Bruce Wayne earlier and after helping him fend off a gang, discovered he was Batman but kept it to himself. Now living with his mother and younger brother, Terry wants revenge and decides to “borrow” Batman’s last suit for retirement to avenge his father.
For a show with a teenage protagonist, this show was dark and not typical for what you would expect. Within the first episode, it deals with corporate espionage, toxic warfare, murder and then it got into things teenagers deal with such as relationships, bullying, struggling to find identity and a functional but broken home life. Bruce Wayne is a shell of his former self as he is now a shut in and his only companion is a dog named Ace. When Terry steals the Batsuit, he decides to teach the boy a lesson by immobilizing the suit and having thugs continue to beat on him and only relenting because he doesn’t want him to get killed.
Terry is also nothing like Bruce Wayne. From the few glimpses that we saw of this version of Bruce Wayne’s youth, he was always pretty dedicated to the role of becoming a vigilante with little else going on for him. Terry formerly spent time in juvenile hall and certainly has a temper and is implied to be gifted but not living up to his full potential. We do see that he is not bad as some people like to make him out to be as he does help out Bruce Wayne who at first he thinks is just an elderly man. The drive within Terry somewhat heals Bruce by bringing him out of his shell. By the end of the pilot, Bruce has taken up Terry as his replacement and will train the boy as they attempt to clean up the streets of Gotham.
This show was set with the DC Animated Universe that began with Batman: The Animated Series and continued with Superman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures and was set about fifty years in the future. So eagle eyed viewers would sometimes see old buildings and how they’ve aged in the time. Something that was hinted at in Batman: The Animated Series and more in The New Batman Adventures is how Bruce Wayne devotes more time to being Batman and how that would be a detriment. This is confirmed as we see that none of his old friends and allies who would still be alive are on speaking terms with him. That he was so dedicated to being Batman that he lost control of his company and that ultimately led white collar crime to become more rampant in the city and trickle down and spread.
The creative team behind the series said that Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a huge inspiration and it shows. That show dealt with teenagers who did have problems and that not everything went there way. That they had problems that came from their school life and personal life and how adults also affected those things. This was a common thing within this show as even though it dealt with young people, it never talked down to the audience or pandered.
When I was a kid, I just took it as another Batman show. But as I got older I really started to appreciate it more. When I was in high school and the show was released on home video, I really got a new appreciation for the series. I could now relate more to the series as I was also having issues with girlfriends and parents and high school life. Of course I wasn’t a superhero as a “part time job” but everything else I could relate to. Batman Beyond is arguably one of my favorite animated series of all times due. To think that this show was ultimately created to help sell more “kiddie” toys.