Batman Beyond might be just another gimmick, butTerrence Briggs has high hopes for this new action-adventure series.
Things are somewhat grim for WB animation. The ratings for the ambitious, expensive Kids WB! lineup are stagnating as the UPN's Sunday-morning lineup of action/adventure animation re-runs closes in. Histeria! and Pinky and the Brain have been pulled. Animaniacs has officially closed up shop too. Not promising for a lover of mature animation. Things didn't seem to be going well for the fans of Batman: The Animated Series either. What was once one of the most groundbreaking and promising shows on television devolved into merely an above-par action series (which has improved lately, I might add). After moves to include more Dick Grayson and Batgirl, less drama, more action and the addition of a kid Robin, the series has reached a new level of corporate intervention: the toy-based series. Sorry to say it, folks: The "suits" have finally brought Batman to the dark side. Here's the Batman Beyond gimmicks: a futuristic setting with a modern soundtrack and a sleek, cutting-edge Batsuit with funky electric coloring. Forget the melodramatic blah of Eric Radomski's "dark deco noir." Give us generic sci-fi! Here's the funny thing about this suit: it uses performance enhancers that offer the amenities of super strength and agility, as well as flight. These features allow the elderly Bruce Wayne to continue fighting crime as Batman 20 years from now. (Kinda kills any suspense the present-day Batman series has left, knowing Bruce Wayne will live to be an old man.) After heart murmurs leave him weakened during a rumble with a few thugs and a well-placed pistol saves him, Bruce shuts down the Batcave and vows to never again don the outfit. Enter Terrence McGinnis, a high school wrestler with a short temper and a chivalrous streak (and a dead ringer for Invasion America's hero/prince). Unfortunately, his temper gets him suspended from the wrestling team and grounded by his father, to which Terry doesn't take too kindly. He leaves the house after they argue the point (in a well-written but poorly executed scene), and winds up at Wayne Manor. When Terry stumbles upon the entrance to the Batcave, Bruce kicks him out, and Terry returns home to find his father murdered. Terry feels guilty for disobeying him, but also suspects his father's shady employer, Derek Powers, may have played a role in the murder. Powers is one of those villains who doesn't require much to tip us off. Rummaging through his father's old stuff, Terry finds a disc containing evidence of a nerve gas Powers is developing. Bruce suggests the evidence be taken to the police, but Terry knows Powers controls them. Terry takes matters into his own hands by stealing the new Batsuit, and the adventure begins. Two episodes are needed to set up the story and characters with enough action to placate the kiddies, but the pacing couldn't be better. The writers (Batman vets Alan Burnett and Paul Dini, along with Stan Berkowitz) maintain the attention to character details that marked the best of the Batman and Superman episodes. Even the electronica/heavy-metal soundtrack comes off effectively and is even more appealing than the generic orchestral scores of the most recent Batman and Superman shows. The presence of Curt Geda as director, as well as the look of the episode, suggests animation by Koko and Dong Yang. Thankfully, the animation is on par with the studios' solid Batman work, instead of their stiff Superman work. The art and character designs, however, are as unappealingly simple as they are in the most recent Kids WB! action shows. Future episodes will certainly benefit from the presence of Terrence, who's sympathetic and witty enough to hold our interest as the new Batman, without the popsicle personality of the "darker" Bruce Wayne. It's a bit early to tell if the series will prove as consistently engaging as the last great exercise in futuristic superheroism, Phantom 2040. However, by avoiding camp and dunderheaded would-be witticisms, it's already one-up on Robocop: Alpha Commando. This is the most promising action-adventure series in some time. Terrence Briggs, all-purpose animation fan, is more than happy to receive comments from readers on his work.