Batman Beyond was a show in the late 90s about a teenage prodigy, Terry McGuinness, picking up the Bat Suit to take over the bat shaped cowl in a retrofitted Neo Gotham City for a Batman who has aged past his prime. Borrowing elements from Blade Runner, Akira, Philip K. Dick, Metropolis, The Dark Knight Returns, and countless other science fiction sources, Batman Beyond was one of the best adaptations, nay cartoons, of all time. With all 52 episodes available now on Netflix, you may be wondering if you truly have the time to delve into a fresh new world of all things Batman. First and foremost, there is always time for the Bat, or Bat-time as my imaginary girlfriend calls it, and second, if you can’t get your hands on Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, then check out these top 10 episodes of the next evolution of the Caped Crusader.
In “Rats!”, the focus of the tale is Dana, Terry’s oftentimes neglected and infinitely flaked upon girlfriend getting fed up with Terry’s constant excuses, almost breaking up with a guy who has the coolest after school job ever. Due to Batman’s neglect, Dana picks up the stalking affections of one Rat Boy, a guy with a rat face who turns to a life underground in order to escape the rodent-based ridicule of society, spending his free-time scavenging things and persons that no one wants, in addition to training radioactive rats to be his friends.
Now, I don’t have rodent-like features or anything, so this is just speculation on my part, but if I wanted people to not call me Rat-Boy, the last thing I would do is be a self-proclaimed pack rat and hang out with gigantic rats. Seems as if it is only asking for further comparisons.
Essentially, Rat Boy is the hobo Penguin from Batman Returns with a hint of a WALL-E based Stockholm syndrome mixed in for good effect. Sounds like a memorable villain right? Well he’s not actually. Rat Boy is crazy lame, and only serves as a means of showing Dana going from hot-levels of you should not be wearing this outfit on Crime Alley – with kicky pumps, to a golden shower yellow dress with feces-caked footwear over the course of the episode.
So why does the episode with the lamest villain make it onto the top 10 list? The B-plot:
“Rats!” features the premiere of Mad Stan in a one scene fight. Stan is a bomb-strapped explosive enthusiast who is not mad in a psychotic sense, but rather mad in a socio-economic state of the world with a pinch of Unibomber and potassium sulfide manner. In the best example of impeccable voice-actor casting since Robocop voicing Batman in The Dark Knight Returns, Mad Stan is voiced by Henry Rollins, the Black Flagg frontman and individual whose growling in-your-face-and-yet-the-exact-opposite-of-Poochie presence improves any work of media to cosmic levels, with “Rats!” being the best example of what I now deem The Rollins Postulate in action.
Mad Stan’s bombardment against the Batman and media over-saturation is literally an opening monologue from The Henry Rollins Show complete with handfuls of cluster bombs, claymores strapped to faces, Frankensteiners, suicide vests, a Rollins reference to Johnny Mnemonic, and a pile driver that leaves the Bat suit’s pointy ears stuck in the ground like a fence post. As Bruce explains, once Stan is on a rant he is unstoppable, making Rollins the Juggernaut of soapbox speeches.
Oh, and Dana, in her sewage soaked dressed and doo-doo dusted feet, hugs Terry close at the episode’s end, appreciative that her neglectful boyfriend at least isn’t a rat faced kidnapper. Though Terry says nothing, I like to imagine that if the episode continued for a moment longer he would’ve said, “Your hair smells terrible.”
In one of my personal favorite episodes, “Splicers”, we are introduced to the next evolutionary stage of body modification, with Gothamites literally evolving themselves by splicing their DNA with animal genetic material. It’s the next stage of piercing, or a furry’s vision of heaven.
Though animal modification is a staple of any good sci-fi series, it usually only lasts for one episode, whereas “Splicers” introduces a whole new element into New Gotham culture. Though it feels futuristic and impossible, it’s just a satire of counter culture of today. For example, the Goths in this episode all choose vampire bat DNA to splice with, displaying their uniqueness reflected in their group conformity. Sounds ridiculous, but you enter the right suburb of America and you will already find individuals wearing dog collars and clip on belt tails claiming to be werewolves.
Satire aside, Ice-T of “F**k The Police” and the Ice of Ice Loves Coco, plays a brash ram-man, giving Batman the finger and demonstrating what I’ve always felt about septum piercings: They make you look like goats.
Grounding the futuristic splicers back into the Batman mythos, the Chimera Foundation CEO Couliere attempts to overdose Terry with vampire bat mutagen, turning Terry into a spitting image of the Man-Bat.
Tying in the animal theme full circle, Terry and Bruce go to Ace the bat hound to track Couliere, who has since turned into a true Chimera, splicing himself with a multitude of different DNA sets.
Terry wriggles out of the situation, making Couliere overdose on Splicer ampules, with overdosing being one of Terry’s go-to battle tactics. Couliere literally goes Tetsuo as he grotesquely bursts with mutagenic DNA, growing tendrils, crab claws, and a complexion like rancid chicken breast.
Ace the bat hound comes to the rescue all Resident Evil 4 style, and actually does some damage to the great and terrible Chimera, which is always refreshing to see. Couliere ultimately expires in an explosion of his own design, producing a smell that I imagine is a smorgasbord of burnt Spam, Vaseline, imitation crab meat and two spritzes of Drakar Noir.
In “Countdown”, the Zeta assassin android that premiered in Batman Beyond and got his own short lived animated spin-off returns to Gotham with his bantering blonde sidekick Roe and a pill-shaped head in order to escape recurring Zeta Project and Batman Beyond Federal Agent Bennett, appropriately voiced by former Robocop villain and hippy-hating Foreman patriarch Kurtwood Smith.
I know, for obscure nineties references The Zeta Project was one of those good ideas that just didn’t get the right sort of execution, but this episode makes you actually believe that The Zeta Project could’ve worked as a show, perhaps if only the android got more dialogue with Henry Rollins.
Yep, that’s right. To supplicate this Zeta-heavy episode, Rollins returns as Mad Stan, protecting the reformed assassin-android from the Feds with the help of his chihuahua Boom-Boom and a high powered bomb bolted to the android’s chassis, with Stan’s catch phrase “BLOW IT ALL UP” peppered into this proverbial salad of badassery and combustible croutons. The Rollins Postulate strikes again.
While we get a glimpse into Stan’s Tyler Durden-themed lifestyle, Zeta’s traveling companion and plucky blonde sidekick Roe enlists the help of Batman to track down her pacifist friend, at one point almost getting held down and beaten by a surprisingly threatening gang of Jokerz.
Incidentally, fun fact about the Jokerz — though it makes sense that the Joker would inspire his own group of Dadaism-based flunkies, like Juggalos but actual hatchets in place of hatchetman tattoos, the gang is in actuality an homage to the Clowns motorcycle gang from Akira. I bring this up in the here and now because Roe finally addresses this allusion by offhandedly referring to the gang as just a bunch of clowns, to which they respond with “We’re not Clowns…we’re Jokerz.”
So to recap, that’s Henry Rollins fighting feds, Red Foreman threatening to put his foot up Batman’s bat ass, and direct allusions to Akira with snappy banter and Batmobile Muzak. I think if I asked for anything else in this episode it would be considered avarice so let’s just move right along.
7. Hooked Up
“Hooked Up” is a “very special” episode of Batman Beyond, helping further immerse you into the world of future Gotham by giving you a crash course into its drug culture.
Spellbinder, the Batman Beyond rogue with a penchant for hypnosis and striking costumery, has set up an enchanted virtual reality device that allows Gotham’s wavering youth to experience a personalized fantasy trip, a spin on the VR-trope that has been covered in Inception, Minority Report, and that Fantasy Island fanfic I wrote where everyone wishes to be Batman.
What separates this episode from the typical VR cliche is that Spellbinder’s machine is an unforgiving allusion to heroin. Everything in the fantasies starts out normal, with Gotham’s loserly teens entering fantasies of being rock gods of the keytar, the homely fast food fry girl going on a date with the regional fast food chain manager–because apparently she went for an appropriate underachieving dream as opposed to a Gosling based one — and Terry’s obligatory confidant Max wishing she had a more nuclear family.
Once the teens leave the realistic simulations, they go full blown Trainspotting, claiming that everything hurts outside of the VR, begging for credits and breaking into cars for a quick fix. Fittingly, these addicts are colloquially known as Dregs, adding to New Gotham’s nadsat of “Schway” and “Slag it!” Spellbinder takes advantage of the addictive nature of his product, sending his addicts back into the world to recruit others, producing lines so heroin-y that you just know someone busted out the old horse kit to produce them: “Realest real ever, feels like love all over you.”
Keeping the heroin pastiche in line, too much of Spellbinder’s VR can be a bad thing, bringing about cold sweats, severe lapses in judgment–most notably by an addict taking a swing at an airborne Batman with a length of pipe — and overdoses of serotonin levels in the brain that can lead to comas.
It is future Batman fighting future crackheads– a sentence whose amazingness doesn’t warrant additional explanation beyond this one.
So in trying to track down the source of these overdoses, Max gets caught up in VR hooking, turning literally overnight into a car jacking VR-fiend. Terry tells her that she is an addict, and replacing one addiction with another, hits her with a tranquilizer gun, which I just have to assume is loaded with ketamine.
The best part of the episode comes when Terry yells at his addict friend, telling her that she “Can’t just live in a fantasy world!” The next shot pulls back, as we realize we ourselves have been getting lost in the fantasy world that is Batman Beyond. We thought we were watching individuals dance about VR orbs, but in reality, we are in a VR orb ourselves…except ours won’t let us be Batman for some reason.
6. Dead Man’s Hand
In “Dead Man’s Hand” we are introduced to the Royal Flush Gang, a playing card themed criminal family who had tangled with Bruce on many occasions in his past, history which would only later be revealed to us through Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, in a sense cementing Batman Beyond in the DC Animated Universe through the gang’s inclusion alone.
The gang is extremely well designed, a minimalist theme that not only serves as a perfect reflection of the new Batsuit, but this house of cards themed villains serves as the perfect thematic nemesis to the Bat-family of vigilante justice.
The Yin-Yang nature of the Royal Flush Gang and Bat-family comes to a head as Royal Flush gang’s Ten, or Melanie, falls for Terry after seeing him break up with girlfriend placeholder Dana. At this point, the episode is a loose adaptation of Romeo & Juliette, but with wrist mounted batarangs and ace of spades themed androids.
That being said, and this is a one of those things I never thought I would say in regards to the Batman, but the best scenes of the episode actually involve the teenage melodrama between Terry and Melanie. Whereas Dana is, understandably, whiny and somewhat annoying to her flaky Bat-boyfriend, Melanie serves as the ideal counterpoint to Terry, as Melanie/Ten serves as McGuinness’ proverbial Selena Kyle/Catwoman.
It’s the romance we are actually invested in, complete with a date where both parties have to quickly wrap up beating each other up in high-powered costumes before doing the whole running through the rain into an embrace with 80’s guitar wailing in the background.
Dana on the other hand — unintentional pun there — is a bit of a placeholder, an individual who we are told is Terry’s girlfriend, and yet we simply take this as fact — no real emotional investment is ever placed within the audience, and it just feels like both individuals could do better, with “Dead Man’s Hand” serving as the start to Terry and Melanie’s will they or won’t they relationship.
Oh, and the episode has a unapologetic dick joke and Neo-Victorian garb inspired by The Stars My Destination, which is sadly a thing that doesn’t nearly happen enough.
5. Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot
In “Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot”, Terry’s friend Harold dates a robot. Still with me? Great. Because this episode just cranks the crazy dial to eleven pico-Buseys, snaps the nob off and gorilla glues it to the lapel of a smoking jacket made out of elbow skin.
The most ridiculous episode in the series’ history opens up with Terry fighting old Batman rogue inspired robots. Excellent call backs to the animated series are made here, as Terry fights Killer Croc, Two Face and the Riddler against a red Gotham sky. The show hits you with a highly concentrated dose of nostalgia before overdosing you 80s-free-based teen comedy insanity.
Terry’s aforementioned friend Howard, social meltdown the likes of which you’ve never seen since that kid called the teacher mommy in elementary school, seeks a means of kick starting his popularity in school, realizing that the shortcut to status is candy-apple haired arm candy. Howard is something straight out of Weird Science, with a dumpy melancholy trombone farting along his every step whenever Howard is onscreen.
Howard’s social savior comes in the form of a retrofitted Steve Buscemi stand-in who illegally customizes androids with humanoid features. These creepy commodities are a realistic prediction of the natural progression of Real Dolls, with the addition of custom-scripted personalities so that basement dwellers everywhere don’t have to practice their girl voices anymore. The designer of these lonesome investments even calls them synthoids, which is like a simuloid, or the term Real Doll enthusiasts used to describe their plastic playthings, and the second time I’ve had to use that goddamn term in an article. Harold even names his robo-beaux Cynthia, driving the synthetic pun home and leaving it in the garage with the motor running.
That being said, it should be noted that this is a futuristic take on Ovid’s tale of Pygmalion, a sculptor who carves a woman out of ivory, falling in love with his sculpture until it is willed to life by Venus, made famous in The Metamorphoses, yet another example of the unyielding creative potential of Batman Beyond.
Also, there are a ton of sex jokes. “You should look into getting a synthoid bat freak, gives you something to do on a Friday night.” explains the Buscemi clone in defense of his craft, in the second greatest “wait, what?” moment of the series.
Speaking of clones, the creepy synthoid designer uses a synthoid of himself to try to elude Batman. Now while this would-be life model decoy proves useful in a Batman based raid, how often does that situation typically happen? Is it possible that the designer made this one male copy of himself as a…how should I put this, pleasure model?
Let’s just glaze over that thought into the episode’s end, where Batman crashes Harold’s house party and everything explodes, with Harold’s parents arriving back home just at right place at the wrong time.
Oh. In the event you were wondering, the most “Wait, what?” moment of dialogue comes from the episode “Revenant”, which doesn’t make it onto this list, but it is too good not to pass up. As Flash Thompson stand-in Duncan Nash incredulously looks at Chelsea use an Ouija board:
“Oh come on, Chelsea”
“Come on yourself.”
In “Ascension”, the focus of the episode is given to Blight, Batman’s radiation based arch-nemesis who has to hide his glow-stick skeletal form in a series of disposable crumbling skin suits.
Though Blight, or Derrick Powers, is a mad psychopath, you almost feel a bit sympathetic for the guy in this episode, as he has to deal with annoying protestors, boardroom meetings, and his son betraying him.
Yeah, okay, the protesters are poor fishermen who can’t make a living due to Powers’ pollution irradiating the oceans, but still, you almost feel some form of sympathy. Then he loses his skin in a boardroom meeting and reveals he is in actuality Blight.
At this point Blight holds nothing back, his temper as unstable as his poisonous body, with the episode reaching an apex with a revived Bat-Signal and a fight in an abandoned nuclear sub. McGuinness is out for vengeance in this episode, as although the individual who killed Terry’s father is dead, it was Blight who ordered the hit in the first place.
Part of the appeal of Batman, be it Beyond or normal Bruce Wayne, is the fact that although the villains are criminals, they are always sympathetic characters. Although Terry wants nothing more but to turn Blight into what is essentially a leaky glow stick, there is an odd sort of pain felt seeing a glowing skeleton eat a miserable sandwich and try to force a smile, only to be met with looks of fear.
There’s something particularly daunting about a nemesis who can render your junk an inert mass of silly putty by just standing next to you for ten minutes, and as he approaches critical mass, Blight and Terry hold nothing back as they come to the series’ harshest blows in a sinking nuclear vessel in this season one finale.
3. Out of The Past
“Out of the Past” starts with a hysterical play based on the Batman, a gift from Terry for Bruce’s 80th birthday. Song numbers include Batman & Robin levels of camp, with songs based on how criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot —the entire sequence is as groan inducing as it is catchy, with Bruce thankfully walking out early to spare our sanities.
Reflecting on his mortality, Bruce flips through photos of all of his past hookups on the Bat-computer, including Barbara Gordon, Zatanna, and Selena Kyle — mask both on and off.
Talia al Ghul pays Bruce a visit, sneaking into the cave. Talia has been utilizing the regenerative Lazarus pit for years, appearing just as she did during Batman: The Animated Series, and she now offers the pit’s services to Bruce as a second chance, an excellent premise for an episode that can only be handled in Batman Beyond…or Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin now that I think of it.
Additionally, we get a lesson in the proper pronunciation of Ra’s al Ghul — it is “Raysch shall ghul”, not “Rahz al ghul”– basically the cartoon is right, movies are wrong.
Bruce feels the age of his cowled tribulation, Talia offers him a second chance, a means to regain the youth Bruce sacrificed to his war on crime, and yet Bruce claims he never did it for a reward as he analyzes the price of his lifelong obsession. Bruce accepts Talia’s offer, not in order to become the Bat again, but to regain his lost life.
What emerges from the Lazarus Pit is a graying Bruce Wayne. Talia chose to leave in the gray touch of hair, Bruce noting that it makes him look like Ra’s, foreshadowing the great twist of the episode, which I suppose Bruce just initially shrugs off as Talia having daddy issues.
Bruce believes that he is weak, the rejuvenation is a cheap crutch — a body gained through magic dealings, not earned through push-ups, chucking batarangs at people’s faces, and lifting weights in the shapes of tiny bats.
Bruce and Terry fight together for once in this most excellent of episodes, with Bruce’s down and dirty bat-fu serving as a perfect counterpoint to the more acrobatic style of McGuinness. The classic Batman theme is wailed on the guitar while the Batmen of generations past and future fight the League of Shadows henchmen.
The episode takes a sudden and unexpected detour into Crazy Town, USA as Talia drops a “DETECTIVE” in a Ra’s’ voice. What’s the opposite of boner inducing…boner grating? Regardless it is the most disturbing use of the word detective since Kevin Spacey in Se7en.
Ra’s al Ghul in Talia al Ghul wants to switch bodies with Bruce, claiming that genetic findings would reveal Ra’s (in Bruce’s body) to be the long lost son of Talia and Bruce Wayne, which would later become the inspiration behind, again, Grant Morrison’s Damien Wayne, the actual long lost son of Bruce and Talia in the comics.
In proper super villain headquarters fashion, the League of Shadows base, on the repurposed Cuba, explodes, and Terry at first tries to save Ra’s in Talia al Ghul. However, Bruce is all like, nah, dude kissed me– Don’t go back inside to save nobody.
Can’t say I blame him, this episode is as entertaining as it is messed up.
Oh, and “a superstitious cowardly lot” will be stuck in your head, against your will, for days to come…which is exactly what Ra’s al Ghul wanted to do to Bruce in the first place.
2. Disappearing Inque
In “Disappearing Inque”, Terry’s fluid based symbiote-like villain Inque returns, broken out of cold storage by a disgruntled, forever-alone Waynetech employee who has become obsessed with the plasticine bat rogue.
Mind you, it isn’t Inque’s frozen human form that the guard Aaron kisses and vents to, but Inque’s odd cyclopean eye “Venom” form. Fired for being crazy amounts of creepy with a frozen inmate, planting non consensual frozen kisses for luck, Aaron breaks Inque out and harbors her at his pathetic apartment, unaware that in thawing out Inque he froze himself in the friend-zone.
Incidentally, did you know that Inque’s first appearance in the second episode of the series is directly parallel to “Slick”, the second episode of Birds of Prey? Both episodes feature a water-based villain attacking an offspring of the Batman, and yet Batman Beyond achieves what Birds of Prey never could — a watchable show you actually care about.
Inque needs more mutagen to improve upon her powers, tricking Aaron who wants shapeshifting powers of his own by only giving him half of a complete dosage, transforming him into a disturbed Bowie-eyed seal puddle of a man.
The true highlight of the episode however comes when Inque manages to capture Terry, prompting Bruce to break his personal promise and don the Batsuit again — an armored forerunner of the Batman Beyond suit that is reminiscent of the Bat-Sentries of Kingdom Come, complete with his own rock rendition of the classic Batman theme as he enters battle with Inque, risking his heart exploding like a bowl of turkey chili left in the microwave for too long.
The sequence sends a chill down your spine, instantly making you wish that every episode of Batman Beyond ended in a similar fashion.
Fittingly, as if his puddly fate weren’t punishment enough, Aaron is imprisoned in the same Waynetech facility that he broke Inque out of initially, attended to by a sadsack Kathy Bates in Misery stand-in, except instead of cobbling she has an infinite amount of stories regarding her day-to-day errands and health of her cats.
Personally, I’d go with the sledgehammer to the feet.
1. The Call, Part 1
“The Call” expands upon a future based universe by examining other future heroics that occur outside of Gotham’s borders. A minimalistic and greying Superman asks Batman to join the JLU, whose future roster is made up of Green Lantern, Warhawk, Aqua Girl, Micron and Big Barda, in order to investigate a possible traitor on the team while impossibly showing how Batman can somehow not be the coolest character in the room.
“The Call” reveals an incredible amount of foresight and planning for this show, as we get relics from the old DC world made futuristic in terms of an older Superman who has ditched his Kryptonian fashion, futuristic elements of the old DC world that remain unchanged in Big Barda, who looks unchanged since her premiere in Superman: The Animated Series, donning her classic costume. Likewise we are treated with a completely badass new character who foreshadows the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series to come in Warhawk — the offspring of Green Lantern John Stewart and Hawkgirl, which is probably the craziest amount of foreshadowing since the canary trick in The Prestige — and refreshing takes on Justice League staples in a Buddhist Green Lantern, a twoofer Atom Smasher and The Atom hybrid named Micron, and one-piece wearing exact-opposite-of-Aqua-Man Aqua Girl. There is literally something for everyone on this JLU incarnation, as the roster present here is what seals this episode in the top spot.
In short, “The Call, Part One” realizes the unstoppable creative potential of a show like Batman Beyond and runs with it, complete with authentic storm trooper blaster sound effects for the training rooms turrets.
The episode ends with a brutal explosion jettisoning Warhawk’s smoking helmet through the Batmobile windshield, perhaps one of the best visual surprises of the series, and a surprisingly devastating “death” for a character we literally only knew for about twelve minutes.
So are there any downsides to this episode? Yes, in analyzing the Batmobile’s recorder, Bruce pulls the impossible “rotate the recording 30 degrees” video command on the Batmobile. Somewhat as ridiculous as the NCIS “zoom in and enhance!”, and yet not as ridiculous as two individuals sharing a keyboard to hack faster in Second Life, which was also featured in NCIS. Maybe the Batmobile has some sort of sphere like camcorder that points in every direction — because crime can come in any direction — regardless, it’s a forgivable jump in cartoon logic, as it leads to Batman equipping a chunk of kryptonite in his utility belt, and one of the rare examples of someone Aquaman related being a highpoint of something, a feat that wouldn’t be replicated again until this past month’s Injustice: Gods Among Us video game.
So there you have it, the top ten episodes of Batman Beyond, ignoring the stellar Return of the Joker (because it’s a movie, not an episode) and that one Batman Beyond episode of Justice League Unlimited. That being said, how do you weigh in on all of this? Should I have included a Kobra episode and drawn similarities to Hydra? Should I have included Eggbaby, the Mr. Nanny of Batman episodes? Is Henry Rollins stellar or celestial? Let us know in the comments!