This is the monolith set of my collection—it towers over EVERYTHING! This box is gigantic—I mean, look at it. It’s about the same size as the complete Batman set Warner Bros. put out, but I don’t have that because it’s damn expensive. This was mighty expensive, too, but the blow was softened because I found it on sale at Best Buy and I had a lot of gift cards with me. It was a worthwhile purchase to be sure, even if it doesn’t include the Return of the Joker movie or the episodes from the Justice League show that actually wrapped up the story. It’s not a huge issue, though, because the movie is available uncut on Blu Ray for really cheap, and the Justice League sets are also reasonably priced. But I suppose now I should talk about the actual show, eh?
The year is 1999. Batman: the Animated Series, one of the greatest cartoons ever made, had ended. The network came to the creators like Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and asked them to make a batman in the future—their ulterior motive was obviously toys. Well, they hesitated to make something just to sell pieces of plastic to grubby little kids, but decided to make the most out of it. The result was Batman Beyond, a sleeker, sexier version of the Batman mythos which took place in a Japanese-influenced future. This show came on when I was a wee lad—14 years ago, yikes!—and I never really gave it the time of day. I mean, it was obviously a gimmick. Why’d they get rid of the original Batman? Where was Robin? I promptly turned the channel to Pokemon, and I can’t help but regret that I didn’t give the show a fair shake. It’s certainly different, yes, but it pays its respects to the mythology of the original show and manages to go in a lot of really neat directions with its characters, particularly the older Bruce Wayne.
Even though this show isn’t really “about” Bruce, it’s hard to say that the show isn’t ABOUT Bruce. We discover his legacy through Terry’s eyes, and Bruce is even more surly and irascible than ever. The show reveals the very adult conflict within him, starting from the first episode, where he hangs up the cape after resorting to using a gun in a fight. His life as Batman has driven him away from anything precious he might have had and his age led him to cross a line that he swore against. Thus, he blocks out the world and lives in isolation in his mansion. No Alfred, no Robin, nobody. Just him and his dog Ace.
You know, for kids!
However, don’t be mislead. This isn’t some talky drama about an old man’s melodramatic descent into madness. Well, not really. There’s gotta be super heroes punching bad guys! That’s where Terry comes in. In order to avenge his father’s death, he steals the upgraded bat suit from the Bat Cave, and sets out as the new Batman. Besides, most of the drama is handled remarkably subtly at times. It’s mostly carried through Kevin Conroy’s astounding performance as old Bruce. Through the most subtle ways you see the years that have worn away at him, and it’s all through his voice. This is why when I think of Batman, I think of Kevin Conroy. And I’m not alone in that, as the recent Arkham Asylum games have proven. He and Mark Hamill, who perfectly embodies the Joker, own their roles in a way that no other actor can ever even attempt to do (By the way, though I mentioned Mark Hamill’s Joker, he’s unfortunately absent for almost all of the series—he doesn’t appear until the aforementioned direct-to-video movie Return of the Joker. I won’t be reviewing it today—but trust me and go get it. Seriously.).
The series benefits from a unique setting (for this type of show, that is) but unfortunately suffers from a lack of classic Batman rogues. There are some very interesting foes, but let’s face it—they’re classic for a reason, they WORK. There are a few that pop up every once and a while, most notably the tragic Mr. Freeze. And hey, they even added in a few extra layers of tragedy! Poor Freeze can’t catch a break.
The DVD set is pretty remarkable. It comes with an art book that shows off some of the backgrounds and model sheets, but ultimately fails to bring that much insight as to the creation of the show. It’s unfortunate, but hey—it’s pretty to look at. The box is, as I said, humongous, and it’s just kind of impressive to simply stare at. The discs are all in one keepcase, and they’re not anything unique to this particular set—they’re just repackaged versions of the individual volumes released previously. It’s nice to have it in one place, though. Oddly enough, with its bulbous size, it saves more space on my shelf than it would be to get the smaller sets. Weird, eh? The picture quality is as good as it’ll get. This is a pre-digipaint show, and it shows it. Due to the way these were filmed—that is, on tape rather than film—it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get a remastering for a Blu Ray. So the specks and occasional haziness is something we’ll just have to put up with. Oh well. There’s a bonus features disc which contains some documentaries and such. It’s a very solid set for a solid show.
In short, Batman Beyond is a show that lots of fans—my pre-pubescent self included—scoffed at, which is a real shame. It’s actually a very excellent show, and that movie—damn, that movie, man. Buy this set and the movie, like now. Do it.