Home Entertainment Twenty years ago, the adventures of the Tomorrow Knight began in Batman Beyond

Twenty years ago, the adventures of the Tomorrow Knight began in Batman Beyond

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What happens when a rich family goes down the wrong alley, runs afoul of a mugger and are murdered? You get the perfect recipe for the construction of a legend, as all it took was one bad night to give birth to the Batman. By now, even your grandma knows the origin of Batman, but his legend was one that was fated to be tragically repeated in the future.

A dark glimpse into tomorrow, where the infamous city was still plagued by crime, corruption and the next generation of caped crusader action. First airing twenty years ago on January 10, 1999, Batman Beyond was than just a continuation of the original animated series. It was a brave and bold reboot of the idea of Batman, resigning a weary and damaged Bruce Wayne to a life of solitude after a single lapse and desperate lapse in judgement saw him come dangerously close to breaking the oath he had made the night his parents died.

The Batman died that night, but he was reborn decades later in the form of Terry McGinnis. Headstrong, directionless and always getting into trouble, Terry was a perfect representation of the youth of yesterday who were looking for purpose in life. While Terry’s origin had more to it than met the eye (No spoilers here, but go watch the Justice League Unlimited episode “Epilogue”), it was the unlikely pairing of him with the cranky and retired Bruce Wayne that saw the Batman reborn on a night when Gotham City needed him most.

That relationship between mentor and student formed a new dynamic duo status quo for Batman Beyond’s first season, as Terry found himself under the tutelage of a man who had seen and done it all. It wasn’t perfect, as both headstrong characters soon realised that they had a lot to learn from each other, but it was magical to see the dark knight and the tomorrow knight find a common ground to bond over.

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A bond that would be tested by a new generation of villains. With only a mere handful of threats from the past resurfacing, Batman Beyond’s rogues gallery was largely made up of new menaces that would test the Batman of the future. The idea of the Joker still lived on in the form of street gangs that had adopted his modus operandi for colourful crime, Inque was a shape-shifting antagonist who would eventually meet the most tragic of betrayals and the danger of Shriek was shown off in a brilliant showdown of sound and awareness.

Then you had the mindbending antics of Spellbinder, the unmatched skill of Curare and Terry’s own personal nemesis in the form of businessman Derek Power, a man whose lust for power eventually consumed him and created the radioactive monster known as Blight. Brought to life by a unified art style from the original animated series that saw Gotham ditch the noir aesthetic of the past for more neon-tinged streets and skyscrapers, Batman Beyond didn’t just look fresh: It felt unique, surprising and exciting across its 52 episode run.

The highlight of the franchise was undoubtedly in the direct-to-DVD film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, albeit a film that was utterly hamstrung at the time thanks to the events of the Columbine School Massacre in 1999, which resulted in a public backlash against violence in films, video games and other media.

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Re-edited for its December 2000 release, Return of the Joker was a pale shadow of what it was supposed to be. Action sequences were filled with more white flashes than a mob of paparazzi descending on a Hollywood starlet, any sign of blood was quickly scrubbed out of the animation cells and the final fate of the Joker saw the harlequin of hate die in a tame and anti-climatic sequence.

Fortunately, a director’s cut would be released in 2002, restoring the film and removing the vast edits in the process. That film is an absolute masterpiece, a fun and edgy adventure where the stakes feel real and the consequences of actions have actual weight that is felt decades into the future. Heck, it might just be one of the best Batman films of all time.

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It’s hard to believe that all this happened twenty years ago. DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation had been more than capable of proving that they were a juggernaut in animation, especially when compared to the toothless and dated competition of Marvel’s own particular stabs at the genre. Batman Beyond reinforced that idea further, giving fans a series that put a new spin on familiar ideas, while also paving the way for other animated adaptations to take risky chances that paid off.

The future may have been dark, but Batman Beyond was an energetic and refreshing ray of light in a world where the very idea of the Batman will never truly die.

Fun facts

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  • The original opening sequence was conceived and animated by late and great comic book artist Darwyn Cooke.
  • Cooke would return years later, with a short Batman Beyond animation to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the dark knight.
  • Bruce Wayne’s true age is never revealed in Batman Beyond, as the Warner Bros. Network didn’t want the former Batman to appear “old and decrepit”.
  • Batman Beyond was originally produced under the working title of “Batman Tomorrow”, but you can already see how much of a headache that would have been for TV scheduling.
  • Mr Freeze was originally intended to be introduced as part of a joke: A severed immortal head living in Brue Wayne’s fridge. Fortunately, the master of cold would get his own episode.
  • The fashion sense of Batman Beyond is inspired by the work of Byron Preiss and Howard Chaykin’s 1979 graphic novel The Stars Of My Destination, which is an adaptation of the 1956 novel by Alfred Bester.
  • Katsuhiro Otomo’s iconic anime film Akira provided plenty of visual inspiration for the future Gotham City, with one of the original animators from that film making his way to Batman Beyond’s studio in an effort to top his previous work.
  • A sequel to Return of the Joker was in development at one point, which would have starred an older Selina “Catwoman” Kyle cloning Bruce Wayne and sending his dopplegangers out on a crime spree.
  • This film was also intended to be even darker than Return of the Joker.
  • Bruce Wayne is Terry’s biological father, but as for the how of this revelation? You’ll have to watch the aforementioned Epilogue episode of Justice League Unlimited.

Last Updated: January 11, 2019

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