"Batman: The Animated Series" was a groundbreaking show when it debuted in 1992 on the Fox Network. There was a time when the mainstream idea of Batman involved a pudgy Adam West doing the Bat-Tusi and the words "Pow" and "Smack" appearing as giant word balloons. No matter how grim and gritty things got in DC's Gotham City, non-comic book readers generally envisioned the campy excesses of the 60's television program. That all changed in 1989 when Tim Burton's "Batman" returned the Caped Crusader to his dark, gothic roots. "Batman: The Animated Series" was meant to capitalize on the success of Burton's live-action franchise. The series' creators were inspired by film noir, art deco architecture, and the Max Fleischer "Superman" shorts. While the show was meant as children's programming, the look and story content appealed to adults and hardcore comic fans.
After "Batman: TAS" ran its course, "Batman Beyond" debuted in 1999 on Kids' WB. The new series had a hard mountain to climb, but it became a worthy successor. The idea of a teenaged Batman was meant to draw in younger audiences, yet the show maintained continuity ties with its predecessor to keep long-time fans on board.
Gone is the moody and bombastic opening theme of the previous show, replaced by a pulse-pounding techno/industrial theme played over a montage of digital imagery. "Batman Beyond" is set in the year 2039, Gotham City has become a very different place. Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) has long since retired as the Dark Knight after suffering a heart attack on a disastrous last mission. The new protagonist is Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle), a high school student whose father was murdered by Derek Powers (Sherman Howard), a corrupt businessman who has taken over Wayne Enterprises. Along with the futuristic setting comes a new high-tech costume for McGinnis. Gone is the cape and cowl of the original Bat-suit in favor of a red and black suit with retractable wings and rocket boosters.
Show runner Bruce Timm, along with his fellow writers and producers, wanted to establish "Batman Beyond" as firmly belonging to McGinnis. As such, they gave him his own cast of supporting characters and villains. Powers became the radioactive Blight after being exposed to a deadly biological weapon. Other antagonists included: Inque, a shapeshifting thief who could turn her body into liquid; Stalker, a big game hunter from Africa who sees Batman as the ultimate prize; and Shriek, a criminal armed with sound-based weapons. A few supervillains from Batman's classic rogues' gallery appear from time to time such as Ra's al Ghul and Mr. Freeze. The Clown Prince of Crime doesn't make an appearance during the series, but did serve as the inspiration for a gang of hoodlums known as the Jokerz. When he's not beating up bad guys, McGinnis has to juggle high school while trying to spend time with his mother, little brother, and girlfriend, Dana (Lauren Tom). There's still a Commissioner Gordon watching over Gotham, but this time it's an older Barbara Gordon who has long since given up her role of Batgirl.
"Batman Beyond: The Complete Series" features every episode of the show spread across eight discs. These are the same DVDs that were previously released with no chances, plus one bonus disc with new content. Some of my favorite episodes included in the boxset are:
"Meltdown" – As Derek Powers' condition worsens, he sees his only chance for salvation in Mr. Freeze. He assists in curing Freeze of his condition, but secretly plans to harvest his organs in search of a cure.
"Dead Man's Hand" – Gotham is the victim of a crimewave of a gang of crooks calling themselves the Royal Flush Gang. Terry's quest to bring them down complicates his relationship with Dana. Guest voices include Olivia d'Abo and former 007 George Lazenby.
"Heroes" – In a take-off of the Fantastic Four, three scientists are involved in a lab accident that transforms them into super-powered heroes. Things turn dark when they learn their new abilities come with a terrible price.
"Ace in the Hole" – Bruce's trusty Bat-Hound, Ace, takes the spotlight when he goes undercover to bust an illegal dog fighting operation.
"Out of the Past" – Bruce Wayne is offered a chance at recapturing his youth when his former flame, Talia, returns. Of course, the offer is too good to be true following a shocking twist.
"The Call" – Terry joins the DC Universe of the future when he receives an invitation to join the Justice League. An older Superman asks the young Batman into the group believing there is a traitor in their midst.
The video is presented in its original fullscreen aspect ratio. The transfer is relatively clean though nothing extraordinary. Colors are vibrant with little to no grain or print damage.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. Dialogue comes in crisp and clear while sound effects are strong.
For Season 1, we get audio commentary tracks for the episodes "Rebirth, Part 1," "Shriek," and "Splicers."
Disc 2 of Season 1 also includes the featurettes: Music of the Knight is a small selection of tracks taken from the series score preceded by an introduction by Bruce Timm, Inside Batman Beyond (9:36) is a roundtable discussion with series creators Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Glen Murakami, and Paul Dini. The quartet talks about how the show came about and their initial reluctance to work on it. Finally, you'll get a set of trailers for other WB releases.
Season 2 includes an audio commentary for "Eggbaby." On Disc 4 of that same season is Inside Batman Beyond: The Panel (11:46), a continuation of the previous roundtable discussion with the participants talking about the differences in the sophomore season. You'll also get another set of trailers for other WB releases.
Disc 2 of Season 3 includes Inside Batman Beyond: Season 3 (9:29), the final segment of the roundtable as the creators discuss the concluding the series and the ideas that never came about. Close-Up On… (19:47) is a set of four featurettes with Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Will Friedle, and directors James Tucker and Butch Lukic as they discuss the episodes "Out of the Past," "The Call, Parts 1 & 2," and "Curse of the Kobra, Part 1."
While all previous content was recycled from the individual season sets, the complete boxset does include a bonus disc with brand-new extras.
Tomorrow Knight: Batman Reborn (10:30) is a retrospective about the creation of the series, the differences between Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis and the "Epilogue" episode from "Justice League Unlimited."
Gotham: City of the Future (5:34) focuses on how the animators designed the new Gotham City.
The High Tech Hero (5:43) is a look at the tricked out costume of "Batman Beyond."
The most substantial extra is Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics (1:30:19), a feature length documentary that was also released on a separate DVD. This doc is a rundown of the history of DC Comics from the beginnings to the creation of its most famous characters and their appearances in other media.
The DVDs are housed in a plastic keepcase. You'll also get a booklet with an episode listing, storyboards, and artwork. Everything comes in a hardbound package with a slipcover.
There was much skepticism when "Batman Beyond" originally premiered. Some of it was even from the show's own creators. However, it went on to become a successful series and an integral part of the DC animated universe that extends to "Batman," "Superman," and "Justice League." Much like Harley Quinn, Terry McGinnis became popular enough that he was officially made a part of the DC Universe and recently starred in his own comic book series. For those fans who don't own any of the previously released DVDs, this boxset is an excellent buy. However, the new extras themselves aren't strong enough to recommend a double dip. It's a bit of a disappointment that WB didn't see fit to include "Return of the Joker" or the episodes of "Static Shock" and "Justice League" that featured Terry.