The Matt Signal Beyond – Episode 1: Rebirth (Part I)

Plot summary: In the year 2042, Terry McGinnis stumbles onto an elderly Bruce Wayne’s secret past as Batman, as well as a conspiracy that got his father murdered.

After completing the original run of Batman The Animated Series, Matt Waters looks to the future each Saturday and Sunday with recaps of every episode of Batman Beyond, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Yes, that’s right, I included The New Batman Adventures in my coverage of BTAS but I’m re-branding the column for Beyond and resetting all of the lists. For one thing there’s a much greater difference between this and the previous two shows, and for another I don’t particularly want to try and rank another 52 episodes (and a movie) against the 112 we already had.

Set in 2042 (and given the far less subtle title of Batman of the Future basically everywhere outside North America), the show was initally met with backlash as it featured a new Batman battling new villains, neither of which originated from comic books, but it later grew on fans and critics alike.

The idea came from Jamie Kellner, head of programming at the WB, who felt TNBA was skewing a little too old demographically, so asked for a teen-centric show because of the popularity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Dawson’s Creek… BUT, wanted it aimed at children, despite kids NOT watching any of those shows.

Kellner was so insistent on the idea that he cancelled TNBA before it had even finished production and greenlit his hypothetical teen Batman show. None of the producers liked the idea and considered quitting, but Bruce Timm suggested setting it in the future as a compromise which Kellner loved and everyone else gradually came around on… but they had less than a year to produce it, while still finishing off TNBA and Superman: The Animated Series!

The opening credits were created by the iconic Darwyn Cook, and while they may have not aged terrifically well, they were somewhat of a technical marvel at the time. Some of it is even live action, with models on a Lazy Susan!

It ultimately lasted for three seasons and a movie (that we’ll talk about way down the line), and got a spin-off show, The Zeta Project, as well as crossing over with Justice League Unlimited and Static Shock before being cancelled.

Notes

Episode Title: ‘Rebirth Part I’

Original Air Date: January 16th, 1999*

Directed: Curt Geda (1)

Written: Alan Burnett (1) (story) & Paul Dini (1)

* Both parts aired as a double-bill in primetime on January 10th, 1999

This first part was nominated for an Annie Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Writing in an Animated Television Production. Catchy!

Bruce Wayne’s line “Never again.” is an homage to The Dark Knight Returns.

Bruce Timm voiced the leader of the Jokerz himself because the actor they cast was unable to match what was in Timm’s head.

Club 54 is a reference to the infamous Studio 54 nightclub. There was a Ryan Phillipe movie about it!

The motorcycle action is an homage to Akira, much like in ‘Robin’s Reckoning Part II’ and a million other things. The show in general has a huge anime influence.

Recap

Batman rescues the kidnapped Bunny Vreeland (daughter of Veronica), but with considerably more strain than we’re used to, frequently clutching his chest. One of the kidnappers begins beating him with a metal pipe, and a desperate Bruce grabs a discarded gun to scare him off!

Disgusted with himself, Bruce returns to the Batcave and locks the suit away in a display case, vowing “never again” as he turns out all the lights.

Twenty years later, a punk dressed like a clown vandalises a crazy future-elevator and harasses a female passenger. Terry McGinnis punches him and tells him to beat it. Who is he, the protagonist or something??

Later at Hamilton Hill High School, Terry gets into a fight with big jock on campus, Nelson Nash. Despite Nelson starting it, Terry gets the blame.

Terry’s father, Warren, meets with a visibly nervous colleague at Wayne-Powers with strange markings on his skin. He hands Warren a disc before being forcibly taken to meet with Derek Powers by a brute named Mr. Fixx.

Powers assures Warren that the whole thing was a misunderstanding and not so subtly asks about a missing file. Warren lies and later gets into an argument with Terry while trying to review it.

Terry heads to a club to meet his girlfriend, Dana. More creeps dressed as clowns arrive on motorcycles to terrorise everybody waiting to get in, so naturally Terry gets in his third fight of the episode.

One high speed motorcycle chase across Gotham later, Terry crashes trying to avoid an elderly Bruce Wayne outside the gate of his secluded mansion. The Jokerz try to intimidate them both, but Wayne is unafraid and kicks all of their asses in nonchalant fashion.

Bruce succumbs to chest pain and lets Terry escort him back inside to take some medication and then falls asleep. Terry attempts to call his father, but spots a bat trapped in the grandfather clock and in his attempt to free it, opens the secret passage to the Bat-Cave.

He discovers Bruce’s secret past, which promptly gets him kicked out of the house. Returning home, he learns that his father was murdered in a break-in by the Jokerz!

Sometime after the funeral, Terry moves in with his mother, Mary, and little brother, Matt. He stumbles onto the disc amongst his father’s belongings, but can’t make any sense of it.

Heading back to Wayne Manor, he tells Bruce over the intercom that he believes his father was killed for whatever is on the disc but doesn’t want to go to the police because they’re in Powers’ pocket. Bruce eventually opens the gate…

Best Performance

Will Friedle puts in a solid first shift as Terry McGinnis, and while there is some ‘you can’t tell me what to do, dad!’ that no doubt worried audiences with concerns about the teen-focus, he does a good job with the emotionally-charged scenes. The highlight is his guilt-ridden conversation with his mother following the death of his father, but his pleading with Bruce at the end was well done as well.

Kevin Conroy is the only other contender, but he’s deliberately kept too enigmatic to get in enough lines to justify giving it to him instead. Quality over quantity of course, but there are limits.

Ranking

God it feels good to have a blank slate to rank things against again!

Alan Burnett is credited with starting the episode with Bruce Wayne’s final night as Batman (in the new suit), and I think that was an incredibly smart decision, especially as so many wrote the show off the moment it was announced a new character would be under the cowl. Depicting Batman in such a frail state, collapsing from chest pain mid-fight and seeing no other choice to save his own life but to point a gun at somebody is truly shocking stuff, driving home why Bruce had to hang it up despite seeming like he’d die in the suit one day. I love that his last hurrah wasn’t a dramatic final stand-off with the Joker or another big name, but a random group of nobodies that he simply couldn’t handle anymore. And that’s before they hit us with the twenty years later!

We could talk about the aesthetic of ‘Neo Gotham’ all day, and while there’s a definitely overly-optimistic prediction of how far society will advance in a few decades, I really like it. The fashion, the vehicles, the buildings, even little things like news reporters appearing as creepy quasi-imposed blue shadows. It’s incredibly impressive to me that they were able to design this world in such a short space of time, with even the returning characters requiring brand new models. Over time we’ll get an impressive array of future slang, too.

It’s not just the design of the city that’s impressive, but the new Batsuit too, which was a monumentally important element to nail. I love that you can tell that it’s Bruce wearing it here, not just from his larger physique, but even the shape of his head compared to Terry. They also go to great lengths to make it moody and atmospheric, with the soundtrack ranking extremely highly in the history of the franchise. It’s definitely its own thing, with far more guitar shredding, but it feels right at home. They couldn’t show Warren McGinnis’ corpse, but the important moment of Terry coming home to a crime scene with HAHA spray-painted on the walls as his mother and the GCPD hold him back is powerful.

Dini wrote the hell out of Part I, showing us Bruce’s retirement, introducing a new world and protagonist and setting up a mystery to bring the two leads together. There’s not an ounce of fat to be trimmed and every one of those elements works. I have no notes.

  1. Rebirth Part I

Villain Watch

Derek Powers (Sherman Howard) (first appearance)

It was a great call to have news coverage of Powers attempting a takeover of Wayne Enterprises on Bruce’s final night as Batman, and then showing him having succeeded twenty years later. It’s almost as if the incident broke his spirit and he couldn’t hold Powers off anymore…

Anyway, for now, he’s just a random shady business dude. We hate him because he took Bruce’s company and had Terry’s dad killed, not to mention him swallowing up smaller businesses.

The Jokerz (Marc Worden/Bruce Timm) (first appearance)

While they may seem to be nothing more than Joker cosplayers, that’s a powerful concept in and of itself, and one that rings incredibly true if you look at how the Internet treats Joker in real life. The idea of disenfranchised youth hero-worshipping an anarchist Murder Clown is perfectly plausible to me. They’re detestable on purpose, and they’re one of the more memorable parts of the show.

Mr. Fixx (George Takei) (first appearance)

Not much to say at this point. He’s a distinct-looking heavy that ostensibly murdered Terry’s dad for Powers. Last place? No, no, no! Top three, baby!

  1. The Jokerz (NEW ENTRY)
  2. Derek Powers (NEW ENTRY)
  3. Mr. Fixx (NEW ENTRY)

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie including Return of the Joker.

My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, continues its coverage of What If…?

There Will Be Movies continues Ben & Matt’s look back at the 90s each Wednesday. This week we journey back to a time when Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were tolerable with Ed Wood.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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