The Matt Signal Beyond – Episode 8: Heroes

Plot summary: The Terrific Trio clean up crime in Gotham, making Batman feel a little redundant. But naturally all is not as it seems…

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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Notes

Episode Title: ‘Heroes’

Original Air Date: February 20th, 1999

Directed: Butch Lukic (2)

Written: Rich Fogel (2)

It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway: The Terrific Trio are a parody of the Fantastic Four. This was fine for a cartoon, but Marvel shut down plans for the group to appear in a tie-in comic.

Speaking of Marvel characters, Terry lifting the cylinder off himself appears to be an homage to the greatest moment in superhero comic history, Spider-Man freeing himself from under enormous machinery.

The Terrific Trio’s lab was re-used in both Justice League and Justice League Unlimited as a fancy generator room in Gorilla City.

Recap

Batman fails to stop a group of jet-pack wearing thieves who have stolen a valuable computer chip. Luckily, The Fantastic Four The Terrific Trio clean up Terry’s mess, handing the goons over to the police.

A news piece on the heroes tells us they are Magma, Freon and 2-D Man, victims of a fusion experiment gone awry that gave them their fantastical abilities. Oh, and they’re government-approved!

Commissioner Barbara Gordon arrives on the scene of a tense hostage situation, which is naturally thwarted by The Terrific Trio, though Magma terrifies one of the hostages in the process, angering him.

Magma continues his grumbling back at their HQ, questioning the absence of their co-worker, Howard Hodges, on the night of their fateful accident. Sure enough, Hodges slinks off to meet with the nefarious General Norman.

Hodges discovers the Trio’s DNA is unstable and reports back to Norman, but Magma breaks into the lab and steals the evidence, knocking Batman aside when he arrives on the scene.

Terry pursues him back to Trio Tower, where Magma shares his findings with his teammates. Suddenly, General Norman leads a huge military assault on the tower that the quartet barely escape thanks to a staged death.

Norman reports The Trio’s apparent demise to Hodges, but the group arrive moments later and begin torturing him for the truth. He admits the reactor overload was deliberate, intended to kill Magma so he could steal Freon from him (she wasn’t supposed to be there at the time, of course).

Batman stops them from repeating the overload, tricking them into taking each other out, sucking 2-D Man and Freon into the powerful ventilation system and unleashing a fire hose on Magma. Not content to end his evening on an apparent brutal triple-homicide, he gives Hodges shit on his way out. What a guy.

Best Performance

This is a simple process of elimination. Will Friedle is fine and barely anyone else gets to talk, including Kevin Conroy, Stockard Channing, Laura San Giacomo, Jeff Bennett, Corey Burton and Kevin Dunn.

Thus Robert Davi comfortably sweeps this one up as the bitter Magma, channelling his trademark sinister undertones and explosive rage into a hero turned villain. He is able to convey a sense of fury that fits the enormous character design, a test a surprising number of actors fail. But he does it without sounding like the big dumb roid rage kind of villain, making it believable he was a scientist before the accident.

Not that he’s not good, but the slim pickings had me looking real hard at Don Harvey as the faux-British kidnapper for a hot minute.

Ranking

Chris Simms once stated the reason Batman Beyond is so compelling is that it’s essentially Spider-Man being mentored by Batman. If you didn’t pick up on that before, Terry recreating The Wall-Crawler’s most iconic moment should make it abundantly clear.

That moment aside, not to sound like a broken record, but this felt like it needed to be a two-parter to get the most out of both villain factions and Batman. Time and again, it feels Beyond simply doesn’t have enough time for all of its characters. Fans of BTAS are desperate for more Bruce, but it’s also important to show us who Terry is in comparison. You could get away with not putting the spotlight on Batman much, because Batman is Batman… but this is a new Batman. I actually think they did an okay job with that aspect here, from the Spider-Man moment, to the quips. I just wish we got more out of suit time for him. He took his little brother out and expressed some trepidation about the Terrific Trio. It was… fine?

But many of these shows get away with leaning as hard as possible into the compelling villains, and while they had a good group this time, there was simply a little too much going on to make it all come together in a satisfying manner in a one-part episode. It starts off well, showing the Trio in action a couple of times to establish them as effective heroes, then turning to the darker side with Magma. But adding in Hodges and General Norman was a step too far for me, and I’d probably pick one or the other if I didn’t get to stretch it to a second episode.

As an aside, I continue to be impressed that the art team built an entire world essentially from scratch, with every building, character and vehicle designed to be different to how anything looks today. It’s little things like data cubes, as well as larger things like military hovercrafts and wacky army uniforms. All of that combined with the production team’s comfort with action scenes makes the assault on Trio Tower one heck of a set-piece.

  1. Meltdown
  2. Rebirth Part I
  3. Dead Man’s Hand
  4. Black Out
  5. Rebirth Part II
  6. Heroes (NEW ENTRY)
  7. The Winning Edge
  8. Golem

Villain Watch

The Terrific Trio (Rovert Davi/Laura San Giacomo/Jeff Bennett) (first appearance)

You know the clichéd ‘what if Superman were evil?’ stories we’re all tired of? Here’s a minor remix that works, because the writers aren’t insufferably winking and nodding about their clever idea, and are instead crafting a villain story that while rushed, does work organically.

Magma is a big flaming rock monster, Freon is both floaty and icy, and 2-D Man stretches and flattens, which make them both a fun homage and interesting for action scenes. They outshine Terry and have public and government backing, both of which elude the new Batman at this stage of his career. But all is not what it seems, with Magma borrowing The Thing’s gimmick of scaring the people he saves due to his monstrous appearance. Where Ben Grimm rises above hate to be a hero, Mike Morgan takes a left turn down a darker path, with the reveal from Hodges pushing him to the point of attempting to destroy all of Gotham.

Magma is definitely doing all of the heavy lifting in terms of character work, as Freon and 2-D Man barely even speak, so again, if this were a two-parter, they’d presumably get more to do.

Howard Hodges & General Norman (Kevin Dunn/Corey Burton) (first appearance)

I’m not convinced either character merits individual coverage, so let’s just package them up here. Norman is easier to deal with as he’s just a generic paranoid military officer who betrays and lies to people in the name of public safety or some nonsense. It might have been nice to explore more of his relationship with the Trio in comparison to other government officials, but hey.

Hodges is your standard jealous incel asshole who tries to murder some people so he can have his friend’s girlfriend all to himself. To me the part that merited elaboration was that when the Trio gained superpowers instead of dying, he improvised and set up their relationship with the military while promising Norman he could manipulate them. Again, gimme a two-parter where we get more of that.

  1. Inque
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Derek Powers/Blight
  4. The Terrific Trio (NEW ENTRY)
  5. The Jokerz
  6. The Royal Flush Gang
  7. Willie Watt
  8. Dr. Stephanie Lake
  9. Howard Hodges & General Norman (NEW ENTRY)
  10. Jackson Chappell
  11. Mr. Fixx

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 Matt has brought perhaps the lowest box office movie ever covered on the website, Empire Records.

Published by

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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