The Matt Signal Beyond – Episode 13: Ascension

Plot summary: Derek Powers’ secret is finally revealed to the world, so Batman forms an unlikely alliance with his son to try and take him down for good.

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: ‘Ascension’

Original Air Date: May 22nd, 1999

Directed: Yukio Suzuki (2)

Written: Robert Goodman (3)

This marks Derek Powers/Blight’s final appearance in the show despite being the ostensible main villain. This is because the network wanted the show to tone down the corporate espionage aspect in favour of high school drama to fit with the originally requested tone.

Blight did return in the tie-in comics, which as of this writing I do not intend to cover, as there are simply FAR more of them compared to BTAS. But maybe I’ll check out some of the early ones.

This episode also features the only usage of the Bat Signal in Beyond, and the final chronological use of it in DCAU continuity.

Recap

Derek Powers, in his Blight form, raids a chemical warehouse with his flunkies. Batman arrives on the scene and many a barrel explodes during the chaos, granting Powers an easy escape as Terry saves the trapped workers.

Turns out Powers only has two weeks of fake skin left, hence trying to steal extra supplies. Dejected, he reveals an intention to make “new arrangements” as he submits to another round of grafting.

Thus Powers’ son, Paxton, is summoned from a South American branch of the company and offered a conditional version of the top job as Derek can no longer appear in public.

Bruce attends a televised board meeting regarding the move, which is interrupted by furious fishermen, who dump the poisoned contents of the rivers that Paxton polluted. Derek loses control, revealing his secret identity to the world!

After a botched attempt at apprehending Blight, Terry meets with Paxton, who lights up a Bat Signal and offers his help in capturing his father. Naturally, Terry is dubious, and for good reason as the moment he leaves, Paxton makes it clear he’s up to no good.

Following Derek Powers’ secretary, Terry discovers Blight’s hiding place on a decommissioned nuclear submarine, the radiation of which hides his own from scans.

Tipping Paxton off to the location, Terry assists in capturing Blight, but when it becomes clear Paxton plans to murder his father, their alliance disintegrates.

Blight goes into full meltdown, with Batman barely able to get Paxton and his men out before the submarine sinks. Derek is declared dead on the news, but Terry warns Paxton to watch his back.

Best Performance

Sherman Howard went out on a high, with Derek Powers’ mounting irritability spilling over into apoplectic rage as his true face is revealed to the world. He has been good throughout the series as a gross business magnate, and wisely paced himself when unleashing his fury, as it all needed to culminate in his literal meltdown. Loved the touch of him telling Terry to be more specific when he’s accused of killing his father.

It was a nice touch on Kevin Conroy’s part for Bruce to hesitate for half a second when calling Terry “Batman” given that we learned in ‘Shriek’ (that internally he still thinks of himself as the Caped Crusader.) He’s also decent when warning Terry about revenge.

Likewise, Will Friedle handles the vengeance plot well, threatening to go off the deep end and leading Blight out of hiding like some sort of serial killer, but ultimately snapping out of it and saving lives.

Ranking

While there’s a bit of haziness around the production order vs airdate order, this is clearly the season one finale, with Terry finally getting a big confrontation with his father’s killer. In that regard, this is kind of a massive bummer? As is often the case, things are going pretty well until they seem to suddenly run out of time to provide a satisfying ending. Props for the use of a decommissioned nuclear submarine, both because it hides Blight from radiation scans, and because it’s different to the typical Beyond setting. But the confrontation itself is… ehhhh.

Blight exhausting his supply of fake skin and being forced to hand the keys over to his son, who immediately double crosses him is a good story concept, and likewise the subplot of Bruce warning Terry about an all-consuming desire for vengeance. Both of these elements converge on the nuclear submarine, and it starts well with Terry taunting Blight and leading him to the bridge, but then it all just completely fizzles out into nothing. Paxton and his men catch Derek in a freakin’ net. A net! He melts through handcuffs in this episode! Terry prioritises protecting life over his grudge, which is good, but Blight simply breaks free, yells a lot, and the sub starts sinking and that’s the end of him. He rage quit on life!

Theoretically, Paxton steps into the role of new ongoing nemesis as he’s named Chairman of the Board, but without superpowers and a personal rivalry with our protagonists, what fun is he? Terry teases the idea of Blight returning (and he did in the comics), but that’s actually the end of the radioactive skeleton man, so it’ll be interesting to see where the show goes from here, given how key Powers was to the ongoing plot.

  1. Meltdown
  2. Disappearing Inque
  3. Spellbound
  4. A Touch of Curaré
  5. Shriek
  6. Rebirth Part I
  7. Black Out
  8. Rebirth Part II
  9. Dead Man’s Hand
  10. Heroes
  11. The Winning Edge
  12. Ascension (NEW ENTRY)
  13. Golem

Villain Watch

Derek Powers/Blight (Sherman Howard) (sixth appearance)

Smell ya later, Powers. I’m not saying Blight was the greatest villain in the world, hence his placement in the rankings, but it’s still a shame they did away with him given how useful he was as a narrative device. He was essentially Rupert Thorne/Roland Daggett and a super-powered Joker rolled into one; both financial backer for many of the other villains, and main rival due to killing Terry’s father and usurping Bruce Wayne.

He only had one chance to cut loose before now, and it’s more of the same really; neon green fireballs, melting handcuffs, radiation waves. All that. But his fight scenes here aren’t as well choreographed, and it sucks to see him just shout his way to oblivion.

Paxton Powers (Cary Elwes) (first appearance)

I suppose we’re welcoming our new big bad to the show? He’s certainly nefarious, dumping radioactive material in rivers, staging an elaborate plan to discredit his father and ultimately attempting to kill him but… he’s boring compared to the cavalcade of colourful characters Batman fought this season.

Given the network wanted more teen stories, you have to imagine Paxton won’t be the constant looming threat his father was, but who knows, maybe the writers will surprise us with some hidden depths.

  1. Inque
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Shriek
  4. Spellbinder
  5. Curaré
  6. Derek Powers/Blight
  7. The Terrific Trio
  8. The Jokerz
  9. The Royal Flush Gang
  10. Willie Watt
  11. Dr. Stephanie Lake
  12. Howard Hodges & General Norman
  13. Paxton Powers (NEW ENTRY)
  14. Jackson Chappell
  15. 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, is on a brief hiatus as we await the start of Hawkeye, but may pop up here and there with some listicles or whatever.

There Will Be Movies continues Ben & Matt’s look back at the 90s each Wednesday. This week it’s not The Matrix because of rules Ben set for himself, so he has to settle for Bound.

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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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