The Matt Signal Beyond – Episode 17: Lost Soul

Plot summary: The digital consciousness of a dead tech mogul wreaks havoc on Gotham, setting its sights on acquiring a new body by force.

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: ‘Lost Soul’

Original Air Date: October 9th, 1999

Directed: Butch Lukic (5)

Written: Stan Berkowitz (7)

The Batsuit override switch was previously used by Bruce in ‘Rebirth Part II’.

While Robert Vance and his grandson Bobby Vance feature in this episode, the missing link between them would later appear in Justice League Unlimited as a spy working on the Watchtower.

Speaking of which, some have head-cannoned that Vance got the idea to digitise his consciousness from Brainiac’s actions in Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League: Unlimited.

Recap

We open with a thirty-five year old newscast from Summer Gleeson (remember her?) about the death of technology mogul Robert Vance, who spent his dying days digitising his mind to advise future owners of his company.

In the present, Bobby Vance boots up the dormant Vance AI, clueless about how to run the company since his father’s recent passing. Digital Robert convinces his grandson to connect him to the Internet…

Terry and Dana enjoy a romantic evening, but just as they’re about to kiss standards and practices the elevator intervenes by dramatically malfunctioning. Terry manages to override the controls by accessing the wiring and Dana splits.

Bruce confirms Vance’s program is behind the electronic mayhem across Gotham as a side effect of amassing huge amounts of information.

The GCPD can’t get inside a power plant connected to the Vance building due to the aggressive automated security. Batman fares better in stealth mode and shuts it down just as he’s hit with a laser blast.

Ordered to shrug it off and go and patrol a blacked out sector of Gotham, Terry foils some looters but suddenly finds his suit shutting down, hearing Vance’s voice in his head!

Vance attempts to drown Terry by making him stroll into the harbour, but Bruce hits the remote override switch from Episode 2 and then picks him up in the Batmobile.

In classic Bruce Wayne style, he simply cannot be bothered to reprogram the suit, so he and Terry leave the task for later. Naturally, the suit sits up under its own power as soon as they leave. Worse, our heroes discover it disabled the remote override on its way out.

Terry endeavours to go to the Vance building and shut the program down, so Bruce offers him the utility belt from his old suit for protection. Terry adds Nightwing’s domino mask for effect. Aww.

When he arrives the Vance-Suit has Bobby hooked up to some machinery, planning to claim his body as a new host via a Matrix style cable to the back of the neck!

Thus it’s some good old fashioned Batman vs Batman action, with Terry disabling the suit’s invisibility with explosives and hammering away at its damaged face with a metal pole and then freaking impaling it and turning on an electromagnet, overloading the suit and erasing the program.

A news report later confirms Bobby Vance sold the company, while Bruce gets to work on repairs, making sure to remind Terry that Batman must fight on with or without a suit.

Best Performance

Boy Meets World co-stars Will Friedle and Rider Strong were reunited here, with the latter playing Bobby… who isn’t much to write home about. Luckily, Friedle upheld his end of the partnership, putting in one of his best shifts in the show to date. His determination in the face of overwhelming odds was superb, and he had a fun back and forth with Kevin Conroy, also on his A-game.

But Stacy Keach ruled as Robert Vance, sounding every bit the disembodied creepy old tyrant he was cast to play. While just under 60 at the time of production, he successfully made himself sound much older. You get just enough of the sinister Phantasm voice to be fun, but he reeled it in a smidge.

Ranking

Just as it was shocking it took so long to do Cyberpunk in ‘Splicers’, I cannot believe we are seventeen episodes deep before an AI was the villain. BTAS did it seven years earlier with HARDAC, and that series wasn’t even set in the future!

It was cute to begin the story in the BTAS era and then see ‘Neo’ Gotham spring up around the Vance tower, and I’d like to see more of this kind of passage of time stuff in future episodes. Speaking of BTAS, Terry fighting against the Batsuit was a fun parallel to Bruce doing the same in ‘Perchance to Dream’ but obviously he was in physical rather than psychological danger.

Seeing the suit put its own detached head back on and later fight Terry to the death was gnarly, and the old cartoon rules about getting away with more violence against robots clearly applied because the brutality was kind of shocking. He impaled the damn thing through the back of the neck and down through its chest, and then ran an electric current through it! Even before that, they used silhouette to portray more barbaric striking, another trick they’ve deployed in the past. Honestly, censors being such sticklers for the letter of the law and not caring at all about the power of implication is never not funny to me,

Despite the elevator pitch of ‘Terry fights a computer-controlled Batsuit’, at its heart, this was a Bruce and Terry story in disguise, and it succeeded on that side as well. If you like Bruce playfully hazing Terry, this is your episode, as he smirks at Terry having to manually open the Batcave blast doors, makes him go out on patrol immediately after his close encounter with security and makes sure to remind him he won’t get any time off just because the suit is out of commission. I don’t know if I was meant to find it funny that Bruce’s solution to saving Terry from potentially drowning was actually worse than what Vance was doing, but it did feel in keeping with the character who always thinks he knows best.

It wasn’t all one-sided though, as Terry steps up to the plate and takes on Vance without technological aid, getting to wear the iconic utility belt and Dick Grayson’s old mask. And boy did he take on Vance, thinking outside the box to even the odds even without Bruce’s legendary fighting ability. It’s easy to forget twenty years on that some fans met Terry with a frosty reception, and I would think episodes like this went a long way towards warming their hearts.

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

Villain Watch

Robert Vance (Stacy Keach) (first appearance)

A simple idea well executed, as Vance is a maniacal old businessman who cheats death and wreaks havoc from beyond the grave, manipulating Bobby to help him and later plotting to steal his body, unbothered by the idea of killing his grandson.

That alone would be good, but Vance taking control of the Batsuit and trying to drown Terry and later forcing him to essentially fight himself was fantastic. The real cherry on top was him piloting the suit solo to show off the level of destruction it is capable of without the hindrance of Terry’s morality, going on a rampage that seems to be beyond what our hero could do, a classic sci-fi possession trope.

  1. Inque
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Shriek
  4. Spellbinder
  5. Curaré
  6. Derek Powers/Blight
  7. The Jokerz
  8. Earthmover
  9. Robert Vance (NEW ENTRY)
  10. Dr. Cuvier (and pals!)
  11. The Terrific Trio
  12. The Royal Flush Gang
  13. Willie Watt
  14. Dr. Stephanie Lake
  15. Howard Hodges & General Norman
  16. Paxton Powers
  17. Jackson Chappell
  18. 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 hiatus until Hawkeye, though I may drop a couple of one-off articles.

There Will Be Movies continues Ben & Matt’s look back at the 90s each Wednesday. Grab your multipass because you’ve won an all expenses paid trip to our episode on The Fifth Element. Super Green.

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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