The Matt Signal Beyond – Episode 36: Payback

Plot summary: Terry puts his detective skills to the test as he attempts to uncover the identity of a new vigilante named Payback, leading to some tension with Bruce.

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: ‘Payback’

Original Air Date: May 13th, 2000

Directed: Kyung-Won Lim (3)

Written: Robert Goodman (6)

The Vreeland Marquis Hotel is named for Veronica Vreeland, Bruce Wayne’s friend/sometimes girlfriend from BTAS.

Much like Mask the Phantasm, this episode uses the same voice actor for two roles as a red herring. This time it’s Payback and Howard Lewis.

Despite repeatedly establishing everybody uses ‘creds’ instead of cash, this episode features paper money.

Recap

A masked vigilante barges into a store and threatens the owner for mistreating his employees, refusing the contents of the cash register. Best. Dude. Ever.

Naturally Batman wants to fight this champion of the people, identified as ‘Payback’, who escapes while Terry is saving the ungrateful owner from certain death.

Terry reports back to Bruce, confirming he goes to school with the mistreated employee. Bruce links Payback incidents to more of Terry’s classmates, who also happen to use a youth counselling centre, which our hero is sent to check out.

Dr. Stanton gives him a tour, introduces him to his son, and when he’s called away to deal with a fake emergency from Max, Terry breaks into his office to download the contents of his hard drive.

An unseen individual knocks Terry out and when he comes to, Dr. Stanton and the centre’s librarian, Howard, suggest he fainted. Jeez, I wonder if one of them is Payback…

Bruce confirms every single Payback victim was the parent, teacher or boss of a kid who uses the centre. Terry suggests Howard is Payback given his access to all sessions.

Upon breaking into Howard’s apartment, Terry finds what seems like evidence of his double life and the two brawl. Unfortunately, Bruce is able to disprove the theory as Payback is currently involved in a police chase.

Racing over to join in, Terry barely saves a young couple from certain death and then battles Payback again. The vigilante starts a fire as a means of escape, as Terry devotes his attention to putting it out.

Bruce scolds Terry for pressing his hunch and attacking an innocent man, and insists they do things his way. Terry vents about Bruce ahead of a big charity event, and low and behold, Payback goes after the billionaire that very evening.

Terry saves his mentor and fights Payback for a third time throughout the rapidly collapsing hotel complex, eventually unmasking him. Turns out it wasn’t Lewis or Stanton, but rather the doctor’s young son inside a hulking metal suit.

Best Performance

It’s difficult to overlook the nod to Mask of the Phantasm, with Bill Fagerbakke lending his voice to both the mysterious hulking vigilante Payback, and the mysterious hulking librarian, Howard Lewis. He is doing two slightly different voices, but you can tell they’re both him so it sells the red herring.

While the plot point of Bruce and Terry bickering isn’t necessarily to my taste, Kevin Conroy and Will Friedle do good work with the material. Curtis Armstrong makes Warren, the storeowner from the opening, utterly detestable, too.

Ranking

Another of season two’s mixed bag episodes with a good idea that isn’t all that well executed. Trying to uncover the secret identity of a masked criminal is usually fun, but I can’t say this particular instance was overly satisfying. Revealing Stanton’s son as Payback certainly subverted expectations, but that isn’t always a good thing. Sure, we sympathise with the neglected child, but how on earth the kid made a six foot exo-suit complete with voice changer is in no way explained (beyond Stanon calling him a genius), and it makes the whole thing feel a little off.

There’s some interesting social commentary on therapy, the very concept of which Terry immediately defends against a smirking Bruce, highlighting their vast character differences. Furthermore, Dr. Stanton suggests Bruce respects Terry but struggles to express himself due to past trauma, which is of course designed to tickle audiences in the know, but is poignant nonetheless. Stanton and the other patients strongly encouraging Terry to quit while he insists the old man means well is fun as well. The icing on the cake of this whole beat was Bruce being genuinely taken aback that Terry wasn’t simply acting.

Speaking of which, I’ve mentioned previously how I don’t enjoy it when the show drifts into territory that suggests Terry is just a warm body to wear an advanced suit and do as Bruce tells him. That makes sense early on, but we’ve seen plenty of evidence that Terry has grown into the role and exhibited more smarts and out-of-suit ability than Bruce initially gave him credit for. Thus, it feels like a huge regression to have one of the subplots of this episode be that Terry is a big dumb-dumb who should do what he’s told. The only saving grace is that Bruce didn’t magically solve the whole thing either, and instead it all boiled down to using him as bait so Terry could defeat Payback.

  1. Meltdown
  2. Eyewitness
  3. Babel
  4. Final Cut
  5. Disappearing Inque
  6. Spellbound
  7. A Touch of Curaré
  8. Shriek
  9. Rebirth Part I
  10. Bloodsport
  11. Splicers
  12. Zeta
  13. Armory
  14. Hidden Agenda
  15. Lost Soul
  16. Earth Mover
  17. Black Out
  18. Dead Man’s Hand
  19. Sneak Peek
  20. Rebirth Part II
  21. Once Burned
  22. Revenant
  23. April Moon
  24. Heroes
  25. The Eggbaby
  26. Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot
  27. Mind Games
  28. Hooked Up
  29. The Winning Edge
  30. Ascension
  31. Joyride
  32. Golem
  33. The Last Resort
  34. Plague
  35. Payback (NEW ENTRY)
  36. Rats

Villain Watch

Payback (Bill Fagerbakke) (first appearance)

Hard to call a guy who attacks corrupt business owners and womanisers a villain. Especially when they’re revealed to be a child genius trying to help all of his father’s patients so they can actually spend some time together.

But as mentioned above, the reveal of Kenny Stanton is clunky, though I suppose if you pay attention to the words instead of his voice, Payback’s dialogue is somewhat immature. Plus I suppose they’re attributing the careless collateral damage to being a child? The costume is decent if a little generic, and the energy whip he wields rules.

Ticks a few boxes, but less than the sum of its parts.

  1. Inque
  2. Shriek
  3. Curaré
  4. Mr. Freeze
  5. Spellbinder
  6. The Jokerz
  7. Derek Powers/Blight
  8. Stalker
  9. The Royal Flush Gang
  10. Armory
  11. Ian Peek
  12. Earthmover
  13. Willie Watt
  14. Dr. Cuvier (and pals!)
  15. Mad Stan
  16. Robert Vance
  17. The Terrific Trio
  18. Bullwhip’s Gang
  19. The Mayhem Family
  20. Payback (NEW ENTRY)
  21. Agent Bennet
  22. The Brain Trust
  23. Kobra
  24. Dr. Stephanie Lake
  25. Howard Hodges & General Norman
  26. Paxton Powers
  27. Jackson Chappell
  28. Cynthia
  29. Falseface
  30. Mr. Fixx
  31. Ratboy
  32. Dr. Wheeler

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 the next MCU show starts. In theory I may drop some one-off articles or something, but life is hectic right now so… don’t bet on it.

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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