Plot summary: Terry recounts a story about his early days as Batman where he revealed his face to a scared child, making him a target of Kobra.
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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Episode Title: ‘Unmasked’
Original Air Date: December 18th, 2001
Directed: Kyung-Won Lim (6)
Written: Hilary J. Bader (12)
This was the last episode of the show to air, eight whole months after the penultimate episode. It also aired on Cartoon Network instead of Kids’ WB due to what Bruce Timm called “Production Problems.”
While the production stuff accounts for the initial delay, it was originally meant to premiere a little earlier… on September 14th, 2001, but as Kobra are a terrorist organisation, it got pushed back even more.
In theory, this is one of the only depictions of suicide in the DCAU, as Kobra One leaps into the cobra pit to prevent being captured. However, he appears in episodes set after this one, so either survived… or it’s an enormous continuity error.
Terry arrives late to help with a school fundraiser and learns Max has been cracking jokes about Hamilton Hill High seeing more of Batman than him. He scolds her for even bumping up against the notion of revealing his secret.
Max argues that certain people knowing his secret – particularly Dana – would probably make his life simpler. He reminds her of “that Diaz kid”, but she doesn’t know who he’s talking about. Story time!
Early into Terry’s time as Batman, he tangled with The Kobra Gang at a bank. During a high speed chase across the city, a tower was struck by Kobra missiles and caught fire… with a little boy atop it.
Terry breaks away to go and rescue the child, but he’s too terrified of the Batsuit to accept help. Seeing no other option, Terry removed his mask to gain the kid’s trust and then got him to safety.
The leader of the Kobra cell interrogates his men about how Batman was able to anticipate their robbery, using a mind scanner to prove one of them told his brother about the job. The offender is tossed into a pit of actual cobras.
Miguel Diaz, the kid Terry saved, is interviewed on the news and casually mentions that he saw him without a mask, intriguing the Kobra leader.
Bruce was of course furious, insisting, “there’s always another way”, and that he’s made Miguel a target. So Terry follows the kid to make sure he gets home safely… and he’s immediately targeted by Kobra.
Batman fends off the would-be kidnappers, and then the GCPD arrive to take Miguel into protective custody on Barbara Gordon’s orders… only Bruce reveals he was unable to get through to Babs.
The fake cops take Miguel back to their headquarters and hook him up to the mindreading device so they can see Batman’s face. It takes a while as the device isn’t calibrated for children, but they end up with an image which they run through their database.
Luckily, Terry arrives, having tracked the stolen cars, and takes them all down before Miguel can be thrown in the cobra pit. Kobra One jumps in instead to evade capture as the GCPD arrive. Yeesh.
The image taken from Miguel’s mind is finally shown on the screen and turns out to be that of one of his action figures, leaving Terry in the clear.
Back in the present, Terry tells Max that he doesn’t think Miguel ever got a good look at him due to the smoke from the fire anyway. The two walk past Miguel’s soccer practice, and it’s unclear if Terry’s hypothesis is true or not.
This is yet another strong showing for Will Friedle as he’s able to deliver the super-serious dialogue about responsibility without going full Bruce Wayne, as well as making the flashback Terry feel like a slightly different person to the narration Terry.
Kerrigan Mahan does a much better job with Kobra One compared to his previous episode. He’s still not the most interesting of villains, but he at least sounds more diabolical here.
Sean Marquette passes my only test for child actors: Don’t be annoying and terrible.
I can see why some accept this as the finale despite it being written before five other episodes. The notion that Terry should tell Dana his secret to avoid losing her isn’t an unfair one, so him finally giving an in depth explanation as to why he can’t do that works as a closing of the series. Seeing him learn the perils of sharing his identity first-hand makes it far easier to swallow than a single sentence of rhetoric from Bruce. There’s also the fact the episode is told in flashback, so you get the whole bookend effect, with a tale from his early days narrated by his more experienced present-day self to demonstrate how far he’s come.
I like that Miguel’s toys are drawn to look like knockoffs of Batman and Mad Stan, but with their hero and villain roles reversed. It’s not just cute, but plays into their character designs and the theme of the episode, as Stan vaguely looks like a soldier while Batman is meant to scare criminals, and as this episode demonstrates, children. We saw this explored in the BTAS episode ‘Be A Clown’, where a kid thought Joker was his friend and was too scared of Batman to accept his help. Where Bruce forced the issue and grabbed the child anyway, Terry went the Spider-Man route of revealing his face to reassure the boy. As I’ve said several times, you can boil Batman Beyond down to Peter Parker being coached by Bruce Wayne.
They actually got a lot of mileage out of Miguel, quickly garnering a great deal of sympathy for him, as he’s judged for playing with toys by himself and encouraged to interact with other kids who he finds too brutish. I always have a soft spot for lonely children, as it may not shock you to learn an adult who writes about Batman cartoons was once a lonely child themselves. I also liked their excuse for why the mind-reading device worked almost instantly on the Kobra agent, but took a few minutes on Miguel as children’s minds are more erratic. I can get behind that kind of BS. Plus the art design on the machine is pretty cool, portraying Terry’s face as almost a swirl of ink that ends up looking like an abstract painting of him that we as an audience can recognise, but Kobra do not.
Speaking of recognition, I like that they again went with an ambiguous ending, as Terry believes Miguel never saw his face after all, but the boy gives him a knowing look that may suggest otherwise.
While all of the above is positive, I don’t want to get too carried away. It’s a really solid episode, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s more about what isn’t here than what is. Maybe it’s just that Kobra are lame. I’m not sure. But it needed a little more to crack the top tier.
- Out of the Past
- Final Cut
- Disappearing Inque
- King’s Ransom
- A Touch of Curaré
- Rebirth Part I
- Unmasked (NEW ENTRY)
- Hidden Agenda
- Lost Soul
- Earth Mover
- Black Out
- Dead Man’s Hand
- Where’s Terry?
- Sneak Peek
- Rebirth Part II
- Once Burned
- Big Time
- Sentries of the Last Cosmos
- April Moon
- The Eggbaby
- Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot
- Mind Games
- Hooked Up
- The Winning Edge
- Ace in the Hole
- The Last Resort
- Speak No Evil
Kobra (Kerrigan Mahan/Corey Burton/Keith Szarabajka) (second appearance)
Yawn. This is a better showing for them than in ‘Plague’, but Kobra still aren’t the most compelling of villains, likely due to the ninja rule; one ninja is a badass, many ninjas are cannon fodder. Obviously, you can’t coast entirely off wacky individuals and need some larger groups and factions, but the key is to give them a more dynamic leader.
Kobra One just has a different coloured uniform and wears a toga, but there’s otherwise nothing to really distinguish him from the others. Heck, ‘Bracelet Kobra’ has more going on for him, with his venom-tipped claws and electro-sword.
Nevertheless, a chief henchman alone is not enough to overhaul the entire group. Perhaps their upcoming two-parter will help. I’ll move them up a little for now.
- Mr. Freeze
- The Jokerz
- Derek Powers/Blight
- The Royal Flush Gang
- Talia/Ra’s al Ghul
- Ian Peek
- Willie Watt
- Dr. Cuvier (and pals!)
- Mad Stan
- Robert Vance
- The Terrific Trio
- Deanna Clay
- Bullwhip’s Gang
- Simon Harper (and the Sentries!)
- The Mayhem Family
- Agent Bennet
- The Brain Trust
- Paxton Powers
- Charlie ‘Big Time’ Bigelow
- Dr. Stephanie Lake
- Howard Hodges & General Norman
- Jackson Chappell
- James Van Dyle
- Mr. Fixx
- The T’s
- Ronny Boxer
- Dr. Wheeler
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 Moon Knight begins.