We’re basically at the end of the Batman Beyond road, but there were a quartet of crossover episodes with The Zeta Project, Static Shock and Justice League Unlimited, so let’s take a look!
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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The Zeta Project span off the Batman Beyond episode, Zeta [LINK], and lasted for 26 episodes across two seasons. Robert Goodman wanted it to be ‘The Fugitive with a robot’ and have a darker tone than Beyond, but the network insisted it be family friendly, thus Zeta himself was dramatically redesigned and Diedrich Bader replaced Gary Cole.
Static Shock fared much better, with 52 episodes and was pretty popular for a while, likely thanks to adapting an existing comics character rather than being an original creation spinning off from another original creation. Showrunner and Static co-creator Dwayne McDuffie went on to be a huge creative voice for DC animation.
Justice League Unlimited served as a sequel series to the popular Justice League cartoon, dramatically expanding its cast from a core team of seven to well over 50 members used in a multitude of smaller combinations. It’s a breezier show than its predecessor and I prefer it for the most part.
Original Air Date: April 7th, 2001
Directed: Jim Maltby
Written: Rich Fogel
The deadly Infiltration Unit 7 tracks Zeta to a mall, where Ro is trying to teach him to mellow out. The two kill-bots fight, causing enormous damage to the mall, and while our heroes get away, Ro is injured.
In Gotham, Bruce tells Terry that Wayne-Powers is a partial owner of the mall and thus he has access to top secret security footage from the incident. The Bat Boys believe Zeta to have been responsible, so Terry tracks him to a nearby hospital treating Ro.
Terry attacks, uninterested in Zeta’s claims of innocence. Ro awakens and clears everything up, just in time for another attack from IU7. Zeta tries to run, Terry tries to fight, and eventually they team up and take the evil robot down, with Zeta trying to sacrifice himself to kill their foe, and Terry saving him at the last second. He apologises to Zeta before returning to Gotham.
It’s inescapable that this is a much worse looking show than BTAS/Batman Beyond, particularly in how the human characters are drawn. That’s fine in general, but seeing worse versions of existing character models like Bruce and Terry is a little sad.
The episode also does Batman pretty dirty in the writing department, which is strange given Rich Fogel wrote for both shows. I could understand Bruce being sceptical about Zeta, but Terry had twice teamed up with him at this point, and the footage they base their assumptions on doesn’t actually make it look like Zeta was responsible. So Batman ends up looking like a bit of a dick, refusing to listen to anything Zeta has to say and nearly murdering him with a defibrillator.
I could also immediately see the problem with the network’s demands that Zeta be a full pacifist, as his response to being pursued by a government murder-bot was mostly just to run away, and his final hail mary was a murder-suicide, as he had already determined Ro’s injuries were his fault. I’m not saying it’s bad to be non-violent, but given the nature of the medium and the fact this is a machine built only to kill, you’d think he’d be permitted to do SOMETHING to it. It was cute to have Zeta mimic the arcade machine from the beginning fo the episode by chucking bananas at IU7, though.
Batman’s involvement felt entirely unnecessary and was clearly a stunt to try and draw viewers. The episode aired on the same day as ‘Countdown’, in which Zeta returned to Gotham, but this of markedly lower quality. Still, kinda funny seeing an old lady whack Terry on the head with a bead pan.
Original Air Date: January 17th, 2004
Directed: Vic Dal Chele
Written: Stan Berkowitz
In Gotham, Static assists Batman & Robin in taking down ‘Timecode’, a criminal purporting to have time-travel technology. While investigating his time machine, Batman inadvertently activates it, and Static is sent 40 years into the future where he meets Terry McGinnis!
They fight for a bit, but Bruce breaks it up and confirms Static’s identity and says they need his help rescuing a Kobra hostage… the older version of Static! Terry and Virgil bicker a bit and tangle with some Jokerz, before heading to Adult Static’s headquarters, where they discover his location.
Combining their powers, they rescue Adult Static who mops the floor with Kobra as he has become far stronger over the decades. Young Virgil gets a pep talk and is sent back to the present where he tries to process everything he experienced.
This was my first time with Static Shock, and I dig it. The opening titles rule, the visuals are excellent and Static’s powers are cool. Best of all, the writing is punchy, taking the time to make little comments about how nice it is for Terry to have somebody giving him leads, or that Bruce was taller in Young Static’s day. Blowing Virgil’s mind with splicing was neat, as it is one of Beyond’s prevailing legacies, and to ignore it would be weird.
Revealing that Static has become one of the world’s greatest superheroes was an excellent card to play, with Terry perplexed as he doesn’t think much of the younger version at first. That element gets annoying, with Terry coming across as uncharacteristically dickish. Much more fun when they started teaming up.
The ending felt pretty abrupt, which I guess is the consequence of putting so much time into the world of Beyond, and it’s a trade-off that I can live with. Little nuggets about how Tim Drake is a civilian now and the JLU are off-world were fun, and if you were a regular Static Shock viewer, you got some fun stuff with Static and Gear too.
‘The Once and Future Thing’
Original Air Date: January 22nd & 29th, 2005
Directed: Dan Riba (Part 1), Joaquim Dos Santos (Part 2)
Written: Dwayne McDuffie
In the era of Batman Beyond, bumbling college professor David Clinton is browbeaten by his wife despite having invented time travel! Why? Because he’s been using it to secretly collect lost artefacts rather than using it for profit. Sick of her abuse, he flees back in time 30ish years.
Clinton attempts to steal Batman’s utility belt from the Justice League Watchtower but is caught red-handed. He escapes through another portal, but Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern pursue… to 1879!
After acquiring era-appropriate clothes, they head to the nearest town and learn that the corrupt sheriff and his men are armed with futuristic weaponry. They learn the sheriff stole Clinton’s Chrono-Suit and used it to pilfer various tech from the future. Our heroes form an alliance with Wild Western DC heroes Bat Lash, Jonah Hex, El Diablo and Pow Wow Smith and take down the sheriff and his small army of heavily armed men, robots and even a freakin’ velociraptor.
Green Lantern sends all of the weaponry back where it belongs, but Clinton steals his Chrono-Suit back and high tails it through another portal. The League pursue and find themselves in ‘Neo’ Gotham, confronted first by Ghoul’s Jokerz, and then the Justice League Unlimited. Green Lantern has his mind blown by the appearance of a much older Static, while Warhawk recognises Stewart in turn… as his father! And his current ex is the mother!
After teaming up to fend off the Jokerz, they regroup at the current JLU headquarters… the remains of Hamilton Hill High, where the elderly Bruce Wayne runs the show. With time running out (literally, as Wonder Woman disappears, Stewart changes into Hal Jordan and the space-time continuum begins to collapse), they confront ‘Chronos’, who tries to reach the beginning of time, but Batman and Green Lantern stop him for good.
The pair find themselves back on the Watchtower, with Wonder Woman oblivious to the events of the episodes. GL mulls over the ramifications of future knowledge, while Bruce gets a chuckle from having trapped Chronos in an endless loop of the moment his wife yelled at him and he ran away.
Part One concentrates more on the fish out of water concept, with the trio of Leaguers trying to blend in with the locals and forming an old-timey superhero team. Wonder Woman has an easier time deflecting the bigger, slower bullets, Bruce wears empty holsters because of course he does, and Green Lantern uses his ring to generate a disguise because the clothes he stole smell. All good fun.
They were smart to equip Sheriff Manning with robots so that no humans got shot, and the wacky variety of tech from throughout the ages kept things a little more visually interesting compared to them just playing it straight. The highlight was Bruce telling his five allies not to miss as they each took aim at one of Manning’s six guns. Classic Batman nonsense.
The draw of the second episode was the three versions of Batman working together, though it’s pretty brief so I wouldn’t get your hopes up if you haven’t seen it before. Old Bruce mocking Young Bruce for being bad at interrogation is fun, but Terry unfortunately doesn’t contribute much beyond action scenes, which feel a little off. It was nice to see him, ‘Neo’ Gotham and the Jokerz, but there simply wasn’t time to dwell on anything. The assorted historical monuments and mystical “Beginning of Time” (represented by a giant hand with an eye) stuff is theoretically bombastic, but things move way too fast to be able to sit with any of it.
The relationship drama with the Justice League unfolding in the background of both episodes is excellent. Bruce gets to be uncharacteristically playful as he gently jokes about the tension between Green Lantern and his current and former girlfriends, while Stewart gets to return the favour by making Batman squirm over Wonder Woman. The Bruce and Diana will they/won’t they was a popular character dynamic and for good reason, as both the writing and the voice acting makes it pop. For it all to come to a head with Stewart learning he is destined to have a son with his ex was pretty delicious, and would become an ongoing plot beat of the series. The whole ‘would they have gotten back together if he didn’t know?’ thing. Fun!
Boy, Kevin Conroy sure is good at his job, eh? He already proved in ‘Out of the Past’ that he was able to slip seamlessly back into his Young Bruce voice after spending years as the older version in Batman Beyond, but he fully committed to Justice League/JLU. The material isn’t quite as good, but Conroy makes it all sing (quite literally in one memorable episode!) His playful banter with Green Lantern, difficulty talking about his feelings for Wonder Woman and authoritative barking at Chronos and the Old Western goons are all great. But the real meat is when he literally talks to himself, and he plays both sides to a tee.
Speaking of actors playing characters at different ages, Phil LaMar puts in an honest shift, voicing both the young and old versions of Static, whose age difference is far more dramatic than the two Bruce’s. He also voices the straight talking John Stewart Green Lantern, who I think I’m slightly less into than most fans, but I can’t deny it speaks to LaMar’s range. I miiight get annoyed watching a lot of Static in a row due to his high voice, but for 20 minutes, it was fun.
Peter MacNichol is a perfect casting for this wet fish version of Chronos, quickly seduced by a lust for power but simply too inept to achieve much. He revels in his brief time on top, threatening his subordinates, really capturing the idea of a harmless dork revealing his true stripes, before tumbling back down to earth tragically.
I like Diedrich Bader a lot, but if ‘Shadows’ is any indication of the rest of The Zeta Project, then he would probably annoy me pretty quickly. Zeta is just so mopey! I understand the character is riddled with guilt for his past misdeeds as a government assassin and is trying to learn how to be human, but there had to be a way to make him less whiney.
I didn’t expect to like Static Shock as much as I did, especially coming in cold on a convoluted episode, but here we are. I think the first half of the JLU double-bill was more impactful, so I’d give that the slight edge, but I was expecting both parts to take this in a walk, so kudos to Static.
The Zeta Project does not seem like a good television show at all, and I sincerely hope ‘Shadows’ was a particular low point rather than an accurate representation of the week-to-week quality.
- ‘The Once and Future Thing Part One: Weird Western Tales’ (Justice League Unlimited)
- ‘Future Shock’ (Static Shock)
- ‘The Once and Future Thing Part Two: Time, Warped’ (Justice League Unlimited)
- ‘Shadows’ (The Zeta Project)
Chronos (Peter MacNichol)
A very different take on the villain, JLU’s version would be referred to in certain sectors of the internet as a cuck. Starting out as a downtrodden genius who is carefully selecting historical items that nobody would notice are missing, he ramps up his operation after his wife chews him out and after a brief stint in prison, winds up ruler of Gotham. It’s a fun journey, and they do a good job of making him seem somewhat scary for a few minutes. The reveal that despite having it all, he still sleeps in his time-displaced Wild West jail cell was presumably meant as a joke, but I actually really enjoyed it as a character moment. Likewise literally running away into the past to get away from his wife.
The Jokerz (Marc Worden, Michael Rosenbaum, Melissa Joan Hart, Adam Baldwin, Don Harvey)
I’m thrilled that we got to see both iterations of the Jokerz, even if Ghoul’s group are irrefutably more memorable. They even got some Bullwhip-style upgrades from Chronos, allowing them to serve as credible opponents for the combined might of the JLU and time-displaced Justice League, which the original incarnation of the group could never have pulled off.
The original flavour are still fun though, and even manage to be creepy for a few seconds as one of them leads our heroes into a dark hideout so they can jump them.
Kobra (Lance Henriksen, Phil LaMarr, Jason Marsden)
Wild to me that of all the excellent Beyond villains, it was Kobra that got to be the main villains of the Static Shock crossover. Thankfully, they come across as more competent than their previous appearances. Pulling back from the full on transformation into dinosaur men, they are instead shown to engage in some mild Splicing, getting a minor (and temporary) reptilian makeover when they huff on some gas. It doesn’t reinvent them by any means, but they seem less bad at their jobs at least.
Tobias Manning (Ed O’Ross)
I don’t know much about the character, but I know this is a loose adaptation of the Superman villain Terra-Man who used futuristic weapons and rode a flying horse called Nova, who did appear as a robot here.
Infiltration Unit 7 (Diedrich Bader)
I like that IU7 has a more monstrous design than either incarnation of Zeta, while maintaining his ability to pose as other people, and it was a nice touch to have Bader voice both… But this is nothing to write home about. Kill-bot wants to kill.
Tomorrow we wrap up Beyond (as a TV show) with a look at some juicy data and final series thoughts.
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 and most recently The Batman!
My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, is on hiatus until Moon Knight begins.