The Matt Signal Beyond: Batman Beyond Wrap-Up

After 52 episodes, a movie and a finale from a completely different TV show, we have finally reached the end of Batman Beyond, so it’s time to look at everybody’s favourite: DATA-DRIVEN ANALYSIS!

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!

Follow The Matt Signal on Twitter!

Best Directors

As a reminder, I assigned a points total to every director and writer that correlates to the episode rankings and then divided their total by their number of episodes to give an average. It’s obviously an incomplete metric as more than just directing inform the overall quality of an episode, but I will say I would agree with how it turned out here.

  1. Curt Geda
  2. Butch Lukic
  3. Dan Riba
  4. James Tucker
  5. Kyung-Won Lim
  6. Yukio Suzuki

Keeping the director pool even smaller than the already modest one for BTAS/TNBA, Batman Beyond opted to outsource nine episodes to allow the overseas animation studios to helm some themselves. These ones tend to be of lower quality, which to me is a side effect of the outsourcing rather than Korean people not being as good at directing or anything wildly racist like that.

Awkwardness aside, it’s clear that Curt Geda and Butch Lukic reign supreme. Geda did a lot of episodes in the first season, but then all but vanished in order to fulfil his intense responsibilities to Return of the Joker. I missed him a lot, as he accounts for 4 of my top 10. This left Lukic as the workhorse, racking up the most credits at 15, and accounted for an impressive 5 of my top 10, but had more episodes from lower down the list than Geda.

Dan Riba also continued to put up big numbers (14) as he did with TNBA and all of the DCAU shows. None of his episodes made my top 10, and while there were a few where I noted the strong direction… he seems more of an affable guy who can deliver on time than a top talent.

Finally, there’s James Tucker, who got promoted to a director when Geda had to bounce and ended up being a major part of DCAU productions going forward. Four of his episodes are in the bottom half of my list, but he got to work on the excellent ‘Out of the Past’, which juiced his ranking a smidge.

Best Writers

As above, I assigned a points total to every director and writer that correlates to the episode rankings and then divided their total by their number of episodes to give an average. Again, more goes into those rankings than writing, and I would quibble with this list compared to the direction one.

  1. Glenn Murakami
  2. Bruce Timm
  3. Paul Dini
  4. Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer
  5. Dwayne McDuffie
  6. Shaun McLaughlin
  7. Hilary J. Bader
  8. Alan Burnett
  9. Stan Berkowitz
  10. John P. McCann
  11. Rich Fogel
  12. Tom Reugger
  13. Robert Goodman
  14. John Shirley
  15. James Tucker

Part of the reason for that is there are 16 writers, some of whom only did a single episode, so if it places in the Top 20, they’re likely to end up with a good spot on the list. This applies to Glenn Murakami, Bruce Timm, Dwayne McDuffie, Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer and Shaun McLaughlin.

Another contributor is the existence of ‘Story by’ credits. I made the decision early to count these as full writing credits, but they do definitely warp things a little, as you have show producers Glenn Murakami & Bruce Timm swooping in as the top two ranked writers, despite not doing the same level of writing as the immortal Paul Dini.

In fact, if we were to only rank writers with a minimum of 3 scripts the list becomes: Paul Dini, Hilary J. Bader, Alan Burnett, Stan Berkowitz, Rich Fogel and Robert Goodman. I would actually probably go for that as an order without any caveats.

Dini, like Curt Geda, spent a lot of his time working on Return of the Joker, so wrote the award-winning pilot, and then aside from a single story credit in Season 2, vanished until towards the end of Season 3. When he IS contributing, he continues to be great, though only manages to get 2 episodes in my Top 10, compared to the entire Top 9 of the BTAS/TNBA rankings. Conversely, Hilary J. Bader got 7 in the Top 20, and wrote almost all of the tie-in comics, so an under appreciated BTAS legend in my eyes.

Rich Fogel and Robert Goodman each turned in a couple of great episodes but an awful lot of mediocre ones, while Stan Berkowitz penned the most scripts (16) and is often the go-to writer for interviews about Beyond. While he worked on some good ones, the majority of his work lands towards the middle (spots 25-30 are all his), and he wrote my entire bottom 3. You can also look at the fact he wrote the two Part II’s in Season 3, both of which I ranked lower than their respective Part I’s. I simply don’t think he’s as talented as his credits might suggest. Plus he wanted to kill Bruce Wayne in the final episode, which was never going to happen.

Best Performances

Just like in BTAS and TNBA, I haven’t been tracking these as I go, and am instead just going off pure feel. It’s difficult to escape the fact that while they created some excellent original villains (see below), in general the designs were doing the heavier lifting compared to the classic Rogues Gallery who accounted for most of my Top 10 before.

  1. Will Friedle (Terry McGinnis)
  2. Cree Summer (Max Gibson)
  3. Mark Hamill (The Joker)
  4. Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne)
  5. Sherman Howard (Derek Powers/Blight)
  6. Stockard Channing (Barbara Gordon)
  7. Shannon Kenney (Inque)
  8. Chris Mulkey (Shriek)
  9. Carl Lumbly (Stalker)
  10. William H. Macy (Aaron Herbst/Karros)

Sherman Howard was fun for a while as Derek Powers, but when you compare him to the biggest recurring villains in BTAS, there’s no contest. Shannon Kenny made Inque sassy for a bit, but ‘Disappearing Inque’ exposed her acting shortcomings in my opinion. Chris Mulkey was incredibly creepy, but his amount of dialogue decreased with each appearance, and Carl Lumbly’s distinct tones gave Stalker an extra something-something.

The legendary Mark Hamill strolled into the game late and made such an enormous impact that I put him near the top of the list, ahead of Kevin Conroy, who was a series regular. I thought his work as Old Man Bruce was consistently solid, but he was so frequently only a bit player that I can’t put him any higher. Whenever he got more meat to work with, he tended to excel, with ‘Out of the Past’ easily being his best work in the series, and perhaps some of his best in the entire franchise.

If Max debuted earlier and got to appear in the movie and ‘Epilogue’, I think Cree Summer could legitimately make a run for the top spot, as she is so effortlessly charming every single time out. Her sarcasm and dry wit injected some much needed levity when the show started to flag in its second season, but she was also always capable of bringing it for the more emotional moments when called upon.

However there can only be one top choice in my opinion, and it’s Will Friedle, who rose above fan backlash to help craft a wonderful character in Terry McGinnis. He’s not as good as Kevin Conroy was in the original show, but he genuinely impressed me a number of times, and I think he took the ‘Best Performance’ honours more often than Conroy did (though some of that comes from the villain problem highlighted above). Occasionally his Spider-Man style quips whiff (but that’s the nature of the beast with that kind of dialogue), but he almost always excelled when asked to emote, and fully understood the character was mostly written as a Golden Retriever aka the Goodest of Boys.

Finally, Stockard Channing was a much better Barbara Gordon than her replacement, Angie Harmon, and props to William H. Macy for giving us both ends of his spectrum: Aaron Herbst the sad sack who falls in love with Inque, and the shockingly good Karros, who is good almost entirely because of Macy.

Episode Rankings

I think it’s pretty clear that the first season of the show as the strongest, with only one episode in the bottom 10, and most of its entries in the Top 25. The reason for that may be that the episodes of BTAS people like best tend to be Villain Spotlights, and the first season of Beyond was mostly debuting banger after banger of their new Rogues Gallery. The other seasons did introduce new villains, but they were much weaker (see below).

The third season was by far the weakest, and I actually found it such a slog to get through that I understood why the show got cancelled, though the quality did dramatically improve near the end when Paul Dini was freed up from Return of the Joker.

Speaking of the movie, I placed it straight at the top of the list, and it’s a bummer that it didn’t sell well enough to save the show. Every element works, and while it presents itself as a Villain Spotlight, it’s just as much of a Terry and Bruce story, as well as paying homage to the past.

It bothers me a little that 3 of my top 4 are episodes that feature the return of a BTAS villain, because I respected their mission statement of trying to create their own thing instead of leaning on nostalgia… but it’s difficult to argue with the emotional cache that comes with these classic characters. It is nice that they tended to help with the character analysis of Good Boy Terry, and regardless of the episode rankings, my favourite part of the show was anything that put Terry under the microscope. He is a wonderful character, and I’m glad fans changed their minds about him.

Finally, just to mention that when I read that Season 2 had a mandate to skew younger and focus on the High School more, I dreaded the worst. But I was pleasantly surprised at how well they wrote around that diktat, and found it didn’t end up bothering me much at all. It’s the longest season, and fluctuates in quality. Many of its episodes had excellent ideas but were let down by other elements.

  1. Return of the Joker
  2. Meltdown
  3. Inqueling
  4. Out of the Past
  5. Eyewitness
  6. Babel
  7. Final Cut
  8. Disappearing Inque
  9. Spellbound
  10. King’s Ransom
  11. A Touch of Curaré
  12. Shriek
  13. Rebirth Part I
  14. Bloodsport
  15. The Call Part I
  16. Splicers
  17. Epilogue
  18. Unmasked
  19. Zeta
  20. Armory
  21. Hidden Agenda
  22. Lost Soul
  23. Earth Mover
  24. Black Out
  25. Dead Man’s Hand
  26. The Call Part II
  27. Where’s Terry?
  28. Sneak Peek
  29. Rebirth Part II
  30. Once Burned
  31. Curse of the Kobra Part I
  32. Countdown
  33. Big Time
  34. Revenant
  35. Untouchable
  36. Sentries of the Last Cosmos
  37. April Moon
  38. Heroes
  39. The Eggbaby
  40. Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot
  41. Mind Games
  42. Hooked Up
  43. The Winning Edge
  44. Ascension
  45. Joyride
  46. Golem
  47. Ace in the Hole
  48. The Last Resort
  49. Plague
  50. Payback
  51. Rats
  52. Speak No Evil
  53. Curse of the Kobra Part II
  54. Betrayal

Villain Watch

Perhaps the show’s greatest victory was its effort to create a whole new collection of foes for Terry to fight instead of doing Two-Face Jr., Son of Scarecrow, New Ivy etc. Sure, they had The Jokerz, but they had the good sense to leave it there, instead of having gangs all over Gotham dedicated to different villains.

Instead, we got a handful of phenomenal character designs, chief among them Inque, who was visually interesting literally every single time. Her amorphous body let them get creative with her attacks, and also let her absorb way more violent punishment than they’d get away with for others, so every Batman vs Inque fight absolutely owns. Joining her in the Big Four are Curaré, Shriek and Spellbinder, and you see that quartet popping up over and over in tributes and fan art. Their designs are far more extreme than anything from BTAS, and I think that’s down to embracing the freedom of a blank slate.

I would put Blight, Stalker, Royal Flush Gang and The Jokerz themselves in the next group down, largely because while their designs were good, their focus episodes tended to be a little worse. Still striking, still always included when Beyond is revisited, but not quite as good.

Where they really struggled was the ‘normal’ human foes. BTAS had a steady mob/white collar criminal element that provided some decent mileage thanks to the tone of the show, but there is simply no true equivalent here, especially after Derek Powers gets killed off. And when you’ve got a better version of Venom, a radioactive skeleton and a psychedelic nightmare man running around, the ordinary people seem all the less exciting. Almost all of the lower half of the list is composed of this type of villain. You can also tell they started to run out of steam near the end, with the likes of Repeller, Payback and Big Time not making anywhere near the same impact as the early creations.

I only assessed the classic villains based on their Beyond appearances, and The Joker and Mr. Freeze fared much better than Ra’s/Talia al Ghul. Neither are as good as in BTAS, but they’re still excellent.

  1. Inque
  2. The Joker
  3. Curaré
  4. Shriek
  5. Mr. Freeze
  6. Spellbinder
  7. The Jokerz
  8. Derek Powers/Blight
  9. The Royal Flush Gang
  10. Stalker
  11. Amanda Waller
  12. Talia/Ra’s al Ghul
  13. Armory
  14. Ian Peek
  15. Mad Stan
  16. Harley Quinn
  17. Repeller
  18. Earthmover
  19. Willie Watt
  20. Dr. Cuvier (and pals!)
  21. Robert Vance
  22. The Terrific Trio
  23. Deanna Clay
  24. Kobra
  25. Karros
  26. Bullwhip’s Gang
  27. Agent Bennet
  28. Starro
  29. Simon Harper (and the Sentries!)
  30. The Mayhem Family
  31. Payback
  32. The Brain Trust
  33. Paxton Powers
  34. Charlie ‘Big Time’ Bigelow
  35. Dr. Stephanie Lake
  36. Howard Hodges & General Norman
  37. Jackson Chappell
  38. Cynthia
  39. Falseface
  40. James Van Dyle
  41. Mr. Fixx
  42. Winchell
  43. The T’s
  44. Ronny Boxer
  45. Ratboy
  46. Major
  47. Dr. Wheeler

Plugs

We’re not QUITE done with Batman Beyond, as there are a LOT of comics that need to be looked at for the next couple of weeks, so I’ll see you back here on Saturday.

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, returns next week with Moon Knight!

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s