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NYCC 2019: Batman Beyond celebrates 20 years of influencing DC animation

By Josh Weiss
Batman Beyond Return of the Joker

Two decades after it first aired on Kids' WB, Batman Beyond is just as beloved and subversive as it ever was. To celebrate the show's 20th anniversary and talk about its impact on later animated DC projects, members of the cast and crew made an appearance on the Main Stage at New York Comic Con today.

Looking back on the early days of the project's conception, producer/co-showrunner/director James Tucker recalled how they didn't want to just repurpose famous Batman villains with futuristic design updates. This one creative decision had a ripple effect for other animated DC efforts down the road.

"[Co-creator] Bruce [Timm] was very specific about not wanting to just do 'Villain of the Week,' from Batman: The Animated Series. He wanted to give Terry [McGinnis] his own rogues' gallery," said Tucker. "We really leaned into that. It could've been easy just to retread a lot of characters and put a futuristic spin on them, but these guys always wanna challenge us and make our lives miserable. And so we had to come up with new stuff — the writers, the designers couldn't fall back on our old 'Batman-isms' that we had learned doing the original series and The New Adventures. It was a challenge from Day 1, and it really invigorated the crew morale ... I think we were getting a little bit complacent, and so this made us grow as artists, and it also led to us developing the techniques we'd then later use in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited."

Created by Batman: The Animated Series veterans Timm, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett, Batman Beyond is set in the future where an aging Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) just can't keep up with fighting crime anymore. He decides to hang up his cape and cowl, but still passes down the Caped Crusader mantle to a younger hero worthy of the title and gadgets.

That individual turns out to be Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle), a rambunctious high school student who faces all sorts of new age threats while wearing a sleek and modern iteration of the iconic Batsuit. During his many adventures in Gotham City (its future look was inspired by Tokyo), Terry receives help and advice from Wayne, the grizzled vigilante agreeing to stay on in an advisory capacity from the Batcave, like Barbara Gordon's Oracle.

When all was said and done, Timm, Dini, and Burnett had something special on their hands — an absolutely groundbreaking and refreshing approach to the long-running Batman IP that opened the door to all kinds of strange, dark (emphasis on that word), and inspired science fiction concepts. Despite the show being ordered for younger audiences, Batman Beyond often waded in scarier, more mature waters.

“The show was supposed to be a lighter show, but it couldn't quite get that light," said producer/writer/co-showrunner, Alan Burnett.

“We never made these shows for kids. Yeah, kids were watching, but the discussions we had amongst ourselves were, decidedly, not kid-friendly," Tucker later added.

Whether it's talk of a television reboot or a live-action movie, there's no shortage of fans who'd like to see Batman Beyond, which has lived on in several comics, come back in some way, shape, or form.

"I would love to see somebody else do this series and put their new spin on it. That's what I would love to see," Burnett concluded. "We lost a season in the end, and we had some ideas that I wanted to work on and everybody wanted to work on. But to start it all over again, I would like to see somebody else start it over."

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Batman Beyond spanned three seasons, 52 episodes, and one direct-to-video movie between 1999 and 2001. The entire series (including the movie, Return of the Joker) is being released via a limited-edition remastered Blu-ray box set — first announced at SDCC 2019 — that goes on sale Tuesday, Oct. 29. Only 50,000 serial-numbered copies of the set exist, and can be ordered on Amazon for $89.30 a pop.

The full show hits digital and VOD Tuesday, Oct. 15, for $50 a pop.

Click here for SYFY WIRE's full coverage of New York Comic Con 2019, including up-to-the-minute news, exclusive interviews, and videos.