Early this year, Batman Beyond turned twenty years old. The futuristic follow-up to the iconic Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond struck its own path and quickly made it clear that it wouldn't just be Batman: 2039 Remix Edition. It chronicled the life of high school student Terry McGinnis who becomes the new Batman after an elderly Bruce Wayne takes him under his wing. As the new Caped Crusader, Terry has a new look (no cape, actually) — and a new menagerie of villains.
So, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of one of my favorite incarnations of the Dark Knight, here the top 10 best episodes of the show. And if you get done with this and think "Man, I really want to know what else this skinny dork thinks about Gotham City," I previously looked at the top 15 Batman: The Animated Series episodes, so check that out, too.
When you're done with the list below, come back here to watch this interview with the cast of Batman Beyond that SYFY WIRE hosted at this year's New York Comic Con.
While the original Batman was no stranger to genetic abominations (Man-Bat) or pummeling people shaped like animals (Killer Croc,) Batman Beyond took it a step further with Dr. Cuvier and his "splicers," people who willingly combined their DNA with animal DNA to get whole new, zoo-inspired looks. It's a hit, but nine times out of ten, whenever something is popular in Gotham, there's a deranged psychopath behind it.
"Splicers" makes this list because it's a great representation of Batman Beyond's unique mix of techno and body horror. By the end, it feels like Terry has had to deal with The City of Dr. Moreau and we've gotten a great showcase of the Ultimate Good Boy, Ace the Bathound.
Let me put it this way: I'm a sucker for any "Hero is forced to take down a version of himself" storyline. I loved it when Batman had to do it against a robot Batman in "His Silicon Soul." I loved it when Batman and Robin had to take down their doppelgangers Wrath and Scorn in The Batman's "The End of the Batman." And I loved it here, when Terry had to take on the Batsuit in "Lost Soul," an episode where his outfit gets possessed by a dead man's virtual soul.
Back in the first season, Terry has to deal with Willie Watt, a lonely classmate who steals his father's giant construction robot to wreak havoc on his bullies. Willie gains a mental link to the robot, so it sucks pretty bad when Terry has to get rid of it.
But in the second season, Terry encounters "supernatural" forces at his high school and guess what? It's Willie, his mental powers having gone haywire and his capacity for revenge going wild to match. This takes a spot on the list because it shows Beyond's capacity for creating interesting, recurring villains. The bad guy doesn't have to be the Joker for you to want to see him return.
For the most part, Batman was the sole protector of Gotham. Sure, he had various Robins and a Batgirl, but you don't see Commissioner Gordon lighting up the Dick Grayson Signal. But this changes when the Terrific Trio rolls into town. A "parody" of the Fantastic Four, the Trio become superstars but quickly find out that the "accident" that created them may have been, ummm, planned.
I already wrote about the terrifying ending to this episode, but it also, in the span of twenty minutes, gives us a handful of engaging, super-powered characters, a tragic backstory, and an end to their arcs. That is solid TV storytelling.
In this two-part episode, Batman fights the Justice League. And not because Terry refused to wear a uniform or got drunk and peed in the Watchtower. As it turns out, members of the League have been taken over by Starro the Conqueror and now Batman is responsible for making sure that Superman doesn't tear him, or anyone else, limb from limb.
This gave a wider look into the future's League, both expanding the universe and giving Terry an important choice. Does he stay single, standing alone atop the various skyscrapers of Gotham? Or does he join the League, something that not even the original Batman was fully comfortable with back in the day.
If I could, I'd put all three episodes with the villain Inque on this list, as they're all fantastic. But that would take up 30% of it, leaving little room for anything else. So I'll pick the best and most disturbing one - "Disappearing Inque," in which Inque tricks her "handler" into releasing her and doing her bidding.
And how does she return the favor? Well, she gives him a taste of her powers and it doesn't look like it goes very well.
The Royal Flush Gang are a consistent thorn in Terry's side and the dynamics in the family of playing card-themed megalomaniacs are often just as interesting as their schemes. Well, in "King's Ransom," the family falls apart, with Ten having abandoned them for a life of un-crime and King gaining a mistress behind-the-scenes.
Add a returning Paxton Powers (son of Batman's Season 1 archnemesis Derek Powers, aka Blight), and you have an episode that's equal parts emotional drama and the punching kind.
Season 1 ended with a bang with a Powers Family reunion (Derek and his equally awful son Paxton) and the final appearance of Blight, the nuclear billionaire that neither Batman liked. Blight was always a welcome presence. as he was a great foe for Batman and also great at grumbling menacingly when Terry countered all of his plans, but here he goes down in a submarine and seemingly dies.
I always wondered if they ever planned to bring back Blight in the cartoon, but they never did. So RIP Blight. A radioactive man that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
"Out Of The Past"
Talia al Ghul was always the "one that got away" for Bruce. Well, the "one who was the daughter of an evil eco-terrorist so it made things a bit awkward when they tried to make out" is more like it, but in "Out of the Past," she returns, offering Bruce the chance to be with her and to regain the youth that he misses.
Buuuuuut is it actually Talia? I won't spoil it, but the ending is pretty disturbing. Please don't read anything about this episode before you watch it.
Batman Beyond was always hesitant to use classic villains because it wanted to forge its own identity and not just be Batman: The Animated Series Part 2. However, in the rare cases that it did, it always worked, and the best of these is "Meltdown," in which the eternal Mr. Freeze is brought out of "cold storage" and given a new chance for life.
Desperate for redemption, Freeze finds the Gotham that he left to be just as harsh as the one he came from and the episode wraps up with him facing down Batman and Blight in a triple threat climax that's made me cry more than once. It's not only the best episode of Batman Beyond, but it's one of the best episodes of any superhero cartoon ever. Perfection.