In 2019, Batman has started to age. While he still fights crime, he now uses a specially designed Bat-Suit to do it. When he has a heart attack while working a case, he decides that it's time to hang up the cape and cowl for good. Twenty years pass, and Gotham changes as all cities do. Bruce Wayne has just turned seventy, living alone in Wayne Manor and basically hiding from the world when a teenager named Terry McGinnis winds up being chased onto the estate by a motorcycle gang called The Jokerz. Bruce and Terry get into, and win, a fight with the gang but Bruce's heart problems creep up again and he winds up needing Terry's help to get back inside and settled. Terry pokes around inside and, after uncovering the entrance to the Bat-Cave, starts to piece together the puzzle only to then get caught by Bruce and kicked out of the manor.
When Terry comes home, he finds his father dead at the hands of The Jokerz, or so he thinks. He does some detective work of his own and traces the murder to a conspiracy involving Wayne-Powers Enterprises and a bodyguard to Dwayne Powers named Mr. Fixx. Terry wants Bruce's help with this but is shut down by the old man who instead tells him to take his problems to Gotham's Police Commissioner, Barbara Gordon. One thing leads to another and Terry winds up stealing Bruce's Bat-Suit and brings Fixx in on his own. Bruce, initially upset about all of this, eventually sees in Terry a kindred spirit and knowing how bad crime has gotten to be in the city he once patrolled, begins mentoring Terry in the ways of the Batman. On top of this, he brings Terry on to work as his chauffeur, allowing the young man to help support his family now that his father is gone.
That's the basic setup for Batman Beyond, the animated series that followed in the footsteps of Batman: The Animated Series and ran for three seasons from 1999 through 2001 on the Kids' WB channel. Developed by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett the series works quite well as a continuation of the Batman mythos. Essentially a cyberpunk Batman, this series is a really strong follow up to the beloved and critically lauded Batman: TAS. It's different in the way that it looks to a certain degree because of the futuristic setting, though the animation style employed isn't so far removed from the earlier series at all. The visuals are very strong and the Bat-suit used in the series is sleek and minimalist and just genuinely cool to look at. In fact, all of the design work in the show is quite impressive, from the way that the Gotham City of the future is rendered to the vehicles and gadgets on display to the rogues gallery of villains that appear throughout the three season run. there's a lot of style on display here, the show never lacks in cool, shadowy visuals.
Aside from the initial setup where our heroes square off against the Jokerz gang (who return later in the series), the series brings in quite a few other interesting characters and villains. There's a shape-shifting mercenary named Inque, a group of scientists named The Terrific Trio after they gain superpowers, the villainous Shriek, Batman's old foes The Royal Flush Gang, an assassin named Curare, the ghost of businessman Robert Vance, a professional hunter named The Stalker, a dangerous robot built to provide companionship to Terry's goofy friend Howard, the utterly bizarre Eggbaby, The robotic April Moon Gang, a vigilante named Payback, the nefarious Repeller, a connection to Ra's al Ghul, Justice League politics, and the criminal organization known as KOBRA to contend with, to name just a few of the problems that Bruce and Terry go up against. The series does a good job of bringing in elements from Bruce Wayne's past while also establishing Terry's character by introducing us to some of his friends and family members in order to flesh him out more as a character. It works quite well, the writing here is clever and, for a show that was primarily aimed at a younger audience, delivered at a higher level than you might expect.
The voice acting in the series is also top notch. Kevin Conroy reprises his role as Bruce Wayne from Batman: TAS and is every bit as good here as he was in the earlier series. Will Friedle does a nice job as Terry and ‘appearances' from George Takei as Mr. Fixx, Sherman Howard as Derek Powers, Michael Gross and Teri Garr as Terry's parents, Lauren Tom as Terry's girlfriend Dana Tan, Stockard Channing (and then later Angie Harmon) as Barbara Gordon, Seth Green as Nelson Nash, Cary Elwes and Parker Stevenson as Derek Powers' son Paxton, the late John Ritter as Doctor Wheeler, Henry Rollins as Mad Stan and Michael McKean as Ian Peek are all noteworthy. Oh, and David Warner and Olivia Hussey voice Ra's al Ghul and Talia respectively, and none other than Ice-T shows up on an episode as Ramrod. Not enough? Stacey Keach provides a voice in an episode, Andy Dick pops up, Xander Berkeley, Robert Patrick, Kurtwood Smith, Seth Green, Ed Begley Jr. and Lance Henriksen all provide voice work in the show as well.
Batman Beyond: The Return Of The Joker:
While Batman Beyond went off the air in 2001, the series was also given a straight-to-video animated feature film in 2000 entitled The Return Of The Joker that took place between the second and third seasons of the show. Set in 2040, the Joker, who has been missing for decades, shows up in in Neo-Gotham City and takes over some of The Jokerz motorcycle gang. A crime spree occurs, culminating in an attack at a commemoration of Bruce Wayne's work at Wayne Enterprises. Bruce believes that The Joker died during their last battle and warns the less experienced Terry to stay away. When Terry and Dana are attacked by The Jokerz while out one night, it's clear that The Joker knows who he is. He also hasn't forgotten Bruce Wayne, who he attacks while alone in the Bat-Cave.
With Bruce out of commission, Terry dons the suit and coerces Barbara Gordon into explaining what happened to The Joker all those many years ago. It ties into Batman's history with Robin, Batgirl, the inmates of Arkham Asylum and Harley Quinn. Armed with the truth behind The Joker's ‘demise,' Terry starts putting together the pieces of the puzzle starting by tracking down former Robin, Tim Drake…
Presented in its original, uncut form on this disc, Batman Beyond: The Return Of The Joker is a great addition to the series. It brings Mark Hamill back to voice The Joker, always a treat, and it does a great job of further tying Bruce Wayne's past into Terry's present and in pulling some of the more interesting supporting characters from the series into the show once again. Like the regular Batman Beyond TV series, the animation style is slick and stylish and, in the case of this film, particularly dark (the movie was given a PG-13 rating and, as such, a censored version was originally released as some of the content in this movie is a bit dark for younger kids). It's an entertaining and suspenseful film and a fantastic addition to the animated Batman universe.
Batman Beyond makes its debut on Blu-ray from Warner Brothers with the complete series spread across four discs and the Return Of The Joker feature film on a sixth disc (the fifth disc in the set is all bonus features. All six discs in the set are 50GBs. The content is all presented in the series' original 1.33.1 fullframe broadcast aspect ratio in AVC encoded 1080p high definition with 41 of the 52 episodes digitally remastered from their original 35mm negatives. The eleven episodes that weren't remastered (Eyewitness / Final Cut / The Last Resort / Armory / Sneak Peek / The Eggbaby / Zeta / Plague / April Moon / Sentries Of The Lost Cosmos / Speak No Evil) were left out because of age and element related issues.
The restored episodes look very nice. Colors are gorgeous and black levels are nice and deep. The transfers are free of any major compression artifacts (some minor ones can be spotted if you're looking for them) or edge enhancement and there isn't really any print damage to speak of, though some minor digital noise reduction looks to have been used to ‘clean up' some of the grain. There's as much depth as the animation allows for (and that's not to take anything away from it, because there is in fact considerable depth to the picture) and the clean-up job that Warner Brothers has done here is quite strong. The episodes that have not been remastered (and which are essentially upscaled) don't look quite as strong but still benefit from the high definition presentation. Even if they aren't quite as crisp and sharp, they've been cleaned up and look pretty decent. The picture quality on The Return Of The Joker is pretty much on par, again boasting very nice color reproduction and about as much detail and depth to the picture as you can realistically expect. Fans of the series should be quite pleased with how good it looks on Blu-ray. The Return disc does appear to be identical to the previous single disc Blu-ray release from 2013.
Note: A press release from WB mentioned that the restoration process has resulted in a loss of approximately 3% of the image. This didn't affect my viewing, but your mileage my vary. For what it's worth, the compositions all seemed fine and there wasn't really anything of importance missing from the picture.
Batman Beyond sounds quite good in English DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo. No problems here, the audio is quite strong. There's a nice, deep low end to the mix when the action calls for it and the score really benefits from the lossless treatment. Dialogue stays crisp, clean and clear and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note. A French language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is also provided.
As for Return Of The Joker, we get a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track in English and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks in French and Spanish. Obviously, a lossless upgrade would have been welcome but that didn't happen. Still, the quality of the 5.1 track is pretty good, there's nice surround activity noticeable throughout and the track is clean, clear and balanced.
Subtitles are provided in English SDH and French for the series and English, French and Spanish for Return Of The Joker.
Extras (and there are a lot of them, though much of this material will definitely seem familiar to those who have bought the series on disc in the past) are spread across the six discs in this set as follow:
The first disc holds two audio commentary tracks, the first is for the Rebirth Part 1 episode and features producers Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Glen Murakami and director Curt Geda. The same crew assemble to deliver a commentary for the Shriek episode, joined by writer Stan Berkowitz. The first track isn't so episode specific as it is a general run down of how the series came to be, what it was like following up the iconic Batman: The Animated Series and who did what as far as the creative team was concerned. The second track gets more into the nitty-gritty of putting that specific episode together and some of the ideas that they were exploring while doing that.
There are two featurettes on this disc as well, a fifteen-minute piece called Music Of The Knight being the first. Here, Bruce Timm provides an introduction sequence that then launches into the option to check out a few of the more memorable scenes from the series featuring some of the most impressive uses of music in the series. It's an interesting look at how much of a difference the right score can make. Inside Batman Beyond: Meet The Series Creators is a ten-minute bit that where the team of Timm, Murakami, Burnett and Dini talk about what went into putting together the first season and what their respective roles involved. A few trailers are also found on the disc.
The only extra on the second disc is an audio commentary on the Splicers episode with Timm and Murakami who are joined by storyboard artist James Tucker, voice director Andrea Romano and voice actor Will Friedle. It's an interesting track and the inclusion of Romano and Friedle gives it a different spin than the first two tracks in the set. It's fairly episode specific and covers the planning that went into it as well as their collective thoughts on the execution.
The Eggbaby episode gets an audio commentary with Timm and Murakami, director James Tucker, and Romano and Friedle. Again, it's an interesting and worthwhile listen with the group going into quite a bit of detail about this episode and telling some interesting stories along the way. This disc also contains the twelve-minute Inside Batman Beyond: The Panel featurette where Timm, Burnett, Murakami and Dini engage in a talk about what went into getting the second season of the series just right and some of the trickiness they encountered while trying to do just that.
Disc Four starts off with the ten-minute Inside Batman Beyond Season 3: Panel where Timm, Burnett, Murakami, and Dini talk about putting together the third season, what that all entailed and some of the finer points of that work. There are also some short but interesting Inside Batman Beyond Season 3 featurettes here that are essentially short commentaries featuring Timm, Dini and a few other participants talking about what are basically highlight reels for the following episodes: Close-Up On…, Out Of The Past, The Call, The Call Part 2, and Curse Of The Cobra Part 1. These obviously don't go as in-depth as the full-length proper commentary tracks do but they're interesting enough and worth checking out.
DISC FIVE (BONUS DISC):
This bonus disc includes two new exclusive featurettes, the first, and best, of which is the fifty-three-minute Nostalgic Tomorrow: A Batman Gathering that is a genuinely engaging roundtable talk with Timm, Kevin Conroy, Will Friedle, James Tucker, Glen Murakami, Andrea Romano, Bob Goodman and Stan Berkowitz. It's a very well-rounded discussion that offers up plenty of differing opinions and points of view from the participants about the show's success and cult status, what they still appreciate about the work that they did on the series and more. The second new piece is Knight Immortal, a thirty-five-minute examination of Batman's eighty-year history covering his comic book roots all the way to the films and animated series that have turned the property into the massive phenomena that it is.
The rest of the extras on this disc are taken from previous releases. Tomorrow Knight: Batman Reborn spends just under eleven-minutes examining the similarities and differences between Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis. The six-minute Gotham: City Of The Future takes a look at the design work that birthed the version of Gotham City that we see in the series. The High-Tech Hero is a six-minute featurette that digs into the technology and gadgetry employed by Batman in his futuristic war against crime.
Also included here, and more substantial, is Secret Origin: The Story Of DC Comics, which is a feature-length ninety-minute documentary that takes a pretty in-depth look at, as the title hints, the history of DC Comics. Directed by Mac Carter the piece includes interviews with Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, Ryan Reynolds, Lynda Carter, Natalie Portman, David Cronenberg, the late Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, Bryan Singer, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Jim Lee, Neal Adams and many, many more. It's a very detailed and genuinely interesting look at the way that DC Comics started and how their characters evolved the way that they did over the decades and it's a nice inclusion on this set.
DISC SIX (RETURN OF THE JOKER):
Extra on this disc, all of which we've seen before as they were included on the stand alone release, start off with an audio commentary track featuring producer Bruce Timm, screenwriter Paul Dini, art director Glen Murakami and director Curt Geda that proves quote worth your time once it gets moving (it takes a bit of time to get there but it does get there). They discuss how and why they decided to tell yet another Joker story and what they tried to do this time around to make it different, collaborating with TMS animation to get the movie completed, the voice acting, the design work, the timing of the picture, how they feel about it in retrospective and lots more.
After that, you'll find a few featurettes, the first of which is the twelve-minute Beyond Batman Beyond piece which is a very promotional in nature piece that is essentially an EPK wherein those involved with the film gush about how great it is. Up next, we get five-minutes' worth of Video Character Bios that give us some basic info on Bruce Wayne, Terry McGinnis, The Joker, The Dee-Dee Twins and Woof. Another five-minute piece, Confidential Batman Footage: For Your Eyes Only, shows off a deleted scene that's relayed via storyboards and audio as it was never finished. It was cut for pacing reasons but it's cool to see here.
Outside of that, the disc also contains a music video for the track ‘Crash' by Static-X, three-minutes of animatics and a trailer for the animated Young Justice series.
The packaging for this release comes with an insert card for a Digital HD copy of the series and the limited edition (of which 50,000 pieces have been made) comes with a collectible Batman Beyond Funk Pop figure. The discs themselves fit nicely inside a beautifully illustrated fold out digipak style package the holds them securely in place on some spindles (though the discs are stacked). Also included inside the box is a set of lencitular collector cards featuring original artwork.
Batman Beyond: The Complete Series offers fans a whole lot of content. The series itself, and the follow up movie, both prove very entertaining. There's a load of style here, the visuals are always strong, and the storytelling is on point as is the voice acting. Warner Brothers offers up plenty of archival extras and a couple of new treats to sweeten the deal, while the inclusion of the figure and the cards will appeal to the hardcore collector's out there. The presentation overall is quite good. Even if not all of the material has been completely remastered there's still a lot to appreciate about the transfers and the audio. Highly recommended.