In 1999, fresh off the success of the award-winning Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, producers Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett were tasked with developing a new, fresh take on the Batman mythos. The result was Batman Beyond, a futuristic continuation of Batman: The Animated Series, one that revitalised the DC Animated Universe and presented a darker, more mature superhero series then audiences were used to at this point. Critically acclaimed throughout its three season run despite initial scepticism, the series has remained a firm favourite of many Batman fans over the decades. Quite rightly, to celebrate its 20th Anniversary this year, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment have seen fit to release a packed Blu-Ray collection, which offers fans young and old the perfect excuse to return to the year 2039…
Set in a future Gotham City, Batman Beyond begins with an ageing Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy), long retired from being Batman and now an elderly recluse. When Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle), a high-school student and reformed troublemaker, discovers Bruce’s secret identity and steals his futuristic Batsuit to avenge his murdered father, Bruce offers to train him to take up the mantle of the Dark Knight. Fighting enemies old and new whilst attempting to live a normal teenage life and make up for past misdemeanours, Terry proves himself to be an-altogether different breed of Batman.
Watching the series today, what’s evident from the off is that Batman Beyond has truly stood the test of time. A cyberpunk-infused anime hybrid that expertly blends science fiction, high-school angst and classic super-heroics, the show still entertains and enthrals as it did back in 1999. The animation is a cut above other cartoons from the same period (and largely superior to the animated fare we see on telly today), whilst the stories themselves are sophisticated and bold, unafraid to throw in heavier themes and darker moments amidst the action and humour.
All 52 episodes are packaged here in one beautiful boxset, and whilst there are a couple of misfires among the stories on offer, they are easily outnumbered by the sheer number of classic episodes spread across the discs. Particular favourites of this reviewer include Meltdown, which features a neat coda to Batman: TAS‘s ongoing Mr. Freeze storyline, Earth Mover (the closest the show ever got to horror movie territory), Ace in the Hole (a lovely character piece centring on pet dog Ace), Out of the Past (a Bruce-centric episode that delivers one of the darkest twists imaginable in a kid’s cartoon) and epic two-parter The Call, which sees Terry recruited by the future incarnation of the Justice League.
The real highlight of the entire series though is Return of the Joker, a feature length direct-to-video movie, which is included here on a bonus disc. Not only is it the best ‘episode’ of the entire series, it also ranks as one of the best Batman stories ever told. Particularly dark and disturbing, this shocking epic features the return of Mark Hamill as the Joker, delivering a career-best performance as the reincarnated Clown Prince of Crime.
However, fans of Return of the Joker should heed our warnings if they consider buying this release – the version contained here is a shorter, censored version of the film, which excises 4 minutes of footage and contains a number of alternate scenes that remove the darker, scarier moments (the US edition has the full uncut movie). Worse still, unlike the US version of the set, this version is not in HD, and comes on a DVD instead of a Blu-Ray disc (despite the boxset being advertised as Blu-Ray only). This fact this difference is not directly mentioned anywhere on the box is flagrant false advertising on Warner Bros part and fans of the show should seriously consider before buying what is a sub-par, inferior version of a great film.
The series itself has at least been released as it was on the US version of the set, with 41 of the episodes contained herein having been lovingly restored and remastered in full high-definition, resulting in sharp, crystal clear video and audio quality. The remaining episodes have sadly been damaged over time and are impossible to fully restore, meaning they have instead been ‘Smart Rezzed’ from standard definition sources to HD instead. The difference in quality is minimal, though eagle-eyed viewers will no doubt spot some reduction in quality.
Those who love their value-added bonus material are well-catered for too, with a number of new bonus features spread across the 6-disc set. Nostalgic Tomorrow – A Batman Gathering (53 mins) reunites a large number of cast and crew members for a roundtable retrospective discussion about the show, whilst Knight Immortal (34 mins) takes a look back at Batman’s 80-year history. Elsewhere on the discs, feature-length documentary Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics (90 mins) chronicles the history and the cultural impact of DC Comics. Whilst only one of these documentaries relates fully to Batman Beyond, all three features are engrossing, entertaining additions to what is already a packed Blu-Ray set.
Extra features from the original region 1 DVD releases are ported across too, which is a major plus for UK fans since those individual boxsets never saw release this side of the pond. Four key episodes contain audio commentaries featuring a hefty mix of producers, writers, directors and voice actors, whilst each season is accompanied by a short roundtable panel with the series creators, moderated by super-fan Jason Hillhouse. Whilst each of these featurettes are relatively short in comparison to the newer bonus features on the set, the four creators still manage to pack tons of tidbits and trivia in despite the running time, making these more then worthy of repeated viewing.
Despite the quality of the show itself and the extra features included, there’s no escaping the fact that this set is not up to scratch for UK buyers. Were it not for the Return of the Joker issues, this would have been a perfect, five-star release worthy of an instant purchase. The show itself is a guaranteed blast, the episodes lovingly restored and the extra features made with real care and affection. Sadly though, by releasing a Blu-Ray set that contains a DVD despite never explicitly stating so (and only including an edited, incomplete version of a beloved fan favourite to boot), this otherwise excellent collector’s set is greatly cheapened, its value for fans diminished.
Batman Beyond: The Complete Animated Series is available now: https://amzn.to/2NcPDsE