Batman Beyond: Season Two

Batman Beyond: Season Two (1999)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Will Friedle, Kevin Conroy
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurette, Trailers

For nearly seven decades, the Caped Crusader has battled villainy and corruption around Gotham City, utilizing a wealth of inventive machinery and bat-like stealth to fly off the pages of DC Comics into pop culture immortality. For those who have ever wondered how a single man could do so much for so long, Warner Brothers may have the answer. Taking place some 50 years into the future, "Batman Beyond" finds the man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne, passing on the Batman legacy to another. The action rises high in season two of this kinetic animated series.

Following the success of "Batman: The Animated Series" (1992-1995) and "The New Batman Adventures" (1997-2000), the WB network created "Batman Beyond," a look into the future of the superhero's adventures. Now aged and reclusive, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) keeps an eye on the world from his enormous mansion and batcave, lingering over memories of his heyday. His sole companion is a guard dog, Ace, and he keeps his former batsuits on prominent display in a glass case. After rescuing a troubled teen from a gang of delinquent Jokers, Wayne's identity is uncovered by the youngster, Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle). Terry's desire to avenge the death of his father eventually leads Wayne to begin mentoring the teenager to follow in his footsteps, endowing him with a high-tech, computerized batsuit (sans cape) that gives him powers like never before.

Balancing his secret nightlife with high school turns out to be a greater challenge for Terry than he expected. His call to action constantly takes him away from girlfriend Dana (Lauren Tom), and his grades suffer for lack of concentration. By the same token, he is a more vulnerable Batman than Wayne ever was, with little experience and more complicated worries. His tendency to make mistakes concerns Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Stockard Channing), the former Batgirl who, for vague reasons, has reservations about unleashing a new Batman onto Gotham.

For added drama, season two brings in Maxine Gibson (Cree Summer), one of Terry's classmates and a computer wiz. Using her investigative wiles and keen technological abilities, Maxine discovers the truth about Terry, effectively insinuating herself into his dark underworld, something she is all too willing to do. Though reluctant to involve her any further in their plight, Wayne is frequently given no choice in the matter as Maxine defies both his and Terry's warnings.

Keeping with Warner's previous "Batman" series, "Batman Beyond" takes a brooding approach to the story, conveying with sleek darkness the danger that Terry McGinnis encounters. Accordingly, the violence and intensity make this inappropriate for the youngest of children. The stylish animation harkens back to the original comics, displaying more of the expressionistic noir of the 1940s than the campy KERPOWS! of the 1960s. A few episodes do go for a much lighter tone, like the egregiously titled "Terry's Friend Dates a Robot" and "The Eggbaby." More successful, however, are the storylines that delve into the darkest levels. "Earth Mover" is a prime example, coming feverishly close to being an all-out horror story.

The voice talent on this series is in top form. Will Friedle, best known as the dim-witted Eric Matthews on "Boy Meets World," brings a great amount of depth to Terry McGinnis/Batman, subtly changing his vocal tone between personas and capturing the right amount of inexperienced perplexity. Kevin Conroy is certainly no stranger to Bruce Wayne, having voiced the character in the previous WB series and several direct-to-video features. Here, he must find the same tone that he established earlier but make it older and wiser, and he does it masterfully. The fine casting extends through to the guest actors as well, with Stockard Channing as Commissioner Gordon, Teri Garr as McGinnis' mom, and special appearances from the likes of Paul Winfield, Tim Curry, John Ritter, Seth Green, and Michael McKean.

All 26 episodes of season two are spread over four discs. Here is a quick breakdown:
Disc 1: "Splicers," "Earth Mover," "Joyride," "Lost Soul," "Hidden Agenda," "Bloodsport," "Once Burned."
Disc 2: "Hooked Up," "Rats," "Mind Games," "Revenant," "Babel," "Terry's Friend Dates a Robot."
Disc 3: "Eyewitness," "Final Cut," "The Last Resort," "Armory," "Sneak Peak," "The Eggbaby," "Zeta."
Disc 4: "Plague," "April Moon," "Sentries of the Last Cosmos," "Payback," "Where's Terry?," "Ace in the Hole."

Each episode is presented in its original fullframe aspect ratio. The dark, futuristic landscape of the series is brought out very well by solid black levels and sharp contrast. Some dust and grain show up in the first 13 episodes, which were all created mostly through traditional hand-drawn animation. The image quality becomes noticeably cleaner beginning with "Eyewitness" on Disc 3, when the series went digital. Colors are bold and rich throughout, especially in the digital episodes, creating a truly slick Gotham City.

The audio sounds fantastic in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. Clear, smooth dialogue and strong sound effects come through with high fidelity. Action effects are well-enhanced, pounding through the speakers without ever seeming harsh or forced. A thundering score is always present in the background, perfectly balanced with the rest of the audio and never overwhelming the dialogue. French and Spanish subtitles are available.

For special features, Warner Home Video assembled audio commentaries for two episodes. "Splicers" on Disc 1 features a track with producers Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami, storyboard artist James Tucker, voice director Andrea Romano, and actor Will Friedle. The same group returns for "The Eggbaby," which Tucker directed, on Disc 3. Both tracks are quite engaging as the commentators recall working on the series and share stories of their personal experiences.

Disc 4 boasts a 12-minute featurette called "Inside Batman Beyond: The Panel," featuring interviews with producers Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Glen Murakami, and Paul Dini. Moderator Jason Hillhouse hosts the feature and keeps the discussion going. It's a slim, but nonetheless welcome look inside the series, even showing that sometimes the producers do not always see eye to eye.

Lastly, a gallery of trailers for other Warner Home Video animated releases (though strangely not for this one) complete the features on Disc 4.

Carrying on the legacy of the DC Comics hero, "Batman Beyond" is a fascinating and original glance into the future of the Dark Knight. Whether fighting the Joker or an organization of telekinetic agents, Batman is an icon for the ages who may literally live forever. This animated TV series is worthy of its name, taking a proud standing next to its predecessors. Warner Brothers has served up a very nice DVD set for this season, and animation buffs should definitely check it out.