Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Batman Beyond (DVD)

I haven't talked a whole lot about DVDs recently, probably because there hasn't been a release to really talk about (although King Kong comes next week). Some people may know I'm into both comic books and animated series based on comic books. This week we saw the release of Batman Beyond Season 1 and Justice League Season 1. I haven't picked either up yet, but plan on doing so. I'll talk about JL later, but I want to devote a lot of this column to Batman Beyond, possibly the last great Paul Dini/Bruce Timm collaborative effort (Dini only wrote episodes of Justice League after this). I still consider the 90s series Batman: The Animated Series to be one of the best American produced cartoons of all time.

Batman Beyond was set 20 years after Bruce Wayne had last donned the Batman gear. A boy happens upon Bruce Wayne getting beat up by a bunch of thugs and helps him. Bruce asks the kid to take him to Wayne manor, where the boy comes upon the Batcave. His name is Terry McGinnis and his father was recently killed because he was going to spill the beans about Wayne Enterprise's new CEO and his corruptness. Bruce made a new Batman suit, but was not able to use it himself, so Terry takes it to avenge his father's death. Eventually Bruce allows him to become the new Batman to save the corrupt city of Gotham and becomes a mentor for Terry. Bruce is now in his 50s and gets around with the use of a cane, but he can still rumble with the best of them.

The series only lasted 3 seasons (13/26/13 episodes) and the last one was difficult to sit through since there were huge gaps between new episodes. Obviously the second season was the best given it was double the length of the other two seasons. Towards the end of the 3rd season Warner Bros. released the edited version of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, a movie that was supposed to come out in theaters like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm did in 1993. For some reason Warner decided to send it straight to video. The rumors around the internet by people who had seen the movie had said it was quite adult in nature and rumors began to swirl that the release in 2000 was going to be an edited version. When it finally came out in December, it was indeed the edited version. Those who had seen the unedited version (which now included me) started up petitions for Warner to release the uncut version of the movie. Eventually in 2002 we got the uncut version on DVD and it was fantastic, as detailed in my review of it on DVDTalk (yes, I was a reviewer at DVDTalk before I was a game reviewer). Two years later we started getting WB Animated stuff in proper season sets on DVD.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is a better movie than Mask of the Phantasm to me. The movie explains the last mission Bruce Wayne went on and why his leg is injured. It also delves into Joker torturing Robin (Tim Drake) into telling him that Bruce Wayne is Batman and Joker brainwashing Robin into becoming Joker, Jr. This section of the movie was edited the most in the cut version, the biggest of which was Tim actually shooting the Joker dead for doing what he did to him. In the time of Batman Beyond it seems the Joker is back from the dead and Bruce and Terry try to figure out how he's still alive and stop him. The twist is very cool and I highly recommend you pick this movie up along with the Batman Beyond Season 1 release this week.

Justice League, by contrast, is an altogether okay effort. It does not reach the highs of previous WB Animated series and is just kind of there. It is cool that they collect the whole first season (26 episodes...2 3-part stories, 10 2-part stories) and will make it more easy to watch than it was to see one episode every week. It will also be cool when the second season comes out. Then they went and changed it to Justice League Unlimited and used more standalone stories with other JLA characters along with the main 7 from the previous seasons. I didn't like Unlimited as much and we will soon be at the end of the series on Cartoon Network and I can tell you the series ender leaves things wide open for another story that will probably never come. I certainly recommend the cheaper Batman Beyond season than Justice Leaugue.