Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)

Good as the Batman Beyond (Batman of the Future) TV series is, I don't think it matches the high water-mark of the same team's earlier Batman: The Animated Series (and variants) – and since it overwrote the original in terms of production and scheduling, it's hard not to feel something excellent has been taken away to make room for something merely good. Aside from instantly-dating itself with a heavy metal / techno rock score (and rave scenes), the show's hero, Terry McGinnis (voiced by Will Friedle) just isn't quite Batman. A rebel teen turning his life around and trying to inhabit a legendary role, he feels a bit like the 1990s DC incarnations of the likes of Green Arrow, Green Lantern or the Flash, and there's something Marvel-flavoured about his home life and wiseass attitude. Plus, with Bruce Wayne (a definitive voice from Kevin Conroy) still around – and the characterisation of an elderly, crusty, lonely Bruce is one of the show's successes – Terry can't really be Batman; at best, he's Robin in a cool suit with functional wings.

This DTV / DVD feature (70 minutes, plus credits) attempts to link the old with the new, but also has a cookie-cutter premise in bringing back the most famous Batman villain (still voiced by Mark Hamill, with a lot of good facial animation but a dull new coverall) to bother the new Gotham City and wreak personal revenge by taking over a Grandson-of-Star-Wars satellite weapon to carve a smiley face on the map, incidentally (and with marvelous pettiness) taking out Terry's Mom, girlfriend and mentor. We get a flashback, narrated by the new Commissioner Gordon (the former Batgirl), that comes up with a good final clash between the old Joker and the old Batman, with an aptly fiendish scheme (to transform Robin – this continuity's second one, DC's third regular – into Joker Jr) and an actual death. But the Joker returns, as promised, and the plot toys with several possibilities (including a Hamill-voiced red herring businessman) before revealing that it's a transforming personality chip stuck into the neck of the now-adult Tim Drake (Dean Stockwell, the original Boy With Green Hair). The emotional beats work fine, but tend to relate to older matters, with Bruce's nod of approval to his successor seeming like an attempt to rope Terry into his own movie, and the animated action, including many tussles with the nicely-designed Joker gang (twin ragdoll hippie girls who turn out to be Harley Quinn's granddaughters), an Akira-style city-strafing, and some mysterioso bits. Terry even gets one good scene of his own, as he harangues the Joker for not being funny ("joy-buzzers and squirting flowers… where's the A-material?") in their final fight.

First published in this form here.

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