Batman Beyond: Season Three

“Batman Beyond,” the animated story of a new Batman in the future, only survived three seasons on Kids WB. Sadly, the third season marked symmetry with the first season, only including thirteen episodes – down from season two’s 26. Among those episodes is undoubtedly one of the future Batman’s greatest moments. Unfortunately, it’s surrounded by quite a bit of mediocrity. By the time the third season of “Batman Beyond” came around, Terry McGinnis, aka Batman (Will Friedle), had developed a rogues' gallery worthy of his heroic name. Season three would see the return of many of Terry’s villains, along with a familiar face from the past of Terry’s mentor, Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy).

One of the things season three attempts to do is give Terry a chance to stand on his own, without aid from Bruce or by putting Terry in opposition of the legendary Batman’s advice. I guess by the third season the show runners were ready to give Terry a chance to become a Batman of his own instead of simply standing in Bruce Wayne’s shadow. This affects a lot of the themes and plots that run through the episodes.

The season kicks off with “King’s Ransom” and the return of the Royal Flush Gang. The first season appearance of the gang remains one of my favorite Batman Beyond moments, as Terry finds himself falling in love with one of the gang’s members. Although that connection is played a little bit here, it’s lost momentum over two subsequent seasons and the connection is barely more than worth mentioning now. Like most teenagers, Terry has moved on. The idea of the villainous love interest is reflected later in the season as Talia, the daughter of famous Batman villain Ra’s Al Ghul returns with an offer of eternal youth for Bruce Wayne in “Out of the Past.” The story is handled much better, primarily because it focuses on Bruce’s age and Terry’s insecurity about Wayne possibly taking back over the Batman mantle.

The Royal Flush Gang aren’t the only villains to make a reappearance however. The shapeshifting espionage expert Inque returns for another go-round, this time revealing a family connection. The Kobra clan from season two becomes a big part of the later part of season three, although their lack of powers (as basically just trained thugs) may be a good reason why the season turns somewhat lackluster towards the end. Not all the villains are returning rogues however. “Big Time” sees Charlie Bigalow, a friend from Terry’s past, turn from a life of crime to a more serious life of crime as a chemical spill turns him into the latest member of Batman’s opposition.

The other reason for the downer end of the season is because the pinnacle of the season, “The Call,” came halfway through the season. “The Call” shows Terry joining the Justice League at Superman’s behest, to help the Man of Steel track down a traitor. Seeing the future Batman among future versions of the Justice League is a lot of fun, although the two-part episode loses a lot of cohesiveness if you spend too much time thinking about it. Like a lot of “Batman Beyond,” the show is fun in short bursts, but isn’t exactly food for the mind.

For me, the biggest disappointment of the season and the series comes with the final episode, “Unmasked”. The disappointment doesn’t stem from the episode marking the end of the series, but from an incredibly boring plot that has Terry communicating the importance of keeping his secret identity secret to Max, the one friend Terry has that knows he is Batman. The message is told through a story Terry tells about his early days as Batman – I guess one of those storylines that happened in between the stories worth telling. It’s a humdrum episode that unfortunately wound up being the last story of the series, a less than thrilling end to a show that deserved to go out on a better note.

By the time the third season of “Batman Beyond” aired on television my local WB affiliate had disappeared, so I had not had the chance to really sit down and see the season until now. Part of me is glad to finally see some great “Batman Beyond” moments. It’s just a shame to also see the show dive off into less interesting story ideas and wind up flailing around until its unfortunate demise. I have to admit, with television shows it’s sometimes refreshing to see less bonus material included. Even a season of thirteen episodes can become somewhat daunting if you have to watch the episodes numerous times for commentary, trivia, etc. While “Batman Beyond” Season Three carries very little in the way of bonus material, it hints at how there could have been more and makes this Batman fan wish just a little more effort had been put into the release.

The biggest extra in the set is “Inside Batman Beyond Season 3,” a quick look at the season from the producers of the show, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Glen Murakami, and Bruce Timm. Although only ten minutes long, the featurette is filled with information about the producer’s favorite moments and ideas they came up with but never got to film, such as an episode where Terry actually finally made a date with his girlfriend instead of missing out – a pretty formulaic element of the show. Most interestingly, they discuss the problems of writing a “detective” show for a 22-minute time slot, which is partially why Terry is more of a fighting Batman. They also make no bones about their dissatisfaction with certain parts of the show and admit it ended on a lower note then they might have liked.

“Closeup on…” takes some of those producers and pairs them up with Will Friedle and episode directors for brief discussions on a few of the thirteen episodes in the set. This was the disappointment part of the included material. They speak for about five to six minutes about each episode selected. At that point, they might as well have recorded a commentary for the whole episode. It’s neat to hear how much Friedle knows about the show, considering he was just a vocal actor, his memory shows that he actually watched the show and took pride in his work.

My biggest complaint isn’t with the included material, however, but what isn’t included. Paul Dini, unhappy with the closure of the “Batman Beyond” story, finished Terry’s story in an episode of “Justice League Unlimited,” titled “Epilogue”. In that episode an important part of Terry’s history is revealed. Unfortunately that episode isn’t included on this set. I think the quality of “Batman Beyond” and this Season 3 DVD set could have been greatly enhanced by including the real ending to Terry’s story. It’s not like WB doesn’t own both shows, so putting that episode on here shouldn’t have been a problem. Instead the set ends like the series – making viewers wish Batman could have had one last good adventure instead of just telling a mediocre story.