February 18, 2024

Article at Batman News

View original

Batman Beyond Retro Review – Episode 2×23 – Go see a Star War

In one of its more whimsical episodes, Batman Beyond explores fandom, the response to Star Wars: Episode I, and other significant events in American culture at the turn of the century. Welcome the Sentries of the Last Cosmos, a Batman Beyond episode that uses an ultra-immersive game as a way to break formula and give us a quick little mystery.

Batman Beyond: Sentries of the Last Cosmos

When this episode debuted on May 6, 2000, we were just over a year out from the tragic shooting at Columbine High School, and from the release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Okay, those are two weird things to bring together, but this episode does it–kind of.

Terry, Max, and their friend Corey are playing Sentries of the Last Cosmos, an immersive VR game that lets you ride around on hoverboards, decked out in Cylon-like armor and flame swords to save the galaxy. After Corey racks up an obscenely high score, he’s invited to the home of the reclusive creator, who reveals to Corey and other high-scoring Sentries players that the game’s villain, the Dark Regent, is on Earth, and only they can stop him. You know where this is going.

This episode is sort of The Last Starfighter meets Tron meets Star Wars, commenting on fandom when it’s taken too far. There’s a bit of a mystery here in that the supposed creator, Simon Harper, is trying to cover something up, and sends his new goons after someone named Eldon Michaels. Much of the music in the episode intentionally apes Star Wars music, and the villain dresses up like a Jedi before firing lighting blasts from his hands. At the beginning of the episode, someone asks Terry a question and he retorts “Is Jar Jar lame?” without actually directly referencing Star Wars. I can think of at least a few other moments beyond these.

Eldon Michaels, the game’s true writer, in the middle of the Venn diagram of D&D creator Gary Gygax, Star Wars creator George Lucas, then-popular genre film critic Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News, and maybe comedy writer Bruce Vilanch. Oh, and he’s voiced by celebrity geek Patton Oswalt. Michaels has a robot that looks like the Lost In Space robot and owns a typewriter that once belonged to Philip K. Dick.

As for how Columbine plays into this, it’s an episode about ultra-skilled gamers turning into professional-grade criminals and fighters based purely on their gaming experience. Of course, it’s a VR game, so there’s something to the idea that the skills transfer over, but the proximity of this episode to the event is hard to ignore. With that said, I don’t think the show knows it’s taking part in that conversation because all it’s really saying is that gamers could totally be good fighters if the game was good enough.

Meanwhile, the villain’s whole thing is that he wants full credit for the story and will kill Michaels to ensure that he keeps the worshipful attention of his fans. It feels like a proto-Ready Player One story, with both revolving around the idea of a businessman taking power over an ultra-immersive game from its original creator for his ends.

With the episode wearing so many influences that it needs two full sleeves to show them, it ends up feeling like kind of a mishmash of content vaguely centered around a moral of “don’t play video games so much that you lose sight of reality, but also it’s fine if you play some video games.”

It also leans on the show’s favorite crutch, which is that everyone in Gotham City is a better fighter than Terry and can get the drop on him. This is one of the most frustrating things about Batman Beyond that I feel separates it from Batman: The Animated Series. Bruce made mistakes, got in over his head, and was far from perfect, but his mistakes never seemed like they were written in stone as things that had to happen. The mistakes he did make were often attributable to preexisting character flaws and not inexperience.

Terry is young, yes, but he’s been Batman for almost two full seasons now, and episodes will show him as a competent, sure-footed fighter before having him get dunked on by some random nerd five minutes later. It’s a kids show, you say. Sure, but so was BTAS. They can do better. But you can flip a coin and depending on how it lands, Terry will do some sick acrobatic move and then nail a one-in-a-million shot with a Batarang, OR he’ll get electrocuted from behind buy a no-name hoodlum with a stun gun. I’m all for Batman getting beaten up, but this all plays so inconsistently, and it brings down the show.

This episode is fun if you’re in it purely for the nerd-out moments, but as a Batman Beyond episode, it’s so-so at best. Come for the space battles, stay for Patton Oswalt voicing a George Lucas send-up.