March 03, 2024

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Batman Beyond Retro Review – Episode 2×24 – Young Justice

Getting justice for those who have been legitimately wronged is important. Without it, abusers keep abusing, exploiters keep exploiting, and more people are hurt. Getting justice before you have all of the facts, though, can destroy lives. That’s what this week’s Batman Beyond is about (mostly). A criminal going by the name of Payback is hunting down people who have wronged teenagers, and Batman has to put a stop to it.

Batman Beyond: Payback

As with many of the best Batman stories, the villain here holds a mirror up to its protagonist. When Payback attacks the boss of a young man named Drew, the boss is indeed a jerk, pushing a teenager to work overtime or risking retaliation. When he goes after a guy who cheats on his girlfriends and abuses them, the guy is indeed a cheater who hurts the women in his life.

By the same token, when Terry goes after the person he thinks is wearing the Payback mask–a guy named Howard, who is a sort of mentor to the actual culprit–he thinks he’s doing the right thing. Payback is hurting people and destroying property.

But in both cases, the vigilante in question is too naive or too arrogant to consider the situation in its fullness. Payback doesn’t see how he’s scarring Drew, or how he’s putting the cheater’s other girlfriend in danger. Terry is so sure that the tall, intimidating guy he meets at the teen center connecting all of these kids is Payback that he tosses the guy around, destroying years of work in the form of sculptures the man has created.

The second is especially evident when the show takes a beat to look at the wrecked room around the man as Terry jets out. Terry’s assumption has irreversibly affected his life.

The villain turns out to be the son of the doctor helping all of these young people. The kid, maybe 12 at the oldest, sees his dad dealing with all of these kids’ problems and takes measures into his own hands. There are some cool ideas here, but there are missing spaces that would’ve made all of this more meaningful.

After Batman stops the kid and he’s been arrested, we hear the doctor’s theories on why the kid took the measures he did, but we never hear from the kid himself. By the time the credits roll, we know that the kid has issues with his father, but is ultimately still a kid, and that’s really about it. In some ways, Payback feels like a fifteen-years-early commentary on the many villains in superhero movies who do wildly destructive things for the right reasons and are often unaware of or just uninterested in the side effects. The lack of insight from the kid doing the crimes hurts the whole “mirror image” idea that this episode wants to be about, though, and leaves us wanting.

I also question how that kid got access to the tech he did; how did a 12-year-old get access to what amounts to a powerful exosuit and a laser whip that can slice through old-growth trees like butter? And how did he learn to use the whip without decapitating himself? At that age, I could barely whip around a pair of rubberized Ninja Turtles nunchucks without whipping myself square in the face. At my current age, I just have the common sense to know I’m going to whip myself square in the face before I pick them up.

Another theme the show plays at is the relationship between Terry, his father, and Bruce, mirrored by the relationship between the kid, his actual father, and his mentor. It doesn’t really get in deep enough to think super hard about these, though. It mostly comes through in the form of Terry griping in group therapy about the way he sometimes feels like Bruce doesn’t trust him. But we never get a chance to dig into the way the kid is emulating his surrogate father–using his gadgets, respecting the way his physical size can be used for force–without having a full, mature understanding of why he doesn’t use those things in those ways. Again, Terry is doing the same thing, but it’s more of an aside than anything.

Unlike too many of the episodes this season, Payback has something to say about Batman and Batman Beyond, about the danger of swift justice, and about the relationships between parents and children–especially fathers and sons. In this case, it’s another one that feels like it was aiming for a concept slightly larger than it had time for, but we’re glad it was aiming for something, and this is a really fun episode to watch.