May 11, 2024

Article at Batman News

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Batman Beyond Retro Review – Episode 3×05 – Old Boy

Batman Beyond is, without question, built on the foundation created by Batman: The Animated Series. But should enjoying it depend on knowing the original series in great detail? So far, this has rarely been the case. Even Meltdown, an episode that explicitly resurrects a villain from the original series, is concerned mostly with the character’s present, leaving his past primarily up to the viewer’s memory. To make sense of this episode, though, you must know something about Bruce Wayne’s Batman.

Batman Beyond: Out of the Past

After nearly dying in a traffic accident, Bruce finds himself contemplating his mortality. His mission depended on his youth, then his wisdom. As Batman Beyond began, though, he had to depend on his willingness to cede his mantle and mission to a new wearer. After the accident, Bruce finds himself browsing through pictures of his old flames on his gigantic monitor: Zatanna, Lois Lane, Selina Kyle, and Barbara Gordon. From behind him, a voice protests that she wasn’t included–Talia Al Ghul. She has an offer that would be hard to resist to anyone in Bruce’s position: A dip in the hot, bubbly Lazarus Pit.

This is kind of a weird episode; some missing pieces could’ve made it into an all-timer Batman episode, but it’s still a fun watch overall.

That Bruce would even consider the Lazarus Pit shows how vulnerable he is. He nearly died, and he’s quite shaken. The show holds so tightly onto the character they’ve set up for him as a grumpy old codger, though, that we hardly get to see him in that vulnerable spot. We’re supposed to infer it.

The primary conceit of this episode is well known to even pretty casual Batman fans–the idea of the Lazarus Pit. But this episode depends on you also knowing who Talia and Ra’s are, and that you have an idea of their history as we saw it in B:TAS. The versions of these characters in the Nolan films won’t give you any insight into this.

You’d think the main focus here would be on not taking your youth for granted or on reclaiming said youth once you’ve lived it, but instead we get a kind of weird and maybe transphobic villain encounter and some jump kicks before Bruce decides to just revert to who he was before, ensuring that the show can continue as it has (as demanded by syndicated television back then).

At first, things are fun. The show even has a pre-Batman Begins nod to the question of how to pronounce Ra’s name. Terry pronounces it as Rozz, and Talia corrects him–it’s Raysh. But he continues to insist on pronouncing it his way.

Later, when Bruce and Terry are seeing some shady stuff going on, they decide to escape, and they hear the voice of Ra’s and kick the door down… to find Talia there. Speaking in Ra’s voice.

This whole conceit is weird. Would Ra’s transfer his mind into Talia’s body? Maybe. Would Talia let him? Absolutely not, and it’s tough to imagine that she would fall victim to something like that. But it happened, so we accept it. But then, why does transferring his mind into Talia’s body give him access to both her voice and his (notably, Ra’s male voice is provided by David Warner, who voiced the character in B:TAS)? It feels like the primary intention behind the choice is to make the viewer uncomfortable–why does this attractive young woman sound like an old man? Why is a male voice and mind in a female body? In 2024 it feels a little weirder than it probably did back in the year 2000.

With that said, Ra’s finding a way to stay alive and then trying to restore Old Man Bruce to his younger form so that he can occupy Bruce’s body really does seem like some convoluted plot that Ra’s would cook up. But that’s the thing–if you’re just watching Batman Beyond and aren’t schooled on B:TAS, you don’t have any of that backstory to work with. Instead of being about Ra’s 60-year-long obsession with Bruce as his heir, he’s just Some Guy Bruce Used To Know who happens to be obsessed with his own immortality.

There are seeds of a good episode here but the whole package doesn’t quite amount to the sum of its parts. The best part of the show is the opening sequence, in which Bruce and Terry attend a musical about the original Batman, in which he sings about how criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot. It doesn’t really make sense within the Batman Beyond story in which people seem to have mostly forgotten about Batman, but it’s still fun and funny.

One side note: Mark Hamill cameos as Carter, the current assistant to Ra’s. It’s a subtle but fun nod to B:TAS in an episode about that show.