DC Comics launched its DC Animated Universe to emphatic success with the early ’90s phenomenon that was Batman: The Animated Series, and it also sowed the seeds for the universe’s most inventive spin on the brooding hero. On top of creating arguably the most quintessential Batman project ever, it paved the way for other characters within the DC Universe to get their time in the spotlight. The most unexpected hit, however, was arguably Batman Beyond. This show and the concept behind it seemed to come out of nowhere, but it became an acclaimed classic nonetheless.
For the time, it’s amazing how well the animated show did considering the ambitious choice to take Bruce Wayne out of the mantle and have someone else don the cape and cowl as the series’ protagonist instead. But despite how beloved it quickly became, Batman Beyond has yet to receive a new adaptation outside of the comics, yet, the lucrative success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has left the blueprint wide open since 2018.
The animated classic few people know about
Batman Beyond is an unmistakable cult classic in retrospect, but it was certainly a risk back in the last ’90s. The Dark Knight had seen euphoric success through BTAS and its sequel series, The New Batman Adventures, but Beyond was the first of its kind. A new Batman and a wildly different take on the Gotham City of old was a bold move, but it proved to be the new flavor of the beloved superhero that no one knew they wanted.
The Dark Knight of Tomorrow, Terry McGinnis, was (somewhat begrudgingly) handpicked by an elderly Bruce Wayne to succeed the mantle, blending elements of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Spider-Man, and traditional Batman in the process. It could’ve been easy to mishandle a character like Terry as a stereotypical angsty teen that’s more often than not a nuisance to his mentor rather than a successor. But thanks to the proven and deft hands of creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, his characterization was tastefully executed.
Writing a young man dealing with the growing pains that anyone would expect of someone of Terry’s age on top of carving out his own identity as Batman is necessary, but he was written in a grounded, relatable, and sympathetic light that acknowledged both his strengths and flaws. Likewise, his healthy balance of vintage Dark Knight brooding with Spider-Man-like wit and sass was masterfully done.
These elements of DC and Gotham’s new leading man and more are the ingredients for something that would feel unique to a theatrical animated movie, all while honoring all of its inspirational moving pieces. Saying that comic book publishers borrow from each other would be an understatement, but that doesn’t inherently mean they’re all derivative. Even with all the superhero and non-superhero influences that Batman Beyond wears on its sleeve, the show’s distinctive and gothic neon soul has become its own image entirely.
Stars aligning in the DCEU
The newly christened Warner Bros. Discovery is still in the process of rectifying the overarching DCEU from its tumultuous start, but some of the things that are confirmed to come are screaming for a new Batman Beyond adaptation — or at least from every corner but WBD themselves.
With next year’s The Flash, WBD looks to be cashing in on nostalgia by bringing back fan-favorite Batman actor Michael Keaton. The actor from director Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns is in his 70s, but he will be donning the cape and cowl once again before (presumably) passing on his leading role.
Granted, these developments make a case for a live-action Beyond movie, but for studios so seemingly disinterested in touching the cult-classic TV property, animation could allow for some exciting creative liberties and flexibility in adapting this corner of the DC universe.
Keaton could not be at a better age to take on the role of an elderly mentor Bruce Wayne guiding Terry McGinnis as the latter takes on the role of Gotham City’s Dark Knight of Tomorrow. The unique possibilities that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse presented for the on-screen superhero genre should convince doubters that the animated format could open up new possibilities in storytelling, innovative art direction, and unique character designs that honor the source material.
Plus, having Keaton lend his voice to an animated counterpart with his likeness might be an easier way to convince the actor to stick around — and have original Terry McGinnis voice actor Will Friedle make a triumphant return to the role of Terry.
Contrary to what you might hear from the toxic minefield that is social media fandom culture, there is no definitive answer for what atmosphere the on-screen superhero genre should adopt. Whether it’s a splash of colorful campiness like most of the MCU on one end of the spectrum or the grounded grittiness of the likes of The Batman, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Daredevil, or Logan, there are various ways to put together a compellingly told story.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did something refreshing altogether when it comes to movies. In both visuals and tone, it lovingly and wholeheartedly embraced the comic book medium and aesthetic in a way that a live-action movie would have a hard time doing. From the vibrant colors to the text boxes to the comic panel transitions, it was a feast for the eyes that never lost sight of its heartfelt story.
Batman is well-known to be more dark and somber than light and fun, but what Terry brings as Batman in terms of personality and the visuals of Neo Gotham City would fit an animation style similar to Spider-Verse like a glove. The Blade Runner-like atmosphere in Batman Beyond drips with neo-noir style to this day, and perhaps even more so when taking a look at the character’s recent comic book adaptations. Seeing Terry soar through the moodiness and perpetual neon nocturne of Gotham as Batman would be a sight to see, especially with animation as fluid as in Spider-Verse. The animated format would complement Beyond’s universe, and would make for a must-see moment for fans and newcomers alike.
The original Batman Beyond animated series and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker movie are available to stream (for now!) on HBO Max.