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Batman Beyond: The Call (Parts I & II)

This post is part of the DCAU fortnight, a series of articles looking at the Warner Brothers animations featuring DC’s iconic selection of characters. I’ll be looking at movies and episodes and even some of the related comic books. This review/retrospective was meant to go out over a week ago, when I looked at Justice League: New Frontier, but unfortunately my package was delayed in the mail. However, I thought it might be worth a look back at the first time we saw a Justice League in the DC animated universe.

It seems that Bruce Timm and his staff of writers had considerable advanced notice that they’d be working on a Justice League cartoon show. The last season of Superman: The Animated Series contained animated introductions of characters like the Green Lantern in In Brightest Day and the Flash in Speed Demons. However, the introduction of the Justice League as a concept, a team of superheroes working for the greater good, came in Batman Beyond of all places. Portraying the distant future of the animated universe after Batman retired, it proved an interesting way to look at the team without getting too involved in the personalities involved.

Batman goes Beyond the call of duty...

I don’t think that Batman Beyond gets enough credit as a concept. Sure, it was forced on the writers and producers by executive meddling, demanding a strange hybrid of Batman: The Animated Series and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, but that doesn’t mean that the idea isn’t clever. Comic books are set in a perpetual “now”. Even though Batman was created over seventy years ago, he’s always been active in Gotham for about ten years. Sure, there are occasionally stories of possible of alternate futures (for example, The Legion of Superheroes set one thousand years in the future), but there’s very little thought put into the future or evolution.

It helps create a sense of continuity, that there is a future or a tomorrow. Here we’re presented with the image of a Justice League separated by decades from the one that we’d see formed in the Justice League cartoon. It allows us to get used to the idea of a team of superheroes collaborating to fight an evil. Of course, the characters featured on the team here – a future Superman, the immortal Big Barda, Aquagirl, a future Green Lantern and Warhawk (the son of Hawkgirl and John Stewart) – all have ties to the team that would appear in the cartoon, but the ties are loose enough that it doesn’t feel like it’s being consciously tied to establish continuity.

Terry gets a frosty reception from the Justice League...

It’s nice, because it affords the writers a chance to work with a wider DC universe tapestry than just Superman or Batman. In fact, it’s interesting to get out of the Blade Runner inspired surroundings of the Gotham of tomorrow and visit the futuristic Metropolis (home to the League’s watchtower in this alternate future), which looks surprisingly like Superman’s home planet of Krypton, all pale colours and clean streets. At least we know that the future of the entire DC universe isn’t as bleak and depressing as the one Batman finds himself living in. 

Christopher MacDonald makes an interesting choice to voice Superman, instead of Tim Daly from Supermen: The Animated Series or George Newbern from Justice League. MacDonald is an actor who never really got the credibility he deserved, but he played Superman’s father Jor-El in the animated cartoons. Now the actor lends his voice to Kal-El, which is a rather wonderful echo of Marlon Brando’s sentiments in Richard Donner’s Superman“The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son,” seems like more than an attempt to tie Superman to the Jesus Christ myth. 

To Terry, Superman is “the greatest hero who ever lived” and it’s great to know that Superman has a future. It’s probably a somewhat happier future than Bruce has found himself facing. Superman is still a hero. Sure, he’s got a snazzier black-and-white uniform which does look vaguely fascist (recalling his storm-trooper outfit from Brave New Metropolis or his Justice Lord appearance from A Better World), but he’s still catching falling buildings with his bare hands. When he takes a trip to the Batcave, visiting his old friend Bruce, he may joke that Bruce is “too stubborn to die”, Bruce seems somewhat more serious when he remarks that he “could use some of that Kryptonian DNA.” It’s barely there, but there’s a hint of bitterness in the ageing superhero’s voice.

Birds of Prey...

The plot introducing the Justice League is remarkably straight-forward. Somebody is taking the Justice League out of action – and it looks like it might be an inside job. Superman brings Terry in as the new Batman to weed out the traitor. Terry, being more like Spider-Man than Batman, is a bit shocked to be asked “to spy on them” – despite the fact that’s he’s adopting Batman’s tradition role within the team. He’s required to be a paranoid loner, just as Bruce was. Batman, after all, “wasn’t what you’d call a joiner.” When the possibility that Superman might be the traitor is mooted, Bruce is the person with the plan to take him down. “Do whatever it takes,” Bruce advises Terry of Clark, one of his oldest friends, “but make sure you stop him.” That is Batman, the hero who always has insurance.

It’s nice to see that, even though the episode is set in the far future, the writers pay homage to what came before. The very first appearance of the Justice League in comic books saw the team take on “Starro the Conqueror” (complete with an iconic cover), so its fitting the starfish-inspired space monster appears here. Starro as a villain has become almost iconic – forever associated with the Justice League, appearing in the #0 issue of Grant Morrison’s Justice League comic book relaunch in the nineties, even popping up at the end of the Justice League: New Frontier animated feature film. Not bad for what is essentially a giant, evil, mind-controlling starfish. Here the creature alternates between feeding on the chest of the character and nesting on the face – again recalling some of the resigns of the monster over its complicated fifty-year history.

The source of Superman's fishy behavious is explained...

The script, while straight-forward, is good fun. The writers are clearly enjoying working with the characters and the set-up. “What’s the top speed on this thing?” Terry asks Batman as he tries to outrun Superman in the Bat glider. “Mach three,” Bruce answers. Terry follows up with, “Is that faster than a speeding bullet?” We’re treated to an ominous reprise of Superman theme, but also some nice character-defining moments for most of the cast. Even decades on, Superman still has mercy upon a creature abducted from its home, seeking to return it to its planet rather than killing it. “Back to his old self,” Warhawk mutters. 

The Call is a nice little two-parter which forms something as a thematic bridge between Batman Beyond and the subsequent Justice League cartoon. It’s also a nice glimpse of what the future of the animated DC universe might look like.

2 Responses

  1. I remember being perplexed that they didn’t use Daly. McDonald seemed like an odd choice (I didn’t know it was him playing Jor-el) but he made it work.

    • I’ve always had a soft spot for McDonald. If I remember correctly, Daly got a live action gig at about this time – which is why George Newbern replaced him in Justice league. Being honest, I would have loved to see McDonald as a regular opposite Conroy.

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