Sometimes when I need a little creative inspiration or for no reason at all, I’ll go to YouTube and look up the best superhero theme song of all time. With apologies to ‘90s X-Men fans, I’m speaking, of course, about the unforgettable lead-in to Batman Beyond. Unlike other intros that aim to introduce characters, this one was all about setting a tone—from the thrash metal score to the montage of words 1 that flash across the screen like title cards. I never watched Beyond as a kid, but when I came to it as a teenager, I could only imagine how mind-melting that music would have been after a lineup of Spongebob Squarepants and Rugrats.
Beyond, like so many properties for kids, taps into ideas about identity, guilt, and corruption that defy the typical makeup of its audience. Lead character Terry McGinnis is a teenager who struggles with authority, doesn’t get along with his brother, and has unresolved guilt over his past as a juvenile delinquent. His first time wearing the sleek, all-black Beyond costume comes after he breaks into Wayne Manor and steals it—not exactly a “Boy Wonder” move. 2
The world Terry inhabits is corrupt to the extreme, overseen by corporate raiders intent on using technology to extend their lifespan and monopolize their power. In the feature-length Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, which aired as part of the third (and final) season, Batman’s oldest nemesis reveals that he resurrected himself by turning Tim Drake into a kind of Manchurian candidate with Joker at the controls.
If Batman: The Animated Series was submerged in Old Hollywood nostalgia and characters straight out of classic noir, Beyond was a product of more modern influences like anime and cyberpunk. While rooted in the creative milieu of its time—The Matrix premiered during the release of Beyond season one—the show’s dystopian vision of corporate excess has only become more relevant since it left the air in December 2001. We’re nearing the second year of a pandemic that’s left nearly 500,000 Americans dead while the country’s largest companies still turn a profit. In that environment, I wasn’t surprised to open Twitter one morning in January and find that “Batman Beyond” was trending.
DC’s decision to cast Michael Keaton in The Flash movie had fueled rumors that he was being positioned for a role similar to Bruce Wayne in Beyond: the grizzled veteran advisor to teenage hero Terry McGinnis. Those rumors haven’t quite panned out yet, but for a moment, I let myself believe that Beyond was ready to assume its rightful place in the crowded universe of Batman properties. What I didn’t realize at the time was how influential Beyond has already become to the Batman comics line’s present—and future.