The fourth assortment of Mattel's generally impressive DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS line of 6" scale super-heroes had an interesting addition to it - Batman Beyond. Not really someone you'd expect to turn up in a line based largely on the mainstream DC Comics universe, since Batman Beyond had his origins in the animated world created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini.
Batman Beyond was an animated concept developed following the highly successful run of animated adventures, under several titles, of the original Batman. It was decided to create a new Batman, someone never previously seen in the comics, a future successor to the original, set far enough in the future to basically create an entirely new universe. Let's consider the series and the character:
Batman Beyond began airing on January 10, 1999 and ended its run on December 18, 2001. The concluding chapter, as much as anything, was a subsequent direct-to-video movie entitled "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker". The lead character turned up in a few other animated appearances, including one episode of the highly popular "Justice League Unlimited", which seemed to add a bit more backstory.
In the pilot episode, we see approximately twenty years into the future, where an aging Batman is having increasing difficulty handling criminals he once subdued with ease despite the aid of a new, high-tech Batsuit. One night, a heart attack forces Batman to betray a lifelong principle by threatening a criminal with a gun. Because of this, Bruce Wayne reluctantly decides to retire the Batman persona.
The story then fast-forwards another twenty years. Gotham City is now a futuristic megalopolis equipped with staggering high rises and hovering/ flying vehicles. Bruce Wayne is now a recluse, living in bitter isolation with no companion but his guard dog, Ace. It is implied by virtue of his continuing to fight crime long after he should have, and his retaining of the costumes worn by Robin, Nightwing, and Batgirl, that even before he had a heart attack, something horrible transpired that caused Bruce to sever his ties with the Justice League and forbid his disciples to ever again assume their alter-egos. The events which caused all of this are revealed in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.
In 2039, Terry McGinnis is an athletic sixteen year-old high school student and reformed troublemaker with a deeply ingrained sense of personal justice. During the pilot episode, he saves a fellow passenger on a commuter rail from a member of the Jokerz gang, and later single-handedly takes on an entire gang of them to defend his girlfriend, ultimately resulting in a harrowing high-speed motorcycle chase through Neo-Gotham's expressways. The chase ends at the doorstep of Wayne Manor, where a fleeing Terry runs into the elderly Bruce Wayne. Bruce and Terry fend off the Jokerz side-by-side, but the exertion aggravates Wayne's heart condition. Terry helps Bruce back to the manor, and while staying there, he discovers the entrance to the Batcave. He later returns to "borrow" the Batsuit to avenge the death of his father. As crime and corruption are beginning once again to rear their ugly heads in Gotham, Bruce ultimately allows Terry to assume the mantle of Batman.
Terry continues the battle against crime, tutored by Bruce and aided by a new, high-tech Batsuit that augments his abilities, fires Batarangs from the wrists, flies using jets fired from the feet, allows eavesdropping through a hypersensitive touch microphone, and provides camouflage abilities. He comes to have his own rogues gallery, such as the seductive shape-shifter Inque, the hypnotist Spellbinder, the bitter, deaf sound expert Shriek, the deadly assassin Curare, the insane terrorist Mad Stan, the African hunter Stalker, a new version of the Royal Flush Gang, and the Jokerz, a gang idolizing the notorious Joker.
Terry was born in Gotham City in 2023, to Warren and Mary McGinnis, a research scientist at Wayne-Powers and an astronomer at Astro-Tech respectively. By his own admission, he was once a "bad kid." A member of a street gang run by youthful racketeer Charlie "Big Time" Bigelow, Terry has his fair share of run-ins with the Gotham City Police while in his early teens, even serving a three-month stint in juvenile hall. Years after Batman is last seen, he finds himself on the run from another street gang, the Jokerz, who model themselves after the deceased Clown Prince of Crime. Terry flees onto the grounds of Wayne Manor, where an aged Bruce Wayne comes to his defense. The strain of the fight places substantial stress on Bruce's heart, and he collapses. Terry helps Bruce into the mansion and gets him his medication; Bruce proceeds to fall asleep afterwards. Before leaving, Terry notices a bat stuck inside a grandfather clock. As he tries to free it he stumbles upon the entrance to the Batcave.
After Bruce kicks him out, Terry returns home to find his father murdered, and later discovers that Derek Powers -- who has assumed leadership of a merged Wayne-Powers -- is responsible. He seeks Bruce's assistance in bringing Powers down, but despite Terry's insistence, Bruce, still shaken from an ordeal years earlier of having relied on a gun for self-defense, maintains that he has given up the cowl. Terry takes matters into his own hands and steals the latest incarnation of the Batsuit. Bruce admonishes him through the suit's communicator, and even shuts down the suit, leaving Terry helpless in a fight. Terry, however, is able to convince Bruce to help him confront Powers, who ordered Warren's death after the latter discovered Powers' plan to mass-produce biological weapons. In the end, Powers, who has been exposed to his own hazardous chemicals, experiences the onset of his mutation into the villain Blight.
Convinced that there is still a need for a Batman, Bruce hires Terry as his "personal assistant" and begins secretly training him for his new role as Batman. In addition, Bruce assists Terry in the field primarily by keeping in continual contact with the boy at the Batcave.
After Powers' criminal identity is revealed to the public and he finally brings retribution to his father's killers, Terry decides to continue his role as Batman to make up for his past sins, in hope that his heroic role is his chance at redemption.
The character was certainly popular enough at the time. He garnered his own considerable action figure series from the main DC license holder at the time, which was Hasbro, and which, as most Batman-based lines have, emphasized multiple versions of the core character while throwing in the occasional villain figure.
Most of the figures, as one would expect, followed the animated style of the series. The closest to a more "comic-realistic" action figure that came along at the time was a 9", cloth-costumed figure which used the same body molds as the other cloth-costumed figures based on DC Comics characters which Hasbro was producing at the time, which featured such non-animated-based notables as Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Green Arrow. However, the head of the Batman Beyond figure was clearly derived from the animated style.
The character's popularity was sufficient that a live-action movie nearly happened around 2000 to 2001, but the studio decided to proceed with the "Batman Begins" project instead.
Batman Beyond enjoyed his own comic book series for a time, but this was, of course, set in the animated universe, and not the mainstream universe. However, Batman Beyond has since been integrated - somewhat, anyway - in to the main DC Comics universe, The Batman Beyond concept became DC Comics canon in the pages of Superman/Batman issues 22 and 23, wherein Bizarro is transported to an alternate reality somewhere in Hypertime (a concept concocted to almost bring back the Multiverse) which resembled the Batman Beyond-era Gotham City, with Batman Beyond in action with the 1999 animated black-and-red costume and Batplane. This version of the character is in radio contact with Bruce Wayne, but was referred to as "Tim", implying that this Batman Beyond was in fact an adult Tim Drake, rather than Terry McGinnis.
Also, in the DC comic book Countdown to Final Crisis, former Robin: Jason Todd, former Wonder Girl: Donna Troy, Green Lantern: Kyle Rayner, and "Bob" the Monitor travel to "Earth-12," which resembles the DCAU's future. They witness from the rooftops someone in a Batman Beyond costume defeating members of the Jokerz gang (although they don't know who is under the mask of the future Batman), to which Jason Todd says: "Huh. The more things change, the more they stay the same." The group speculate that either Tim Drake or Dick Grayson is under the mask. However, The Monitor confirms it is indeed McGinnis.
To what degree this portion of the restored DC Multiverse will survive the Final Crisis is anybody's guess as of this writing. That storyline seems to be focusing on the restoration of the New Gods as much as anything.
However, one can't really deny the enduring popularity of the character. Even so, I felt it was somewhat unusual to see a realistically-styled version of Batman Beyond turn up as part of Series 4 of Mattel's generally excellent line of DC Universe Classics. Not that I was about to complain, and I was delighted to find him recently.
The figure is superbly designed. Batman Beyond differs fairly considerably from the Bruce Wayne incarnation of Batman. The suit is entirely black and covers the entire head, leaving only the eyes and mouth visible. This is where the difference in style between animation and the more realistic imagery of the comics comes through. There's no sense of the animated style in the headsculpt, least of all around the covered face, which has been very realistically rendered.
It's certainly worth mentioning that there's a variant of this Batman Beyond figure out there, an unmasked version, with a realistic head sculpt of Terry McGinnis.
This costume is more than just a uniform. It's a high-tech suit that would probably make Tony Stark green with envy if he wasn't a Marvel chararacter. It's significantly different than the traditional Batman. As the Joker said in "Return of the Joker" - "Ears are too long and I miss the cape, but overall, not too shabby, not too shabby at all." However, that doesn't really properly cover it.
The Batsuit currently worn by Terry is actually almost 18 years old at the time of the series' inception. However, its technology is so advanced that the Batsuit is still considered state-of-the-art. One of the most notable features of the suit is that it now covers the entire face, a departure from previous costumes (though Batman's mouth is still left exposed). The cape has been eliminated, being replaced by glider wings under the arms. Thrusters built into the boots allow Batman to fly in the absence of wind. However, for long range flight, he has an aerial version of the Batmobile to use.
The Batsuit conforms to the size and physique of its wearer, as seen by how it was able to fit both Terry and Bruce, who had different physical statures at the time. It is very durable, being able to withstand massive concussive forces (it was able to take blows from Superman), fire, lasers, electric shocks, underwater pressure, wind force, and even radiation in small doses.
The Batsuit grants him the following abilities: Enhanced strength by a factor of ten; Minimal reduction (or increase) in flexibility; Enhanced visual assistance that allows him to see in the dark (visual from the Batsuit can be fed back to the main computer in the Batcave; it can also receive visual from the main computer, allowing for superior tactical planning). The visor can also serve as digital binoculars and an infrared filter; Personal communicator allows Terry to keep in constant contact with Bruce at the Batcave; Enhanced ballistic protection; Significantly resistant to heat, electricity, water, and vibrations, but only slightly resistant to radiation; Built-in rebreather for underwater combat/exploration; Dispensable Batarangs with a range of auxiliary functions, such as producing electric shocks. However, there is a limit to the amount of Batarangs the Batsuit can dispense; Batman has run out on at least one occasion. Also, the Batsuit has discs that can be fired from the tops of the hands; Electrical discharges throughout the suit that can be activated by pushing the button on the belt; Grappling guns built into the forearms; Flashbang grenades; Smoke pellets; Flexicuffs; Launchable tracers; A retractable PIN or password decipherer in the form of a key on the right index finger; Retractable wings under the arms to glide on; Rocket boots enabling limited flight; Electromagnetic pads in the soles of the boots for adhes ion to certain surfaces; Sensitive touch microphone on index and middle fingers that permits eavesdropping through solid surfaces; Drug identifier, utilized by dipping fingers into the substance; Built-in cloaking device that enables almost complete camouflage (this function possibly consumes a good deal of the Batsuit's power, as Batman minimizes its usage). It allows camouflage extending into the visible light and infrared frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum; Retractable claws which can be used to slice, clip, or facilitate climbing; Can uplink with the Batmobile for remote piloting; A remote kill function that can externally deactivate the suit from the Batcave; The belt buckle also serves as a buzz saw to get out of a room quickly or to cut through denser material; Electroshock circuitry, effective with direct contact, to protect Terry from attacks or to disable an opponent.
Mattel has done a generally excellent job with the figure. There exists a fairly standard "male body mold", parts of which tend to turn up on a lot of characters in the line. I don't have a problem with this since it's an excellent design. The distinctive parts of this figure would include, of course, the head, as well as the lower arms, which have the sharp little "flares", in keeping with the original Batman's gloves. There is also a belt which was added to the figure during assembly.
Articulation is excellent. Mattel has crafted an excellent design that works well and isn't designed to excess. If I have one complaint against throwing what might arguably be too much articulation into an action figure, it's that too much articulation can rob a figure of looking like the CHARACTER it's supposed to represent, and looking almost too much like a toy of the character. Double-jointed knees and elbows and the like are fine and well - if they can be worked well into the design.
Batman Beyond is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, swivel near the knees, knees, and ankles. All very nicely incorporated into the design, I have to say.
The paint work is nothing short of amazing. In order to capture the futuristic look of the Batsuit, the entire figure has been painted in a glossy black. I sometimes worry about this sort of thing, since if the figure is overpainted, the articulation points can sometimes get clogged with paint and stick. Thankfully, that didn't happen here. The only other paint applications are some silver trim on the belt, white at the eyes and mouth, and the distinctive Bat insignia on the chest.
Any complaints? Not really, although some people have had one. The prototype photos for this figure clearly show him with his red cape-wings extended. Whether these would've been molded to the figure or included as a detachable accessory, I really don't know. But they're definitely not present with the figure. For me, this is not a big deal. If they'd clipped to his arms, I get the feeling they might've hindered articulation. And they were definitely retractable in the series. He's seen without them as often as with them. But some fans of the line were more than a bit upset that they were missing after they had been initially pictured as being included.
So what happened? I really don't know. Might've been some glitch that couldn't be worked out for mass production. Might've been cost overruns. Either way, it's unfortunate, but for me, not that big of a deal.
Let me say the following about the DC Universe Classics line in general. Mattel has created a truly remarkable line of figures here. I would be prepared to say that these may be the finest line of super-hero action figures - other than the generally over-priced specialty-store stuff, and I'd be prepared to put these figures up against even a fair amount of that - currently on the market.
So, what's my final word here? This is in my opinion the most distinctive Batman Beyond figure ever created. He is the first that is really designed to fully integrate with the mainstream, non-animated DC Universe. And hopefully, Mattel can deal with the problems in the DC Universe Classics line and keep the line going for a good long time and give Batman Beyond plenty of company in which to integrate himself.
I am very impressed with the glossy look of the figure, something that doesn't always work. The insignia has been well done, the headsculpt transitioned from animated style to "comics-real" style better than I would have expected, and the final result is one cool figure. I'm prepared to overlook the lack of wings, even if that is moderately disappointing. Maybe someday Mattel can do a series of "corrected" figures, and give us BB's wings.
However, until that day happens (which I don't foresee as terribly likely anyway), this remains one extremely cool figure, and I'm glad I was able to find him. Hopefully supply and distribution will be such that you will be able to do likewise. The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS BATMAN BEYOND definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!