There are two primary kinds of villains in Batman stories–the unrepentant ones like Joker or Ra’s Al Ghul, and the ones with tragic origin stories that seem more misguided than anything, like Mr. Freeze. After Batman Beyond‘s big two-part pilot, the show serves us up one of each in the third and fourth episodes, ‘Golem’ and ‘Black Out.’
Batman Beyond: ‘Black Out’ and ‘Golem’
It’s sort of a villain sampler platter. In truth, neither episode is particularly remarkable on its own, but they make a nice pairing that put the show’s intent on display and shows off the design ideas the team had.
In Episode 3, we’re introduced to Inque, a shapeshifting industrial saboteur. She doesn’t come across as evil at any point, but she’s proud of the work she does and isn’t someone that Batman could save or try to empathize with. Inque is working for Wayne-Powers CEO Derek Powers, sabotaging warehouses and labs owned by Foxteca–Batman allies Lucius and Luke Fox’s technology corporation.
This episode quickly establishes a motif we can expect going forward, which is that Terry McGinnis will always, without fail, get the absolute crap kicked out of him before he can triumph. Inque is a fun choice for a villain as well. Her shape-changing ability lets her adapt to virtually any situation, fitting in between floor tiles or taking the shape of an advert model’s lipstick. Her whole design is very flat, and it works well in the stark and flat coloration used in Batman Beyond.
Inque’s powers also make it a simple matter for her to infiltrate the Batcave–a major compromise so early in the show. This makes way for some fun Easter eggs, though, as quick-thinking Bruce Wayne dons the mask and goggles belonging to his childhood hero, the Gray Ghost.
Pushed too far
The other episode, ‘Golem,’ introduces us to Terry’s geeky classmate, Willie Watt. Willie is the classic bullied geek character, pushed around constantly not just by the big man on campus, Nelson Nash, but also by his own father. Without any real support systems around him, the two push him over the edge and he ends up stealing a construction robot to do some damage.
The story both makes Willie somewhat sympathetic but also makes sure not to excuse his actions. He was being pushed, but just like his bullies he got a taste of power and quickly lost control of the situation. By the end of the episode, he sees Batman as an enemy for stopping him and the last we see of him is this shot of him in jail/juvie:
One of the best parts of Batman Beyond is the top-tier design that shows up throughout the series. 25 years later, it’s easy to laugh at how short-sighted some aspects of the show are, but from a design perspective, a lot of what we see here hasn’t aged a day.
One of my favorite shots comes when Derek Powers, now a radioactive skeleton man, is having his human shell reapplied. The men in radiation suits aren’t clearly defined. Instead, they have these flat, low-detail faces that look haunting rendered with black and turquoise.
Another comes when Terry is in the Batplane. It’s funny to think that Bruce had this advanced machine sitting in his garage for twenty years, and when it finally comes out it’s somehow still the most advanced thing in the sky. When Terry’s inside it, though, the red lighting casts heavy shadows and leaves everything that isn’t red-black.
Batman: The Animated Series is so well known for its classic design, and Batman Beyond has, in places, some of the weirdest trends of the 90s. Both of those seem to overshadow just how good-looking the show is overall. It also manages to look like a relative of its predecessor without looking like a photocopy.
All of the great design work in Batman Beyond makes it hard not to wonder what a potential live-action Batman Beyond movie could’ve looked like.