After a pair of unremarkable and very skippable episodes, Batman Beyond finds its fun again in its tenth episode. This storyline introduces us to a new villain with a uniquely creepy ability that opens the show up to some fresh colors and imagery tied to imagining what we might be able to do with the human mind in the coming decades.
Batman Beyond: Spellbound
This episode kind of has it all–there’s a cool new villain, character development for Terry and Bruce, groundwork for future episodes, and some built-in Batman lore to call back to the original Animated Series.
Chelsea, a classmate of Terry’s, throws a piece of her father’s expensive art into the river. An art gallery director gives an expensive dress to a masked figure while hallucinating a flashback to a war he couldn’t have been in. At a wedding Terry is attending, the bride–his friend’s mother–tears off her incredibly expensive jewelry and tries to kill herself, all to escape the giant insects she believes she’s surrounded by; Batman almost dies while trying to save her after believing he’s atop a high dive in a tropical paradise. Things come to a head when, after speaking to his high school counselor, Terry begins dumping things off of Bruce Wayne’s shelves into a bag, believing he’s on a Supermarket Sweep-style gameshow.
The new villain this week is Spellbinder, someone who uses cutting-edge hypnosis and virtual reality technology to convince his victims they’re somewhere else, doing something else, while they’re actually committing crimes for him.
Batman Beyond is typically a pretty dark show, visually, working mostly in blacks and dark blues highlighted with splashes of a bright white or red and an occasional spot of neon here and there. Spellbinder’s ability gives the artists behind these episodes an excuse to create very different vistas from what we’re used to. Characters end up in bright green jungles or find themselves besieged by zombies.
I wish the artists had been given license to get a little weirder with the visuals, as this could’ve been a great excuse to get into some really dreamlike places–instead of having a guy imagine himself in a Vietnam flashback, a war that occurred most of a century ago by this point in the future timeline. Even so, it’s still a cool idea that they mostly use for fun.
Batman: Orphan Collector
There’s also a lot of good development for the main characters in this episode. The nature of Terry’s hallucination leads to some arguments between Bruce and Terry throughout the story, but one particularly good moment comes when Terry says to Bruce, “I guess you are the expert on troubled kids–you collect them, right?”
So much of what makes Batman Batman are the narrativization of money-driven decisions. In this example, Bruce wasn’t intended to be someone who repeatedly trains children to be ninja detectives when they first introduced Robin. Robin was just a fun sidekick meant to give young readers a person to imagine themselves as.
Over time, writers’ desire to retain continuity caused them to introduce Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Carrie Kelley, and Damien Wayne, and before you know it, there’s a whole family of young people trained by Batman to fight in his one-man war on crime. In retrospect, Bruce’s drive to ‘save’ kids by adopting them and giving them tools for combat looks pretty wrong, and Terry’s observation is a stinging indictment, especially for a show intended for kids.
Trust between Batmen
With Terry susceptible to Spellbinder’s mind-altering imagery, Bruce has to act as a second set of eyes. The images in front of Terry are happening in his brain, while Bruce can see through the cameras embedded in his mask to direct him and help keep him safe. This forces both of them to adopt a level of trust in each other that even they aren’t quite comfortable just yet so that they can act as a team operating a single body.
Spellbinder himself is an interesting villain because, when out of costume, he’s such an unremarkable person. He’s like a nightmare bully–he has what amounts to a pretty small amount of power in his life as a counselor, and he’s more than ready to abuse it to take what he thinks he’s owed. He puts kids (and adults) in mortal danger in the process. It’s a horrifying and petty abuse of power by someone who we trust to provide care for our young people, and the nature of it makes it easy for him to slip by unnoticed. Because this was a Batman episode, of course he was going to hypnotize Terry at some point, but what if he hadn’t? It wouldn’t take much to make this a much darker story.
This episode also does a lot to both look back and forward. Terry borrows a suit from Bruce for the wedding, observing that the tag says it belonged to D. Grayson–the first Robin. At the end of the episode, Terry meets Commissioner Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl, for the first time. Meanwhile, the show sets up characters like Chelsea and Jared, who will factor into later episodes.
After two really disappointing episodes, it’s good to get back into the interesting stuff. Batman Beyond excels at using imagined future technology to tell stories about systemic injustice, abuse of power, and the invincibility of the wealthy (except for Bruce, of course). Spellbound keys in on the way teenagers are especially vulnerable to exploitation by authorities and introduces a stylish, unnerving villain in the process.
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