Batman Beyond Retro Review – Episode 2×01 – Futurescience

Human-animal hybrid transformation is a frequent favorite of science fiction cartoons. Batman: The Animated Series featured the idea in the episode “Tyger Tyger,” in which a mad scientist trying splice human and animal DNA captures Catwoman so that she can be a partner for his creation, Tygrus. This episode shows us what the future might look like, should the scientist’s work be continued.

Batman Beyond: Splicers

Batman Beyond is unquestionably a cyberpunk story, and transhumanism–the idea of people modifying their bodies with science and technology–is a major part of cyberpunk. See Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, The Matrix, and titles like those for reference. Batman Beyond has so far mostly featured bodily transformation as an unwanted side effect of the quest for power, creating characters like Blight, Inque, and the melty pile of goo, Aaron, who stalked her.

Faster, Better, Stronger

This week approaches it a little more traditionally. Dr. Abel Cuvier tells viewers that with his gene serum, you can become anything you want (as long as that thing is being partly animal). Cuvier thinks this will be popular, while District Attorney (and husband to Commissioner Barbara Gordon) Sam Young wants to outlaw it entirely on the grounds that the practice causes aggressive behavior in its subjects. Cue three delinquents hired by Cuvier, augmented with the features of a tiger, a snake, and a ram–the latter of which is voiced by Law & Order: SVU star Ice-T.

We get just about every variant of human transformation here:

  • Yes, more power! – The delinquents, often left out by society, finally feel like “someone.” People are scared and awed by them, and they make up part of a very small, exclusive group.
  • Oh No, I’m Changing – After Cuvier and his minions capture Terry, they shoot him up with an amped-up Vampire Bat serum meant to change him quickly and permanently.
  • I shall be unto a god! – Cuvier injects himself with not one, but a whole handful of serum injectors. turning him into some kind of Snake-Bird-Cat-Sexy Bodybuilder hybrid.

I should note that this is another notable example of Batman cartoons confidently pronouncing things incorrectly. Following the pronunciation of Ra’s as Raysh in Batman: The Animated Series, Cuvier walks out and pronounces Chimera–the fictional beast his company is named after, and also a word often used to refer to anything made of incongruous parts–as Shih-mera instead of Kai-mera. It’s nitpicky but it just feels silly to have them saying it that way over and over again.

Close to Power

Anyway, Terry’s transformation is closest to that of the aforementioned Blight–it would destroy his life while giving him new, inhuman abilities. It’s meant to be scary and uncomfortable as we see our favorite character struggling to resist the twisted changes tearing his body apart. It’s a far cry from the fun and cool (but clearly still dangerous) transformations of the other characters.

Cuvier’s transformation, meanwhile, starts as one thing and becomes another. He clearly craves this transformation and seems thrilled with the results when he shows up in his new form. The show frames him as powerful and in control, easily fending off an attacking Batman. It’s not until Batman starts sticking him with other injectors that things go sideways and we shift into an Akira-style transformation that goes wildly out of control. This also shows how these transformations don’t seem to have steady rules. Bruce cures Terry and he gets his human form back quickly. Terry fires darts at the criminals that undo their transformations in the blink of an eye. But Cuvier’s is treated like it’s permanent before he’s lost in an explosion.

In general, this episode seems to be pushing against the kind of transformation that the young criminals are pursuing. They look cool and feel powerful, but are dangerous to those around them. The other examples of transformation go horribly wrong.

Digging Deeper

One thing that I think this episode could’ve done better would’ve been to explore the lives of the kids before their transformations. Why did they feel the need to pursue this? What do they get out of it? How do they feel afterward? They wanted something, got it, and then had it snatched away from them just as quickly. Unfortunately, this is a 21-minute story on a kid’s show, and it’s pretty rushed as is.

It makes for a breezy, fun, but somewhat inconsequential episode of the series that dips into the cyberpunk well and finds something interesting but can’t go far enough with it.