Batman Beyond Retro Review – Episode 2×08 – The Villain Doesn’t Matter

With the focus of Batman Beyond often on younger people, the show is as often about the kids as it is about the villains. Last week was about the influence exerted by parents who want their child to live a certain way. This week, we follow Max and learn that despite her performance in school and talent with tech, she has her own struggles.

Batman Beyond: Hooked up

This week marks the return of one of my favorite villain designs in Batman Beyond, Spellbinder. But he’s barely in the episode–his specialty just happens to facilitate an interesting story about Terry’s friend and confidant Maxine.

Kids around town are going missing and ending up in the hospital comatose. Terry chases down a purse thief who jumps off of one of the sky highways to get away–despite not having wings and rocket boots to help him stick the landing. Meanwhile, Maxine is having fun helping Terry out but has been wanting to get more involved.

We had a “drug PSA” episode before with the episode “The Winning Edge,” but this episode works so much better because it uses a character we care about and a villain we’re familiar with. Instead of being hamfisted, it’s just a punch to the face.

Spellbinder had previously used his hypnotic powers to trick susceptible teenagers into stealing for him by using confusing illusions. This time, he’s simultaneously being more direct and more subtle. Instead of confusing the kids, he’s doing something much more insidious. He’s giving them access to the fantasy lives they can’t live in the real world. Lots of kids have troubled home lives, and of course that only gets worse in a cyberpunk world like this.

Instead, they can step into Spellbinder’s floating VR capsules, where they put on a mask and are transported to a world where all of their fantasies come true, whether that’s becoming the wife of the assistant regional manager of a fast food chain or being a punk rock star that gets to kiss three girls. Of course, there’s a price that comes with that pleasure, and the perfect fantasy is all too tempting to just about anyone, and they end up being willing to do just about anything to get more time in their fantasy.

Eager to help Terry out with his investigation, Maxine ends up in the clutches of this technology, and we learn what her fantasy is. Some of us want to kiss three girls. Maxine just wants her parents to be emotionally and physically present in her life. This opens up a whole new side of this character, and helps explain why she’s such a high performer and why she’d want to get wrapped up in Terry’s side gig–she’s filling the empty, disappointing spaces in her life with something much more exciting.

Terry doesn’t get as much development here–we mostly see that he’s fiercely committed to living in the real world. As Batman, Terry is constantly subjected to the darker parts of humanity, but he also has the tools to do something about it. He has a kind of control in his life that a lot of other people don’t, and it seems like that would make it easier to look away. Maxine is Terry without that option. She’s smart and capable but has parts of her life that she can’t deal with, so she feels like she has to seek out fantasy.

Spellbinder is barely in this episode, but that’s okay. He still gets to be the 1,000th person to electrocute Batman before Maxine wakes up and clocks him over the back of the head. Terry and Bruce also have some of my favorite exchanges in this episode. Bruce references some of the troubled people he’s gotten entangled with over the years without directly referencing anyone. If you’re a fan of Batman: The Animated Series, you can reach your own conclusions about who those might be. There are plenty of possibilities.

There’s also a moment when Batman is chasing down a character who he’s planning to interrogate after giving a good thrashing.

“Or, you could just tail him and see where he goes,” Bruce suggests.

“Oh. Or that,” Terry replies.

If that’s not an older, wiser Batman talking to a younger one, I don’t know what is.

This episode is similar to last week’s in that it’s about a young person in Gotham, but it uses a more familiar character and a more interesting villain to tell a more effective story. Last week’s episode worked, but this one just flies. It has plenty of Batman, plenty of cyberpunk stuff, and some good character development. This is a nearly perfect Batman Beyond episode.

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