As someone who writes articles about obscure cartoons, it may not surprise you to learnt hat I am a comic book nerd. And as a comic book nerd, I can admit openly that most comic books are pretty stupid. You look deep enough into the history of pretty much any established character and you will find a whole crock of stuff that doesn’t make sense. Take Batman for instance: Batman has been around since the 1938, that’s a lot of reboots, re-imaginings, redesigns and stupid storylines, way too many to get into now, especially since the Batman cartoons have, by and large, been pretty damn good.
The classic Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) is widely accepted as an all-round awesome cartoon. Darker than it should have been, and colourful enough to keep the kids entertained, its only problem was that it was too damn good. DC comics, way before Marvel got onto the idea of doing a continuity based movies to showcase all their best characters, had the idea themselves and so “rebooted” the animated Batman series and turned it into The New Batman Adventures (1997-1999). This show focused more on Batman’s team of sidekicks: Robin, Bat Girl, and Night-wing. It also did some crossover work with other DC characters as well as the simultaneously running show Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000).
So, what exactly does this have to do with a Canadian Batman DVD? Well, after these series started running out of steam (i.e their toys weren’t selling, and word-of-mouth was only getting worse), the suits said that phrase that usually spells the death of any art-form: “How can we make this cool?” Their answer: Batman…Beyond!
Batman Beyond (1999-2001) is Batman set in the future (here’s a totally random fact for you, it was called Batman of the Future in England and Ireland, but not in Northern Ireland…and I have no idea why; I’ve looked into this, but I can’t find any answers). Shows usually have to change their names because they conflict with the local idiom. For example, Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008) was renamed Avatar: The Legend of Aang in the UK because they worried about using the word “bender”. But anyway.
Batman Beyond wasn’t that bad a show. Nowhere near as good as the classic Batman the Animated series, but it had some break out moments ("Disappearing Inque,” May 8, 1999 has a top notch William H Macy role in it). Now I could go into the plot and the sometimes unsettlingly unrealistic character design, but If I ever want to the point and tell you about this Canadian DVD, I’m going to have to skip over all that and get right to it. Now hold on, because things get a little hectic here.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) was a straight-to-DVD movie based on the series and its premise is that the Joker (who as we know, from Bruce Wayne account, is dead) suddenly re-appears. As both a stand-alone movie and a continuation of the Batman legacy, it’s a good movie. You have to understand that Batman Beyond was an original idea, and DC later introduced a comic based upon it. So for them to go that long without referring to the best known Batman villain and saving it for a feature-length animation was ballsy move that really paid off. Another good move was bringing Mark Hamill back to play The Joker. One of the things that made Batman the Animated series, as good as it was, was the way Mark Hamill grasped the character of The Joker. Hamill brought the character to life more than anyone had ever done at that point (Joe Dimnation came close in the animated feature Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)). So, you had Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy resuming their role as The Joker and Bruce Wayne (now an old man) and the addition of Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leep’s Al) and Henry “to punk for your face” Rollins made this a stand-out piece. The movie becomes an action-mystery, with plot-twists and red herrings that culminates in a third act that is on par with the third act in The Dark Knight (2008). You would think, as I did for many years, that the “extended cut” didn’t have anything that would change it that much, except that it had a little tinny bit of child torture.
And why was that teenny wheeny bit of child electrocution cut out?
The movie came out a year after the Columbine shootings - a time in which everyone was up in arms about violence on TV, in the movies, and in music. The producers made the director cut a few things out of the movie, the main thing being the undoing of Jason Todd.
Now, to back track a bit, Jason Todd was the second Robin in the comic books. He was also the first major character to not only die, but have his death voted for by readers. They wanted him gone, and sure enough The Joker blew him up. Of course, since contemporary comic books are just as bad as contemporary movies, he came back years later, but Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker took the idea and put their own spin on it. In the movie The Joker is getting bored of the fun and games he has with Batman and decides he wants a child of his own, so he kidnaps and brainwashes Robin 2, Jason Todd. Even before it got made, the script was being cut: they removed all the implements of torture from the Joker’s lab and even had to change the comedic cooking apron he was wears in one shot from “Kill the Cook” to “Kiss the Cook”. Still, they got it made. The Joker is shown electrocuting Robin to get Batman’s identity out of him, which he does, and this huge breakthrough in the arc of Batman is made. But in the DVD/TV release they had to remove the scene, showing instead a reaction shot of Batman as The Joker shows him the film of the act, which is a bit more unsettling to be honest as you’re left to imagine what he is doing to Robin. What is shocking and what was scrapped right off the bat was the scene in which *spolier alert* Robin, now brainwashed into thinking he is Joker Jr. (or Little J) has a mental breakdown and kills The Joker by shooting him with his comic “boom flag” gun. It’s a scene you don’t see coming and it drives home the feelings of all the characters involved, it even leads to one of The Joker’s greatest moments when he is laying on a table dying, with a flag sticking out of his chest, and says “that’s not funny. That’s not funny at all”. In the cut DVD, you see Robin push the Joker into some wires and he slips in water and electrocutes himself. There is even a scene that was cut from the cut version where Bruce Wayne inspected the dead body of the Joker for clues and finds a note saying, “I know”.
The rest of the movie, apart from another Joker gun killing they had to remove, is pretty much as is, and is up there with the best of the DC animated stuff. The series was meant to go on hold after the airing of its last episode “Unmasked” (September 14, 2001) but thanks to another act of random violence, this time on a much larger scale, it was pushed back to December. The producers moved on to Justice League (2001 –2004), which was a big hit for all involved, and even kept the character alive with crossover appearances in their other less popular and doomed to failure show The Zeta Project (2001-2002) (episode “Shadows” April 7, 2001), and the more popular, but for the life of me I don’t know why, because it was awful on ever level: Static Shock (2000-2004) (episode "Future Shock" Jan 17, 2004).
It’s said that Bruce Timm (the man behind all the DC animations) wanted to do a proper send-off for Batman Beyond, but never got the chance. So in Justice League Unlimited (2004-2006), he took an episode to complete the character’s story in a brilliantly nerd-friendly way. It’s a common fact amongst our people that Batman always has a plan. It’s the premise of the straight-to-DVD movie Justice League: Doom (2012), and part of his bad-ass unbeatableness. In this episode of Justice League Unlimited (episode 26 “Epilogue” July23, 2005), we see Bruce Wayne as even older than he is in Batman Beyond, and the new Batman is pissed off and a bit confused as to why he is a perfect DNA match to Bruce Wayne. It turns out that Amanda Waller (one of the cross-continuity characters of the DC universe) decided that the world will always need a Batman, so she took some of his DNA, found a pregnant couple and overwrote the baby’s DNA to be a lil’ Wayne. It gets creepier: she also clocks on to the fact that tragedy is a big part of Batman’s motive, so she hires a killer (who turns out to be “Phantasm” the vigilante from the only Batman animated movie to play on the big screen, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)), but bottles out last minute. In bittersweet irony, the new Terry the Batman of Batman Beyond ended up losing his father and becoming the caped crusader anyway.
So there you go, that’s the story. Now you can get the full version of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker anywhere, and even on Blu-ray, but for a long time there it was a cool geek secret you could only see if you bought it from a Canadian website, and all because of this scene:
Check out Liam’s collection of comics, Top Hats and Canes, available now on Kindle:
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