Terry discovers a long-hidden secret about his past.
  Original Airdate: July 23, 2005
  Episode # #26 (JLU)
  Rating: * * * *

Credits Cast

Story by Bruce Timm & Dwayne McDuffie
Teleplay by Dwayne McDuffie
Directed by Dan Riba
Music by Lolita Ritmanis & Kris Carter
Animation by Dong Woo

Will Friedle as Terry McGinnis
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
CCH Pounder as Amanda Waller

Lauren Tom as Dana, Dr. Light
Hynden Walch as Ace
Marc Worden as Parasite

This is the test of critical fortitude: to admit, when faced with a story like “Epilogue,” that all one’s comments are as words traced in ashes.

Thematically, it is a mad, multi-dimensional Moebius strip. Without summarizing, condensing, or compartmentalizing the various Batman series, this episode of Justice League Unlimited glances off events and motifs that Bruce Timm and his collaborators have played with over the years. It returns to the animated series’ roots with a cameo by the Phantasm; a chilling plot worthy of the reanimated Joker or Ra's al-Ghul; a hitherto unimagined origin for Terry McGinnis; and a kiss blown to Batman’s first animated appearance. It plays hide-and-seek with questions of fate, character formation, and the location of the Batman “soul.” It brings closure to a too-delayed issue in Terry’s life. And it suggests that two men can be father and son in more ways than one without that relation being any less of a coincidence.

To unpack its many meanings and detours would take a longer essay than I intend, and it would require of the reader a very thorough knowledge of the animated continuity and its implications. It would also fail utterly to touch on how and why this episode sings like a golden-throated vibrato held at the caesura of a fin-de-siecle aria. But let me sketch some of those elements while merely acknowledging the obvious: that the story's chief glory comes in the obliqueness of its treatment and in the daringness of the execution.

The story’s greatest puzzle, and its most dangerous trap for an unsympathetic critic, comes with its suggestion that “Batman” has his origins in reductive, socio-physical facts. Someone with Bruce Wayne’s genes wouldn’t necessarily become Batman; someone orphaned by a wanton criminal wouldn’t necessarily become Batman either. Hence, it appears that someone who--like Amanda Waller--wishes to create Batman must arrange a fortuitous collision of genetic disposition and tragic circumstance. “Epilogue” is the story of Terry McGinnis’ discovery that he is the product of just such a callous arrangement.

The viewer who stops with this recognition will be deeply vexed because he will have stopped with a conclusion sharply at odds with what Batman Beyond has demonstrated over the arc of its existence. Character is not formed in one explosive moment; it is formed by dozens, even hundreds, of individual choices. The implication of “Epilogue” is thus refuted by the particular proofs of “Rebirth,” “Lost Soul” and Return of the Joker, as well as by the accumulated proofs of every other Batman Beyond story. Such a viewer may feel as betrayed by the revelations of the story as Terry.

But the dissatisfaction of the analysis offered by “Epilogue” is part of its design. Waller’s plot was foolish, as even she implicitly admits with her air of bemused resignation at being found out. Did her plot work? She got what she wanted--a new Batman. But did she actually bring him about? She calls herself a tool of the Lord, but it’s a claim made without arrogance and with the wry tone that suggests she knows her own limits. Sometimes the Lord doesn’t need the tools that volunteer themselves. And sometimes the Lord arranges to give us what we need, want, ask and strive for without using any means we would recognize. Call it divine mercy or call it coincidence: she got her new Batman and is as surprised as anyone else by that fact. The story is implicitly rejected by its own author.

“Epilogue” raises this reductive explanation, then, only to expose it for a sham. Why go to all this trouble? Because in doing so, it also manages to expose and dismiss the old, pat story about Batman’s origin--that he was “created” the night his parents were murdered. If a combination of genetics and tragic backstory cannot explain Terry’s origins, why should they explain Bruce Wayne’s? No, the real story of Batman’s emergence and being is simply in the continuing story of his adventures and struggles: the real story behind Batman is illustrated in the animated series. This is why we never needed to see that absurd night in the alley actually dramatized. Subsequently, Batman could always have faltered, failed, or fallen; at any point he might yet stumble. To paraphrase the Greeks, call no man “Batman”--the true dark knight of Gotham romance--until he is dead and beyond change and evolution.

In short, “Epilogue” shows that the secret to Batman's creation is not to be found in a long-vanished “seed” and still less in the character's sunless, airless roots. If he is created at all, it is at the green tips where flowers and leaves ever bloom. It is a process without a natural end point. Making the point in this double-jointed JLU-Batman Beyond story is a way of gently easing long-time fans of the character into this recognitions without shocking them. (It is perhaps another coincidence--or divine joke--that “Epilogue” arrives in time to expose Batman Begins as an ugly and unnecessary film.)

With its design “Epilogue” is also able to create an effect startling and sublime. I have written elsewhere that the essence of the Batman character lies in the choices he makes, and that he also forces choices upon his creators: Should they show the character residing in the man or in the mask? Either conclusion would work, but they would each dissatisfy. To make the mantle transferable--like a piece of property--would keep the character alive but also diminish its originator, Bruce Wayne. To make it the man would give Wayne an unimpeachable claim to an enviable dignity but also make the character less than universal. By making Terry into a near-but-not-quite clone of Wayne, “Epilogue” is able, astonishingly, to reconcile the two. The title is transferred to a worthy successor, one whose life echoes but does not recapitulate Wayne’s own. But Wayne himself, through no selfish effort of his own, is in some sense able to live on. Those who respect the man and those who respect the mask can thus both be satisfied.

It is an old fanboy daydream: How should the animated Batman end: with or without a bang? Should it end at all? “Epilogue” (a nice title that evokes conclusion and denoument without asserting them) pulls off a rare “endless ending.” Its graceful leap from an opening scene set in a post-Beyond universe to a closing shot that references our first glimpse of the Timmverse Dark Knight traces an arc that closes off that universe while asserting its ultimate openness. The only limit it recognizes is the curve of an ever-retreating horizon expanding in all directions. Do not dream of the character's or the series' endings, it urges. Dream instead of their always present possibilities.

Related Episodes
   * On Leather Wings   
   * Mask of the Phantasm
   * Rebirth
   * Lost Soul
   * Out of the Past
   * Unmasked
   * Return of the Joker    

What Others Are Saying ...
"At its very heart [this] is a story about Batman and his legacy; while, also serving as an obvious bookend to “On Leather Wings.” ... I find it only fitting that this would be the ending that was chosen and I am both incredibly thankful and in awe."Bleu Unicorn, World's Finest

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