While The New Batman/Superman Adventures was still in production, the network asked the producers to revamp the Batman series yet again. The WB was solidifying its reputation as a destination for teens, and network president Jamie Kellner was eager to capitalize on that demographic by giving the Batman franchise more of a cutting-edge, teenage spirit. "He really wanted us to Buffy-ize Batman," Bruce Timm recalled.

Timm and Paul Dini were not happy at the idea, but if it were to be done they preferred to handle the duties themselves, and they grew more enthused when, with Glen Murakami, they decided to push the character into the future. The result was Batman Beyond, a series that did the previously unthinkable: it put a new character under the mask.

Like Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Tim Drake before him, Terry McGinnis had suffered a family tragedy, losing his father to an assassin. Wayne himself had been reduced by age and illness to a bitter husk and had even lost his company, Wayne Enterprises, to the same unscrupulous businessman responsible for the death of Terry's father. The two came together to battle a new generation of supervillains, with Terry putting on the futuristic new Batsuit while Wayne trained and guided him from a distance.

Batman Beyond continued the slimmed down look of Superman and The New Batman Adventures, and Gotham City itself moved away from its earlier faux-deco pulp look and into something more like Bladerunner territory. The series also added a sheen of science-fiction, with genetic splicing, advanced robots, and cybernetics all putting in appearances. The demand for more teen-centric shows was met by making Terry a high school student, and many of the stories were either set in school or revolved around characters drawn from Terry's student life. That kept the show true to its emphasis on psychological plausibility—of course Terry would keep a healthy interest in the goings on of his age cohort—but it also sometimes limited the show. Hamilton High gave birth to an awful lot of misfits.

The producers deliberately avoided creating new villains who were knockoffs of the old Rogue's Gallery. Shriek, Spellbinder, Inque and Blight were personality types who might have appeared in the old series, but they were for the most part based on ideas that could only have been expressed in a science-fiction setting. A few of Bruce Wayne's old enemies put in appearances, but their returns were always given plausible explanations. It had already been established in BTAS that Mr. Freeze and Ra's al-Ghul were quasi-immortal, so "Meltdown" and "Out of the Past" came as no surprise. A cameo by a Bane in "The Winning Edge" reminded us that the Rogues Gallery was also prey to the ravages of age. And the Joker made his most horrifying appearance in the animated universe in the direct-to-video release Return of the Joker.

History in Batman Beyond was rarely alluded to or explored. Return of the Joker sketched the tragic life of Tim Drake, and allusions were made to a bitter parting between Wayne and Barbara Gordon, who reappeared frequently in the series as Gotham City's police commissioner. The crisis that forced Wayne to retire as Batman was shown in a brief scene in "Rebirth." But Nightwing's future was never explained, and little attempt was made to connect events of the past with those of the future. Connections were so sparse that the show has been widely dismissed as non-canonic, an "Elseworlds" story that is an interesting diversion but not, strictly, part of the animated continuity. It's a reading that the producers themselves seem to have ambivalently endorsed.

The series ended its run in 2001 with one unaired episode. "Unmasked" included images that seemed to recall the still-recent World Trade Center terrorist attacks, and the episode was held back. It later debuted on Cartoon Network when the series went into reruns on that channel. That year, the series as a whole also won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program.

Modern Masters Vol. 3: Bruce Timm
Toon Zone