Announced at SDCC, a remastered Batman Beyond Blu-ray box arrives this month on October 29 in conjunction with the 20th Anniversary of the groundbreaking animated series. Initially balked by hardcore Bat fans over the idea of a teenager named Terry McGinnis taking on the Bat mantle from an aged and retired Bruce Wayne in a futuristic Gotham City, the complex themes and deep storytelling soon won them over. At the NYCC Batman Beyond 20th Anniversary celebration, The Beat had the chance to once again sit down with some of the show’s cast and crew and discuss their experience adding to the Batman legend.
From the get-go, the creators behind Beyond knew they were taking a tremendous risk putting someone else in the Batman suit. Producer Alan Burnett, now retired but considered a legend in the animation industry, recounted, “We felt a big responsibility to make a show that Batman fans wouldn’t sneer at. We took our time to get things right and always felt like we were taking a chance. But it always felt good as we were making it. When the show finally got on television and the fans liked it, we were relieved.”
Compared to other shows, Beyond was quite unique from other cartoons in regards to its development. “The network decided they wanted to do a young Batman show and gave us the go ahead. There is no bible for the show,” revealed Burnett. I wrote an outline for the pilot which was a 2-parter and that’s what we gave the writers. It was the foundation for the show. I don’t like bibles so I was happy. It was a very organically developed show.
It was a no-brainer that Kevin Conroy, considered the quintessential Batman performer in pretty much any medium, would reprise the role of Bruce Wayne as a senior citizen. As for the Batman heir apparent, Terry McGinnis, voice director Andrea Romano knew Will Friedle was perfect for the part “5-minutes after he opened his mouth.” It was essential for Romano that the relationship between performers reflected that of their characters. “I auditioned Will and Kevin together in the room for the final callback to make sure they had some kind of energy together. There are great moments in the show where they toyed with each other like father and son but more like brothers. I had to make sure they had that play and Will wasn’t going to be intimidated by Kevin. He might have been a little bit, he was able to overcome that to give us the performance.”
Sure enough, Friedle conceded some apprehension on his part, understandable since Beyond was his first venture in voiceover. “I was reading and hoping to just get the hell out there. I was nervous. So I think by the second or third time they brought me back I thought I had a chance but I still didn’t think it was possible. I’m still waiting for them to recast me,” joked Friedle.
As most viewers know, on Batman: The Animated Series Conroy intentionally differentiated his performances between Batman and Bruce Wayne. “Actors always look for a key into a role that gets them in called a hook. My hook was that Batman was not a disguise. Bruce Wayne was the disguise. Batman is what happened to him after his parents got murdered in front of him. The only way he could cope with the world was by transforming into a dark vigilante. But he disguises that by being Bruce Wayne and putting on a suit. Everyone has a public and private face. His public face is Bruce Wayne. It [Batman] never sounded like a phony voice because I played it like it was the genuine voice.”
For Beyond where an elderly Bruce Wayne has retired from the Batman cowl, Conroy was still able to tap into the performance aspect that he previously utilized. “That was my hook into it. So when I was doing old Bruce Wayne, since that who he really was, I used that as my launch. It was the Batman voice but it had to be aged down. It was like the Batman voice graveled down even further. When he is with Terry’s mom he lightens it. So it was a slightly lighter voice.”
In finding his own Batman voice, Friedle similarly created two distinct voices as Batman and Terry McGinnis. “I played them differently voice wise only because at the beginning we talked about the idea that nobody would have been scared of a 17-year old kid’s voice coming out from behind the cowl,” Friedle said. “So we wanted to gravel him up a little bit when he put on the Bat suit. We didn’t want to take it too deep but they’re always pulling it back. We did want to make sure that there was some delineation between his younger voice and his Batman voice.”
In contrast to Conroy playing Batman as the real identity and Bruce Wayne as the disguise, Friedle doesn’t really identify a dichotomy between Terry and Batman. “But as far as character, no because he is still 17 so he’s trying to find himself. Most 17-year olds probably wouldn’t have the kind of self-knowledge to say, ‘Well, I really need to be this character at one time.’ Bruce had that. Terry was a lot more fly by the seat of his pants. I think other than the different voices I think he was pretty much always a senior in high school.”
It’s a far cry from Spider-Man who as Peter Park was an unpopular science nerd yet had a noble, secret self that his tormentors couldn’t see. Nevertheless, classic Spidey was a temple for Batman Beyond. Moreover, whether intentional or it, director James Tucker feels that Beyond owes quite a bit to the alternate Spidey of the future Miguel O’Hara better known as Spider-Man 2099. Interestingly enough, despite cutting his teeth on DC Comics animation, Bruce Timm is said to be more of a Marvel guy. Not so much in Beyond but in later projects, most of the DC geek cred came from Tucker and to a certain extent Dwayne McDuffie with Timm “Marvel-izing” the concepts to make it work for the show. You can definitely see elements of Spidey foe Kraven the Hunter in Batman Beyond villain Stalker. Plus I don’t think it went over the heads of any comic fans that the Terrific Trio are basically not so subtle Fantastic Four pastiche.
As the old saying goes, behind every great man there’s a great woman, and in the case of Terry McGinnis that would be girlfriend Dana Tan voiced by Lauren Tom. Fans of the sitcom Friends may recognize Tom as Ross’s Season 2 girlfriend Julie, a part that came with some unexpected backlash to say the least, so she already had some experience playing the love interest of a lead character. “I just tried to tap into what it would be like to be a larger than life person’s girlfriend, which has happened to me when I dated big celebrities. I always felt like this little gnat,” said Tom. “If I were to meet a superhero, or someone like that, I think that it would be a trade-off because as a woman you wouldn’t want to just be a great person’s attachment. You would want to find your own voice or your own reasons for being here. But I think that there’s a lot to be said for being around greatness.”
Apparently, as soon as Bruce Timm heard Tom’s audition, he immediately knew that they found the perfect Dana Tan. Having worked with Bruce Timm and company on Superman: The Animated Series as news reporter Angela Chen, Tom relished the opportunity to once again be directed by Andrea Romano. “She is one of the best directors in the business by far because she’s so sharp and quick,” said Tom. “The way she can get the job done and nail it. I’m always in and out of sessions. When I had kids I was literally holding my baby doing the part. It’s a great job when you have a family. So I was really always so happy every time she called me in for a different project.” Since Beyond was so action oriented, it made it easier for Romano to record in less than two hours, half the time of typical sessions.
One of the things I myself didn’t fully appreciate about Batman Beyond when it first aired was how diverse the show was both onscreen and within the cast itself. Voice actors still face the issue of proper representation when it comes to casting, a problem Romano has done her part to combat during her amazing career. “If a character is depicted as certain ethnic background, I do everything I can to make sure it’s voiced by that ethnic background. I can’t always do it but the Screen Actors Guild insists that we try and I think that’s absolutely right,” argued Romano. “Why would you just go to a Caucasian to play an East Indian character? Why would you go right to a white actor to play a black character?”
Without a doubt, the Batman Beyond episode that splits the fan the community to this day and remains a topic of great contention is the uncharacteristically comedic episode “The Eggbaby” that sees Terry having to recover a computerized doll from a Ma Baker inspired gang of thieves or risk failing his Family Studies class. Given the dark and serious tone that the series had already established in the first season, it’s only natural that fans were taken aback by such an incongruous storyline. It’s a classic “egg sitting” adventure we’ve seen time and again in various shows set in high school. “I loved the energy of it taking place at a high school because there’s so much drama at a high school,” said Andrea Romano. “Prom is drama. Getting on with well is drama. Finding a girlfriend or boyfriend is drama. I don’t know how kids do it now.”
Alan Burnett, who also has a story credit for the episode, described the genesis of the episode. “We were trying to have shows that had kid problems if we could. Hilary Bader came into my office and said she read this article about these kids who have these baby dolls where they have to take care of them or the doll does something. [They learn] how time-consuming babies are. She told me this story and I saw the whole Batman episode. We worked on it together. It’s my favorite. It has a lot of laughs. Kathleen Freeman is in it who I love.”
After working for a number of years as a storyboard artist and character designer on the DC animated shows, James Tucker finally got his first opportunity to direct an episode. So imagine his reaction when he learned “Eggbaby” would be his first outing as a director. “I’m like, ‘This is a joke, right?’ It was an uncharacteristically comedic episode,” articulated Tucker. “It was really campy and something we really had done much of that for Batman Beyond. ‘Are you pranking me?’ I was really scared of it because it because it was my first episode I really didn’t want to bomb. And Bruce Timm was like, ‘No, no, it’s cool. You can lean into it. Make it funny. Make it your own.’ I like camp. I like weird humor. I kind of went with it and it turned out pretty good.”
Given his comedic background as older brother Eric Matthews on Boy Meets World, perhaps it’s not surprising that it’s also a favorite for Will Friedle. There are different camps in the Batman Beyond world about the fun episodes. I love the Eggbaby. Some people did not. They hated it right away. I thought it was phenomenal to do an entire Batman episode based around keeping this fake egg alive the entire time. I thought was really cool.”
Whatever camp you happen to fall in, the Eggbaby gamble paid off since it ended up winning the 2001 Emmy for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program. Burnett admitted that superhero cartoons typically don’t get much love from the Television Academy, so the thinking was a lighthearted episode would have greater appeal. Tucker elaborated, “Emmy time rolled around and Bruce [Timm] told me he was going to submit it. He thought it would go over well with the Emmy voters because it’s not dark and heavy. In my head I’m thinking if this doesn’t win an Emmy I’m going to get fired. Fast forward to the Emmys, we were first category that came up. I heard the words Batman Beyond and then I heard screaming. The screaming was coming from me. I was five years into my animation career. I guess I earned my keep with him because he made me a producer on Justice League. Eggbaby was very good to me.”
It’s rather fitting that the 20th Anniversary of Batman Beyond falls in the same year as Batman’s 80th Anniversary. No matter who wears the cowl, the legacy of Batman will always endure in one form or another.