Back in 1999 Warner Bros. debuted the animated series Batman Beyond, taking place 40 or 50 years from the character’s current timeframe with an elderly Bruce Wayne serving as mentor to teenager Terry McGinnis who takes on the mantle and become the future Batman. Impressively, fourteen years later the audience remains fascinated with the character and the setting. For that reason, we’ve dipped back into the archives to pull this exclusive interview with the show’s producers from 1998.
“About this time last year,” explained producer Paul Dini, “we were meeting with the WB people. We had brought the animated Batman show to the Kids WB with new episodes and a new look that proved to be very popular. The WB wanted to find ways of expanding the appeal of Batman to include not only just old fans who wanted to see the show again, but a new audience of kids who were less familiar with it. They were looking for ways to kind of spin Batman off and do another take on the concept. Rather than just do more episodes of the old show, they just wanted a completely fresh take."
Ideas were thrown back and forth – including one ultimately discarded notion of chronicling the exploits of a young Bruce Wayne ('It felt too Johnny Quest-like,' noted producer Alan Burnett) – until everyone agreed on one concept: looking at the idea of Batman some time in the next century.
“At a mid point of the next hundred years, what has happened to the idea of Batman?” Dini mused. “We decided to tell the story from a teenager’s point of view; somebody who basically stumbles upon the Batman legacy and is chosen by fate and his own sheer determination to be the next Batman.”
That somebody is Terry McGinnis (voiced by Will Friedle), a teenager who, like the original Batman, lost his father to criminals and whose sometimes volatile relationship with the now 70-year-old Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) ultimately results in his protecting the futuristic Gotham City from a new breed of criminal – a breed that does NOT include variations of traditional Batman villains.
“What we tried to avoid was the trap of saying, ‘Here’s Joker 2000; here’s Two-Face 2000’,” explained producer Bruce Timm. “There was actually pressure on us to do that, because the studio thought that would be a way for kids to hook into the show, but we wanted to do something fresh. We wanted to come up with villains who seemed like Batman villains, but were completely new. The closest thing we have to pre-existing characters is an anarchist bike gang called the Jokers, who kind of base their look on the old, long-dead Joker. So we avoided that trap as well as dealing with all the supporting characters. Bruce Wayne could have imported Alfred’s memory into the computer and that’s how Alfred survives, or we could have said Dick Grayson is now this or that. The only person from the old cast who kind of shows up again besides Bruce Wayne is Barbara Gordon, who becomes Commissioner Gordon. That was too neat a concept to pass up.”
Added Burnett, “Although the future setting is interesting, the heat of the show for me is the relationship between Bruce Wayne as a mentor and this kid, who is a rather hot-tempered guy, and the uneasiness of their relationship. They don’t particularly like each other. It’s much better to do it that way than having a mutual admiration society. It’s much more realistic. This kid goes to high school, he’s middle-class, he lives with his mother and younger brother, so he’s not only pulled by being Batman but also by his social, family and educational obligations. He’s not as alone as Bruce Wayne was. On the other hand, he also has this temper and sense of vengeance that gives him a great deal of willpower, just like Bruce Wayne.”
The team is confident that Batman Beyond will fit in nicely with the mythos of the character that has preceded it. “There are certain traditions that haunt Gotham City,” said Dini, “and one of them is Batman, regardless of who wears the costume. Even though he’s been a known entity to the city for 55 or 60 years at the time that Terry takes over, people just refer to him as Batman. He’s still a being that provokes a response of fear or wonder, depending on who sees him. As far as they know, Batman has always been a part of Gotham City and always will be.”
And for its part, Batman Beyond has been a part of the mythos of Batman since the arrival of the series a generation ago.
Check out the Voices from Krypton podcast below, featuring voice actor Roger Craig Smith on voicing Sonic the Hedgehog, Batman and Captain America.