Welcome to the twenty-eighth edition of Adventure(s) Time, where we examine a beloved animated series and an issue of its tie-in comic with a similar theme. This week, we’re looking back on a rather significant episode of Batman Beyond, and an issue of the tie-in comic that presented a sequel to the story.
“Splicers” originally aired on September 18, 1999 as the second season premiere. Written by Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer, and directed by Curt Geda, “Splicers” is the first episode to air after the WB network examined the first season of the show and offered its notes to the producers. Network notes always make everything better, right? Feeling that the first season relied too heavily on corporate espionage (with Derek Powers, Bruce Wayne’s one-time business partner as the lead villain), the WB asked the producers to take advantage of the school setting, and the life of this new Batman as a young teenager.
The producers apparently had no problem with the note, based on their comments on the DVD releases, creating a new template for Batman Beyond episodes. Batman’s alter ego will now regularly be introduced to the criminal plot in the episode in some way through his high school teachers or classmates, with those teachers and classmates often turning into supervillains themselves.
It wouldn’t have been a terrible setup for the occasional episode, but it’s a well the series revisited far too many times. The majority of Bruce Wayne’s foes didn’t come from Gotham’s high society, so why should Batman Beyond’s rogues gallery be dominated by figures from Hamilton Hill High?
“Splicers” begins with popular girl Chelsea arriving at school with a pair of genetically altered cat eyes, a vehicle for introducing the fad of splicing animal and human DNA into the plot. Inspired by the late 1990s fad of tattoos and piercings, splicing is treated by the episode as a rather absurd extrapolation of the body modification trend. (Although “trend” probably isn’t the most accurate term; it’s not as if people stopped getting tattoos in the 2000s.)
Having the popular, pretty kids in school embrace the fad, essentially choosing to make themselves freaks, is a play on the concept of every subculture eventually going mainstream, a theory that’s proven more true each day as cultural taboos continue to dissipate in America. The obsessiveness around the fad, and the cult that surrounds its creator, Dr. Abel Cuvier, is a little hard to swallow, however.
The story has Gotham’s DA (and Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon’s husband) Sam Young declaring plans to outlaw the practice, which leads to Cuvier and his devotees threatening Young’s life. When Batman attempts to stand in their way, he finds himself injected with a blend of bat DNA, courtesy of Dr. Cuvier, who is convinced that splicing will “literally change the world!”
Why Cuvier cares so much about splicing isn’t explained, nor is the source of his followers odd devotion to the practice. This is symptomatic of a major problem with the series — the Batman Beyond villains are often lacking in depth or sympathetic motivations. They exist to fulfill certain plot functions, but few of them could ever be classified in the same league as characters like Two-Face or Mr. Freeze, following Paul Dini’s reinvention of the character. Many Batman Beyond plots are exercises in moving the plot along or coming up with justifications to work in cool bits. This episode provides a classic example: Cuvier’s nonsensical injection of the bat DNA turns Terry into a futuristic incarnation of the Man-Bat, all for a brief scene that looks very cool, but serves no real story function.
Another issue with Batman Beyond is its failure to execute ideas from its early episodes, such as a much older and cynical Barbara Gordon becoming Police Commissioner, and openly declaring that she isn’t going to be tolerating another Batman. This leads absolutely nowhere, with Barbara never acting against Batman, and merely giving him the advice to hang up the costume this episode (even after he saved her husband.) There’s also a bit about Bruce Wayne’s dog Ace finally accepting Terry after the events of this story, which could’ve worked as a way to reaffirm Terry’s role as the new Batman, but it feels tacked on.
As for the conclusion of the episode, it ends like a fairly standard Batman Beyond episode. Terry fights dirty (this time, injecting Cuvier, who’s already turned himself into a “Chimera”, with even more DNA), the villain becomes a monster, there are a few explosions, and the villain is left for dead. Nothing particularly memorable, aside from the hideous design of the super-mutated Dr. Cuvier. Kids’ WB really did have a pretty lax standards and practices department, didn’t it?
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