Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's fifty-third installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, we're reviewing Batman's doomed romance with a career thief. No cat puns this time, however. The villain in question is Ten of the Royal Flush Gang, and the Batman is of the "Beyond" variety.
"Dead Man's Hand" (airing on March 21, 1999) marks the DC Animated Universe's debut of the Royal Flush Gang. Featuring a story by Stan Berkowitz and direction from Dan Riba, the episode returns to a classic Batman theme. Everyone knows of Batman's tortured relationship with Catwoman, the villain he loves but knows he can't reform. While Batman Beyond sought to avoid new takes on old villains, the producers did attempt to create foes that evoked the familiar themes. The doomed romance between Batman and Ten is, clearly, an update of the Batman/Catwoman relationship.
Luckily, the crew's sharp enough to make Ten a unique figure. She first encounters Batman while committing a robbery with her family. The Gang escapes, but fate later has Ten reunited with Batman at a local nightclub. However, Batman is out as Terry McGinnis and Ten is Melanie Walker, someone Terry only knows as a mystery blonde. Terry's girlfriend Dana has just dumped him, and this new girl moves fast in making her move.
As the episode unfolds, we discover the teenage Ten is disenchanted with her imposed life of crime. Terry, meanwhile, is chaffing under the heavy restrictions Bruce Wayne has placed upon him. His life as Batman has already cost him his relationship with Dana, and Terry resents Bruce interfering with this new connection.
Sometimes Terry is a teenager in name only on this series, but here the teen angst feels genuine. It adds a Romeo and Juliet quality to the relationship lacking in the Batman/Catwoman dynamic, one that fits the series well.
Ultimately, Ten is unable to break away from her family, and their final confrontation with Batman sees her placed in custody. There's an element of illusion of change here, with Terry apologizing to Bruce (and Dana waiting in the wings to return to her "suffering girlfriend" role). Yet, the final moment actually plays the emotions well. And having Bruce pulling Terry aside to tell him about Selina Kyle...that's just a great scene. Honestly funny, and a clever continuity shout-out, but not gratuitous at all. It fits the characters and the moment.