Welcome to Adventure(s) Time’s forty-ninth installment, a look at classic animated series and their tie-in comic books. This week we’re looking back on a lesser light in the Batman Beyond rogues gallery. (Thanks to reader Gravity Falls Poland for the suggestion.) Demand for his return was likely minimal, but he came back anyway. Vermin are like that, aren’t they?
“Rats” debuted on November 20, 1999, featuring a story by Rich Fogel and direction from Curt Geda. The show was in its second season by now, and the trope of Terry abandoning his girlfriend Dana in order to fight crime as Batman had already been well established. “Run into the ground,” some fans might’ve argued. “Rats” uses this as its starting point. After being abandoned too many times, Dana is finally ready to dump Terry. She changes her mind when she discovers a white rose, a gift she believes is from Terry.
Before going out on their next date, the viewers are given some glimpse into Dana’s home life for the first time. We discover Dana has a stern father who doesn’t want her dating Terry. (Complaining about his juvie record, the second reference to Terry’s shadier past on the series.) He apparently works from home, seems to be a single father, and…that’s it. Okay, turns out Dana’s home life isn’t fleshed out particularly well. It’s the only time we’ll ever see her outside of school or social situations, and it’s clear not a lot of thought was given to Dana’s backstory. She was there to be the girlfriend staring at her watch and giving the hero grief for showing up late.
The producers have acknowledged that Dana was shortchanged during Beyond’s run, to be fair. And while “Rats” isn’t an intense exploration of her character, it is an episode that gives Dana more to do than nag the hero. And, yeah, it involves her being kidnapped and ultimately rescued by Batman. But she does have some cool moments during the story.
Dana’s kidnapped by the end of the first act. Turns out the white rose was from a deformed young man who dwells in the Gotham sewers. Deemed Ratboy due to his appearance, he retreated to the underground years ago. There, he befriended the city’s rodents, including a few gigantic rats created by toxic radiation. Can you guess that much of the story has Batman searching for his girlfriend, as Ratboy develops a possessive crush on Dana? And that Batman eventually locates his home, then saves the girl? And, because this is Beyond, a massive explosion in the climax kills the villain of the week? Also, to preserve the illusion of change, that Dana and Terry reconcile in the closing?
You’d be right in guessing all of these. But, in “Rats”‘ defense, Dana does have some memorable moments of her own. She’s sympathetic throughout the story, not having a stereotypical teen girl reaction to the physically deformed villain. And the lengthy escape sequence, fruitless as it might’ve ultimately been, shows Dana has some courage of her own. (It’s a nicely staged scene, largely silent, that has Dana navigating the sewers and facing Ratboy’s army of rats.) She also plays a key role in the ending, teaming up with Batman against the rats and triggering the explosion that enables them to escape.
So, as a Dana spotlight episode, this isn’t so bad. It’s certainly not deep, but we see Dana truly standing up for herself more convincingly. And, shockingly, having more to do than whine about missed dates. “Rats” doesn’t seem to be a favorite amongst Batman Beyond fans, however. Ratboy is one of the lamest villains in the canon, and even as the episode attempts to subvert one of its clichés, it can’t avoid numerous others. There’s an overall silliness to the episode (Dana’s love of chili is a key plot point), that turns people off.
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