Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's 103rd installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, another look at Batman Beyond's criminal crush, and her lesser-known appearances in the tie-in comic. And if you have any suggestions for the future, I'm glad to hear them. Just contact me on Twitter.
"Once Burned" is the 20th episode of Batman Beyond, written by Stan Berkowitz and directed by Butch Lukic. It's a follow-up to "Dead Man's Hand," the debut of this continuity's Royal Flush Gang, which includes a teenage daughter named Ten. Given that Beyond stars a teenage version of Batman, Terry McGinnis, it's not too difficult to guess what happens next.
Ten is at the center of "Once Burned," the title a reference to Batman's feelings regarding the teen criminal. She's determined to rob the Derby, a high-stakes poker game held by members of Gotham's criminal elite. Batman thwarts her first attempt, but is forced to question himself when Ten reveals she's trying to save her family from the Jokerz, who are holding them hostage.
Bruce Wayne's reaction to Terry's dilemma is classic: "This brings back some memories." Ten's first appearance ended with a direct reference to Selina Kyle, and here we have the obligatory Catwoman nod. The goal of Beyond's producers was to avoid using traditional Batman villains whenever possible. They did, however, want to evoke some of the rogues gallery's classic motifs. Hence, Terry now has his own bad girl who might not be so bad to struggle against.
The episode's title could also allude to Ten, and her own relationship with her family. Just as Terry must decide between Ten and his girlfriend, Ten is torn between obligations to her criminal family and her crush Terry, who represents the normal teenage life she's been deprived of. (As far as she knows, at least.) Giving these characters thorny internal conflicts adds some depth to the episode, even if much of the runtime is devoted to action sequences, always a requirement of the WB! Network.
In his civilian identity, Batman heads home and discovers Ten in his bedroom. (She briefly romanced Terry in her debut, unaware he was Batman, one major coincidence the story managed to pull off.) Ten once again tugs at Terry's heartstrings, and the producers make the bold decision to have Terry not only dismiss a call from his actual girlfriend Dana, but to end Act One by making out with Ten on his bed.
Ultimately, Ten is revealed to be telling the truth -- as far as she knew it, however. Her family was not actually kidnapped by the Jokerz; her parents were merely playing a game, testing her loyalty. The story's climax has Batman positioning the Royal Flush Gang against members of the Derby and the police. Ten remains free while her family is arrested. And any potential for a romance with Terry seems to be squashed, as he tosses away the note she gave him while on a date with Dana. Just one of many, many harsh Beyond endings.
While "Once Burned" has Ten dependent on Terry's help, her next appearance in the comics tie-in reverses the concept. Batman Beyond #23 (September 2001) comes from writer Paul Storrie and artist Craig Rousseau. Darwyn Cooke, who worked on the Beyond cartoon before moving over to comics, provides the cover.
After stopping a series of "try-out" crimes, Batman learns there's a new "King" in town, and he's assembling another Royal Flush Gang. Coincidentally, Terry's mother has demanded he spend a day off from his job assisting Mr. Wayne. Hence, the story's title "Family Day" and the not entirely subtle link between the main plot and subplot.
After a miserable day out with his family, irritated by his domineering mother and immature brother, Terry visits Ten as Batman. She's still living life straight, and her parents are in prison, which leaves her brother Jack as the only suspect. Sure enough, Jack has now proclaimed himself King, and is recruiting a new Royal Flush Gang.
To be honest, much of the issue is by the numbers action. However, the script does feature a few moments that acknowledge the frankly screwed-up dynamics of Ten's family. Ten visiting her father with the express purpose of upsetting him and setting up her brother to fail is typical of the cynicism we saw on the show.
Later, Batman crashes into the new Gang's hideout with Ten (even while Bruce suspects she can't be trusted.) Ten's father happily informed her of Jack's hideout, one adopted after the family disowned her, to ensure he was taken down a notch.
The teen heroes defeat the new Royal Flush family, and Ten's emotional arc fizzles out with no real payoff. Terry, however, receives a harsh reminder from Bruce, regarding the importance of family.
The next day, Terry takes Bruce out to dinner with his family, having learned all of the appropriate lessons and seemingly not caring all that much about how all of this affected Ten. Sometimes Beyond endings are intentionally harsh, and others are just kinda rushed.
The Royal Flush Gang features some of Beyond's strongest designs -- clearly inspired by the original comics characters, but updated to match both the future aesthetic of the show and Bruce Timm's simplified design sense.
HEY, I KNOW THAT VOICE
Sarah Douglas steps in to replace Amanda Donohoe as Queen's voice. Douglas portrayed Ursa in the first two live-action Superman films, and also replaced Leslie Easterbrook as Mala's voice in her second appearance on Superman: The Animated Series.
APPROVED BY BROADCAST STANDARDS & PRACTICES
Ending Act One with Terry and Ten making out on his bed -- admittedly on top of the covers, and fully clothed -- is still surprising for Saturday morning TV of the era. We next see them having a conversation at his window, leading the viewer free to question what happened between them during the commercial break.
"Ah, to be young again... And gullible."
The Royal Flush Gang episodes are always standouts. Not only do they present possibly the most cynical take on family you'll ever see on "kids' TV," but they tend to be strong indictments of Terry as a boyfriend. In this episode, he's outright cheating on Dana, his long-suffering and personality-deficient girlfriend.
The ending of the episode is presumably an attempt to redeem him. He has a chance to start something new with Ten, but instead chooses Dana, going so far as tossing away Ten's letter unread. Still, we end the story with Terry A) not fessing up to his infidelity, leaving Dana in the dark not only about his alter ego, but even another romance and B) dismissing Ten in a way that makes him just as unlikable as he was when he cheated on Dana.
Which is fine, in a way. Beyond does often come from a pessimistic point of view. Making Terry something of a jerk, a hero who's far less than perfect, fits that approach. (The writers also decided around this time that Terry had been a juvenile delinquent before we met him in the pilot.) So, it's a dark show with a dark view of romance. What it's sacrificing, however, is the fun of Bruce and Selina.
The comics tie-in, published in an era when DC specifically targeted kids for the animated tie-ins, rarely indulged in this cynicism. Here, there's an acknowledgement that a teenage boy is going to be bored by a day out with his family...yet there has to be a lesson at the end, emphasising how wrong he is.
The larger problem with the story is its treatment of Ten, who mainly comes across as a plot device. There's a moment where Terry pretty much acknowledges this, and expresses regret over using Ten this way, but there's no payoff. The Adventures line earned its reputation thanks to fan response to runs from creators like Mark Millar and Mike Parobeck -- not to mention Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's Mad Love -- but by the new millenium, Beyond was unable to live up to that legacy. (Although, if you think any of the more recent Beyond comics are worth a pairing with specific episodes, let me know!)
So that’s all for now. Until next time, check out the G. I. Joe novels I wrote for the Kindle Worlds project for free over at Smashwords.