A quintessential animated Batman shows us his ingenuity and tenacity while pitting him against a unique, twisted villain. This week’s episode of Batman Beyond has just about everything you want from a Batman episode, and it’s an absolute blast to watch.
Batman Beyond: Shriek
Many of Batman’s villains didn’t plan to be a villain, but things ended up that way after the vigilante had the nerve to get in the way of their planned crime. The villain today is sound engineer Walter Shreeve, who has been working to develop sound-powered tools for Wayne-Powers. Shreeve intended them to be used for things like construction, but Derek Powers sees another purpose for the destructive tool.
Shreeve first attempts, and fails, to assassinate Bruce Wayne, and then tries to trick Wayne into suicide through mental manipulation. Batman does the detective work to connect Shreeve to the first crime, and the two battle, with Batman overcoming Shreeve handily after a tough start (and one of the few episodes that doesn’t involve Batman getting electrocuted and beaten senseless).
Terry’s story is about learning to work independently as Batman, doing not just the flipping and punching, but the investigation work as well. This brings a new dimension to Terry, who has mostly come across as a passionate brawler with a good heart thus far. He struggles with Bruce’s voice-activated gear, and I imagine this scene looked very different in 1999.
Back then, voice control wasn’t even in its infancy, so it was basically all science fiction. Now it looks like Batman just built himself a Siri or Alexa, and Terry has the exact same trouble finding the right commands that people new to the technology do. It’s kind of funny how similarly the whole scene plays out to those awkward moments when our voice assistants don’t work. It’s just that we’re talking to our tiny phones instead of a computer the size of a Kia Soul. When he does get information out of it, it feels similar to the way search engines return results via voice command, even.
That leads Terry to Shreeve’s lab, where he poses as a pizza delivery guy and talks his way into the villain’s lab, asking questions about his gear, getting to know both the guy and his technology. He’s doing real detective work on his own, without Bruce in his ear. While he does end up having to run from Shreeve’s sound gear, he gets valuable information without compromising his identity. It feels like a major growth moment for the character, whose growth has been pretty slow even considering that this is an episodic animated show.
Bruce’s storyline, meanwhile, is a particular blast for fans of the comic book Batman. While this is still Old Man Bruce and he spends a pretty big portion of the episode in the hospital, it’s still a Batman story through and through. When Bruce starts hearing voices, we know it’s Shreeve, but Bruce doesn’t. The voices tell him to open the window and then tell him that he “knows what to do.” This is one of those moments that Batman: The Animated Series creators talk about as a limitation that makes a scene better–the writers likely were not allowed to use words like suicide or specific wording about jumping out the window, so they had to keep it subtle and it comes across a lot more elegant than a more direct approach.
It’s Terry’s detective work that finally reveals the source–one of Shreeve’s paper-thin speakers hidden in his bandage–but it all comes down to one specific moment. While the voices agitated Bruce because he couldn’t tell where they were coming from, he never believed once that it was coming from inside of his head. Why?
“Well, first, I know I’m not psychotic,” Bruce says.
“I hope your other reason’s more convincing,” Terry replies.
“And second, the voice kept calling me Bruce. In my mind, that’s not what I call myself,” Bruce explains.
“What do you call yourself?” Terry asks. Bruce gives him a long look.
“Oh yeah. I suppose would,” Terry replies, before slipping into his Batman voice. “But that’s my name now.”
“Tell that to my subconscious,” Bruce says.
There is no Bruce, only Batman
This exchange feels very authentic to the Batman that has evolved in the last quarter century, who isn’t just a billionaire playboy but someone who is single-mindedly obsessed with his crusade and whose alter ego subsumes his other identities.
The climactic fight of the episode stands out, too. Shriek is all about sound, and he’s shown to be able to amplify or cancel it out. When the two come face to face, Shriek mutes the area to confuse Batman and then amplifies Batman’s sound to give himself an edge. For the next 30 seconds or so, the show is silent except for echoing footsteps and movements and feels really sharp and fresh. When Batman shorts out his electronics systems with a Batarang, the muting fails and suddenly an entire city block’s worth of sounds are hammering his ear at once, possibly destroying his hearing for good. It’s a tragic but earned origin for a fun, futuristic Batman villain.
So the episode grows Terry in some meaningful ways and gives us a great Bruce Wayne storyline, which is a nice change from him so often sitting in the Batcave and growling at Terry over his comms. I also really liked the character designs for both Shreeve himself and Shriek as well, making this one of the best episodes of Batman Beyond yet.
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