The Royal Flush gang pops up all over DC, showing up in various heroes’ stories. It was inevitable that if there was a Jokerz gang, the Royal Flush gang would still be around in some form or another, too. Unfortunately, this is also the first truly forgettable hand that Batman Beyond has dealt so far.
Batman Beyond: Dead Man’s Hand
If the “Heroes” episode was a step away from Terry’s place in Gotham, then Dead Man’s Hand is the opposite. This episode focuses on Terry’s personal life and how his secret identity is beginning to affect it. This is a straight-up teen romance story with some futuristic Batman flavor.
The episode opens with Terry interrupting a heist by the Royal Flush gang, only to be late to a date with Dana, his girlfriend. She’s furious with him for being late again, and the two fight. As they separate, another girl sees her opportunity and introduces herself as Melanie. The two have a fast and exciting romance, not knowing that one is the city’s primary superhero and the other is the youngest member of the Royal Flush gang. Eventually, Terry discovered Melanie’s other life and has to make a decision about her.
This episode feels like it was meant to air later in the series, though, and it hurts the overall feel. We’ve barely met Dana by this point. She’s barely a second character, let alone a major part of Terry’s life. But the breakup is treated as a huge blowout between the two. Of course, they’re teenagers, so every breakup is a huge blowout, but the show needs to have built that up for it to matter.
Adoptive Father & Son
Meanwhile, the love affair between Terry and Melanie creates a rift between Terry and Bruce as well. Terry wants time to have a personal life, but the thing about Batman is that he doesn’t get a personal life. If he’s going to protect all of Gotham City, that’s going to take up all of his extra hours. Despite Terry’s tragic entry into vigilantism, he’s not nearly the tragic figure that Bruce is. Even though his dad was killed and he wants to see justice, he also seems to be a healthy, generally functional teenager who has romantic interests, homework, and hobbies.
That difference is something I want to see the show dive more deeply into–can Terry pull Bruce his way, or is Bruce’s sheer determination and force of will enough to turn Terry into the same dark knight that he became? Can Terry’s normal life bring Bruce some peace, or will being Batman introduce tragedy into Terry’s life that shows him Bruce’s point of view? Of course, this was all figured out decades ago, but we’re pretending we’ve never seen these episodes before.
Another element that I wish had gotten more time is the dynamic Melanie (or Ten if you go by her Royal Flush title) has with her family. Her father is physically and emotionally abusive, especially to her as the youngest and least experienced member. The Royal Flush gang is a family–quite literally–and family members are expected to pick up the family business.
Because this is a half-hour episode and not a multi-part story, and because the story is far more interested in Terry’s love life than in these other elements, though, the end result is not terribly interesting. Everything about the story feels rushed, and you can almost see all the stuff the writers were forced to cut from the script.
There are even some plot holes that stick out here as being pretty egregious. I’m normally game to overlook plot holes unless they completely destroy the story (stop plugging USB drives from crime scenes into network-connected computers, every show on television!), but this one really caught me. When Batman first encounters Ten, Terry doesn’t know that Ten is Melanie yet. But he visibly hesitates before fighting her, and the expression on his face is the pained expression of someone torn between two lives. He doesn’t seem to be hesitant to fight with a fit young woman, or reticent to punch a girl in the face–it seems like the scene was pulled from much later in the plot.
These elements come together to make an episode that’s as close to bad as we’ve seen thus far. It still has enjoyable elements, especially with regard to the Bruce-Terry relationship and how the two very different characters are evolving alongside each other. But it doesn’t feel like a cohesive story that reflects on its themes the same way that others have.