If you saw something that you know probably wouldn’t happen, but secretly believed it would, how ready would you be to accept or deny it? Barbara Gordon, one-time vigilante and current commissioner of Gotham City Police, has a tenuous relationship with vigilantism in the city she watches over. When she sees Batman kill Mad Stan, what should she do?
Batman Beyond: Eyewitness
Some of the most interesting episodes of Batman shows come from the interplay between Batman and the Gotham City Police. Batman believes that the police are insufficient on their own, especially where the more dangerous villains are concerned. The police know that Batman is an unlicensed, unidentified vigilante with no legal standing–more a liability than a benefit. In the middle, Batman meets the few police officers that know him well and believe in his quest.
Things are more complicated in Neo-Gotham City, where Commissioner Barbara Gordon is a former vigilante, who potentially had a romantic relationship with the original Batman. Gordon wants to eliminate vigilantism, which she views as doing more harm than good, but she also doesn’t want to out her best friend–and probably herself–in the process. Every move Batman makes toes the line she’s waiting for them to cross.
Then, our good friend Mad Stan–always the bridesmaid, never the bride–attacks a gathering of the wealthy elite. After a chase, Gordon catches up to Batman just in time to see him murder the heck out of Stan.
The episode leaves us viewers in the dark for much of its runtime. We saw Terry do it, but we know Terry wouldn’t do it. We’re in the dark as much as the Commissioner. This was a really smart way to handle this, because while we’re generally seeing things from Terry’s point of view–even here–this puts us in her shoes for a while. There’s a cognitive dissonance between knowing how Batman acts, seeing what Batman did, and dealing with how he responded to the accusation. Gordon’s worst fears have been proven right, and it’s hard to tell exactly where she stands with Batman. Did she really expect Batman to just up and kill a criminal someday? She knows better, but she knows what she saw, and she’s furious.
It’s also a great use of Spellbinder. Spellbinder is a high-tech villain whose abilities lie in manipulating people by messing with their perception. We don’t necessarily need Spellbinder to have his own character arc. He does everything he needed to with a single line. After Batman exposes Spellbinder by breaking his magical lightbulb and then captures him, he turns to Gordon and says “You were so ready to believe.”
Spellbinder wanted revenge on Batman, and the city’s tenuous relationship with the vigilante is hardly secret. He engineered a place for the Commissioner to see Batman commit a crime, and then all he had to do was step back and let his two most annoying adversaries destroy each other. This isn’t Spellbinder’s story, or even really Batman’s. It belongs to Barbara Gordon and Bruce Wayne, the old guard of Gotham, standing for or against the new generation.
In the end, Barbara has to admit that she was wrong, potentially giving Terry and Bruce just a little bit of elbow room in Gotham moving forward, and Bruce’s relationship with Terry is reinforced again as Bruce shows Terry the trust that the rest of the city wouldn’t. This episode pairs well with Babel, Episode 12, in which Shriek held Gotham hostage, demanding Batman’s surrender as payment. In that case, it was about Batman’s relationship with the people of the city instead of the city’s law enforcement. Again, Bruce had to trust Terry. Instead of trusting that he wouldn’t do the right thing, though, he had to trust that Terry was doing things for the right reasons. These kinds of episodes are a great prism to break Batman out in to Terry and Bruce and see where their common ground is.
Also, the twist that Mad Stan is stuck in one of Spellbinder’s fantasy spheres from the episode “Hooked Up” is a hilarious way to end the episode and tie up the loose end of where Mad Stan was all this time without undercutting the main ideas of the story.
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