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A review of Batman Beyond: Industrial Revolution by aiwac

Even those who don’t care for the Batman Beyond animated series would probably agree that Derek Powers AKA Blight was its most interesting original villain. With origins similar to the Joker and an approach similar to Lex Luthor, Powers brought a presence and menace to Neo-Gotham that no other Beyond villain could really match. By bringing Blight back in the Industrial Revolution story arc, Adam Beechen had a chance to portray a villain that challenged the new Batman team on two significant levels.

The first has to do with Bruce Wayne and his (former) position as undisputed corporate King of Gotham. Derek Powers was the only one in the DCAU who ever seriously undermined Bruce Wayne’s complete control of his company’s resources and policy. For Bruce to see the company which bears his family name be used for murder and corruption presented a serious challenge. It was not just Terry who needed to struggle to redeem himself; Bruce also needed to regain control of the company that was now being abused by Powers.

On this level - as a story about Bruce Wayne saving his company from possible ruin - Beechen’s arc works very well. We learn a great deal about what drives post-Batman Bruce Wayne, especially his concern for his family’s name and legacy and how for Bruce, this is what he has left of them. It’s a touching scene, one acknowledged by Terry in his typically glib fashion. Furthermore, the manner in which Bruce handles the labor crisis is impressive and the way in which he resolves it is clever and in character. We see from this story that Bruce is not just a gifted superhero, but a darned good CEO. There is life for him after Batman.

But Derek Powers/Blight’s power (pardon the pun) goes deeper than this, and perhaps the best way to explain it is this:

One of the most shocking episodes I ever watched on television took place on the show Cold Case. A homicide detective dedicated to solving old cases comes upon a serial killer who specializes in kidnapping and hunting his victims like animals. In spite of the police’s best efforts, they cannot produce any real evidence against the killer nor get him to confess his crimes. The episode ends with the killer walking out of the police station a completely free man, smiling all the way.

Bruce’s parents’ killer – be he Joe Chill or someone else - was never found. After a nine-year manhunt, Tony Zucco was caught and imprisoned after Dick Grayson relented from killing him. Derek Powers did something far worse than both: he murdered Terry’s father and got away with it. No investigations or indictments, not even so much as a suspicion. This is what separates Powers from typical Bruce era Batman villains. Powers is guilty as sin – Terry knows it, Bruce knows it – but there is nothing either of them can do about it.

This is a true test for Batman, new or old: a legally untouchable villain who must be defeated by a vigilante committed, in his own way, to the rule of law. Yet every episode, every second that Powers walks free is an enduring and painful personal reminder to Terry of his failure to ensure justice for his father. For a teenager already prone to violent, angry outbursts, the temptation to let loose on Powers must have been enormous.

This is especially true since Terry came within inches of inadvertently killing Powers on two occasions. The first was when he threw a canister of nerve gas at him in the beginning of the season. The second was when he came a little too close to letting Paxton kill his father at its end. Although he never went all the way on either occasion, Powers clearly represents a very dangerous moral challenge to Terry, in which the latter must avoid crossing the line from justice into vengeance. It thus follows that Terry has a very interesting and complicated history with Derek Powers, one that is crying out for compelling struggle and resolution.

So it came as quite a shock to me to discover that none of this plays a part in “Industrial Revolution”. Powers’ role in Warren McGinnis’ murder isn’t even mentioned. That’s right – the very reason Terry McGinnis even donned the suit is not brought up or hinted at. The hatred and anger Terry feels for Blight? Gone. Terry feels more emotion in this story over Dana breaking up with him than from the knowledge that his father’s killer is alive and at large. I wish I was kidding.

In the animated series, Terry struggled with thoughts of revenge and ultimately avoided killing Powers. Here he has no compunction or guilt at possibly doing so. We don’t even see him have any kind of closure at stopping his father’s murderer. I would have sufficed with some clichéd line like “We finally got him, Dad” or “It’s over”, but no such luck. While it was nice to see Terry show real skill and ingenuity in fighting Blight, it is no consolation for the story’s complete failure to address this key aspect of Terry’s story.

Which brings us, sadly, to Blight himself.

In the animated series, Derek Powers was crafty, charming and very smart. Even more, he seemed self-aware in that he never got too overconfident or ignored real dangers to himself or his reputation. Most importantly, he rarely if ever was given to the kind of over-the-top thinking that characterized Bruce’s rogues gallery. He was a force to be reckoned with.

This multidimensional and compelling villain has been reduced to a parody of a Saturday Morning cartoon. He gives long, cliché ridden speeches at every opportunity, expositing at length things we or the characters already know. He talks about “almost taking over the world” (of course!) and being a “deposed king”. It’s like a cliché-o-matic wrote his lines. All the subtlety, intelligence and menace is gone; in its place is an ugly and badly made action figure.

Compare this mess, if you will, to a far better story written by the same author and during the same arc – the (still ongoing) Undercloud story. Unlike Industrial Revolution which comes out of nowhere and dies just as quickly, Undercloud builds up slowly. We are given only a small piece of the puzzle each issue and are left craving for more. The suspense and mystery are fascinating. What’s more, the main character of the story, Max, is along with us for the ride, providing a compelling and growing character. Imagine if Terry and Blight had been handled nearly as well.

Adam Beechen has written a great Bruce story (“Industrial Revolution”), Max story (“Undercloud”) and Dana story (“10,000 clowns”). I’m still waiting for the great Terry story.

"Batman Beyond: Industrial Revolution" is now available at comic book stores and through digital outlets.

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