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Max Gibson of Batman Beyond: Con

I guess it's no secret. I don't like Max. I was the first poster at this site to say so and I've had to defend it ever since. Lately I don't feel so alone. Max has become the most divisive character in the Bat universe since the vote on Jason Todd. In a sense our fans are voting on her now. One third of them love Max. One third loathe her. And one third want to root for her but would change her if they could. I see problems with that wish. The character likes herself just the way she is, therefore she has no reason to change. Besides, we've spent two seasons developing Max without success. Must we spend more Batman time on her? Many fans say no. So, why not?

Well, for starters some fans don't like Max because she has foot-in- mouth disease. I agree. She makes fun of people then gets offended that they're offended. Her angle tends toward "what's in it for me?" and that gets old fast. I'll admit most sidekicks are wise-mouths. But that's the point : Terry is the resident mouth. The show can't support any more, certainly not an unpopular one. (I believe the phrase was "ineffably annoying.") What concerns me more is how often Max has lied to Terry -- and that he never lied to Bruce Wayne until he fell under her influence ("Once burned").

Other fans claim Max is just a cliche and a marketing gimmick. Max was allegedly created to lure a hip younger audience that wouldn't normally watch a Batman show. The suits can call it making Bats more accessible. Longtime fans call it trendy and the results fluff. Terry was created to be Wayne's successor, extraordinary. A troubled loner who tolerated Dana's attempts to change him. He tolerated Dana's friends. He didn't wallow in "ordinary" teenage problems ; basically Max has BECOME his teenage problem. The truth is Max holds Terry back. She keeps him tied to her teen scene when he should be playing chess with Arkham inmates or learning to run Wayne's company. It dates the show. If the fans can outgrow Batman, a cultural icon, then the show's getting something wrong.

Secondly, Max is a loose-cannon version of the damsel-in-distress. Max never could consider the consequences of her actions. That, combined with her nosiness, ego, and inability to take No for an answer makes her a magnet for trouble. She doesn't respect Terry -- not really -- which is why she always has a "better idea." She also botches Terry's attempts to clean up after her, as a Damsel should. This was supposed to make the man look more heroic by giving him more obstacles to overcome. On this show the cliche backfires. Batman can't afford the distraction. Twice people have been injured or killed because Terry left them to fetch Max ("Final cut," "COTK part 2"). That's not heroic. In fact it makes Terry look weak because he can't rein her in.

Third, Max is a writer's crutch so common that in Star Trek fanfic it has its own name : the Mary Sue gimmick. Typically "Mary Sue" is a brilliant young persom who's shoehorned into someone else's adventures. But there's no work for her. The characters already have all the traits the story needs. So the writer revises (i.e. dumbs down) the existing characters so that Mary Sue can dazzle them. Some examples? One : Terry, the street-smart ex-con, can set his own traps ("Shriek," "Ace in the hole"). In "April moon" he doesn't know how. Max does it for him. Two : Terry was the one who taught Max how to palm cash cards, not the other way around ("Hooked up"). Terry used to be good at math ("Earth mover"). He stated that his scientist father drilled him in math to give him an edge in life. We know Terry's good with computers ("Out of the past," many more). He claims he can manage Wayne's business affairs at any time if Wayne is unavailable ("Shriek"). All these things Terry can do. Yet in "Final cut" Terry can't tie his shoelaces. He is holding a remote control that "his" company sells. But suddenly Terry doesn't know how to look up and read the owner's manual. He also can't solve a middle-school geometry problem. Additionally, Bruce is incommunicado -- that's out of character for a tech wizard and a control freak. But Terry shouldn't have needed anyone at all! The original Terry is not this helpless. He was dumbed down so that Max could dazzle him. Having "Batman learn from a student just makes him look stupid. It also implies Wayne hasn't taught him a thing.

Many more fans dislike Max because she siphons screen time from other characters. Agreed. We were sold the Wayne-and-Terry show. Instead the writers gave Max most of Wayne's duties : to sleuth, to scold, to advise. Whatever happened to Terry being apprenticed to the most dangerous man on earth? The fans feel lied to, and maybe they were.

Dana, Mary and Matt were also sacrificed so that Max could become all things and all people to Terry. It's ironic that Matt saved her life ("Hidden agenda"). Matt never needed to know the truth to be an effective foil. He's also a huge Batfan. That would have made things far more intense whenever Terry and Matt crossed each other. If Matt felt Batman should stay home in "Babel," it would break Terry's heart. If Matt had starred in "Hooked up," he'd have been forced to choose between his hero and the father he'd do anything to see again ("Revenant"). The episode could have concluded with Terry facing his "father" as well. Would Warren have given his blessing? Terry will wrestle with that question all his life. This would've been a good time to start. We also missed our one best chance to develop Spellbinder's character. He has detailed files on Terry's family. He would have played Matt like a violin. So Max isn't just taking screen time from the good guys but from the villains too.

Dana had several sudden insights into Terry's behavior ("Big time," Inqueling") but lost the actual scenes to Max. It's rare that Dana's allowed to do something other than nag. To chase after HER boyfriend, to listen when he's unhappy, or to give him a long-overdue apology in person instead of through the grapevine. To be there for him. Well, she had two chances (eps) in a row and somehow Max aced her out of both of them. Dana is simply too territorial to allow this Max-makes- threesome development. In her way Dana is as tough a fighter as Terry. She takes no guff from anyone, stands up to everyone. It took her three seasons just to stomach Wayne. No, if Dana could be jealous of a hospital patient ("Untouchable"), she'd never let Max spend more time with her guy than she does. Besides Max isn't a marriage counselor. She could very well make things worse by keeping a couple together who don't speak to each other. They need to face their problems themselves. As for Mary, even when her son vanished ("Where's Terry"), she did nothing. Just once, and this time especially, she should've grilled Wayne about why he needs Terry at 3 A.M. anyhow. (Wayne could be running drugs for all she knows.) This favoritism to Max makes no sense. The point of a supporting character is to support the stars and their story. Developing Dana, Mary and Matt develops Terry. Developing Max develops Max. Now barring mischief, Terry is stuck with his family (maybe Dana) for life and they with him. They're the ones who had to visit him in jail. Not Max. Terry broke their hearts yesterday, he's a menace to them today ("Bloodsport," "ROTJ"), he will hurt them again tomorrow. Their voices deserve to be heard.

Many fans go further, stating that if Dana, Mary or Matt can't be Terry's confidante then he shouldn't have one at all. Let him talk to Bruce or work it out alone. These are fans who found the "Alfred" joke insulting. Alfred worked his whole life to become the man Bruce trusted and loved. He didn't come out of a box like that. Alfred was a father figure who raised Bruce. Now we have Terry who has taken Wayne and put him in place of his own dead father. This needs to be explored. Instead what the Max Gibson Show does is explore ways to keep Terry an amateur.

Still other fans say the Max character is unbelievable, too good with computers for a high school student. Hmm. I'll agree, with conditions. A 12th-grader browsing the Defense Department's system and never getting caught ("Once burned") is unrealistic even for a hacker. Unfortunately there really are hackers out there who'd do it if they knew how. If Batman existed that's exactly the type of person who'd try to expose him. To me what's even more make-believe is that Terry would need or want a friend like that. Batman's life is not her toy. What sort of "friend" does this :

"Someone tries to identify Batman. Someone stalks him electronically. Terry is found out and visits Someone to throw himself on the mercy of the court. Someone replies, I have what I wanted. But talk to me. Confide in me. Then I'll decide if that's more valuable than exposing you. I'll be your evil Lois Lane. I'll tag along on your patrols and get the exclusive. Even if you say no to this deal I'll do what I want. I own you now." Now whom did I just describe? Max in "Hidden agenda" or Ian the "Sneak Peek"?

It's both of them. Max is, at heart, the child that Ian Peek and thrill-seeker Roxy Rockett never had. That's why she created her list in the first place. Max spent days targeting people to prey upon. She believed her quarry had connections to Hill High. That means she hacked the personnel records and the school counselor's files to find him. So the odds are that every person on her list had a secret. All she had to do was put pressure on them, one after another, and see what they confessed to.

Max set out to identify Batman for no reason, just for fun. But I ask you, if Max could identify an undercover cop working narcotics or in the mob, should she do that for fun?

I realize some fans feel they have to tolerate these problems because they're hungry for a Batgirl Beyond, and they think it's Max or nothing. Again, more fans say No than Yes. Let's keep in mind that fans liked Barbara Gordon long before she donned a mask. If she hadn't already been well-loved, giving her new clothes wouldn't have made her so. Now I only recently became a Batgirl/Oracle fan. The things I like about her had to be convincing. It had to make sense to me. And I don't think Max Gibson is an honorable successor.

Consider that Barbara Gordon could have exposed Batman and Robin at any time. Batman was a permanent fixture in her father's office. She went to school with Robin. Went on patrol with him, went on dates. Barbara's also a computer expert who started with talent but trained professionally. She certainly could have identified Batman faster than Max did. So why not do it? Did she agree with Two-Face? He thought Batman WAS a cop, or at least was on Jim Gordon's payroll ("Almost got 'im"). Or maybe she said, I won't. It's wrong.

Writer Greg Rucka ("No man's land") has another explanation. He puts words in Oracle's mouth that the mask is a sacred trust. It doesn't just protect the wearer. It protects the innocent. People can die if they know too much. They can die if the masked one acts unworthily.

Barbara knew that being a vigilante means having so much power you have to police yourself because no one else can do it. This is a lesson Max has singularly failed to learn.

In fact Max hasn't a clue why people even wear the mask. Max wants to be a hero. Batman doesn't get to be a hero.

To be Batman is to be driven. Obsessed. Maybe even possessed. Did Bruce Wayne ever really enjoy what he was doing? Or did he get so bone-weary that every fiber in his being wanted to stop -- but he couldn't? Terry shows hints of this behavior himself. He has a serious guilt/inferiority complex and it seems to be getting worse with time, not better. One fan commented that this is why Bruce Wayne and Terry make such a good team. They're the only ones who can help each other heal. The Wayne-and-Terry show was a real treat and deserves to return in all future Batman Beyond versions, live and animated.

To sum up, it's not just that I don't like Max. I don't like what her presence has done to the show and its characters. I don't like the way she treats people. Max was irresponsible, self-serving, often unethical and even unteachable. She dug such a deep hole for herself that when she finally did something good (moralizing in "Zeta" and the Big Time episodes), it sounded bizarre, phony. Out of character. I mentioned there were on-the-fence fans. Several have since dropped out. I'm not sure but they may have donor fatigue. Max has been given so many last chances that people are just tired of it.

Max is intelligent. She can be brave, relentless, and she's strong. Now strength is a necessary quality in a leader. But I won't follow a man just because he's strong.

I don't trust Max. I think Terry can't either.

I see Max Gibson as an experiment that didn't work. Let her bow out gracefully, not to be seen again. You may think that's harsh but I'm going easy on her compared to what the death-and-dismemberment faction wanted to do. I guess the kindest way to put it is that this isn't her calling. If Max wants to be a hero she should join the fire department. But she doesn't have enough popular support to justify keeping her in "Batman Beyond."

By "The Old Maid"



 

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