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Pro VS Con: Target Characters in Batman Beyond Part 1
by THE OLD MAID



(Note : as of this writing, the episode "Unmasked" has not been aired. Therefore no developments introduced by "Unmasked" are included.)


"A true measure of your worth includes all the benefits others have gained from your success." (Cullen Hightower)

"Batman Beyond" is at its core the Wayne-and-Terry show. Besides Wayne several other characters inhabit Terry's world. Some illuminate his character ; others serve purposes contrary to Terry's needs.

The first season had its problems, but overall the fans remained optimistic. As Season Two progressed, however, fans groaned. Batman yakking on the telephone and fighting critters and teenagers? This was not the series they signed up for.

Fans concluded it was up to them to "fix" the show since they could not trust the powers-that-be to do it. Their solution? Kill a character. Kill several. Kill everyone but one of the Batmen, and throw the survivor out into the street to fight crime alone.

All the protagonists except Barbara Gordon have been identified by the fans as target children (i.e. scapegoats) for the series and its problems. Would eliminating specific characters truly have improved the series? Let's find out. The merits or drawbacks of Terry and Bruce are a debate for another day. In this essay we will examine Max Gibson, Mary and Matt McGinnis, and Dana Tan to determine what purposes they served or failed to serve.

MAX GIBSON'S PURPOSE IN BATMAN BEYOND

Les Daniels, author of "Batman : the animated history" summarized Batman's appeal as follows :

"At this point it seems that Batman can enter any world he wants, demonstrating Dennis O'Neal's dictum : 'The idea of an essentially moral and compassionate hero is not an outmoded one.' And yet, as O'Neil has so often noted ... there's a sinister side to the character, which appeals to everyone who grew up, if not as brutally as Bruce Wayne, to realize that the world can be a very dangerous place. For these millions, there's a certain satisfaction in imagining what it might be like to be Batman ; to be alone in the dark and not be afraid, because everyone else out there in the dark is even more afraid of you." (epilogue)

This atmosphere makes Batman distinct from other superheroes and their world of happy endings.

Max Gibson doesn't quite come from the world of happy endings (she's poor and her parents are divorced), but she doesn't come from the vigilante world either. Max joined the cast but she never won the hearts of the majority. Why not? To understand her situation, one must consider what she was created to do and what she accomplished.

Max was supposedly created to be a new kind of sidekick. In fact she is not truly new. Max is actually a supporting character of the classic gee-whiz, you-are-there tradition.

The most fleeting examples were the televised versions. The first sidekicks were the trio of Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog. Wendy was the brains of the operation ; the boy and dog competed for second place. Their jobs were later given to the Wonder Twins. These beings could morph into any shape or form that suited the plot. In both cases the teens looked to be about 14 and probably appealed to an audience half that age. They served two purposes. One was to show the superheroes how it was done. The other was to make the audience feel important. Just as anyone could grow up to be President, so also anyone could grow up to work alongside a really grateful superhero.

These characters were cartoons, never meant to be taken seriously. Cartoons are skits ; animation simply means that you don't use live actors. Certainly Max was never intended as a cartoon. She does, however, have certain cartoon weaknesses that could have been avoided. She does not grow or change, because she doesn't need to. Her transformations tend to be magical and instantaneous. In "Hooked up" Max becomes frantically addicted to Spellbinder's technology on her first visit. Terry gives her medicine to help her sleep, yet instead she awakens, knocks him out and leaves. She then takes another "hit," assaults her supplier, and is wholly cured, all in a few minutes. (This implies the addiction is all physical, but many addictions kindle via a personality disorder.) Or take "Final cut," in which Max takes charge, is paralyzed by guilt, and takes charge again, also in a few lines. A little pacing might have helped.

Max also brings out the cartoon in Terry. He seems to lose some I.Q. points when he's around her. Overall, Max gives the impression that any valedictorian off the street can walk in and do this job. Terry plays the part of the really grateful superhero, blissfully unaware that he was ever anything else.

Before the cartoons came the comic book sidekicks. The most famous of these were the Batwoman, her niece Bat-Girl, and the pixie Bat-Mite. Max contains borrowed elements from all of them.

Daniels describes the trio vividly :

"Initially Batwoman was presented as something of an interloper. She was Kathy Kane, a former circus acrobat who used an inheritance to fulfill her dream of imitating Batman, and began showing up in answer to the Bat-Signal, catching crooks and even rescuing the Dynamic Duo." (p. 91)

Batwoman became Robin's boss when Wayne was unavailable. In time she became Batman's love interest and spent entire issues cooing with him. "Readers looking for mystery and adventure were beginning to wonder why they should put up with such soap opera, and why Batman wasn't out at night wrestling with Catwoman instead." (p. 92)

Then the second sidekick appeared. "Like Batwoman, Bat-Mite was an admirer of Batman who set out to emulate his idol, costume and all, but his magical powers caused nothing but headaches. He also served to dissipate whatever ominous atmosphere still lingered in Gotham City." (p. 93)

Then came yet a third. "In BATMAN #139 (April 1961), Bat-Girl appeared. She was Batwoman's niece, Betty Kane, who was such a big fan that she made her own costume and set out to emulate ... well, the pattern was pretty clear by then." (p. 93)

Like Batwoman, Max already has a skill when she arrives on the scene. On Terry's better days Max is his equal. On Terry's bad days Max instructs or rescues him, as if he is a Robin. Max also has Bat- Girl's eagerness and her youth and inexperience. Finally, with her near-magical computer abilities (out of all proportion to her actual life experience) and her twin battle cries of "I'm your biggest fan ; I just wanna help," Max has more in common with the Bat-Mite than was probably wise. She even tries to play therapist for Terry and Dana, much as Bat-Mite tried to play Cupid for Robin and Bat-Girl (BATMAN #144, December 1961).

None of these characters had some hidden trauma to drive them or to attract them to Batman as opposed to a lighter, sunnier superhero. They were created to remake Batman into that hero. Instead of adapting to his world, they made him fit into theirs.

The most disruptive influences of all have always been the ones in the audience. Batman has often been labelled a bad influence on society (the definition of "bad influence" changes in each generation). In the Fifties all comic books came under attack. They were regarded as antisocial and anti-family. Supposedly Superman promoted violence and Batman promoted homosexuality. Sales plummeted. Ironically this accusation had never occurred to Batman's creators. The reason Robin had been born a boy was that Batman's creators didn't want their moral crusader living alone with an adolescent girl. The truth was that the Kane family, etc. were created to pacify the critics. Not all the characters fit. But there was nothing to be done -- the critics wanted women characters and softened storyarcs. Batman had to cooperate or else be run out of business.

Such contrivances failed to reenergize the title. In fact sales were so abysmal that Batman was almost killed off in the Sixties. Only the combined profits of the New Look (with its talent) and the 1966 series (with its millions of fans) saved the character from extinction.

Decades later The WB in one of its periodic fits of morality discards TNBSA ("too violent") and softens "Batman Beyond." One must appreciate the irony of promoting a trendy Batdude ("Might makes Right") over the moral crusader the fans prefer (the "Right makes Might" version). New Terry is too busy brawling to explore why he does what he does. Batman fights because it is his job. Max cheers him on because that is her job. Motives? Who cares for motives? Ethics? What's that?

Although Max may not have been intended as a gee-whiz sidekick, she is under the same orders as they were, namely :

1. To attract a younger audience.
2. To attract more girls into the audience.
3. To socialize (i.e. lighten up) the Batman she works for.

The first two goals often fail, past or present. It's no coincidence that the most bizarre Batman stories ever written usually have a gee- whiz sidekick in them. Such characters are often a sign of desperation not inspiration. The only real way to expand Batman's audience is to write better stories.

Max did accomplish one goal : to lighten up the series. The brooding Bruce Wayne was written out of Season Two ; Max would do his job. Terry changed into a new creature. The new Terry plays vidgames and stinks at it ("Sentries"). Children who play vidgames beat him up ("Sentries," "Payback"). Terry loiters in music stores ("Armory"). He swaps school gossip on the phone ("Final cut"). In contrast, the original Terry didn't recognize the names of arcades ("Hooked up") ; Max had to tell him. He complained when he did have to go to one ("Bloodsport"). The original Terry rarely phoned. He and his girlfriend only talked on the phone twice in the whole series, and Dana initiated the call both times ("Rats," "Once burned"). Max and Terry, however, yak on the phone constantly ("Mind games," "Final cut," "Inqueling," "COTK part I," possibly two more). When they're not doing that, they yak in person. Fans observed that this gives the series a casual atmosphere of "Guess what happened at work, hon." It does not reconcile with the eerie figure of the night.

So. With Max's help the series showcased a kinder, gentler Batman. Did this storyarc benefit the mythos? That's where liking or disliking comes into play. Some fans say no. They find the new Terry generic and unappealing. As a rule, however, fans who like Max tend to like the Terry she helped create.

Maxfans might argue, what is wrong with Max teaching Terry how to relax? He needs it, doesn't he? Also, can't there be one normal person in the family? Must one suffer to fit in?

That is just the point. One WILL suffer if one tries to fit in. Max hasn't suffered ; ergo she seems out of place in a world dedicated to it. Also, Bruce Wayne and Max have incompatible visions of what Terry oought to learn and become. Where Wayne challenges Terry, pushes him to develop his inner Dark Knight, Max tends to nurture Terry's Inner Doofus.

Basically Max is a character trapped in a no-win situation. Max has been suggested as a future Batgirl, Oracle, Alfred, or Wayne. Unfortunately one cannot replace such complex characters merely by outliving them. There is more to Batgirl than being persistent and brave. There is more to Oracle than being good at computers. There's more to Alfred than being a good listener, and there's more to Bruce Wayne than being smarter than Terry. So Max cannot replace these characters without diminishing them.

On the other hand, Max cannot remain a classic gee-whiz, you-are- there sidekick either. The modern Bat mythos would rather explore one man's obsession with fighting all crime, whatever the cost. The day of the gee-whiz sidekick is over. Fans have more sophisticated tastes now.

Yet when Max discards all molds and just tries to be herself, fans don't like that either.

Should Max make the transition to the live film and start afresh? Maxfans aruge, rightly so, that Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon both passed through a stage of the giggles. Dick had at least three origin stories, and Barbara had at least four. Eventually their creators provided a version that the fans could respect. Should not Max be granted the same privilege?

Well, there is one more morsel of agony for this poor young lady. It took 21 years to turn Barbara into Oracle, and it took a quarter century to turn Dick Grayson into a true vigilante. Max hasn't got that much time. And what will happen if Max is "fixed" in a single film? She wouldn't be the same person anymore. It might cost her the fans she already has, the ones she earned in her first two years. Finally, it would only exacerbate her Achilles' Heel : her cartoon weaknesses. Her transformation could be too magical, too convenient to be satisfying.

One need not be a Maxfan to perceive the inherent unfairness of it all. Poor Max was set up to fail. Now the writers would not deliberately create a character designed to fail. It would destroyt their credibility. However their persistence in using her suggests that they are unaware that she failed. One can see where Max inherited her inability to take No for an answer. She got it from her creators.

What then is to be done? Maxfoes want Max killed ; should the writers do it? Probably not. For one thing, if the writers don't understand why Max didn't work, they might kill her off solely to solve their problem -- and then turn around and create another one just like her. We'd be no better off.

Besides, what would be the point? Introducing Max into the film just to kill her would be cheap exploitation and cruel. It would also turn her into a martyr. Martyrs cannot be silenced. Better to let her have her day in the sun. Soon she will pass into the Bat-past, where she can hurt no one, and no one can hurt her, ever again. In time the controversy surrounding her will subside, and fans might regard her with the same affection they have for the long-ago Batwoman and Bat- Girl. Just not today.

MARY AND MATT'S PURPOSE IN BATMAN BEYOND

At first it was feared that Terry's family would hinder his growth as a vigilante. Fortunately they've proven no great distraction. Indeed now fans propose eliminating them on grounds that they failed to contribute enough to the series. Supposedly, killing Terry's family would increase his suffering, ultimately creating a darker, more complex, more interesting character. This impulse too is misdirected.

It's true their contributions are mostly accidental. Matt saves Max's life in "Hidden agenda," thus changing the tenor of the series. Terry only has freedom to operate because Mary spends much of her life in a fog. However they probably were not created with those ideas in mind.

First let's look at the purposes they were expected to serve. Mary and Matt arrived on the scene as Talking Heads, much like those in the "Dark knight returns" collection. They zinged Batman on a regular basis, unaware that he could hear them. The scenes in "Sneak Peek" are an example.

Their second assignment was to impress upon Terry the hazards and complexities of his new lifestyle. Except for "The winning edge," "Bloodsport" and "Sneak Peek," this idea was minimized.

Their third assignment was to keep Warren's memory alive. Except for the episode "Revenant," they failed in this goal.

Ultimately their greatest contribution was simply to give Terry a place to sleep. If not for them, Terry would have either found a place of his own or moved in with Bruce Wayne. Therefore if Mary and Matt are to keep the Batmen separated, the family must contribute something else to the series in compensation.

One thing they could have done was to bring more emotional resonance to Terry's choices. Terry may die in "Babel," yet he does not choose to spend his remaining time with his family. He goes to Max. (Shows how much he cares about them, doesn't it.) Max provides the voice of the opposition. "You know, there are other kinds of losses : like your mom losing a son. Like Matt losing his big brother so soon after losing his father. Then there's Dana's loss, not to mention my own. You gonna do that to us?" Well, Max said not to mention how her loss can compare with Terry's loved ones, so let's not. Instead how can we bring more emotion to this scene? That is where having a family suddenly proves useful.  Where was Matt when the blackout hit? In school with 600 other terrified kids? On the El going home? Or was he shivering at home all by himself? Let Matt tell his brother how fightened he was, and won't Terry stay with him until the danger is over. Terry would be beside himself with self-loathing. If he stays home with a frightened child, people will die. If he walks out to go fight Shriek, he will save all their lives -- but his family will hate him. Wouldn't this develop Terry's dilemma more dramatically than Max's flawless but mechanical speech?

Another purpose they could have served and didn't was to explore whether Terry has truly changed. It's possible to blame Terry for almost every bad thing that has ever happened to them. Let's start with Warren's death. Warren McGinnis was allegedly killed by Jokerz. Terry had fought with them twice that same day. He has never dared tell anyone that Warren was killed for being a whistleblower ; the Powers clan would have silenced the whole family. Instead Terry assumed responsibility for something he didn't do.

Since then both Mary ("Bloodsport") and Terry (various episodes) have hinted that the family has money troubles. With Warren dead their standard of living has suffered.

It's even possible Terry contributed to the divorce itself. Terry was 14 (probably 8th grade) at the time. However Sean Miller reveals that Terry was already a notorious brawler back in 7th grade ("Last resort"). If his parents could not control him, this would give them one more thing to fight about.

"Rebirth" raises the question of whether Terry and Matt even lived together. At one point Terry needs Matt to open the door because his hands are full. Matt retorts, "It's not my junk." This implies he didn't help with the move because he already lived with Mary. There is also the fact that Matt did not die with Warren. If Matt lived with his father, the killer would have had to murder him too. Awake, the boy is an eyewitness. Asleep, he would be in the way when Fixx searched for the disk. Possibly Fixx could ransack a home without waking the child. The Jokerz, however, could not. Fixx had no choice but to kill everyone in the home -- and that's exactly what he did.

What this has to do with Terry is this : he probably split up the children, as well as the parents. In most divorces the children are not separated. The court's rationale is that the children have suffered enough. Therefore the couple's money is redistributed in any manner necessary to keep the children together. Children would only be separated if it is truly in their best interests. It is clear that a parent or a judge kept Matt away from his criminal older brother. Better for Matt to have no brother at home than to live with a dangerous, bad one.

It is years later. Terry has (allegedly) got Warren killed. He is back in their home, draining their finances, keeping bizarre hours, and putting them at risk of who knows what else. It would not be out of character for them to be a little afraid of him or to privately blame him for their problems. The harder he works to rebuild his life, the more they distrust him. Mary and Matt are in position to explore the difference between Terry's reputation and his reality.

The other purpose they could have served was to set up Matt as a Robin candidate. Proponents are vocal but few in number. The character himself did nothing to audition for the part. Every Robin has had some pre-existing fighting and/or gymnastic skills. Matt has none. Besides, Terry has demonstrated that he is not ready for a human sidekick. His real Robin is his dog.

Based on these non-contributions fans have proposed killing Terry's family. It is as though this is the only way the family can get Terry's attention. Certainly Mary and Matt are one-dimensional characters. But one should ask what could be accomplishing by killing Mary and Matt that couldn't be accomplished by remembering Warren's death.

Warren didn't survive the pilot ; he was murdered during Act II. Yet we know more about him than about Mary and Matt combined. Warren McGinnis was killed for being a whistleblower. He was a scientist who taught Terry math ("Earth mover"). He probably also taught Terry organic chemistry. (Math skills are vital to understanding o.c. ; also, neither man would have comprehended the evidence disk without it.) As a Research employee, Warren used to work for Nobuo Taka, the man Ian Peek murdered ("Sneak Peek"). He loved nature and camping ("Revenant"). He believed in wildlife conservation ("Speak no evil"), so he probably contributed to charities that supported it. Warren was unimpressed by Terry's tough-guy behavior and got involved in Terry's life.

Warren McGinnis should have contributed to the series through the things he taught Terry. Bruce Wayne's thoughts constantly turned to his parents : he talked about them, visited their graves, visited the place where they died. Wayne also used their money to effect positive changes in his city. Obviously Warren cannot compete with that. He was, however, a well-rounded individual and must have discussed his inventions and ideas at the supper table. This would have made Terry the most science-minded (or at least science-literate) of Wayne's apprentices. If anyone had the right to say, "Guess what happened at work today," it was Warren.

In the end, Mary and Matt have done little to justify their survival in the upcoming live film. To let them live or let them die, what to do? Killing them in common disaster with Warren is one thing. Killing them in succession runs the risk of mere exploitation. If their lives have little meaning for Terry, why would their deaths mean so much more? Let these characters have some meaning and purpose first. When the writers identify what their lives or deaths would accomplish, then one can settle their fate. -- The Old Maid

Part 2


 

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