BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER
BATMAN OF THE FUTURE: RETURN OF THE JOKER
One of the teams original creations was the tv series Batman Beyond (1999-2001), which was retitled Batman of the Future in international territories. This spun the basics of the Batman mythos out into the year 2039 where Bruce Wayne (still voiced by Kevin Conroy, Batman from the animated series) was now an aging man who had long ago hung up the cape until brash teenager Terry McGinnis discovered the Batcave. Terry persuaded him to revive Batman, taking over the role in a hi-tech Batsuit that can fly, turn invisible, has audio sensors in the glove tips and so on. Batman Beyond proved a reasonable success, after which this movie was released to video. There was supposedly an earlier film The Batman Beyond Movie (1999), although this not a movie but a feature-length video compilation of six episodes from the tv series, including the two-part origin story. Intriguingly, the same creative team were commissioned circa 2004 to develop a live-action Batman Beyond film but this was abandoned after the decision was made to make Batman Begins (2005) instead. Batman Beyond also spawned a spinoff animated series with The Zeta Project (2001) about a self-aware covert agent android, while there were also crossovers of the characters into other animated series like Justice League and Static Shock (2000-4).
All the other Batman animated movies are above average but Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker disappoints somewhat. The animation, which was being produced on the cheap by South Korean studios by this point, is limited. Bruce Timms Batman and Superman animated series created a wonderfully stylised world for the DC universe to take place in but when it came to Justice League and some of the later films, this had been watered down. Batman Beyond took place in an interestingly stylized future setting that held some particularly striking colour contrasts, although ultimately it was only a vision of the present dressed up with a few Cyberpunk gadgets and genetic technologies. The same can be said for Return of the Joker.
Perhaps what is most disappointing is the fact that Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker resurrects the greatest villain from the Classic Batman mythos The Joker but fails to provide a big enough film to go along with such an event. Mark Hamill does the same entertainingly mad voicing he did throughout all the Jokers appearances in the Bruce Timm animated series but the means of resurrecting The Joker strains plausibility The Joker has managed to implant his DNA inside a computer chip and this goes from being a few cells to somehow resurrecting his entire personality and physical appearance and allowing it take over the mind of the person that the chip is implanted in. The story supporting this is routine.
The one great plus of all of Bruce Timms animated DC series and films is that they have excellent superheroic action sequences. There are some great sequences here like the opening with Batman fighting The Jokerz through the skies of Gotham on a giant clamp-like loading vehicle; the fight around the nightclub with a giant lava lamp spilling over; the fight between Batman, Batgirl, The Joker and Harley Quinn in the ruins of Arkham Asylum during the flashbacks; and particularly the sequences with the Batmobile on the freeway trying to avoid The Jokers attempts to blast it with a satellite beam that chews up swathes of the city everywhere it turns.
The Batman animated films were able to push the envelope in terms of violence much more than the tv series were. Even so, Return of the Joker, which came out not longer after the Columbine High School shootings, ended up being cut by three minutes of violence under pressure from parental groups. A restored directors cut was released in 2001.
The other Batman films and tv series are:- Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949), two 15-chapter serials from Columbia; the campy tv series Batman (1966-8) starring Adam West and Burt Ward, which produced one film spin-off with Batman (1966); the animated tv series The New Adventures of Batman (1977-8); Tim Burtons superb duo of films Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) starring Michael Keaton, and Joel Schumachers dismal campy follow-ups Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), featuring respectively Val Kilmer and George Clooney, followed by Christopher Nolans fine revival of the franchise with Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) starring Christian Bale, and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) with Ben Affleck; the animated series The Batman (2004-8), which badly revised the basics of the series and was also spun off into a film with The Batman vs. Dracula (2005); two further animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-11), which placed Batman alongside other DC superheroes, and Beware the Batman (2013-4); the live-action tv series Gotham (2014 ), which tells the origin stories of the familiar characters and villains as Bruce Wayne grows up; Batman turns up as an animated character in The Lego Movie (2014) and gets a whole film to himself in The Lego Batman Movie (2017); the animated films Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts (2015) and Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem (2015) spun off from a line of action figures; and the animated Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) featuring a return of Adam West and Burt Ward. Batman also makes appearances in the line-up of superheroes in various other DC-related animated series such as SuperFriends (1973-7), The All New SuperFriends Hour (1977-9) and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-5), as well as the films Justice League: The New Frontier (2008), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Justice League: War (2014), Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015), Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), Justice League vs Teen Titans (2016) and Justice League Dark (2017). Other spin-offs include the short-lived live-action tv series Birds of Prey (2002), featuring the women of Batman a paraplegic Batgirl, Cat Womans daughter and Harley Quinn and the Halle Berry starring Catwoman (2004), while Robin appears as a member of Young Justice (2010-3) and Suicide Squad (2016) features a team-up of DC villains including The Joker and Harley Quinn. The Batman-Robin relationship is also excrutiatingly spoofed in the Superhero Speed Dating segment of Movie 43 (2013). Also of interest is Batman & Bill (2017), a documentary about the unacknowledged co-creator of Batman, Bill Finger.