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A fun and satisfying adventure story that helps define the history of this futuristic Batman universe.

By Frank Garcia     December 05, 2000

'Let's dance, Bozo!' Batman to the Joker
'I'm rested, I'm tanned, and I'm ready to give this town a wedgie again!' The Joker

In spite of three seasons of fantastic, futuristic adventures on Warner Brothers' hit animated series Batman Beyond, what continues to remain shrouded in mystery is the final fate of the original Batman's colorful rogue's gallery of villains. Whatever happened to The Riddler? The Penguin? Catwoman? Even the final status of stalwart allies like Dick Grayson and Commissioner Gordon remain hidden in secret files. These questions have not been addressed; instead, the show focuses on the new Batman's adventures, inventing a fresh gallery of villains. Until now. With the new video/DVD being released next Tuesday on December 12, Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker, we finally witness Batman and the Joker's final confrontation...or was it really?

After Terry McGinnis, as the new Batman, breaks up a Jokerz (street gang inspired by the Joker) from committing the latest in a string of scientific electronics break-ins, we quickly learn that the original Joker has returned to Gotham. At an event where Bruce Wayne reassumes command of Wayne Industries, the Joker's first public appearance is destructive and stunning. When a collapsed Bruce Wayne looks up and through a cloud of smoke at the frightening visage of a cackling face with green hair, chalk white skin and blood red lips, he's overwhelmed. His greatest enemy has returned to haunt him. Later, a quick voice print match between the original Joker and the man who claims to be the Clown Prince of Crime, indicates that they are, indeed, one and the same.

Concerned that his greatest foe has indeed resurfaced, Bruce forbids Terry from donning the black suit ever again. Their ensuing argument breaks off with unresolved bitterness. Afterwards, when the Joker actually breaks into the Batcave and tortures Bruce, Terry is truly frightened at what he now must face. Frustrated that Bruce won't reveal the true details of his final encounter with the Joker all those years past, Terry seeks out Commissioner Barbara Gordon, who reluctantly recalls the events of her youth as Batgirl.

Armed with the knowledge of Batman and Batgirl's seemingly final encounter with The Joker, Terry seeks out another player in this lifetime-spanning drama: the adult Tim Drake, who served as the second, youthful Robin. Now a communications specialist who is married with children, Tim Drake just might be the key to unraveling the secret behind the Joker's resurrection. If Terry isn't as good as the original Batman in this battle against history's greatest homicidal maniac, the fate of Gotham City will suffer from the Joker's revenge.

Actors Kevin Conroy and Will Friedle deliver excellent performances as their characters, Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis. They've been at it for three seasons, and it shows. Mark Hamill once again delivers a very delicious and over-the-top vocal performance as Joker, one of his strongest. In guest performances, we have Teri Garr as Terry's mother, Melissa Joan Hart with double duties as Dee Dee, a pair of Jokerz twins, and Dean Stockwell as the adult Tim Drake. Producer Bruce Timm also has a bit part as a guard.

Return of the Joker is a fun and very satisfying Batman adventure because of its strong story spine. At its core, Joker is about relationships, and they all circle around Bruce Wayne/Batman's extensive history as a crime-fighter. There's strong story and character material here, addressing his relationship with protégé Terry McGinnis, his long battles with the Joker and a splintered association with former crime-fighting colleagues Commissioner Barbara Gordon and Tim Drake.

Because of this long history between all of the major characters, we're more interested and involved than usual. With this film, we have a chance to get absorbed by more than just another run-of-the-mill adventure. For example, we witness firsthand the painful consequences of being a super-crime-fighter, which helps elevate the characters as being more than just two-dimensional. The future setting gives screenwriter Paul Dini an opportunity to define some history in this Batman universe. Too many comic stories are simplistic, episodic battles between heroes and villains. Substance, characterization and emotion comes from history, and we are, at last, given the fate of major characters like Joker and Tim Drake. Even Barbara Gordon's presence adds well to the mix. With such a large gallery of the original Batman's foes, there are many villains to select for future made-for-video features. Already Ras al Ghul and Mr. Freeze have appeared in Terry's future universe. Alas, the status of Dick Grayson remains a mystery, perhaps pushed aside for another story.

The animation is equal to or better than the average television episodes. At 76 minutes, the story is well paced and well directed by Curt Geda, a veteran Batman-animated director. Gotham's futuristic cityscape backgrounds are strongly drawn and defined, better than a typical episode. Some battle choreography has benefited from the extra attention of a made-for-video production. This film also has, quite likely, more destructive property damage than any other typical episode--and that's saying a lot!

If there's any complaint about BB's animation, it is that the faces are often too ill defined. Bruce Wayne's old face could have been drawn better, with less angular shapes. The adult Tim Drake should have better definition as well. There's something too generic about how they are drawn. And then there's the cartoony look of the Jokerz gang leader Bonk (voiced by Henry Rollins). But the Joker's facial design is actually quite good. The quality of the animation actually gets better during a flashback sequence where we glimpse the original Batman with Batgirl and Robin.

All things considered, Return of the Joker is a winner because we are given a progressive storyline that adds emotion and character history wrapped in an exciting and colorful animation package. In the end, Terry McGinnis Is left with a great deal to consider about his place in history as the new Batman and about how his physical and his emotional state must equal or better the original's track record in order to succeed and survive into adulthood.

The DVD edition will supply the following extras not available on videotape: a 'Beyond Batman Beyond' Making Of Documentary, Animatic Sequences, Deleted Footage and Test Animation; 'Crash' Music Video; Batman Beyond - Return of the Joker Video Game Demo and Website and a CD Soundtrack Sampler.


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