Is Batman Beyond Cyberpunk?
Batman Beyond was an animated television series developed by Warner Brothers depicting a futuristic Gotham with an aged Bruce Wayne mentoring a new batman, Terry McGuiness. Spanning three seasons, the pilot was released in January 1999 and the final episode aired in December 2001. The series would later garner great acclaim, including two daytime Emmy Awards, and was named the 40th best animated television series of all time by IGN.com. It was an incredible series that was one of my personal favorite tv series of all time. I loved the futuristic element, the action, the characters, and the dark and gritty visuals. The futuristic Batman in his batsuit was also really well done, voiced by none other than Will Friedle (Boy Meets World, Kim Possible).
Back in the day, I simply watched it because it was good with a bowl of my Saturday morning cereal. But looking back, upon an evening of nostalgia, I started wondering…
Batman Beyond: Is this Cyberpunk?
In order to answer this question, I scoured through the episodes spanning all three seasons to try to find the most Cyberpunk episodes. While by no means a comprehensive list, below are the most Cyberpunk episodes I could find. I’ll give a quick overview of what happens in each episode, and then describe what Cyberpunk elements I found in each one. Then, at the bottom of this post, I’ll provide my personal conclusion as to whether Batman Beyond qualifies as Cyberpunk, and explain why.
So without further ado, let’s see how exactly
fits the Cyberpunk label.
Batman Beyond Season 1 Episode 4: Golem
In this episode, nerd Willie Watt is constantly picked on by the jocks of the school. After one too many times being bullied, Watt decides to steal his father’s construction robot which uses a headset to receive its instructions from its user. When the headset malfunctions, the robot becomes permanently bonded to Watt, making him a force to be reckoned with.
“Just another example of technology gone bad” is a quote that can be heard from the news commentator in this episode. Using giant robots to help us with construction is a fun and futuristic idea, for sure, so adding the cyberpunk twist that the streets may find its own use for one such golem makes perfect sense to me. Although I found the idea that a robot would pair with a human because of a headset malfunctioning a bit of a stretch, I enjoyed this episode nonetheless, especially with the power dynamics of the bullies and Watt before and after his connection is established.
Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 4: Lost Soul
Robert Vance is a CEO who decides to digitize his consciousness before he dies. However, after his death, he is soon forgotten until 2 generations later he is turned back online. When his grandson asks for his guidance, the ghost in the shell has other plans. The digital copy of Vance instead tries to take over and get a human body, including using Terry’s batsuit without a body.
This was a really interesting and fun episode, perhaps one of my favorites. Not only were there clear connections to other cyberpunk media like Ghost in the Shell and maybe a Philip K Dick novel like Ubik, for instance, but watching batman fight his own batsuit and seeing the fighting style of an AI with no corporeal weaknesses was simply really cool.
Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 8: Hooked up
An unknown entity named Spellbinder is getting teenagers addicted to virtual reality in order to use them as cheap labor for his own purposes. Once they spend too long in this VR, however, they end up in a coma. Terry will have to use his friend Max to help crack the case.
Although not as fun as other episodes, Hooked Up deals with themes of drug addiction, virtual reality worlds, and the interesting idea that one could get addicted to living in a fantasy world virtually.
Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 13: Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot
An unpopular kid named Howard Groote has no one to come to his party, when all he wants is for people to notice him. While Terry points out he’s looking for the wrong things, namely shallow things, Groote’s interest is piqued when he finds a guy who can create a illegal synth girlfriend for him for the right price. Groote soon gets his robot girlfriend, but soon realizes he got more than he paid for. The synth malfunctions and becomes too possessive, trying to kill any woman who becomes interested in Howard.
This episode definitely had Blade Runner vibes during my first viewing, but if Blade Runner were happening in a high school. Groote’s robot girlfriend looks so close to a real human that her only tell ends up being her superhuman strength. However, other than her being a convincing synth, there were woefully few Cyberpunk themes truly explored in this episode, other than perhaps the Synth’s unrequited, preprogrammed love.
Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 16: The Last Resort
Sold as a juvenile center to provide disciplinary therapy to unruly teenagers, this “Ranch” is anything but. Soon almost all of the teenagers at Terry’s school are sent there for “re-education”, and Terry must go undercover to discover what really happens in the ranch. Turns out torture and brainwashing propaganda wasn’t in the brochure.
The prison-like and totalitarian atmosphere on the inside felt very similar to something out of 1984, especially with its giant screens. What was particularly interesting was the torture device used on the students–long stints in complete sensory-deprivation chambers. Despite the brainwashing imagery, however, this episode was also a little light on the CP motifs.
Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 20: Zeta
When an Android that can appear as a human is being hunted down by the NSA, Terry has to discover the intentions of the robot, and if it is really a killing machine gone rogue, as the NSA agents say, or if it somehow grew a conscience.
Note: This episode spawned a standalone series called The Zeta Project.
This episode was really interesting in that it explored the conscience of what a robot could have. When the robot Zeta is assigned to infiltrate a family, pretending to be a member of the said family, this is what causes its existential crisis. It was also fun to guess which characters Zeta was mimicking, and which were real. While similar to Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot but with the added bonus of the robot being not only completely sentient, but also on the run from the NSA, this episode is yet another one with clear Blade Runner references.
Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 22: April Moon
April Moon is one of the only episodes I saw in Batman Beyond with serious body augmentations front and center. In this episode, a team of 4 bandits acquire body augmentations by blackmailing a local doctor. The gang use their powers to steal until Batman learns about the operation and decides to try to put a stop to the operation.
This episode reminded me a lot of Doctor Ido from GUNMM (Alita: Battle Angel). Unlike Ido, however, the doc is relatively helpless himself. What I found particularly interesting in this episode was the 4 different body augmentations the gang uses, how they use them to fight batman, and the technology the doctor has available to him.
Unlike any other cyberpunk film or episode I’ve seen, the doc has a failsafe phrase to destroy his mods. The themes in this episode were also darker than usual–particularly the ending when the doctor decides to take his revenge on the team and its leader who was blackmailing him. Super cyberpunk!
Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 23: Sentries of the Last Cosmos
This episode felt like…an ode to nerdy gamers everywhere. A virtual reality game developer uses his videogame to enlist the highest scoring players to create his own personal army, sending them on “missions”. But not everything is as it seems when one mission is to take out a fellow video game creator. There was also a fun reference to Philip K Dick: “The greatest writer that ever lived”!
This episode felt a bit weird to me. Batman faces off against…kids who are tricked into thinking the video game is real life. Admittedly, there are very few cyberpunk themes in this episode at all. It was probably my least favorite episode of this list.
Batman Beyond Season 3, Episode 12: Countdown
Countdown is the second and final episode featuring Zeta. He’s back in town, this time with his friend from the Zeta spinoff series, and once again features him and his friend running away from the NSA except that this time, there’s an additional antagonist by the name of Mad Stan, an anti-technology terrorist who likes to blow things up.
This episode definitely feels like a continuation from the Zeta episode. Mad Stan in hilariously, particularly because in the climax moment it’s revealed that he sedates himself to make sure he’s not hurt and stays out of the action while his master plan is in motion. That, and he has a hilarious little chihuahua protecting him.
Final Verdict: Batman Begins is Definitely Cyberpunk
But not in all its own episodes. Some are more Cyberpunk than others, but for the select few, they definitely hit all the marks. Of all the episodes, I would have to say that April Moon was the most Cyberpunk of all of them. The entire episode even plays out as a mystery that Batman has to solve, the mystery of who the augmented gang are and then, later, why the doctor would ever help them. But not just those episodes–the future setting of the series with its high tech elements, the depictions of future society with its problems with technology, the gang of “jokers” that roam the city, many on futuristic motorbikes, the dark color palette, the music, the themes of addiction and power–there’s a whole lot here that matches Cyberpunk very well. I highly recommend the series if you haven’t watched it.