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The Batman Beyond cartoon was a fine piece of art. Not only did it capture the feel of superheroes in the future, it did so with style and excellent storytelling. This was science fiction at it's finest. Lasting a whopping 52 episodes, the show winded down with a direct-to-dvd movie, Batman Beyond: Return on the Joker.
Unfortunately the movie failed to live up to its excellent series.
Like many expanded cartoons, something was lost when the cartoon was expanded from a standard 22 minutes to a 77 minute feature. It was as if the writers had all this extra time on their hands and didn't quite know what to do with it.
The basic premise is this: In the future, old man Bruce Wayne is about to take direct control over his company again, but then it's interrupted by the appearance of the Joker... the same Joker that was killed decades before. Even stranger, the Joker doesn't seem to have aged a single day.
(Warning: Spoiler Alert)
So what's going on? Well, years ago little Tim Drake (Robin) was tortured by the Joker. In the ensuing rescue, the Joker was killed. Flash Forward 40+ years and the Joker is back. Rather than explain it myself, I'll just lift the Wikipedia entry: "The Joker explains that when he kidnapped Tim all those years ago, he implanted a microchip in the boy that carries the Joker's consciousness and personality, allowing him to physically and mentally transform Tim into a clone of himself."
And there lies the problem. All forms of screen-media requires a certain amount of "suspension of belief", and this is especially true with cartoons. Return of the Joker takes this to a brand new level, and it's simply unforgiveable.
First off, there's no conceivable reason that Bruce Wayne would have missed the microchip in the weeks of recovery that followed Tim's rescue. Bruce is a smart man, and he would have poured every bit of manpower, money, and equipment to get Tim back up on his feat. He can find a spec of dirt in a library, but he can't find a mechanical microchip on a child? Really?
Secondly, we're talking about a microchip that transforms a person into the joker.. What? Really? This is how the writers decided to bring the Joker into the 21st century? This was not only unbelievable, it's down right insulting. It's bad writing, and completely inexcusable.
That being said, did you know Return of the Joker had some massive edits? In an attempt to make it "less dark", a series of changes were made, nearly all for the worse. Most noteably, the edited version (the only one available on DVD at the time) featured the Joker mistakenly electrocuting himself. This isn't how the original story progressed -- in the original, a brainwashed Tim Drake shot the Joker. The outcry of these edits were so great that Warner Brothers eventually re-released the movie to DVD in unedited form.
Here's the real secret though: it still wasn't enough to fix the bad story.
Well, even though it ended on a bad note, I hope Wikzids gives us more Batman Beyond in the future. Below is an excellent youtube clip of the "death of the joker" scene -- the unedited version. It's a tad long, but the author put in lots of annotations and pop-ups... the good kind. I recommend you read them all. (warning: there are depictions of violence and death that may not be suitable for young children).