On you from all sides (Black Out)

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It’s January 30, 1999. Britney Spears tops the charts with “…Hit Me Baby One More Time,” which definitely won’t be stuck in my head for the next two decades; Brandy, Deborah Cox, and Third Eye Blind also chart. The top movie is She’s All That; there’s not much else new in the box office. In the two weeks since Batman Beyond‘s premiere episode, on the 20th China issued new restrictions on Internet use, and on the 25th an earthquake in Colombia killed nearly 2,000 people.

On TV, our first new supervillain for the new Batman, Inque. (Powers doesn’t count–he is still on the road to becoming a supervillain.) She’s an intriguing figure; given almost no characterization, she just flows into and through the narrative, an amorphous entity that lurks in shadows and slips into the tiniest of cracks. She is very nearly literally her namesake, a black viscous liquid that can become an image of almost anything.

She also looks a lot like another character who hasn’t had much focus, Terry’s girlfriend Dana. This, of course, is because of the Dini style, as we’ve already discussed: they are both slender young women and therefore have the same body and face, with only coloration and hairstyle differing–and they both have dark hair and eyes. Elderly Barbara Gordon, whom we see near the episode, looks astoundingly like Dr. Leslie Thompkins from Batman: The Animated Series; it doesn’t imply a diegetic connection.

What’s more interesting is the role Dana plays, questioning the fairness and appropriateness of Terry’s relationship with Bruce Wayne. This is a role she’ll be playing a lot; likewise, Barbara Gordon expresses mild concern that Terry doesn’t understand what he’s getting into, and will express more serious concern later in the series. In between these two scenes, Inque invades the Batcave, the private sanctum of Terry and Wayne, and wreaks havoc.

Three women, and all three, in their own ways, seek to disrupt the newly forged friendship between two men–three women who map annoyingly neatly onto one of my least favorite archetypes, the Triple Goddess: Dana the Maiden, who wants her man to stay with her; Barbara the Mother, who chides gently and tries to protect the boy; Inque the Other,* who seeks to destroy both men. Together they try to put barriers between two men who just want to bond over their shared love of dressing up like bats and going out to get into fights; and they are, in order, the current lover of one of the men, the past lover of the other man, and someone who tries to forcibly penetrate the first man in a scene just a few sound effects away from tentacle hentai.

Nothing psychosexual to see here, folks. Also, the plant monster in “Pretty Poison” was just a plant.

Inque, notably, is going to be the series’ most frequently recurring villain, even beating out Powers/Blight. She makes clear in this episode what role she’s auditioning for when she, in rapid succession, slivers past a giant Joker playing card, smashes the display case containing Harley Quinn’s costume, and shreds it. She really is ink, which outlines every image in the series; just as Joker introduced himself to BTAS by claiming the medium of TV itself in an attempt to usurp control over the series in “Christmas with the Joker,” Inque seeks to claim the other half of animation: drawing.

Her mere presence threatens narrative collapse; it’s only the third episode and she enters the Batcave, nearly kills Terry, nearly sees Bruce Wayne’s face, and nearly finds the connection between the Batcave and Wayne Manor. Success at any one of those would upend the entire series, either by exploding the secret identity of the old Batman (and given Terry’s visibility as Wayne’s new assistant, the identity of the new Batman would shortly follow) or by killing the new Batman one episode after his debut. She is unquestionably a powerful figure.

But a mysterious one. Again, we get no characterization for her here. Her abilities are handwaved as the product of “mutagenic” experiments, implying she was created in a lab, and now she works as a saboteur for hire. That’s all we know, and all we really need to know: her role in this episode isn’t to be sympathetic or tell us who she is, but rather to tell us what this show is.

Of course we know what this show is: it’s a show about Batman. But is it? Batman: The Animated Series was rarely actually about Batman; he was often a liminal figure, lurking in the shadows on the edges of the narrative except to swoop in and fight someone, much the role Inque plays here. But look at our threefold antagonist–yes, antagonist, as all three are ultimately presented as obstacles for the protagonist, even though only one is actually villainous–and what they have in common. All three are set up in opposition or as a threat to Terry and Bruce’s relationship.

Because that’s what this show is, and what it means to be Beyond (the old conception of) Batman. Batman isn’t a person anymore. Terry goes out in the suit and fights, but when he ignores Bruce’s warnings early in the episode, he’s nearly killed by Inque. Bruce is still a vital part; they are Batman together, another triple being: the boy who’s dating the Maiden, the paternal old man who used to be the Mother’s partner, and the Bat who fights the Other.

That’s what this show is. No longer a Boy and his Bat; now they are a Boy, his Bat, and Bruce, and that will make all the difference.

*Traditionally, the Crone. In modern versions, most often the Temptress, the Monster, or both.

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