(Re)Animations: The Zeta Project (2001)
Zeta just doesn’t get any love. It’s a shame. Back in the early aughts, I watched Batman Beyond religiously. After Bruce Timm gave us the wonderful Batman: The Animated Series, Warner asked Timm to give fans a younger edgier futuristic Batman and he obliged with a mature, intelligent, and entertaining vision of the character. Along the way, future Batman, Terry McGinnis, met his share of future foes – one of which was the deadly robot Zeta.
Zeta first appeared in the episode entitled “Zeta,” where Terry and his friend Maxine discover that their teachers are being kidnapped and held hostage by a robotic menace that’s taking their identities. As it turns out, the robot is named Zeta and was built by the government to be a war machine. When it built a consciousness and decided it didn’t want to be violent anymore, it became a fugitive and eventually entered into Gotham where it began camouflaging among the humans. It goes too far though when it decides to kidnap Maxine and take her identity.
“Zeta” was a rather interesting but entertaining episode, where Zeta is first a foe of Terry McGinnis and then becomes an ally. Terry is, of course, not a fan of the government and the NSA’s plans for it as a war weapon, and the hero eventually comes to help Zeta escape. Zeta learns that rather than kidnapping people and taking their image, it can simply build its own image from its memory bank and it moves on with its pursuit to live a peaceful life away from violence.
The Zeta Project re-introduces Zeta, now re-designed to look more toyetic* and still on the run from the NSA. Now in a new city, Zeta has a new image he’s projecting and now is in search of his creator in an effort to re-program him and shut off the capability that allows the NSA to track and hunt him. Meanwhile, the NSA and a team of agents are on his tail, trying to stop his journey.
Along the way, Zeta meets a spunky young girl named Ro while attempting to flee the NSA. Ro, an orphan played by Lauren Tom, becomes Zeta’s sidekick and link to the human world, where the two form an uneasy alliance. Zeta spends most of the short lived series fighting off random villains while trying to find the people that created him, as Ro experiences something of a growth that makes her a better asset to Zeta. Not to mention, Zeta must restrain his violent urges while fleeing for his life.
Zeta has an array of killer weapons and tactical machines that he uses in many non-violent methods, and is intent on proving to the world that he is anything but a weapon. Think Iron Giant but on a much smaller, more futuristic scale. Sadly, the creators over-estimated the endorsement of Batman Beyond as the unofficial pilot for the spin-off and it didn’t really leave viewers wanting to see more of the character.
Still, Zeta branched off with his own series that was much more branched in science fiction and classic television action, rather than adhering to the grim and gritty tone of Batman Beyond. The WB’s The Zeta Project premiered in January 2001 and was a healthy mix of The Fugitive with The Million Dollar Man. The series, as well as Zeta, had a lot of potential to be a wonderful show that could expand on the character and show many more models and villains associated with the tech that bred Zeta.
I stuck with the series all the way through to the end and enjoyed every minute of it. It was different, it was entertaining, and darn it, it was cool. Plus, how can you not love the original theme song? The series only lasted a paltry 26 episodes on the WB until they mercifully put it out of its misery and Zeta sadly went to live on in obscurity.
Many years later, the WB released the show’s first season on DVD in a wonderful set, but, wouldn’t you know it? The series didn’t sell too well, even for nostalgia goons like me, and the WB has yet to announce a release date for the second and final season. The series missed out on cross promotional opportunities that the series Static Shock! took advantage of, and Zeta is sadly one of the DCAU characters that never got his full credit. I wish this series would return in some form, as Zeta is a marvelous character.
The Zeta Project – The Theme Song
*Toyetic is defined in Freakazoid as a character or device in a cartoon that can be turned in to a toy.