The Zeta Project was a spin-off from the Batman Beyond second season episode “Zeta.” It centered on Infiltration Unit Zeta (Diedrich Bader), a synthoid designed to carry out covert assassination missions for the National Security Agency through the use of his holographic disguises. However, it was learned that his creator, Dr. Selig (George Segal & Hal Linden), installed a module in Zeta that gave him a conscience. On his last mission for the NSA, Zeta’s target proved to be innocent and he decided he could no longer kill.
|Zeta and Ro running from Agents Bennet and West.|
The agency, believing Zeta a dangerous rogue element that joined the terrorist organization he was investigating, Brother’s Day, dispatched a team with the sole purpose of either retrieving or destroying him. It was led by Agent James Bennet (Kurtwood Smith), who strongly believed Zeta was simply reprogrammed by enemies and not an actually sentient being. Under him was the young and egotistical Agent West (Michael Rosenbaum) and Agent Lee (Lauren Tom), who grew to see there was more to Zeta than they believed and began to subtly help him evade capture. When Lee left the team and was subsequently promoted, she was replaced by by-the-book Agent Rush (Erika Alexander & Dominique Jennings). Other foes during the series included the cybernetically-enhanced bounty hunter Krick (Keith Szarabajka & Richard Moll), cyber-hackers Plug (Paul Amendt), Meg (Amy Danles) and Buss (Googy Gress), high-ranking Brother’s Day terrorist Titus Sweete (Robert Costanzo), and his more-advanced counterpart, Infiltration Unit 7 (Bader).
|Infiltration Unit 7.|
Joining Zeta on his adventures was 15-year-old orphan Rosalie “Ro” Rowan (Julie Nathanson). Initially seeing Zeta as an opportunity, Ro came to care about Zeta and decided to help him on his quest. Zeta also worked to help her locate her biological family. Occasionally, they were aided in their efforts by child genius Bucky Buenaventura (Ulises Cuadra & Blayn Barbosa), a technology whiz. Batman (Will Friedle) also made a singular appearance on the show, aiding Zeta against Infiltration Unit 7.
The Zeta Project debuted on The WB on January 27, 2001 as part of their Kids’ WB! programming block. The series was developed by Robert Goodman, who created Zeta and wrote his debut episode. “Zeta” wasn’t originally intended as a backdoor pilot, but Goodman decided that the concept could make a decent series and, within the year, the network agreed. Zeta’s appearance was reworked to make him appear more human, and he and Bennett’s voices were recast having been originally played by Gary Cole and Joe Spano, respectively.
|Zeta's original appearance on Batman Beyond.|
Although it was part of the DC Animated Universe and produced by Warner Bros. Animation, the series’ first season had a decidedly different appearance than all of the other programs. The scenery was generally very light and the characters lacked any sort of shading, as well had an overall differing appearance from the models seen since the debut of Superman: The Animated Series. The stories themselves also took on a comparatively lighter tonality than the rest of the DCAU. For the second season, the animation was modified to bring it more in line with the other DCAU shows with darker settings, shadows, and a sleeker design for Zeta. The stories were also more action-oriented and intense, increasing the level of danger and excitement in each episode.
|Zeta and Ro between the seasons.|
The series was animated mostly by Koko Enterprises Co., LTD. and DR Digital Co., LTD, with some episodes done by Sun Min Image Pictures and Dong Woo Animation. The series was written by Goodman, along with Hilary J. Bader, Kevin Hopps, Ralph Soll, Rich Fogel, Stacey Liss Goodman, Wendell Morris, Tom Sheppard, Paul Diamond, Katy Cooper, Ned Teitlebaum, Joseph Kuhr, Liz Holzman, Randy Rogel, Lyle Weldon, David Benullo and Christopher Simmons. Hopps and Fogel were also the show’s story editors along with Goodman. Lolita Ritmanis, Kristopher Carter and Michael McCuistion served as the series’ composers, with Ritmanis also composing the theme song.
|Zeta's hologram mode.|
The Zeta Project managed to generate decent ratings and a loyal fanbase despite episodes being constantly delayed to allow the network time to run new--and often failed--programs in its timeslot. The network handed down a mandate that if the production wanted to see a third season, the second had to end on a cliffhanger. They also had plans for the third season that took the show places that Goodman wasn’t completely happy about. All of that proved moot, however, when the network ultimately decided to cancel it at the end of the second season. During its run, it managed to earn four Annie Awards and two Daytime Emmy Awards nominations, and won two Women’s Image Network Awards. Zeta’s debut also earned an Annie nomination.
|Promotional material for the original DVD release.|
Zeta and Ro would make one final appearance in the Batman Beyond episode “Countdown” and Zeta as a cameo in Batman Beyond Unlimited #16 before ultimately disappearing into creative limbo. Zeta’s original design, however, would be recycled for the training robots used by the Justice League in Justice League. In 2009, Warner Home Video released the complete first season on DVD. In 2017, Warner Archive re-released the first season and released the second for the first time.