Monday, October 25, 2010

Batman: The Animated Series Re-Watch: Episode Twenty Three: Vendetta

Plot: When Spider Conway, a prisoner about to testify against Rupert Thorne, disappears in an explosion, Batman suspects that Harvey Bullock is behind it. But Harvey is being framed by Killer Croc, a monstrous reptile man Bullock sent to jail two years ago.

There's a great episode that could have been here. Bullock has so far been the voice of anti-Batman sentiment, but before this episode, all of Bullock's posturing about bringing Batman in because he's a dangerous lunatic, a vigilante force, is played as hot air, that Bullock's main concern is protecting himself from Batman.

But here we have an episode where Batman is just wrong, and he's going after an innocent man, specifically Harvey himself. If Batman had REALLY interrogated Bullock, showed up in his room, roughed him up, and threw him off a roof (as he does with Thorne), then they could have SHOWN that Bullock has a point, that there should be limits on what Batman can do.

That's a big problem with the episode. There's a lot of telling, without showing. Gordon says Bullock is a good cop, but we never see it. We never see Bullock be a good detective. Apparently Bullock arrested Croc on his own two years ago. Considering Batman has trouble fighting Croc, that could have been something to see, but we don't. Worse, we never see Bullock be a good man. How much better would the episode have been if, instead of sleeping through the final fight with Croc, Bullock had helped, actually risked his life to save Batman's? For an episode that revolves around him, Bullock is singularly passive the entire time.

I mentioned before that I find Killer Croc to be a boring villain. My problem with him is that there isn't much to him. He was born looking like a crocodile for never explained reasons, he is superstrong, and he pursues a life of crime. But he's fine here. The plot requires a villain Batman hasn't heard of before (so the Penguin's out) who will also be formidable physical threat once he's revealed. And that's all Croc is and needs to be, a good visual and reasonable threat.

Though Croc's plan in this episode is good, even clever. Take out the men who testified against him while framing the cop who arrested him at the same time. The only real question is why he kept Conway and Joey the Snail alive in his underwater cave. The answer "because it's a kid show and no one can be killed" doesn't quite sit right, because the menacing shot of Croc moving in on a cowering, screaming Conway implies he was doing something to them in that cave, and torture is the least awful thing it could be.

(Spider Conway, by the way, is named after Killer Croc's creator, Gerry Conway.)

Production-wise, a top notch episode. The score's solid throughout. The animation, particularly the fight in the sewers at the end, is very well done. When Batman and Croc hit each other, they feel like they have weight, that they're solid objects, rather than the rubbery dolls from Beware the Gray Ghost. And the design evokes a noir mood throughout, from the never-ending rain at the beginning to the shadowy bridge when Gordon meets Batman, to the dark cave where we first see Croc step into the light.

One really off note in the plot, however, is how Batman begins to suspect Croc. First, Croc leaving behind one of his scales at a scene of a crime seems awfully careless for a guy who purposely left a toothpick at the same scene to frame Bullock. If they were going to find the toothpick, they were going to find the scale. But, whatever, Batman needed to find a clue somehow.

But it gets worse. Looking at a thing that looks reptilian but is actually human, does Batman go through police records and databases to see if anyone fits that description, particularly someone Bullock arrested in the last few years? Nope. He has no clue what to do with that until Alfred says "microwavable crock." Great detective work there, Bruce.

However, THAT doesn't lead him to Croc either, only that he's looking for some kind of crocodile-man. Does Bruce check out a book on crocodile behavior? Does he ask questions of the zoo's reptile expert? Does he knock on Kirk Langstrom's door to see if he was making Man-Crocodile? Nope. Bruce goes to an animatronic exhibit for children at the theme park "Ocean World." It is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen, and even if it was meant to be campy funny, it's so out of tune with the dark crime fiction feel of the rest of the episode that it stands out like, well, a giant grey man-crocodile.

No comments: