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Batman: The Animated Series – “Sideshow”

sideshowEpisode Number:  66

Original Air Date:  May 3, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by: Michael Reeves, Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s): Goliath, Billy the Seal Boy, Richard, May and June (none who will reappear)

We have arrived at the first episode of production season two! Fox broadcasting seems to consider the 5 episodes that aired in September of 1993 as the first of the second season, but this was the first produced. It was also the second episode to debut in 1994, with the first being production episode S02E05 “House and Garden.” The episode is credited to Michael Reeves and Brynne Stephens, though the story is very similar to one written by Dennis O’Neil for Detective Comics #410, with one pretty significant departure being the main villain of the stories. For this episode, it’s Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) and he’s going to get a chance to be more than the punchline he started to become. Even though he was Batman in disguise back in “Almost Got ‘Im,” I still get the impression that version of the character is what people think of when they hear the name Killer Croc. The other villains in that episode certainly don’t bat an eye at his limited thinking skills making the performance feel authentic. That’s not the case for his first appearance in “Vendetta” when he’s a cold, hard, killer. We’re back to that version of Croc for this one, except he’s going to meet some people who might change how he feels. It’s as close to a deep dive as we’ll see from Croc, and while I don’t think of this as a particularly strong episode of Batman, it is at least interesting from that perspective.

croc jaws

Croc is about to give a lesson on crocodile anatomy.

The episode opens on a train. Killer Croc has been declared sane and is thus responsible for the many crimes he’s committed. He’s being transferred from Arkham to a penitentiary, but the cops didn’t take the assignment seriously enough. In the cabin, Croc demonstrates the strength of his jaws by biting through his restraints, much to the horror of the cop riding along with him. Before he can get a shot off at Croc the giant takes him out and escapes to the roof of the train, because that’s where everything always leads when the setting is a train. On the roof waiting for him is Batman. Evidently Batman felt the cops needed some added security to make sure Croc got where he needed to be. Batman is a pretty smart guy, but what would have been smarter would have been for him to recommend some different restraints.

Croc is quite ticked to find Batman on the train, and the two tangle. As Croc was fleeing the confines of the train though he was shot in the shoulder with a sedative. Batman cautions him about trying to fight with that coursing through his veins, but Croc doesn’t seem like the type who takes his doctor’s advice, let alone Batman’s. The two end up tumbling off the train and Batman is left unconscious. Croc grabs a giant boulder intending to smash Batman’s head, in a way making Batman’s false story about him come true, but the sedative has taken effect and he misses his target. Stumbling away, he ditches his prisoner attire and tries to put some distance between he and the Batman.

croc great outdoors

It’s odd to see an episode of this show take place out in the sunshine.

It’s at this point I feel like I should mention how this episode looks. I am watching it in HD, as I intend to watch every episode from here on out, which may be leaving a greater impression than it did previously. This episode though really stands out because it takes place almost entirely during the day and away from Gotham out in the countryside. It’s so weird to see Batman battling in daylight with nothing but green and brown in the background. We’ve seen Batman in a forest setting before, but usually at night. This must have been an expensive episode to produce given the new backgrounds and new characters to come.

croc rescued

Croc gets rescued by a kid that looks like a seal. That’s certainly different.

Croc and Batman are going to trail each other in the woods. Eventually, Batman will take a nasty fall that will deprive him the use of his grapple gun going forward, allowing Croc to escape. He takes a fall himself into some rushing water, and likely compounded with the sedative, it looks like he could be a goner if not for a nearby boy, a seal boy at that. The kid is named Billy (Whit Hertford) and his arms and legs are deformed to resemble flippers like that of a seal. He swims in after Croc and another guy, the much more physically imposing Goliath (Brad Garrett), helps get Croc to safety at a nearby farm.

When Croc awakens he finds himself in the company of “freaks.” A hunchback by the name of Richard (Kenneth Mars) introduces himself and the others, which include conjoined twins May and June (JoBeth Williams) in addition to Billy and Goliath. They were once part of a circus freak show, but once they earned enough money they stopped living that life and moved out into the country to be away from those who would pass judgement on them due to their unusual appearances. They view Croc as a kindred spirit, and while he does thank both Billy and Goliath for their aid, he still seems guarded.

croc meets the gang

Croc getting to know his new “family.”

The troupe is rather welcoming and they offer Croc lodging and food. He starts to see how he can take advantage of them and spins his own sad tale about being a fellow freak. He’s still wearing the remnants of the police shackles and uses those to his advantage to claim he was bound and held captive as a freak as well forced to eat fish heads. They buy his story hook, line, and sinker. At dinner, Goliath some-what foolishly lets it slip they’re also sitting on 50 thousand dollars which further intrigues Croc. That night while the others are sleeping, he noses around through the place in search of the money eventually finding it stashed in a pipe organ. As he holds the security box he looks around at the old freak show memorabilia decorating the place indicating that maybe he’s having reservations about stealing the cash. Before we can find out, Billy finds him and asks what he’s up to. Croc claims he’s just looking for a blanket and Billy offers to help. When he hops away, Croc puts the money back where he found it. Does he intend to come back for it?

goliath and croc

Goliath and the others accept Croc’s story with no questions asked.

Outside, Goliath is sleeping on a pile of straw having offered his bed up to Croc. Batman sneaks over and placing a hand over Goliath’s mouth he wakes him. He tells Goliath he’s looking for someone half-man, half-crocodile, and Goliath glances towards the building. Batman then assumes Croc is in there, and saying as much aloud causes Goliath to attack. Thinking Batman is one of the men who imprisoned Croc unjustly, he tells Batman that Croc is one of them. When Batman tries to reason with him it fails. He tells Goliath he doesn’t want to hurt him, and in response Goliath says, “You won’t.” That’s pretty bad ass, Goliath.

batman vs croc and goliath

Batman has his hands full with these two.

The commotion causes everyone else to run outside. Batman has his hands full with Goliath, but he seems to gain the upper hand. Once Croc joins the fight though he’s overwhelmed, and the two toss him into a caged wagon. Croc, proving once again that he really isn’t as dumb as we think, has the presence of mind to take Batman’s belt before locking him in the cage. Batman tries telling the others that Croc isn’t who he seems to be, but they view the shackles on his wrists as evidence that it is Croc who is telling the truth.

batman behind bars

Croc seems to enjoy this view.

With Batman locked up, Croc tells the others they need to get rid of him or more will come. He grabs a pitchfork and is preparing to spear Batman when the others protest. They don’t want to see Batman murdered, and they quickly come around and realize that maybe Batman is telling the truth. Croc isn’t going to just walk away though and leave Batman breathing, so he pulls some smoke bombs from Batman’s belt and tosses them at the feet of the troupe. The gas released causes them to fall asleep, and Croc puts them all in another caged wagon and is forced to chain Goliath to one of the bars.

croc true colors

Croc makes a brief attempt at convincing the others Batman must die, but he’d rather just gas them.

As they wake up, Richard questions Croc why he’s doing this, but doesn’t really get an answer. Croc just suggests that they’re all lucky he hasn’t killed them. He returns to the home for the money and also grabs a hunting rifle. While he’s busy doing that, Batman is able to reach and remove a block from behind the wheel of the wagon he’s being held in while Goliath and Richard work at freeing themselves. When Croc returns with the gun, Batman slams his shoulder into the side of the wagon causing it to roll at Croc and over him and smash upon the rocks along the shore of a nearby river. Now free, he and Croc can do battle in the water and around the grounds.

Billy and the others are able to get free as well, and when Croc vanishes into the lumber mill, Billy offers to show Batman a secret way inside to get the drop on Croc. Batman takes his advice and meets Croc inside where the two battle until they fall out and into the river. They end up on a water wheel, with Croc above Batman as the wheel turns and he runs out of room. He gets crushed between the wheel and the building, though we don’t actually see it happen. The force of the wheel against the building causes it to break, and an unconscious Croc falls into the river below where Batman is waiting to drag him to shore.

croc in chains

Croc is heading back where he belongs.

The next morning the police arrive and Croc is once again chained up. This time he’s bound to a dolly with a cage over his head and a strait jacket for good measure. He won’t be getting out this time. As the police prepare to airlift him out of there, Billy approaches and does the predictable “Why?” routine. Croc responds by telling Billy it was he who told him he could be himself out here in the woods, and that’s just what he did. The chopper lifts him out of there as Batman looks on.

“Sideshow” is a solid take on Killer Croc. He’s a killer and a dangerous one at that. He’s not insane, just a bad guy. He’s given a chance to maybe reconsider that and ultimately doesn’t take it. Though really, in order to play up that angle more this episode would have needed to be longer or arranged differently. Croc doesn’t spend much time with his new “family,” making the whole “Why?” routine at the end feel rather forced. He doesn’t truly get a chance to reform, but that also could be because he never would have anyways. We saw him attempting to steal the money and he only replaced it when he got caught. Sure, I suppose he could have murdered Billy and ran off without anyone knowing until morning, but it also makes sense that he wouldn’t want to leave a mess behind. Chances are, if he just steals the money and runs the others who won’t come after him or bother alerting any authorities. Where as if he were to murder one of them, and a child at that, things likely would go differently.

The episode perhaps could have been strengthened with a time jump in the middle. Batman can’t find Croc so he returns home for the Batwing while Croc gets to further build a relationship with the others. Had it been Croc who first found Batman instead of Goliath, we could have seen a desperate Croc trying to hide Batman from the others and try to preserve his new life. Then again, I just think that was a story they didn’t want to tell and preferred to keep Croc in the “evil” bucket. His parting words with Billy further affirm that. And on a show where many villains are sympathetic, it’s actually not bad to have one who’s just a nasty person.

batman and robin intro

We’re now into the show’s second form, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, but to keep things simple we’re still just going to stick with Batman: The Animated Series.

Dong Yang Animation handled this one and it might be their best work yet on the show. I mentioned all of the work this one likely took to create because of the new setting and characters, but in addition to that it’s also just really well animated. There’s a sequence where Batman pulls himself onto a ledge and collapses to the ground in exhaustion and the animation on his cape looks so fluid and perfect. It’s easy to draw Batman’s cape when he’s swinging around Gotham and it’s open like a pair of giant bat wings, but when it’s just limp and falling over him that’s tough to pull-off. And while I definitely prefer the dark-deco look of Gotham to other settings, it’s a nice change of pace to see something different here.

Ultimately, this was an episode I wasn’t too excited to revisit, but I actually liked it better than I remembered. The forest setting is a touch off-putting because it’s so different, but I warmed to it. The parts spent with the former circus troupe are actually quite brief, and while they’re perhaps far too trusting of someone they just met, it’s also easy to see how they could view Croc in a sympathetic light. And Croc plays the role of bad guy quite well. This will never be my favorite or among my favorite episodes of the show, but it’s a worthwhile episode to watch and an interesting way to begin our journey into season two of Batman:  The Animated Series.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Vendetta”

Vendetta-Title_CardEpisode Number: 23

Original Air Date:  October 5, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  Killer Croc

For the debut of mostly unheard of villain Killer Croc, Batman: The Animated Series decided to place the focus on Batman’s skills as a detective as well as adding a new dimension to his rivalry with Detective Harvey Bullock. I’ve been critical of the show at times for how Batman is able to seemingly solve every crime that comes his way by virtue of his amazing super computer he has in the Bat Cave. For “Vendetta,” writer Michael Reaves made Batman less reliant on that trope in favor of more traditional sleuthing skills, but when it came time to give Batman a clue to help him solve this little crime, the show still resorted to some flimsy story-telling.

“Vendetta” opens with a police boat at sea escorting a rather nervous prisoner by the name of Spider Conway (Aron Kincaid, who is also voicing our debuting villain, Killer Croc). Conway apparently has some dirt on Rupert Thorne, or so that is the thought, and in exchange for a statement he’s getting a reduced sentence. He’s pretty jumpy though and seems to expect an attempt on his life to come before he can safely reach Gotham PD. Commissioner Gordon is onshore watching when he sees his guards on the boat start abandoning ship as a result of a discovered bomb. We get to see a shadowy object place that bomb on the side of the boat before entering and abducting a pretty terrified looking Conway. Batman is also there to witness the boat explode. Conway is no where to be found, and the police get settled in for a long night of dragging the bay in the pouring rain. Meanwhile, Batman finds a lone toothpick on the dock where the boat had cast off.

Vendetta-23

In this episode, Batman goes toe to toe with Killer Croc.

At Gotham PD, Gordon pulls Bullock off the case out of concern that Internal Affairs will be all over him. Apparently Bullock has a past relationship with Conway in which he was fingered for a crime, but later exonerated. Batman overhears this and decides he needs to investigate further and promptly breaks into Gotham PD and swipes Bullock’s personal record, just as Bullock was apparently about to do the same? Anyway, there’s enough there, coupled with the toothpick, to make Batman suspicious. A visit to the home of Thorne in which Batman comes away thinking he had nothing to do with it pushes him further down the path of suspecting Bullock. He voices his concerns to Gordon, who insists Bullock is a good cop. Things only get messier when an individual impersonating Bullock assaults a cop and abducts another prisoner by the name of Joey, another criminal who was about to sing to the cops.

Back at the wreckage, Batman finds an object that appears to be a scale. He takes it back to his lab to analyze it and finds that despite its appearance it actually came from a human. Alfred steps in to bring him his dinner, pointing out he’s serving it in a crock, which serves as Batman’s eureka moment. We then see him as Bruce Wayne at a zoo exhibit for crocodiles explaining their natural habitat that causes him to walk away smiling and announcing, “Of course!” This whole sequence is beyond stupid, even for a kid’s show. As we are about to find out, Batman has no prior knowledge of Killer Croc, so it wasn’t as if Alfred’s mentioning of the word “crock” brought that criminal to mind, Batman just literally decided that this must be the work of some kind of half-human half-crocodile individual. And Batman is also pretty damn smart, and has that crazy computer, so we’re supposed to believe he needed to head to the zoo to find out the most basic information on crocodiles?

Vendetta

There’s a couple of good fight scenes between Batman and Croc. These underwater scenes are always a bit intense.

Anyways, Batman goes searching underwater and find’s the cave of Killer Croc. The men he’s abducted are there and Batman and he have a brief exchange. Killer Croc does the villain thing of introducing himself and letting Batman know he has the strength of a crocodile. I know Croc is going to be portrayed as something much less than Batman’s equal when it comes to intellect, but this is pretty corny by any standard. Croc escapes, but Batman at least knows who is trying to frame Bullock. Apparently, Bullock had busted him previously with the help of testimony from Jones and Conway. Croc had since escaped from jail, and apparently no one thought to make this connection until now. Croc is simply out for a little revenge against the man who put him away. We’re heading for a showdown, and when Croc reveals himself to Bullock as the man behind all of this Batman is ready and waiting. They take to the sewers where we actually are treated to a fairly impressive confrontation. Batman and Croc beat the snot out of each other, but it’s hardly in question who will emerge victorious.

As a last bit of tension, we get Bullock pulling a gun on Batman as he emerges from the sewer. They speak not a word as Batman hauls an unconscious Croc behind him up and out of the sewer. Bullock questions why Batman went through all of the trouble to help him clear his name, and Batman responds with some mushy stuff about how he respects the detective and Bullock wants none of it and tells him to take off. He does admire Batman’s work once he leaves though.

Vendetta_Confront

Once Batman blows up Croc’s plan he just heads straight for Bullock.

“Vendetta” is a fine introduction for Killer Croc, a C-list villain who is at least a bit scary and intimidating to look at. This little plan of his is more elaborate than anything else we’ll see from him as Croc will be portrayed as kind of dim in subsequent appearances. As a visual though, I do like this take on Killer Croc. More recent ones are pretty outlandish, but at least here he’s sort of believable as a big guy with a bad skin condition and an ugly mug. Some liberties are taken with the shape of his jaw, but it adds character and a little style which is appreciated. The show gives away too much information for us to ever doubt Bullock’s innocence, which feels like a missed opportunity. As a result, what should be a tense situation at the end when Bullock and Batman are face to face has little dramatic flair. The other missteps are less forgivable making this perhaps the most clumsy episode we’ve looked at yet. The atmospheric setting which includes a pervasive rain and the Batman/Croc confrontation rescue it from being a poor episode, but this is definitely not a shining moment for Batman:  The Animated Series.


Batman: The Animated Series – Prophecy of Doom

Prophecy_of_Doom-Title_CardEpisode Number:  19

Original Air Date:  October 6, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Dennis Marks, Seath Catherine Derek

First Appearance(s):  Nostromos, Frank Clark, Lisa Clark

Happy Ground Hog Day, or as I like to call it, Bill Murray Day!

With a show like Batman:  The Animated Series, it can sometimes be tempting to look ahead. The show had so many great episodes and there are certain ones I am eager to revisit. The show also has a tendency to have three or four great episodes all in a row, then a low point, before resetting itself. Today’s episode is one of those low points. “Prophecy of Doom” is another episode that does not feature a prominent villain for Batman to do battle with. This isn’t a death sentence as plenty of episodes are able to tell compelling stories without a popular villain. Last week’s episode, “Beware the Gray Ghost,” is a perfect example of such an episode. Usually these episodes need to entertain in a different manner. One way is they simply create a new villain that proves to be compelling without the name recognition. Other times they just tell a good story or explore the Batman character in a new fashion.

1280x720-ivi

Ethan is telling Bruce all about his new psychic pal while daughter Lisa looks bored.

“Prophecy of Doom” unfortunately does not really do any of those things. It’s a story about a con artist suckering some of Gotham’s super elite. Nostromos (Michael Des Barres) is a fortune teller of sorts who seems to only see the bad things that are about to happen. He’s able to convince his followers that he does indeed possess special gifts by making sure those misfortunes actually take place. He’s going to sucker some people close to Bruce Wayne, forcing him to “go undercover” in a way as a believer himself in order to find the truth in all of it.

Prophecy_Of_Doom

Now there’s a guy I’d entrust my fortune to.

The episode opens on a casino ship listing in the ocean waters at night. It’s a rare example of Batman’s art looking rather cruddy as the black paper effect just makes the ship look flat. The camera pans throughout the ship’s interior giving us a look at the fun being had before resting on a wad of dynamite in the ship’s bowels that soon detonates. The rescue boats soon fill with screaming patrons and the ship eventually sinks, if anyone actually died we’re not told, but the show also doesn’t go out of its way to tell us no one was hurt which is rare for a children’s program. This whole scenario is a lead-in to a dinner date Bruce Wayne is having with Ethan Clark (William Windom) and his adult daughter Lisa (Heather Locklear). I’m assuming Ethan’s connection to Bruce, being that he’s an older gentleman, is that he was likely a friend to Bruce’s parents and he maintains a friendship with him. Ethan was apparently supposed to be on that casino ship, but he was warned not to board by Nostromos. Lisa is an apparent skeptic, but Ethan believes in Nostromos and encourages Bruce to seek him out. Bruce walks Lisa to her car after the dinner during which she reveals her dad has joined some secret brotherhood and expresses concern for him. She also even makes the observation that she thinks all of Nostromos’s predictions come true because he makes them.

Naturally, Bruce is intrigued and attends one of the demonstrations. He draws attention to himself, in a rather clever piece of story-telling, by acting sort of childishly skeptic of everything. Nostromos takes notice and singles out Bruce to make a prediction that something dire will happen! And sure enough, the very next day Bruce’s private elevator at Wayne Towers malfunctions. The accident is supposed to kill Wayne, but being Batman and all, he escapes and even finds his would-be assassin on the roof. The episode will brush this whole thing aside by simply saying Bruce stepped off the elevator, but I always found it preposterous no one makes the obvious Batman connection as a result.

Nostromos_predicts

Nostromos can really work a crowd.

Anyways, Bruce did get Nostromos’s fingerprints at that meeting and looks him up in his crime lab. Amusingly, the mug shot for Nostromos, real name Carl Fowler, features him in his costume which feels kind of lazy. Or someone thought their audience wouldn’t be smart enough to know it’s the same guy if he looked different, even if Batman is there to tell us. Batman also discovers his partner, Lucas (Aron Kincaid). The two were busted for larceny years back, so all of the pieces are starting to fit. The audience even gets a glimpse of Nostromos and Lucas fretting over Wayne’s non-demise. Wayne bails him out though by having a change of heart. Now feigning that he’s a believer, Wayne is invited to join the brotherhood where he learns of Nostromos’s ultimate plan:  foretell a great economic collapse and get everyone to pool their money into a fund that he will eventually be able to control. He does a grand demonstration which includes the use of a wire to fly to sucker them all in. Lisa gets snoopy though and Lucas kidnaps her, which I suppose I should have seen coming.

prophecy_of_doom_by_finisterboy-d6dkca2

This is more dangerous than it looks.

Nostromos uses Lisa to get Ethan to sign over control of the fund the other “brothers” have invested in. He and Lucas then attempt to kill them off, but Batman has other ideas. The climax looks like it’s going to be a reward, of sorts, for the viewers as Batman schools these chumps, but instead Lucas gives him a fight. It looks awkward and clumsy, but the coloring is flashy as it’s all in black and white to make it look like they’re fighting in a dark room. Lisa is strapped to a ceiling model of what appears to be Mars while other planets revolve around her. Nostromos smashes the machine that controls it which is apparently enough to make the planets come out of alignment and collide with one another. Our only real suspense for the scene is will Batman stop the bad guys and save the girl in time? It’s been done.

doom

I did enjoy how this fight scene was colored, so the episode isn’t a total loss. Though Batman really didn’t need to sell for this chump.

You know how it ends so I’ll spare you the details. This episode is not only a bit on the boring side, but it also doesn’t look great. There’s an animation spot where Batman walks to the Batmobile and he looks real awkward and unnatural. The additional characters added also look cheap and drab with Lucas especially seeming incapable of making a facial expression. The few times a character tries to make a joke it falls flat. There is one neat bit of violence where Batman throws a bat-a-rang at Lucas and it lodges in the back of his knee. I don’t think we’ll see anything similar in another episode. That’s part of Batman’s first encounter with him following the failed elevator spot and it’s just not at all believable that he could escape Batman, especially after the knee injury (which is apparently fine by the time the two tangle again). Perhaps an inordinate amount of the budget of this episode was spent securing Heather Locklear for the role of Lisa, a character that you think Bruce might have some romantic interest in, but is ultimately shelved following this episode. “Prophecy of Doom” is just a dud, not unwatchable, but not an episode you’re likely to return to after seeing it once. Next week’s though? One of the best – see you then!