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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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