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Batman: The Animated Series – “Bane”

Bane title cardEpisode Number:  75

Original Air Date:  September 10, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Mitch Brian

First Appearance(s):  Bane

 

Episode 75 brings us a relic from the 90s:  Bane. Bane has always felt like the Omega Red of DC. He’s kind of cool looking, yet also lame at the same time. Both characters were introduced into the comics in the early 90s, then fast-tracked to their respective animated counterparts. In the case of Bane, basically a year elapsed between his debut and this episode’s airing, so it was likely in development not long after Bane’s lore was created. Either as an indictment of that lore, or because things were still in flux, this version of Bane is merely a basic representation of the character from the comics. His look is largely intact, save for the superficial difference of his mask featuring an exposed mouth, and he’ll rely on the serum Venom to augment his strength. Almost everything else is different, and arguably for the better. He’s a mercenary here, rather than a guy tormented by visions of a bat monster, and the episode has no need to dive deep into his origins. So much of Bane’s comic book back story strikes me as ridiculous, and it’s rightly ignored for this episode. It’s just possible the lot of it was ignored or glossed over for time constraints rather than because of its quality.

knightfall bane

I guess when you do something like break Batman you get to make the leap from comic to TV rather quickly.

Bane, for all of his problems, is merely here to play the role of physical adversary for Batman. He can overpower Batman with no problem, and unlike a Killer Croc, he’s got brains to back-up his brawn. He’s portrayed as a tactician and takes to the task of destroying Batman in the way an expert hunter would approach its prey. It’s a unique approach for the series as really few have attempted to engage Batman in a similar manner. And for all his strength, Killer Croc has never been much of a problem for Batman in a fight. One could argue his toughest physical foe up to this point has been the ninja Kyodai Ken. Say what you will about Bane, he has a role to play on this show and it’s a role that had not been filled by anyone else.

This episode also marks the beginning of Fox’s third season of the show launched in September 1994. That makes “Bane” the first episode to feature the new opening. It’s set to Shirley Walker’s Batman theme, which some argue is superior to the Elfman theme. Obviously, Walker probably never would have arrived at this sound for her Batman theme without Elfman’s, but it’s a point worth taken. And even though I think this opening is inferior to the original, I do think it’s nice Walker’s theme got a chance to shine.

Candice meets Bane

An old enemy is introduced to Bane.

“Bane” begins inauspiciously at an airport. A rather large man emerges from a commercial flight and finds a car waiting for him. We don’t get a full-frame look at him, but get to see the vehicle buckle under his tremendous weight as he climbs in. Inside is a character we haven’t seen for quite some time. Candice (Diane Michelle), the assistant to Rupert Thorne whom we haven’t seen since “Two-Face,” welcomes the man. He sits beside her and speaks with a Spanish accent. She takes him to her employer, Thorne himself (John Vernon), who is in the middle of a work-out. His coach, in a bid to motivate Thorne to hit the punching bag harder, hits a sore spot when he brings up Batman and gets knocked out as a result. Thorne greets the big man, who we come to know as Bane (Henry Silva), and we find out he’s been hired to take out Batman. The caped crusader recently cost Thorne a lot of money, but he did manage to hang onto a suitcase full of diamonds which he uses to pay Bane. After payment, Bane hands over a newspaper with a cover story on Killer Croc, who recently escaped from Arkham (as we saw in “Trial,” he ended up there for some reason following the events of “Sideshow” in which he was supposed to be transferred to prison), and wants to know how he can find “the reptile.” Thorne isn’t really thrilled to see Bane targeting Croc when he’s supposed to be going after Batman, but Bane explains he wants to see the Batman in action before engaging him.

thornes hire

Rupert Thorne may be the man paying Bane to take out Batman, but we’ll learn that Bane has been looking forward to matching wits with the detective for some time.

Apparently not one to sit around, Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) has assembled a small gang and is either on the run from Batman and Robin or is in the midst of having a crime foiled. He’s being chased through a construction yard or factory of some kind, a typical nondescript backdrop for the show, and Croc demonstrates his own impressive strength by mangling a series of pipes and tossing them at Batman and Robin, scoring a direct hit. This gives Croc time to flee into the sewer. Wanting Batman to follow, he makes no attempt to hide his escape and is shown waiting in the sewers with a pipe in hand quietly urging Batman to come on in. Behind, the wall smashes in and in comes Bane. He’s dressed like a giant lucha-libre performer (Mexican wrestler) complete with mask and singlet. He announces that Batman is his to destroy, and when Croc retorts with “Over my dead body,” Bane responds with “As you wish.” He flicks a switch on a wrist contraption and a liquid starts pumping from it into a tube connected to the back of Bane’s skull. His muscles begin to bulge and the background turns bright red to heighten the apparent adrenaline rush Bane receives. He grabs Croc by the skull, his hand now large enough to palm it effortlessly, and shoves his head underwater.

bane emerges

Killer Croc gets a look at Bane, now in full wrestling-inspired attire.

By now, Batman and Robin have entered the sewer and we can hear the sounds of Croc being pummelled, Bane apparently not content to merely drown him. He soon floats into sight, but Bane is gone. As the two haul Croc out of the sewer, Robin wonders if there’s a new vigilante on the block while Batman remains silent. They arrive at the Batmobile to find it’s been smashed. It’s there Batman agrees with Robin that whoever stopped Croc is tough because he notes the damage to the Batmobile was done with bare hands.

Later on, Batman pays Croc a visit at Arkham where he’s looked better. His head is bandaged and he has a broken arm and leg both of which are being suspended by slings on pulleys. Batman wants to have a chat, but Croc is in no mood. Batman basically uses some mild torture by messing with the pulley which is enough to make him sing. Croc tells him about Bane, in particular about the drug that pumps him up, and also taunts Batman a bit as he’s convinced Bane will snap him in two once he gets his hands on him. Batman doesn’t seem too concerned and departs with a, “Later gator.”

At the Batcave, Robin is working on the Batmobile while Batman is at the computer. Alfred comes strolling in (feels like we haven’t seen him in awhile) and mentions something about Bane to Batman who makes a quip about it being personal now that he totaled his car (Batman is on point with the jokes so far). Batman, having heard enough from Croc, already knows everything there is to know about Bane as his computer reveals all. Bane is the only man to escape from some notorious prison in Cuba. It was there he was experimented on with the substance that will be identified as Venom. Since escaping, Bane has fashioned himself into a merc for hire, and a real expensive one at that. His price starts at 5 million a job, and when Batman questions who has that kind of money and a desire to kill him Alfred hands him a newspaper (this again?) that inexplicably has a headline that just reads Rupert Thorne.

robin hides

Robin must not have been very good at hide and seek.

At Thorne’s office, Candice is seated with Bane while he does curls with a massive dumbbell. Earlier, Thorne had offered Bane the “services” of his assistant and Bane appears to be taking full advantage of said services. Candice tells him that he could own this city, and she, once he takes out the Batman. When he asks her about her boss, she just says “accidents happen,” and plants a kiss on his exposed lips. Thorne then enters and Candice takes her leave. When Thorne casually says “He’s out there, Bane,” referring to Batman, Bane respond with a “Closer than you think.” Across the way, Robin has been eavesdropping the whole time and recording the conversation too. As he’s putting his equipment away he notices Candice leave in her own vehicle and the Batmobile then appears and follows her. Behind Robin, a red-eyed shadowy figure emerges and starts racing up behind Robin. He spins around at the last second to find Bane. He dodges Bane’s attack, but soon finds himself in his clutches. As Bane dangles him over the ledge, Robin is able swing between Bane’s legs and upend the big man. He wisely doesn’t try to pick a fight with Bane and flees to another rooftop. He hides behind some ventilation as Bane walks by, but when Robin tries to sneak away Bane is there to wrap him in a bear hug. He turns his back to the camera so we don’t see Robin get choked out. When he turns back around he’s cradling an unconscious Robin in his arms and makes a remark that he may prove useful to him as he walks off.

bane cradles robin

It would be sweet had he not just choked Robin out.

Batman has followed Candice back to her apartment. He enters and confronts the woman about Bane. She seems rather casual and plops herself down on the couch to watch cartoons (surprisingly, not another Warner cartoon) while Batman yaps on. She then tells him he has no chance against Bane. He’s studied him since he was in prison and is obsessed with taking him down (a slight nod to Bane’s comic origin, I suppose). As she goes on, the phone rings and she tells him that it’s probably for him. Batman answers and it’s Bane, who lets him know that if he were a sniper he’d already be dead. He then threatens to get him by getting to whom he values most. Batman is alarmed and looks out the window to see Robin’s shirt and cape draped over an antenna on a rooftop across the street. In an action that was actually amusing to me, Batman smashes Candice’s window rather than open it so he can fire his grapple gun to retrieve Robin’s garment. A note is affixed to it with Robin’s apparent location on it.

The note instructed Batman to head to a wharf where a ship called The Rose’s Thorn is docked. I don’t know if it’s Thorne’s ship or if Bane picked it because it reminds him of his employer. There Robin has been chained up with a massive weight chained to his ankles. Candice managed to beat Batman there and tries to remove Robin’s mask, but Bane stops her for no apparent reason. Robin is then lowered into a pool on the ship that has water pouring in. Soon enough he’ll be underwater with no apparent way to escape.

bane vs batman

They should have just gone all-in and hired Jim Ross to do commentary.

Batman arrives to see Robin and goes for him, but Bane soon announces his presence from the top of a mast. He activates the Venom and jumps down, the camera shaking as he lands on the deck. Batman is tentative, but goes in eventually. The fight turns into a faux wrestling match with Bane no-selling Batman’s strikes as if he were The Undertaker. He tosses Batman into the ship’s railing, which cartoonishly bends like wrestling ring ropes allowing Batman to rebound off of them into a massive clothesline from Bane. Batman gets up and uses some lucha-libre of his own with a series of head-scissor takedowns on Bane. Eventually, the enraged behemoth just catches Batman and heaves him into a bunch of crates. Among the rubble, Batman finds some device which turns out to be a grappling hook gun. He plunges it into Bane’s midsection and fires catapulting the villain from the deck to the water below.

With Bane out-of-the-way, Batman races to Robin’s aid and finds the water level has reached his chin. He dives in and starts prodding at the chains around Robin’s wrists, but the boy wonder quickly directs Batman to the weights on his ankles. Batman goes under water and finds the chains padlocked. Expecting him to go to his belt for something to break the lock or chain with, Batman surprises me by pulling out a set of keys. Did he remove them from Bane during the fight? He frees Robin, but while Batman is busy Bane re-emerges behind Candice, who looked like she was about to flee.

robin vs candice

This isn’t the fight we were promised.

Bane waits for Batman to climb out of the pool before grabbing his head and tossing him. He merely kicks Robin back into the water, apparently not at all concerned about him. From the water, Robin spies Candice and beckons her into the water. For some reason she obliges, tossing aside her red pumps (but not her jacket) and dives in and the two start wrestling with each other. Likely owing to the show not wanting to show Robin assaulting a woman, Candice is shown to have the upper hand immediately.

bane scream

The animators at Dong Yang utilized a red background for some of Bane’s Venom scenes, which is pretty effective.

On the deck, Batman and Bane have resumed their fight. Batman, apparently running out of ideas to confront this beast, tosses a Batarang at Bane who catches it. He crumples it in his hand and taunts Batman for trying to fight him with toys. Now clearly with the upper hand, Bane methodically beats on Batman though the camera is careful not to show anything particularly gratuitous. He grabs Batman by the shirt and demands he scream his name, but of course Batman isn’t about to do that. Looking to end the fight, Bane lifts Batman over his head and announces that he will break him. He assumes another classic pro-wrestling position, that of the backbreaker. It’s at this point those who were familiar with Bane’s presence in the comics may have actually fallen for the tease. In the books, Bane does indeed break Batman’s back across his knee, but he won’t be so lucky here. Batman, holding onto the mangled remains of his Batarang, uses it to stab the pump on Bane’s wrist. This causes it to go haywire and continuously pump Venom into Bane’s noggin. He drops Batman and starts freaking out as he can’t control the Venom. His muscles keep increasing and we return to the red background to focus in on Bane’s face. The red lenses over his eyes pop off as his eyes bug out and the whole sequence is rather freaky. He’s in obvious pain and in a state of panic, but he also is in a state of disbelief that he could be defeated. Taking apparent pity on him, Batman rips the tube out of Bane’s head causing the massive man to collapse and begin returning to a normal size. At the same time, Candice climbs out of the water with Robin right behind her. She takes off running and Robin is prepared to go after her but Batman stops him since he knows where she’s heading.

batmans mercy

Batman’s mercy.

Batman drops by the office of Rupert Thorne on his way home. A still soaking wet Candice is cowering behind her boss’s chair as Batman presents the defeated Bane. He mocks Thorne as he pulls off Bane’s mask to reveal a baby-faced man beneath it who lets his head slam onto the desk. Still in a pretty good mood, Batman whips out a tape player and lets Thorne know he has a new release and even gives it a title, Better Luck Next Time. It’s the recording Robin made of Candice propositioning Bane where it’s insinuated they were going to knock-off Thorne. Batman then takes his leave while Thorne roars “Candice!”

And that’s all she wrote for Bane. He won’t show up again until the made for television move Mystery of the Batwoman which is part of The New Batman Adventures. I suppose it’s not surprising since Batman would be able to beat him the same way, kind of like how X-Men ruined The Juggernaut by revealing the blueprint for beating him in his first appearance. It’s also the final appearance for Candice, which is actually a little menacing. Did Thorne have her killed? If he really is a ruthless criminal he probably would. My guess is we’re supposed to assume she was fired. The ending scene feels like it’s played for laughs, but she just got caught plotting to have Thorne killed. He’s not going to let that slide.

bane unmasked better

The unthreatening face beneath the mask.

The whole tone of this episode is really amusing to me, though not necessarily in a good way. Mitch Brian is the writer, and he previously wrote “On Leather Wings” and “P.O.V.” which were not particularly humorous. For this one he really went all-in on the wrestling motif of Bane with the fight scene especially looking silly. I like wrestling, but Batman rebounding off of steel railings like they’re ring ropes was pretty over the top and it takes me out of the scene every time. Batman is also jokey, which is unconventional, though his dry delivery to Alfred helps sell his car line. The “Later gator” line is way more playful, and pretty out of character. Not offensively so, but it is jarring. I wonder if some of the humor was intended to soften the menacing undertones of the episode where a contract killer is out to get him.

The way Bane is made a fool of, and subsequently not utilized again, leads me to the conclusion that the staff wasn’t too high on Bane. Was he forced upon them because of Knightfall? I don’t know if anything was necessarily mandated upon, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were encouraged to do Bane in season two. He’s fine, and the episode largely is as well. He’s not one of Batman’s greatest foes, but at least he’s not a big, dumb, strong man like so many similar villains. He didn’t need to come back, and I’m fine with this being his lone appearance. Not to be forgotten, this also marks Killer Croc’s final appearance in this show. Unlike Bane though, he’ll return in The New Batman Adventures where a reboot is sorely needed. He’s turned into a silly character who isn’t a threat to Batman despite his appearance. Most of all though, I’ll actually miss Candice. She’s just so nasty and a natural bad girl that it’s a shame she and Thorne were separated. It might have been fun to see her resurface with one of Thorne’s rivals down the road, but alas it was not to be, so pour one out for Candice.

 

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Trial”

btas trialEpisode Number:  68

Original Air Date:  May 16, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

First Appearance(s):  None

“Trial” could be described as one of our first big payoff episodes for the series as it draws heavily on the events of season one. After spending considerable time developing Batman’s rogues’ gallery, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm decided to play around with them like a kid diving into a toy box for this episode as many of Batman’s foes are brought back for an ensemble episode. It also refers back to “Shadow of the Bat” and Gotham’s new district attorney, Janet Van Dorn (Stephanie Zimbalist, replacing Lynette Mettey, and also the daugher of Alfred voice actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), who was first introduced there as a hard-nosed and rigid authority figure. Here her personality is essentially doubled-down on as we find out she has a strong dislike for Batman and Gordon’s reliance on the vigilante in combating the crime infecting Gotham. Her dislike of Batman is a bit more practical than that of Detective Bullock’s as Batman’s clearly breaking the law, or at least bending it, with his vigilante antics and it makes her job considerably more difficult. And since she is at odds with Batman, it only makes sense to lean into that conflict as the backbone for this episode.

janet trial

Goth DA Janet Van Dorn assumes the spotlight for her second appearance. She also has been slightly redesigned to appear more youthful.

“Trial” opens in a court setting. Pamela Isely (Diane Pershing), better known as Poison Ivy, is facing incarceration beyond just treatment at Arkham Asylum and Van Dorn is arguing for life in prison. Ivy is able to avoid jail-time due to her capture being at the hands of Batman, who naturally isn’t present to even testify against her. The judge sends her back to Arkham, not an outcome Ivy probably wanted but it’s still better than prison. When the media approaches Van Dorn following the verdict, she uses the camera time to blast Batman calling him a disgrace and placing the blame for the presence of criminally insane rogues in the city on him. She’s also not afraid to let Commissioner Gordon know how she feels, but as always, he’s willing to stand-up for Batman viewing him as their best weapon in the fight against crime. Batman even drops in on their little meeting, presenting a gang leader as a present (who is wearing a skull shirt that seems to resemble a certain Marvel character’s logo). When Van Dorn challenges him to take off the mask and put on a uniform, Batman says nothing and departs. She takes a batarang from the perp as a parting gift, I guess?

At Arkham, a somewhat somber looking Poison Ivy is returned to her room. Her pal Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) tries to cheer her up, but she has little success. She mentions something big is about to go down though that will likely lift her spirits. We then see some zombie-like orderlies and doctors milling about and The Mad Hatter bursts into the picture to reveal he’s used his mind control cards to subdue them as chaos breaks out.

captured batman

Van Dorn and Batman find themselves tied together by the real foes of Gotham.

A fatigued Van Dorn is shown arriving at a restaurant for dinner. Her date this evening is none other than Bruce Wayne. If Bruce is romantically interested in Van Dorn or just looking to get inside the head of someone who could either be friend or foe to Batman is not shown. Given his dedication to his Batman persona, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it was the latter. A waiter (clearly voiced by Mark Hamill, which is an unintentional piece of foreshadowing) comes to the table to tell Van Dorn she has a phone call. She never returns, and soon Batman is summoned by Gordon to find out the DA has been kidnapped. A ransom note was left behind containing a riddle. Batman deciphers it and heads for the court-house where he’s jumped by Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.

Janet Van Dorn finds herself locked-up in Arkham. As she demands to speak with someone, she’s greeted by the former district attorney, Two-Face (Richard Moll). They’re having a little trial and need Van Dorn to act as a defense attorney with Two-Face the acting DA. Her client? None other than Batman. And to make things more interesting, Van Dorn’s fate is to be tied to that of her client. As Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) dumps Batman in the cell with her, she complains about their situation and suggests Batman is where he belongs. Batman has no interest in debating his existence with Van Dorn.

trial jury

Batman’s jury hardly seems fair and impartial.

The two are lead into the court room, where a bunch of raving inmates jeer the presence of Batman and Gotham’s DA. Harley Quinn is there to taunt Batman revealing she stole his belt. The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) with a newly reconstructed Scarface (also Dzundza) are acting as the bailiff and the jury is rather stacked against Batman as it contains:  Poison Ivy, Harley, Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall), Killer Croc, Scarecrow, and The Riddler (Scarecrow and Riddler are not voiced in this episode). The judge? Well, it has to be The Joker (Mark Hamill) who is looking resplendent in a black robe and wig.

After Dent makes a rather brief and to the point opening statement, the trial gets underway. The Mad Hatter is the first witness who blames Batman for creating him. Van Dorn is able to expose his sick side rather easily, recalling the events of his debut and his obsessive pursuit of a woman who spurned his advances. Harley is the next, and Van Dorn is quick to point out she’s improperly influencing the judge who is laying his head in her lap (they apparently made up). Van Dorn gets no where with that complaint, but during her questioning of Quinn she actually reveals her origin for the first time as a doctor at Arkham perverted by The Joker. She also reveals that Joker ratted her out during his last capture, which enrages Harley and forces Croc to carry her out kicking and screaming.

harleys tampering

Harely and Joker are shown to have a still combustible relationship, but Harley just can’t seem to dump the clown.

Poison Ivy is next up, and her past with trying to murder Harvey Dent is once again brought up. Van Dorn accuses Ivy of having more love for plants than humans, and when Ivy denies that, Van Dorn begins taunting her by plucking the petals off a flower. This sets her off, and Ivy attacks Van Dorn and the two have to be separated. Van Dorn then composes herself for her closing remarks, claiming she now sees that it wasn’t Batman who created these villains, but the villains are the ones who created Batman. Her argument is apparently persuasive, and the jury actually finds Batman innocent. Joker is quick to point out that this is a court composed of the violent and depraved, and as such, they’ll still sentence Batman to the same fate that would have befallen him had he been guilty. Quoting Porky Pig’s “That’s all folks,” Joker strikes the bench with a rubber chicken and the two are dragged away.

van dorn and judge joker

The straight-laced Van Dorn is forced to contend with the crazies of Arkham, something she proves she’s capable of.

The rogues drag Batman to an execution chamber where the electric chair awaits him. Joker enters dressed as a preacher now as Batman is taken out of his strait jacket and placed in the chair. It’s at this point Van Dorn remembers the batarang in her jacket from earlier, and she takes out the only light in the room with it. This gives Batman the only opening he needs as he slips out of his confines and returns to the shadows where he is oh so comfortable being.

The tables have now turned, and Batman lets them know they’re now locked-up in there with him (perhaps a nod to Watchmen?) as he starts picking them off. When he grabs Croc, Joker reaches for Scarface’s miniature, but functional, tommy gun and opens fire. When Scarface warns Joker that he’ll hit Croc, he responds with “What’s your point?”

batman electric chair

This seems like a bad situation for Batman to find himself in, but as usual, he’ll make the best of it.

Batman grabs Van Dorn and the two attempt to escape, but are met by a scythe-wielding Scarecrow on the stairs. Batman is able to parry his strikes, which result in Scarface losing his head, and dispatches of the villains closing in on them. They escape to the rooftop where The Joker awaits. Joker ropes Batman and tugs him off the building with the rope affixed to an abutment that allows Joker to swing from the other end. He tries to take Batman out with a giant mallet, but as always, Batman is able to escape and take him out in the process. By now, the police (who have been tracking Batman’s location this whole time) arrive to clean up the mess. In a brief sequence to close things out, Van Dorn admits to Batman she sees a need for him in Gotham, but adds she’ll still work to create a Gotham that no longer needs Batman. He responds with a smile and a simple “Me too.”

“Trial” is a fun examination of how Batman and his adversaries are connected. Van Dorn’s argument that the cartoonish villains of their world are created by Batman is a common one, while the episode makes the case that it’s the other way around. The reality is that the two are forever intertwined. A criminal act created Batman, but Batman has certainly had a hand in creating some of the villains he combats (Van Dorn even references Joker’s creation which follows that of Batman ’89). It’s a fun little debate, and getting a bunch of villains together in one place is also equally fun and basically the impetus for Batman:  The Movie. I like seeing how the villains also play off each other, though Croc is back to being a dim-witted piece of comic relief who just wants to throw a rock at Batman. Having Harley’s origins touched upon is a nice little nugget and something that will be explored down the road. I could certainly nitpick how easy it was for Mad Hatter to gain access to his special cards or how Van Dorn is a great shot on her first try wielding a batarang, but this episode is pretty packed as-is (supposedly, this plot was considered as the first movie, but was scrapped in favor of Mask of the Phantasm) and had it spent any additional time on such details it would likely not have worked out as well. The script is also delightful, making this perhaps the most quotable episode of the series. The only gaffe, plot-wise, is the presence of Killer Croc in Arkham when it was established in “Sideshow” he’s not insane, just a bad guy.

preacher joker

Preacher Joker is one of the fun little touches in this episode.

Dong Yang Animation does a nice job with this episode having to animate so many unique characters at once. They even went through the trouble of portraying the villains in jumpsuits initially, rather than taking the easy way out and just having them in costume from the start. Bruce Wayne also gets a new look as he’s ditched his old brown suit for a sharp-looking gray one that seems to be his new default look. The drab backgrounds of Arkham are juxtaposed against the colorful costumes everyone sports and it creates a nice look. I also really enjoyed Joker’s various attires and the toy collector in me wouldn’t mind an action figure of Judge Joker and Preacher Joker. Van Dorn also received a subtle make-over from her prior appearance. She wears a blue suit now and appears a bit more youthful than before. There are a couple little production gaffes, like a character’s mouth moving when it shouldn’t and Riddler just disappearing, but nothing glaring enough to take away from the overall presentation.

“Trial” is a good second season episode that really takes advantage of the lore and backstories established in season one, and even elsewhere. It’s the type of episode I like to see in a show’s second season, and for a show like Batman that typically focuses on stand-alone stories, I always get a little rush of excitement when past events are mentioned.


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.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Almost Got ‘Im”

200px-AlmostgotimEpisode Number:  46

Original Air Date:  November 10, 1992

Directed by:  Eric Radomski

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

It’s quite silly how excited I get when we’re coming up on a favorite episode of mine from this series. Nothing is stopping me from watching episodes like “Almost Got ‘Im” basically whenever I want, but for some reason this feature makes me feel like I’m being given permission to go watch these all over again. “Almost Got ‘Im” is a Paul Dini episode, and his tend to be pretty good. It’s a great concept for an episode that may or may not have been influenced by a series of comics in 1977 entitled “Where Were You on the Night Batman Was Killed?” Basically, we have a group of villains all hanging out and sharing a personal story about a time when they almost killed Batman and rid Gotham of him once and for all. We’re treated to numerous flashbacks recalling these moments (though this isn’t a clip show, these stories are all new) before everything comes together in the end to further a story in the present. Even though it’s an episode light on Batman, since we’re almost always looking at him from a villain’s perspective, I loved this one even as a kid and I still do today.

bar scene

When the girl walks in…

The episode opens over a game of poker. All we see are the hands of some recognizable villains from the show as they shoot the breeze and make plays. The players are Joker (Mark Hamill), Two-Face (Richard Moll), Penguin (Paul Williams), and Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid). The camera lingers on their hands, from the point of view of the person those hands belong to, and there’s some nice little touches adhering to the personalities of each guy. Joker, for instance, is shown pulling cards out of his sleeve while Two-Face discards two low number cards, but elects to hang onto a deuce (I love this). They’re ribbing each other for the most part, in particular Joker is pretty much all over Two-Face with several puns on his name. They appear to be in some kind of bar, but everything around them is covered in shadows. Soon Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) comes strolling in and takes a seat at the table and that’s when the conversation turns to Batman.

ivy pumpkin

Joker mocker Ivy for her exploding pumpkins, and yet voice actor Mark Hamill would go on to voice the Hobgoblin who, wouldn’t you know, wields exploding pumpkins.

Poison Ivy is the first to tell her little tale about the time she almost got Batman. Of all of the tales, hers is probably the least interesting as it’s basically just her gassing Batman with a jack-o-lantern. It’s most interesting contribution is a self-driving Batmobile segment and I’ve been a sucker for those ever since Batman ’89. Two-Face is up next, and his tale is a partial adaptation of a story from the comics in which Batman and Robin were tied to a giant penny. It’s a rather fun segment, but since we’ve got a bunch to get through, none are long so we’re mostly going for visual flair. Perhaps best of all, the giant penny in this flashback is going to remain a fixture in the Batcave in later shots as Batman was allowed to keep it for some reason.

Killer Croc is up next and his story is brief and makes me laugh every time. I don’t want to spoil it so I’ll say nothing further on the subject. Penguin goes after him after all the villains seem to agree to ignore Croc from here on out. Penguin’s story takes place in an aviary and involves attack hummingbirds. It’s preposterous, but what isn’t where this show is concerned? Penguin actually escapes at the conclusion of this tale, indicating he hasn’t faced any consequences.

Almost_Got_Im_Joker

Not a good predicament for our hero.

Saving the best for last is Joker. He actually insisted on going last and he does have a good reason for that. His story is typical Joker – he’s taken the Gotham airwaves hostage and setup Batman in a game show. The game in this case is to make the audience laugh which will cause Batman to be electrocuted. Did I mention Batman was strapped into an electric chair? The story of how he ended up in such a predicament is probably a good one, but apparently not deemed worth retelling by The Joker. Joker first tries to get the audience to laugh via threats, but it doesn’t produce great laughter. His next idea then is to simply fill the studio with laughing gas while Harley (Arleen Sorkin) reads the phone book. It proves effective, but before Batman can be fried to a crisp Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) barges in and saves him. Unfortunately for her though, while chasing Joker she’s attacked from behind by Harley and incapacitated. We then jump back to the card game where Joker reveals this all happened last night. He may not have got Batman, but he still has Catwoman and she’s currently about to be made into cat food and served to the cats of Gotham – ha ha ha!

Almost_Got_'Im

This is actually a good time to be committing petty crimes in Gotham since both Batman and the entire Gotham PD are apparently in this one bar.

It’s at this point one of our villains is revealed to be none other than Batman in disguise. He infiltrated this little game to presumably to find out what Joker had done with Catwoman. And he didn’t come alone as all of the patrons in the bar turn out to be undercover cops. With the villains all taken care of, Batman is free to go after Catwoman. Lucky for her, Harley has been waiting for Mr. J’s arrival before turning on the conveyor belt that will carry Catwoman into a vicious looking grinder. When Batman shows up instead, she does the old ploy of turning on the machine and taking off forcing Batman to choose between saving Catwoman or apprehending her. Batman, it turns out, can do both and it’s actually kind of funny. With that out of the way, Batman and Catwoman share a moment on the rooftop of the factory. When Catwoman tries to go in for a kiss, she’s distracted momentarily by the goings-on at ground level giving Batman an opening to take off on her. As he swings away Catwoman looks on with a wry smile and gives us the line of the show, “Almost got ‘im.”

Catwoman_in_danger

This seems like a real messy way to make cat food.

This episode is just fun. There’s tons of little details, mostly in the beginning of the episode, that add personality to our rogues gallery. I also really like that there’s an acknowledgement of Two-Face and Ivy’s previous relationship and their shared lines are some-what tense. It’s just a great framing device for an episode to have a bunch of interesting characters just hanging out and shooting the breeze. There are also loads of fantastic one-liners or little dialogue bits in this one.

btas-almost-got-im-catwoman

Not really sure why you’re running from this one, Batman. Maybe those trunks he wears doesn’t hide much?

Where the episode does come up short is mostly nitpicking. Once more we have Catwoman just in a weird spot. What is she? A villain or is she now a vigilante? I think clearly she was used in place of Robin to setup that little bit on the rooftop at the end, but it does feel off. She also should have been able to escape from Harley since she was just tied up and placed on a conveyor belt. Nothing that I can see was stopping her from just rolling off. I also wish the episode played with the concept of the unreliable narrator more. All of these stories are being told from the point of view of the villains and some embellishment on their part would have been fun. Especially since the format of the episode forces those flashbacks to be quite brief. And lastly, this is another episode where a character is probably way too good at being disguised, but that’s nothing new.

batman_ag_cg_productshot

This episode is popular enough to have spawned its own card game.

My issues with the episode are rather minor. This is one of my favorites, though I’ve never given it much thought beyond that. Is it in my personal top 25? Top 10? Top 3?! I’m not sure, but I’m at least leaning towards Top 10 and I’d have to do some more work to determine if I’d go further than that. Maybe that’s a feature for when this is all said and done, but we have a long way to go before we’re out of episodes.


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.