Batman: The Animated Series, “Vendetta”

18Mar11

It’s the first appearance of Killer Croc this time, and it’s an appropriately low stakes episode. Not that the the show is trying to keep you from caring, but Croc isn’t planning to steal millions of dollars or blow up the city; out of all the Animated Series villains, Killer Croc has the lowest ambitions at all. And to be honest, I don’t think they ever got a good handle on how to use him-either he’s just a regular thug with a skin condition, as he is here, or he’s a monstrous thing, as he is in the comics now.

The episode opens at the Gotham Docks on a rainy night, and with a police boat escorting a prisoner. Right off the bat, I want to pause here a second and note a strange animation artifact. The prisoner is visibly shaking and nervous, but when they do a close up on his head, the rest of it is shaking…but his lips are perfectly still as he talks! It’s not a huge issue, but even as a kid I remember seeing that and going “What?”

Back in the actual plot, Commissioner Gordon is with the cops waiting for the boat to arrive, and he gives us the exposition dump while talking to Montoya and Bullock. As the boat pulls in, someone manages to get to the boat through the water and attach a bomb. This is also when we first see Batman, who’s been watching the boat come in as well. While the police search for some sign of Conway in the water, Batman investigates at the docks the boat came from, finding what seems like a toothpick from Bullock.

This leads him to look into Bullock’s file at the police station, at the same time Gordon tells Bullock he’s being pulled from the case, due to previous involvement with Conway. The next day, Alfred’s conversation with Batman provides another exposition dump, that Bullock was previous accused of taking graft from Rupert Thorne, Conway’s employer at the time. This leads to a great but too short confrontation between Batman and Thorne, before Batman talks with Commissioner Gordon about his suspicion over Bullock. Gordon strongly defends Bullock…and then someone pretending to be Bullock comes into the police station, looking for someone called “Joey The Snail.” Here’s where any doubts about whether or not it’s Bullock get erased for the viewer, as the impersonator is obviously off, though that doesn’t stop the police from arresting Bullock anyway.

This leads into the one part of the episode that really seems off to me. Batman is examining a scale he found at the ruined boat, when Alfred says something about putting his food in a microwaveable crock pot, with special emphasis on those words. This gives Batman inspiration on who it could be…and then rather than consulting the Bat Computer, he makes a special field trip to a kid’s park that has reptiles, where he’s told that crocodiles lair in underground caves. It’s almost like they forgot that he’s an adult who can do his own research, like he was doing 30 seconds ago. This leads him to look for a cave near where the boat was blown up, even though he doesn’t have any evidence this would be important, and that’s where he finds both Conway and Joey, along with Killer Croc.

Croc himself is a great visual, but he’s badly used here. His dialogue is pretty wooden, and there’s a strange attempt to make him more bestial, when without the reptile skin and face, he’d just be a buff guy in jeans. Why he’d be using one arm along with his legs to run is pretty bizarre, considering his legs work just fine. It’s after Batman gets Conway and Joey out that Batman finds reference to Croc, which is the sort of information he maybe should have gotten before trying to learn more about crocodiles.

We cut to Bullock leaving the police station, and being ambushed by Croc as he starts his car. Croc explains why he put the blame on Bullock, which is when Batman comes out of the back seat of the car, causing the car to crash. After making sure Bullock isn’t dead, Batman follows Croc into the sewers, where they have a frankly lackluster fight, until he pulls Croc out of the sewers for Bullock to arrest. There’s a nice moment where Bullock asks why Batman risked himself, and Batman says it’s because he’d thought Bullock was guilty too. And then he keeps talking, and gives a pretty cheesy line about how they both believe in justice.

Most of the previous lackluster episodes of Batman have usually had either adequate or subpar animation to go with the writing issues. This is the first one where it’s beautifully animated, but needed at least another pass to solve some problems. For example, why does Croc specifically keep Joey and Conway alive? We know the overall reason, it’s a kid’s show, but some explanation in the story would have helped things make more sense. And the section of Batman explaining about Croc, then finding Croc, needed to be switched around. Batman can act mysterious to other characters, but he shouldn’t leave us in the dark as well. And then there’s the fight choreography, where Croc has Batman’s arms pinned at the shoulders….and yet Batman can move them enough to loop a cable around Croc’s wrist? If these were isolated problems, they’d be a little nitpicky, but together they drag things down. It’s a good story concept, and it looks great, but the execution is lacking. This is one that’s only worth watching once.

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