Batman: The Animated Series, “The Man Who Killed Batman”

19Jul11

Now this was a hoot! I’m tempted to say it’s the funniest episode of the Animated Series they ever made. I won’t, though, both because it’s hard to choose between this and “The Joker’s Favor,” and because there might be one coming up that I don’t remember well enough. Still, it’s a great bit of fun, and it does a nice job of enforcing the dark underpinnings of the Gotham setting while poking fun at the whole thing.

The whole episode is structured as a story told by Sid the Squid, the man who killed Batman. He’s a nebbish looking fellow who appears to be in his 40s, and could probably have been comfortably voiced by Woody Allen, judging by the voice actor’s take on the character. He’s a low (very low) level operator in the mob scene, dreaming of breaking into the big leagues, and set up as bait by a “friend” for Batman while they make a drug trade. It’s actually not a bad plan. It wouldn’t work, of course, but considering how useless Sidney would be in doing the actual job, having him as an early warning system/sacrificial lamb is the best use they could give him. Batman shows up, and through some accidental clowning, Sidney ends up getting Batman to topple off the side of a building, falling towards a leaking propane tank that just happens to blow. When Sid comes down from the roof with Batman’s cape and cowl, he’s immediately recognized as the crook who accomplished what everyone in Gotham wanted.

This is where “beware of getting what you wished for” comes in. First Sidney’s new friends start a bar brawl to defend his honor as the new toughest man in Gotham. Then he’s bailed out by a mysterious lawyer, who turns out to be Harley Quinn, delivering Sidney to-well, you know who. I love how Sidney immediately realizes who Harley Quinn really is once she has her headgear and makeup on, and he’s choking in fear about meeting her boss. And he’s right to do it, too, considering the Joker does his level best to kill Sidney for robbing the Clown Prince of Crime of his ultimate prize. After managing to escape, Sidney comes to Rupert Thorne, the man behind the original drug deal that started the whole mess, to get out of town…only to find that Thorne doesn’t believe someone could be so clumsy, stupid, and lucky to kill Batman and humiliate the Joker, so he’s about to kill Sidney personally….which is when Batman shows up to save his “killer.” And then take him to jail, of course, but it’s certainly a better ending than two bullets to the head.

A lot of why this episode works is in the character who tells the bulk of the story. Sidney is something of a stereotype, but it’s still funny to see someone trying desperately to be a criminal of note that really isn’t suited to it. It also deliberately steps away from the tension of whether Batman is alive or dead; we never see anyone like Alfred or Robin reacting to the news, just those who can’t contact the man personally to find out if he’s okay. Though there is one poignant moment, where Bullock asks Officer Montoya to talk with Commissioner Gordon, who’s taking the report badly. Still, for all that an older or more cynical viewer might say something like “Of course he’s alive, he’s Batman,” the episode never tries hard to convince us he’s gone, relying instead on Sidney’s perspective on his dubious accomplishment, and his subsequent trials. Plus, like I said, it’s just funny. The Joker’s test robbery, and his eulogy for Batman, are probably the highlight of the humor in the episode. But it’s littered with comedic touches, such as the bartender who calmly watches a brawl…but subtly nudges a bowl of peanuts onto a man’s head when he’s down.

The animation in the episode is a bit wonky, but overall it’s quite good. It’s more cartoonish than usual, but I think that was both deliberate and appropriate here. And the music is just phenomenal; the organ for Joker’s eulogy fits so well that you could convince yourself it’s not just the soundtrack, but one of his henchman actually playing an organ. Of course, how they could have fit one in a chemical plant is a good question, but this is Gotham City, home of the strangest building codes in the land.

My one real regret for the episode is that we only see the reactions of two notable villains to Batman’s supposed demise; the Joker and Rupert Thorne. I would have loved to see someone like the Riddler respond, or Two-Face. But that’s not the fault of the episode, just the format; it makes sense that out of all of Batman’s rogue’s gallery, the Joker would take this as a personal offense first and foremost, and cramming in the others wouldn’t have worked when they only had 22 minutes to work with. And it’s great to see the two spectrums of organized crime in Gotham, since Rupert Thorne is the only recurring mob boss so far. I highly recommend that you watch this episode several times. Especially if you’ve had a recent overexposure to “grim and gritty” comic book characters.

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