Batman: The Animated Series, “Sideshow”

02Sep11

This one is fairly unusual for a number of reasons. The first is that as far as I know, I never saw this episode as a kid. I don’t know if it wasn’t aired when or where I was watching it, or if it was just bad luck. Or maybe I did see it, but it was only once, so I didn’t remember it as well as the other episodes. Whatever the case, it means I’ve come to this only as an adult, which makes it an interesting test case for how well the series works after this much time has passed. After all, no matter how much I might try to push my nostalgia down to talk honestly about this show, the fact remains that it was a favorite as a kid, and that can’t really be ignored. But this episode is the closest we’ll get to me viewing the show just as I am now, instead of through the lenses of what I thought as a kid, what I think know, and what I think of what I thought as a kid.

With all that in mind, this is….different. For one thing, it’s a story that takes place entirely outside of Gotham. We’ve had a whole episode take place in foreign locales with second part of the Demon’s quest, but that still starts in Gotham. This one, though, opens on a train going upstate, carrying Killer Croc to his new prison cell. The justification is that he’s been found to not be insane, so he doesn’t get to hang out in Arkham. Naturally, he makes Arkham look good for once by escaping from the train, an idea that would work better if he A) did not have Batman in disguise on the press car, and B) he had waited until the train was not passing over a gorge to bust out. Then again, this is Killer Croc, not Genius Croc.

This actually leads to the one problem with the episode, that it feels disjointed. The first third is basically Batman and Croc’s Wilderness Adventure; both men are in unfamiliar surroundings, well out of their element, and showing it. Batman might be a little more prepared to track Croc than Croc is to get away from Batman, but neither one is really equipped for a long footchase in the woods. It’s not a bad plot, honestly, as it could have been a way to showcase Batman’s dedication to catching his man, no matter what the obstacles. Of course, it could have become boring if it wasn’t handled correctly, so I’m not surprised they decided to change things by introducing the kindly group of sideshow freaks.

I could complain that it’s far too lucky for Croc to run into the group just when he needs them, but that’s a minor issue. It certainly wouldn’t have been an improvement if they’d broken him out somehow. And I like the fact that they’re willing to take him in with open arms, even believe his flimsy story about being abused as a fellow freak…but Croc doesn’t actually act differently at heart, or change his mind much. He remains a thief and a criminal even in a fairly idyllic setting. That might seem like an argument that you can’t reform criminals, but it’s more about Croc as a character; no matter how much he might present himself as put-upon and abused, he’s not a kindly soul twisted by circumstances. If he was completely human, he probably would have drifted into crime anyway.

Once Batman shows up, of course, things come crashing down. I mentioned the fact that the first third could have worked as its own extended episode, but if that causes things to feel disjointed, it at least prevents things from being too drawn out once Batman arrives. Sure, the sideshow members initially support Croc in fighting against Batman, but Croc’s insistence on killing Batman is more than enough for them to realize something is wrong-and rather than trying to convince them it’s a necessary step, Croc quickly turns on them and locks them up as well. Again, he’s not Genius Croc. Of course, Batman doesn’t stay locked up, and he has a pretty good fight against Croc, with the assistance of the sideshow.

I have to admit, this episode is stronger than I first thought when I watched it. Would I want to see Batman in the wilderness for 22 minutes? Maybe, but that could have been dull instead. And the same could be said of spending more time with the sideshow people, who are sympathetic and interesting in a relatively short period of time. If they’d stuck around too long, though, they might have seemed too trusting, rather than welcoming but not blindly accepting of their new acquaintance. And the fight being good is important for a Croc episode, since it’s the one thing Croc can offer as an opponent; he’s not stupid, exactly, but he’s certainly not a great planner. This one is worth a watch, at least, though I hesitate to say it should be rewatched.

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