The best villains in Batman stories aren’t Just Villains. Characters that are just villains stop being interesting before the commercial break (Sewer King, what’s up?). The good ones tell us something – something about Batman, something about Gotham, or something about someone else in the story. In this week’s episode, we meet Killer Croc, but the episode isn’t about him. His introduction here is linked to the story of Harvey Bullock and Bullock’s shady past. A criminal – especially one that’s mean like Croc but not devious like the Scarecrow – is a great way to dig deeper into the Gotham City Police Department and its major players. This week on Batman: The Animated Series Remastered and Rewatched: “Vendetta.”
In the comics and movies, Harvey Bullock is more often than not just a bad cop. In The Animated Series, he’s a classic loose cannon. The commissioner hates Bullock’s methods, but he gets the job done. He ultimately tends toward justice. This week is all about Bullock’s tenuous relationship with justice.
The episode opens as a crook named Spider is being transported by boat for testimony. Bullock, Dent, and Montoya are waiting for Spider onshore as rain batters them. Let’s take a moment to highlight the raincoats the GCPD wears as standard issue. While “Joker’s Favor” told us exactly when Batman: The Animated Series takes place, these awesome coats rip it right back out of the timeline. They’re cool as hell despite looking more like a nun’s habit than law-enforcement gear.
Anyway, someone bombs the boat and snatches Spider off it while the cops – and a hidden Batman – watch from shore. Batman rockets off in his not-at-all-subtle jet-boat to investigate, where he finds a toothpick like the ones Dent is always gnawing on. I love the mist effect here.
Next, we’re in Gordon’s office, and Gordon is taking Bullock off the case as Batman watches from the outside. Boy, he must have great ears to hear through the window and over the rain. The lighting here is great. Harvey is ticked to be off the case, and the flash of lightning is a great emotional match for Bullock’s reaction.
Batman snatches Harvey’s history file right before the man himself comes to look at it. Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce leaves his pilfered police files out in his office (where he almost certainly entertains guests from time to time) for Alfred to page through. Bruce is bouncing case ideas off his longtime confidant, showing him the toothpick and describing Bullock’s history with Rupert Thorne.
Cut again to a poorly-lit underground cave. We still haven’t seen our villain up close. Spider wakes up in the cave, and looks around, only for the water to start bubbling. Spider’s face goes white as something rises out of the water, but we still don’t get to see it. The show is treating Croc like Jaws (the shark, not the James Bond henchman) more than likes of the Joker or the Penguin.
While Croc is terrifying his victim, Batman is checking in on Thorne, and we get an absolutely classic Batman scene here. Thorne is one of Batman: The Animated Series‘ best recurring baddies; he’s dangerous enough that Batman can’t ignore him, but not so dangerous that Batman has to take him seriously.
This scene has great dramatic lighting, broken glass (a rarity in Batman: The Animated Series), rain. Batman has questions for Thorne and each time Thorne thinks he has the upper hand, Batman does him one better. After telling Batman that Thorne has .38-caliber answers for his questions, Batman takes him hostage and dives off the building with him, grappling onto a gargoyle, swinging to a ladder, and then hooking a hook to the loosely-knotted back of Thorne’s apron. There are so many times both of those characters should’ve died there, but Batman using heights to intimidate a foe is honestly everything I want out of an encounter like that.
After bringing the Commish into his plans, Batman scores a creepy-looking scale at the boat wreck. Meanwhile, someone who sounds like Bullock but has creepy, pale hands with sharp claws goes to check in on another crook named after a bug – Snail. From the guard’s point of view, though, Bullock marched and slammed him into a wall. The cops haul Bullock in.
Back at the Batcave, we find out that Batman likes French Onion Soup which, for me, raises lots of questions. Batman notes that the scale is reptilian in structure. Alfred, standing nearby, mentions that the soup is in a microwavable crock, inspiring Batman to visit the zoo. As Bruce, our hero stands at the crocodile exhibit.
The exhibit’s voiceover conveniently explains that crocodiles like to hang out in underground caves (which is actually true), he gets the inspiration to directly to a particular underground cave that he knows the location of and is apparently Gotham’s only underground cave. Also, wouldn’t Batman just have an encyclopedia on his Batcomputer? Also, why does he just assume the toothpick is Bullock’s? Had anyone even chewed on it? Does it show human teeth marks? It’s also never suggested that Killer Croc is part-crocodile. Why would he be instinctively drawn to a cave? It’s a really silly logical jump.
Batman has his first encounter with the monstrous Killer Croc, who overpowers him as easily as Clayface did. More and more, Batman is meeting villains he can’t just punch into justice. Batman manages to escape the cave and chase down the two ex-cons. Back at the Batcave, Batman digs into Croc’s history, including Bullock arresting him.
Batman sets up a sting to catch Croc. By which I mean he hides in the back of Bullock’s car until Croc shows up. A short drive ends up with Bullock’s car wrapped around a streetlight with a manhole cover embedded in his passenger-side door. Batman chases Croc into the sewers, where Batman corners Croc. The two exchange some exposition, to which Croc replies, “This ain’t no Batcave, you’re on my turf now.”
This implies that Croc, who is a cunning but not terribly smart dude, knows about Batman’s S E C R E T HIDEOUT. Killer Croc and the kids in “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement.” Is this really that hard of a thing for the writers to keep straight?
While they’re fighting, Batman drops some cool moves on Croc. He dons a red visor and blinds Crock with a flare, then staples him to a wall with his grappling hook. Things go sideways, but soon Batman is dragging Croc out of the sewers, where Bullock waits. Batman tells Bullock that he stuck his neck out because he thought the detective was guilty, and that he was wrong. It’s a rare sign of contrition from the hero. Then it’s back home, where Batman smirks as Bullock tells Gotham’s only reporter, Summer Gleeson, that he’s ready to kick butt.
I should hate this episode. The episode is riddled with holes and logical jumps intended to squeeze its story into 23 minutes. The animation isn’t the worst, but it’s not memorable, either, and a few shots look weird. That last shot of Batman as he talks to Bullock sticks out as being particularly misshapen.
But the core is really good, and that’s what helps hold things up. It’s a classic Batman story. Batman doesn’t travel through time or come back from the dead; there’s a petty criminal, a shady cop, and a vigilante looking for justice. The criminal doesn’t even have an origin story. Croc just a weird dude with a (probably well-earned) chip on his shoulder who grew up that way. He’s not yet another product of Ace Chemicals, and he wasn’t caught in the explosion of an illegal croc-skin boot factory. Croc outmatches Batman, and the Dark Knight has to use his ingenuity and repertoire of moves to make it out in one piece.
The cop and the vigilante put their feud on pause and give each other a respectful nod. Even if Batman definitely shouldn’t have had to visit a zoo to learn about crocodiles, “Vendetta” is still a solid entry in the series.
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