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Returning to BTAS: Episode 23 – Vendetta

Vendetta - title cardVendetta

Directed by: Frank Paur

Written by: Michael Reaves

Original Air Date: October 5th 1992

Synopsis: [From IMDB see link: Here] A convict turned witness disappears and Harvey Bullock, who arrested him, is suspected in the incident.

From the series’s debut installment, On Leather Wings, Batman The Animated series has always had an affinity with classic monsters and cinema. With Vendetta, we see these two themes conspire to create a mystery detective story with a monstrous villain. The episode begins with a criminal-turned-witness named ‘Spider’ Conway being taken by boat from Stonegate penitentiary to Gotham harbour. On making the crossing, the boat is caught in a explosion, with Conway going missing. As he investigates the explosion, Batman begins to suspect Bullock, having found a toothpick on the Stonegate dockyard, as well as learning of Bullock’s links to Conway, who once testified against Bullock claiming that he was accepting bribes from Rupert Thorne. Yet, as Batman delves further into this mystery, it soon becomes clear that someone is framing Bullock. Someone with a past history with the gruff, disheveled detective.

Croc Harvey
In Vendetta, Killer Croc attempts to frame Harvey Bullock as revenge for arresting him years before.

What follows is an fun detective story that is simplistic enough for kids, with enough to keep adults interested as well. Like several episodes before, Vendetta really stresses the detective aspects of Batman, focusing on the character’s attempts to solve the crime and either incriminate or defend Bullock. Although the script is weak in places and the actual mystery could have perhaps been paced better (i.e. it’s pretty clear Bullock is never involved due to Croc appearing to attach the bomb onto the boat and Batman’s eventual discovery of Croc using an underwater cave is clumsy), the narrative of whether Batman convicts the wrong man keeps the audiences attention throughout.

Perhaps more engaging than this, is that this episode actually contributes and develops the relationship between both Batman and Bullock. Since On Leather Wings, Bullock has been presented as an antagonistic character that aggressively argues with the dark knight. In Vendetta, we see Batman actually question his own reservations about Bullock, before using his skills to save him when it becomes clear he is innocent. Upon defeating Croc and clearing Bullock’s name, the episode ends with a degree of newfound respect between the two characters, with Batman explaining that they are still on the same side, despite their contrasting approaches to the law.

Killer Croc’s initial design in Batman: The Animated Series.

Yet, what this episode is most notable for is the introduction of Killer Croc, a character created by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan. In the comics, Killer Croc appears as a character named Waylon Jones, who was born with a rare skin condition that meant his skin resembled reptile scales. Raised by his abusive Aunt, the comic book incarnation of Croc eventually killed his guardian and ran away, becoming a criminal in Gotham City. Having been arrested by Bullock years before and being convicted due to Spider Conway and Joey the Snail’s testimony, Croc returns to enact his revenge on the detective and his prosecutors. While this revenge narrative is largely forgotten in later episodes, it provides something more than the standard monster of the week styled narrative.

Although later incarnations of Killer Croc would re-imagine the creature in a more crocodilian light, the series continues Croc’s origin of him being born with a rare condition, whilst largely removing the darker narrative and instead focusing on Croc as a former Sideshow attraction, turned Wrestler and Criminal. Designed by illustrator Kevin Nowlan, the series’s incarnation of Killer Croc appears as primitive brute with some really unique design features. Whether it be the long, ape-like arms or disfigured mouth, the series presents the audience with a more human incarnation, more in keeping with earlier versions of the villain. Not only this, voice actor Aron Kincaid offers a gravelly and feral vocal performance, creating a distinctly animalistic villain who stands as a worthy addition to Batman’s bizarre rogues gallery.

Batman - killer croc
Batman faces off against Killer Croc in Bullock’s car at the end of Vendetta.

Not only this, the episode also comes interspersed with some really great action sequences. Whether it be Batman’s battles with Killer Croc in both the underwater caves/sewers, or the rooftop fight with Thorne’s goons, Vendetta offers some excellent sequences, that are brilliantly  animated. One sequence, where Croc hurls a manhole cover like a Frisbee is particularly dynamic and beautifully animated, especially when it crashes into Bullock’s car door.  Not only this, the episode’s animators and story-boarders also offer some great character work for Killer Croc, particularly regarding the villains eventual reveal and freakish movements, allowing for a creepy presentation that makes up for the sub-par scripting.

While Killer Croc may appear in arguably better episodes such as Almost had ‘im and Sideshow, Vendetta offers an intriguing introduction to the character, while also generating a story that has actual lasting ramifications for two of the series’s most recurring characters. While the script may be rubbery in places, alongside a somewhat basic but acceptable mystery narrative, the story ultimately succeeds due to the inclusion of a fun new villain and some great animation, action sequences and voice work.

C.J. Thomson is a young academic and fiction writer who lives in Linslade, United Kingdom. A former MA student at Birkbeck, University of London, he is an aficionado of American popular culture with a vested interest in monsters, superheroes, horror and…

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