Batman: The Animated Series, and, hell, the entire DC Animated Universe of shows spearheaded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, are so beloved that in all my years doing Worst Episode Ever I never touched them. After all, I figured even the worst B: TAS episode would probably still be miles above most of the crap I usually write about. I figured wrong.
“Critters” was part of the second season of The New Batman Adventures (the direct sequel to/rebranding of the original Batman animated series), which means everyone working on it should have known better. As far as I can tell, the writers of this particular episode, for some reason, very suddenly started hating their jobs and chose to express their feelings by making an intentionally awful Batman “adventure.”
Because this is how it starts: Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon are at the Agricultural Expo. Why? What are they there? I know a lot of crimes happen in areas where Bruce is conveniently located, but usually, there are excuses for him to be there, like he’s been invited to some snooty event. We don’t ever get a hint of an explanation, they’re just two dudes getting their farm on. At any rate, they see Farmer Brown — yes, like the nursery rhyme, except the man’s first name is Farmer — and his daughter is getting ready to reveal her dad’s new creation that he proclaims will end world hunger: a big cow.
Actually, calling it a cow is generous; it’s like a Last Airbender fan dreamed up a cow-bear and gave up drawing it half-way through. The cow starts attacking people immediately, a design flaw Farmer Brown probably should have addressed before wheeling it into the Gotham expo hall. Bruce knocks it out and later, a judge cuts all funding to Brown’s demonstrably terrible and dangerous experiments. Brown, who I should point out is a bioengineer who just really loves farms — because of his first name, I guess? Or maybe he changed his name because he loves farms so much? — is furious that he can’t do his mutant farm science just because he accidentally created a giant animal-monster. So he decides to intentionally create a bunch of giant animal-monsters and use them to attack the city. That’ll show those durned city-folk!
A year later, three giant praying mantises sneak up on and attack a random restaurant where Bruce happens to have taken a date. It’s a random restaurant around the corner from where a random exterminator is casually spraying his insecticide on a random tree in the city…a random exterminator who just happens to be standing next to a giant oil tanker full of insecticide. It’s incredibly lazy writing, but it gets worse seconds later when Batman, who fails utterly to stop any of the mantises from doing anything, gets surrounded by them and is about to be killed…except the mantises, at that exact moment, fall apart. (The giant tanker of insecticide is meaningless. Grr.)
The Dark Knight realises these giant, yet formerly living, creatures were bioengineered and designed to fall apart, into pieces. It’s a strange, bad plot decision that also inadvertently results in one of the most twisted things a Batman villain has ever done. Brown releases a bull, cow, and a bunch of chickens who have been mutated in ways that make it very unclear what’s going on with them, especially the chickens, who look like robot ravens but also fly. They don’t seem to be bred to self-destruct, thank goodness.
The Bat-crew eventually takes care of them, although it’s worth noting that Batman defeated one of the things we are supposed to understand is a chicken by knocking it into a giant tank of barbecue sauce. It’s a joke so terrible, the fact that the stupid chicken bears no resemblance to a chicken helps by making the gag less obvious.
Batman convenes with Gordon at the Police Commissioners office and they pretty much instantly come to the conclusion that these giant rampaging animal-monsters are probably the work of that guy who made that giant rampaging animal-monster last year. Just then, a goat enters the room, speaking with Farmer Brown’s voice and issues his demand: $US50 ($69) million in unmarked bills, and no Batman.
Set aside this genius scheme for a second, because I want you to think about this goat. This weird, fucked-up goat — that may be part robot? — trying to get across town, into police headquarters, through the building, which even at night would house hundreds of workers, without once being noticed. It’s just so damn ridiculous. None of that plan is going to work because of course Bullock’s going to drive an armoured car full of fake money, and of course Batman and the rest are going to follow him into Brown’s weird unground lair which, despite being underground, is a farm.
The reason I suspect the writers must have hated Batman is because the scrawny Brown does hand the Dark Knight his arse in a fight using nothing but a pitchfork. Eventually, the farmer/scientist gives Batman the dignity of turning on his pitchfork’s lightning zapper, grabs Robin as a hostage, and then forces all of the Bat-gang and Bullock into a silo which is secretly a rocket…
…which he’s filled with praying mantis eggs.
Now, Brown says the rocket is going to land in Central Park, allowing these “longer-lasting” mantises to wreak more havoc through Gotham. But I don’t see any way the rocket could land other than crashing, which would kill all the mantises on board. The rocket also seems rigged to explode, because when Batman inevitably escapes and drives the armoured car off a ramp into the door of the rising rocket’s mantis room — in what I desperately, desperately fear is an allusion to Dukes of Hazzard — the rocket does blow up. The episode closes with the camera panning slowly to the Moreau-esque island it turned out Farmer Brown had operated on. A rooster crows ominously. The End.
When I get to the end of a Worst Episode Ever episode that genuinely pisses me off, it’s very hard for me to contain my anger so I don’t fall into an incoherent rant at the end. I am going to try to stay even-keeled in my complaints, such as Bruce being in multiple incongruous locations to keep the action going is very bad and/or lazy writing. The same is true of the mantises’ self-destruction, which was as inexplicable a decision by Brown as by the people who made the episode. I would like to call out the artists, who managed to not only make the monsters that were supposed to be based on farm animals mostly unrecognisable but also unclear as to what Brown was doing to them.
Finally, I’d like to call out the giant corkboard in the B:TAS writers’ room, listing random words and ideas and occupations which could be used to brainstorm potential new Batman villains and their shtick. Blame must undoubtedly fall on the two thrown darts which landed on “farmer” and “mad scientist,” and then the writers who shrugged and said, “Fine. Whatever.” It’s a shame there was no corkboard with ideas for even the barest of reasons a genetic scientist might love farm motifs, but oh well. As Farmer Brown would say — with no emotion, and without even the barest trace of a country accent — “Dagnabbit.”
- Wonder where ol’ Farmer Brown got the funding for his second batch of monsters he made in retaliation for his funding getting cut, hmm? Stupid.
- Batman smiles a lot in this episode. I didn’t like it.
- A monster-bull crashes into a china shop. It’s stupid and made me mad.
- Admittedly, there were two things I liked in the episode. The first is that for some reason the robot-goat had to lead Bullock and the armoured car to Brown’s hideout, which meant the little convoy was travelling at the walking speed of a goat. The second thing is when they’re trapped in the dumb silo rocket with a “hive” of mantis eggs, Bullock turns to Batman and says, “So you’ve survived the Joker and the rest of those creeps, only to buy it from Jed Clampett and a bunch of bugs.”(Jed Clampett being a character in Beverly Hillbillies.) Bullock knows Batman was trash for getting caught by this stupid scientist because he’s going to die in a really bizarre way. Bullock gets it.