Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “The Man Who Killed Batman” & “Mudslide”

The Man Who Killed Batman”
Written by Paul Dini
Directed by Bruce Timm
Episode #051
Music Composed by Shirley Walker
Animation Services by Sunrise
Original Airdate—February 1st, 1993

Plot: Hapless thug Sid the Squid tells Rupert Thorne the story of how he accidentally killed Batman and now every thug in Gotham is gunning for him, including the Joker.

Let’s talk about that title card, shall we?

I haven’t really discussed the title cards so far, but they’re a big part of the aesthetic of the show. While a lot of cartoons employ title cards at the time, Batman: the Animated Series went above and beyond by creating a new individually painted and designed title card for each episode.

And this is my favorite title card, because it tells the whole story in one image. First, there’s the provocative title, with the emphasis on the word “Killed.” The title promises not only that Batman dies, but in fact he’s already dead. We know that’s impossible, mostly because there’s over 50 more episodes, but also because, according to the painting, “The man who killed Batman” is a tiny shadow of a man with giant cartoon eyes, someone who can cower even in the spotlight.

“The Man Who Killed Batman,” like Paul Dini’s last episode, “Almost Got ‘Im,” is another “Batman Minus Batman” episode, where a lot of characters sit around talking about Batman while Batman himself is mysteriously off-stage. But instead of seeing Batman from the arch-villains’ point of view, this time we see Batman from the point of view of the indistinguishable crooks that make up the majority of the Gotham underworld.

This time, however, they are all highly distinguishably, with actual names, distinctive faces, and stellar voice actors: Robert Picardo is Eddie G, Maurice LaMarche is Murphy, and sci fi journeyman actor Matt Frewer is our luckless lead, Sid “the Squid” DeBris. (Seriously, check out Frewer’s curriculum vitae. This man has done it all). This is Frewer’s show, as both the narrator of the bizarre tale, and its central character, and he squeaks and blusters his way through hilariously. His desperate insistence that he is that lucky and that stupid is howlingly funny.

Batman Animated Series Rewatch The Man Who Killed Batman Mudslide

Sid is just not cut out for criminal work. But he wants to be a big shot, and being a criminal is the only way he sees how. Though the other thugs are slightly smarter than Sid (at least smart enough to use Sid as a distraction to make their escape) their motivation is basically the same. Working for a supervillain, whether it’s Boss Thorne or the Joker, and fighting Batman bestows some form of reflected glamor on a lackey. Sid’s happy ending, then, is that he almost killed Batman, which is just as good as Two-Face, the Penguin, Poison Ivy, and the Joker have ever done.

And though it’s all a ruse, “The Man Who Killed Batman” shows us what would happen in Gotham if Batman died. First the obvious: the criminal world celebrates, then attacks, the man who killed him, as a furious struggle takes place in the power vacuum. But then the mourning begins. It’s a little surprising that Bullock, of all people, is so upset that Batman is dead, but then again he could just feel bad for Commissioner Gordon, who would have lost his best friend, or maybe Bullock and Montoya are in on the ruse, and are selling Batman’s death to an audience of incarcerated thugs, one of whom is exactly the guy Batman wants running to Thorne.

And then there’s the Joker’s reaction.

Batman The Animated Series Rewatch The Man Who Killed Batman Mudslide

Mark Hamill credits the Joker’s eulogy for Batman as the moment he really understood that the Joker commits crimes as a performance for Batman. Because the Joker blames Batman for turning him into the Joker, and because he loves being the Joker, everything the Joker does is both revenge against and in honor of Batman. The funeral, held in the same factory where the Joker first fell into a vat of chemicals, is a recreation of Joker’s origin. The Joker will do to Batman’s costume (and Sid) that same thing that happened to him, which is both the best and worst thing he can think of. Like Harley Quinn playing Amazing Grace on a kazoo, it is both a mockery and sincerely beautiful at the same time.

The only thing that’s not clear is what the Joker would do next if Batman were really dead, besides get Chinese food. After all, “Without Batman, crime has no punchline.” He seems to shed a sincere tear at Batman’s funeral. It’s possible he’d give up crime altogether, which is the premise of Batman: Going Sane. On the other hand, maybe he’d just refocus his attention on someone else, another do-gooder like Commissioner Gordon or Robin, or another innocent nobody like Charlie Collins. It’s probably best that Batman is not even close to being really dead, then.

Batman The Animated Series Rewatch The Man Who Killed Batman Mudslide

There’s a little more definition Harley Quinn in this episode too. Her pet hyenas make their first appearance, and she’s physically abused by the Joker more explicitly than before. She even calls herself Harleen Quinzel when she bails Sid out of jail. This was probably before Dini and Bruce Timm decided that was her actual name, because going right up to Bullock and saying her name is a ballsy move. On the other hand, when Bullock recognizes her, she uses the opportunity to make a small dick joke, so maybe.

Sunrise studios animate their third masterpiece in a row. Bruce Timm’s direction is beautiful, especially the opening montage of Sid running desperately through the rain. But the episode is filled with wonderful little touches too. The bored bartender who listlessly watches a barroom brawl break out. The brooding Joker on his throne. Poor Murphy walking with a limp after being thrown to the hyenas. And all of the goons taking steps away from Sid as the Joker turns his attention on him. And as “The Man Who Killed Batman” is one long funeral for the Caped Crusader, Shirley Walker uses dirge like organ music for the score, even playing Batman’s fan fare on the organ when he makes his triumphant return!

 

Batman The Animated Series Rewatch The Man Who Killed Batman Mudslide

Mudslide”
Story by Alan Burnett
Teleplay by Steve Perry
Directed by Eric Radomski
Episode #052
Music Composed by Shirley Walker
Animation by Studio Junio
Original Airdate—September 15th, 1993

Plot: Clayface is literally falling apart. Doctor Stella Bates can keep him together, but her treatment requires Clayface to break into Waynetech.

Like Clayface himself, this episode is composed of a lot of great parts that for some reason, don’t congeal into a great whole.

The best part of “Mudslide” is that it finally gives Clayface a weakness. By the end of “Feat of Clay,” Matt Hagen was an immortal being, impervious to pain or lasting damage, that could look like anyone or turn into a tank. Now, transformation is exhausting, and if Hagen overdoes it he’ll disintegrate. That means he has to rely on the more interesting impersonation powers to commit his crimes, rather than the more direct and boring bulldozer method. This leads to clever moments like impersonating his victims to cover his escape.

Batman The Animated Series Rewatch The Man Who Killed Batman Mudslide

And there’s some complicated interpersonal drama between Clayface and Dr. Stella Bates. Stella loves Matt Hagen, or at least the idea of Matt Hagen from his movies, in a way that’s part motherly and part romantic. But it’s not clear that Hagen loves her back. He’s upset when she’s hurt, certainly. On the other hand, he has to quote his own movies to say anything romantic, when he’s not being emotionally abusive and physically threatening. And if you believe my theory that Hagen is secretly gay, then it’s more obvious that he’s just playing a role to get her to fix his condition.

The irony of the episode is that the whole story could have been avoided after the first scene. In a pretty hilarious sequence, the weakened Clayface is still strong enough to crush cars but is too slow to actually hit Batman, so Batman half-runs, then simply walks around Clayface, offering to help. As the MacGuffin isotope belongs to WayneTech, if Clayface had taken Batman up on his offer, he could have been cured without any of the fighting. But Matt Hagen doesn’t want to owe his life to someone he can’t control the way he manipulates Stella Bates.

There’s some really brilliant details in the script, such as all the movie references. Stella Bates is named after the long suffering wife in A Streetcar Named Desire and the over protective mother in Psycho. Batman even mentions she used to own a motel. Water melts Clayface like the Wicked Witch of the West. Clayface’s containment suit makes him look like an Oscar.

Batman Animated Series Rewatch The Man Who Killed Batman Mudslide

There’s another good score from Shirley Walker, drawing on romantic dramas from the ‘40s, especially the down note ending. Unlike Sid’s happy defeat, there’s no joy in Muddville with the way this one worked out. And the sound department should get a special callout for the disgusting sounds of Clayface squishing his way through the world.

And Eric Radomski’s direction is incredible. He’s three for three on great direction jobs, and this might even top “Almost Got ‘Im” for showmanship. Sure, it’s easy when the villain has the most visually interesting superpower on the show, but that doesn’t mean that the image of Batman trying to free himself from inside Clayface isn’t both horrifying and hilarious. But it’s the little details that are the most impressive, like the way Clayface leaves little bits of himself every where he goes, including the bottom of Batman’s boot. Or the way Clayface sags in each of his forms, the weight of his condition literally bringing him down.

Batman Animated Series Rewatch The Man Who Killed Batman Mudslide

So why isn’t this episode better?

Probably most of the blame falls on the barely there plot. Clayface commits two robberies to fund his cure. Batman finds him by finding his doctor. Clayface destroys himself trying to kill Batman. There are not a lot of reverses or surprises or even character arcs. We don’t really get into the Bates/Hagen relationship, and that is where the real emotional depths of this episode would lie.

And for every genius part of the writing and direction, there’s something that’s painfully stupid. All of the descriptions of why Clayface is dying, and how to cure him, are filled with mind-numbing technobable. And sure, the movie references are fun, but then Clayface’s dialogue is filled with groaners about being “upstaged” by Batman and taking a final bow. In fact he mentions “bringing down the curtain” twice, and even Ron Perlman can’t save dialogue like that. And it’s neat that Batman finally uses freeze technology against Clayface, but it only leads to Clayface falling from a great height, shattering and reforming, which he had already done earlier in the episode, and once in “Feat of Clay.”

In the end, “Mudslide” is a good episode, but it feels so close to being an all time great episode that its flaws become disappointing. All the good ideas in the world don’t help if it falls apart at the end.

Okay, I’ll stop.


Steven Padnick is a freelance writer and editor. By day. You can find more of his writing and funny pictures at padnick.tumblr.com.

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