A lot of times on Batman: The Animated Series, you get to go inside the pathos of the various evildoers, and a lot of them actually have some kind of motivation behind their crimes, usually stemming from them being misunderstood outcasts. You’d think any one of them would relish the chance to get what they want, but not all of them. The Joker, naturally, would never give up his attempt to throw Gotham further into chaos, but would all of them follow suit? The episode “Sideshow” proves that some baddies are just bad, even if they find somewhere with people who accept them. The villain in question is Killer Croc.
Waylon Jones, a/k/a Killer Croc, was invented in the comics in 1983. A former circus performer, Croc was, just as he claimed, half man/half crocodile, or in some iterations just a guy with severe skin issues. His senses are extra heightened, even if his smarts are only that of a wily street hood. The guy is intensely strong, but not used very often in The Animated Series. “Sideshow” is only his third appearance to date (more in the coming weeks), and his second and most famous screen outing, the brilliant “Almost Got ‘Im,” it turns out who we thought was Croc was really Batman in disguise. Not really the best track record, but this episode is arguably his best.
On a train going upstate, Killer Croc is chained up and seemingly caught for good. The guard brags about how strong the metal of the chains is and how not even the muscles of the criminal could break them. There are reporters in the next car waiting for SOMETHING to happen, but they all look very bored. However, Croc tells his guard that they forgot that the crocodile has the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom and with one bite breaks out of his shackles. The reporters all hurry to get a better look, but one of them happens to be Bruce Wayne in disguise, quickly donning his Batsuit and catching up with Croc on the roof of the train. Croc has been shot with several CCs of tranquilizer and Batman warns him he’s going to pass out at any moment. They fling each other off of the train into the wooded area below and Croc nearly kills the Caped Crusader with a boulder, but passes out before he can.
Croc attempts to run away from Batman, tossing huge rocks and things to block the hero’s path, and eventually falls into the stream and is taken all the way down until he reaches a picturesque house, barn, and mill. Croc’s out cold and nearly drowns until a young boy with flippers for hands and feet dives in after him and saves him. When Croc awakens, he sees that he’s surrounded by circus folk: a Sealboy, Siamese Twins, a huge strong man, and a hunchbacked thespian. They welcome Croc with open arms, and he tells them of his time in a “freak show.” They say he can stay as long as he does work and also let slip that they have a pile of money leftover (about $50,000 to be exact) from the purchase of the land and farm. So, he’s got his mind made up about what to do.
Unfortunately, Batman shows up and attempts to explain who Croc really is, but the others don’t believe him. They put him in a cage and Croc says that Batman is one of the ones who had him manacled in the freak show. They believe him totally, until Croc wants to kill Batman and the others want nothing to do with it. He ends up caging them all, taking the money, and grabbing a gun to take out the Bat once and for all. But, Batman now has allies in the circus folk and it becomes a good ol’ rough-em-up.
This isn’t the most groundbreaking of episodes, despite the gorgeous direction by the late, great Boyd Kirkland, but it does showcase something the series didn’t do very often, which is a villain who is perfectly sane, just choosing to be a villain despite all kinds of reasons not to. He says to the sad Sealboy at the end of the episode, as he’s about to be helicoptered away to prison, that the farm was a place he could be himself, and he guesses that’s what he was doing. There’s never really a moment where Croc displays true contentment; he’s planning to use his new “friends” for as long as he can and then abscond with the money. He’s just a criminal, through and through. One of the sadder endings to a Batman episode ever.
Next time, Batman teams up with Talia al Ghul to stop her father’s next bid for world domination. Yes, the Demon’s Head himself returns in “Avatar,” next week here in this column.