Look, if you’ve got designs on being a renowned criminal, maybe don’t start out in Gotham City. There are more law-breakers per capita than anywhere in the world, so you’re already just a drop in a very big ocean. You can try to be a masked/costumed/horribly disfigured mastermind, but, again, there’s already quite a few of those. And it’s not like just anybody can go off and recruit a small army of thugs to do your dirty work for you; you need to be intelligent, driven, intimidating, and above all out of your crazy little mind. And let’s not forget, there’s a Knight patrolling all the time. It’s definitely not easy. Or, you could just accidentally rub-out the Caped Crusader and then everybody will know your name, whether you want them to or not. This is the fate of “The Man Who Killed Batman.”
Another in the handful of Batman-lite or villain-centric episodes Batman: The Animated Series did so brilliantly, “The Man Who Killed Batman” was written by the always phenomenal Paul Dini and actually directed by Bruce Timm himself, one of only a small number to bear that distinction. The episode takes the narrative away from Batman or any of the other regulars and puts it squarely on the shoulders of the nobodiest of nobodies, Sidney Debris, voiced magnificently by Matt Frewer. “Sid the Squid,” as he’s derisively known, is a schlub with delusions of grandeur who happens to achieve notoriety after an accident was witnessed by other members of Gotham’s criminal underworld. He’s treated like a king… for about a minute, and then everybody in town wants to take him out, including the city’s most powerful gangster and the Clown Prince of Crime himself. Poor Sid.
Told almost entirely through Sid’s voiceover, the episode begins with Sid pleading to get a word with Rupert Throne, the aforementioned most powerful gangster (businessman, yeah I get it). Sid’s already become quite the talk of the town, being “The Man Who Killed Batman” and all. Sid begins to explain, though, that he’s just a victim of a whole lot of good timing and luck. He always wanted to be a big shot, but this isn’t quite what he had in mind. He joined up with a gang doing a drug heist job. Of course, Batman shows up right away. Sid’s the only one on the roof and from the ground, it looks to all his cronies that he’s taking on the Dark Knight single-handedly. Through a couple of mishaps, it appears that Sid’s actually winning. An explosion then happens and Sid runs down the ladder holding Batman’s cape and cowl.
The Squid is immediately hailed as a hero to the bad guys of Gotham and he’s feeling pretty good about himself, even though he knows Batman only died by accident. A big biker immediately comes over and decides if he takes down the guy who killed the Batman, then HE’ll be the toughest guy in Gotham. This leads to a massive bar brawl and everyone is arrested. While in holding, Sid overhears Det. Bullock tell Officer Montoya that Batman is dead and someone named “The Squid” is behind it. Before Sid can crack, a woman claiming to be Sid’s lawyer, Harleen Quinzell (yep), gets him released into her custody. Yes, she’s obviously Harley Quinn and she’s bringing Sid to see the Joker.
The Joker thinks Batman’s faking it. He makes Sid help him stage a jewelry heist to draw him out so that HE can actually kill him. But, alas, nothing happens. The Joker’s enemy and playmate doesn’t arrive. He makes Harley put back the jewels and laments Batman’s passing. They stage a funeral for him, putting his cape and cowl in a coffin. It’s a somber affair, except the Joker’s actually furious at Sid for killing Batman and throws him the coffin and puts it in a vat of boiling acid. What a jerk, right? Somehow, the coffin lid comes off and Sid finds himself outside in a sewer runoff area. He doesn’t quite know how he got out, but made his way directly to Thorne to plead with him to get him out of town.
Thorne is impressed but also incensed. He’s sure all of this has been a ploy to horn in on the crime boss’ drug trafficking. Sid just happened to accidentally kill Batman AND pull a fast one on the Joker? Nobody’s that lucky or that stupid. Turns out, he is. As Thorne calls for Sid’s death, Batman (alive and unscathed) comes in and knocks out the crime boss and his goons. He explains to Sid that he pretended to be dead to follow the poor dope to the head of the drug trade, who just happened to be Rupert Thorne. Sid gets to go to jail, but he’s still living the high life as the guy who ALMOST killed Batman.
This episode is a lot of fun. Sid is such a doofus and a continual victim, and beneficiary, of circumstance. Any time we get to see Batman’s world through the eyes of an outsider, it adds a lot of fresh perspective. Why anyone would want to be a criminal big shot is beyond me, but Sid is almost entirely likable throughout the proceedings. His whole journey is pitifully hilarious. Meeting Batman and The Joker on his first day of criminalling? That’s very impressive, and that Batman thought to use him as a decoy to lead him to the bigger fish is not only ingenious on Batman’s part, it adds to this idea that Sid is actually fairly important, despite him not really being important at all. It’s a bit like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead; two totally unimportant and out of their depth people get caught up in something much larger than they can realize. Except in this, Sid really IS the focal point, for that brief moment in time.
Next week, another member of the DC Universe guest stars. Not as well-known as some, she nevertheless is a member of the Justice League and is incredibly powerful. Yes, “Zatanna” magics in next time.