Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Crazy Youth: That Time Batman Fought Giant Bugs and a Farmer!

Howdy, boys and girls!  Deep into the fourth and final season of Batman: The Animated Series, some weird ideas were slipping in.  They changed from Fox to Kids WB, which allowed them more freedom to do darker and stranger stuff.  They got some minor accomplishments done, like finally being able to use Firefly.  Fox says 'no fire' (really!), but WB says 'go for it.'  'Mad Love' has some innuendo and implied violence to a female (from a man)- you're in!  In trying these newly-free ideas, they also did some odd stuff.  There's a partnership/romance between two villains that I just won't SPOIL (assuming you don't remember) and this story...which I will.  The late Steve Gerber wrote some very weird, anti-establishment stuff like Man-Thing and Howard the Duck (both of which got shit films).  In fact, he wrote two of the three aforementioned stories, plus today's one.  Critters is one of the most divisive episodes of the series and with good reason- it's weird as hell!  On top of that, it goes against the darker, grittier tone that the series had already established.  Oddly enough, it's for this reason that it's the only episode on its Disc to get a Commentary by the people behind it- minus Gerber.  They defend it as being like an episode of the Adam West Batman show, which I kind of get.  It's still weird as hell though.  To find out why this episode bothers so many and why its villain is usually considered to be *the worst* created for the show, read on...
A man named Farmer Brown shows off his giant, genetically-modified cow in Gotham.  However, much like Kong, it's angered by the flash bulbs of the cameras and rampages.
Farmer Brown is told to never make his 'monsters' again, but vows (to the camera, mind you) to return with some 'real monsters.'  Oh boy.
One year later, very large Praying Mantises appear in the city and wreak havoc.  Their bodies break down while Batman is fighting them,  Still not the weirdest science to come.

Oh and it's only now that I caught Bruce Wayne 'blinking'  Not intentional- honest.
Brown likes to live a rural-looking life, but is really some super-rich scientist who lives on a private island.  He'd make a great villain in a trashy '70s Horror film, that's for sure.
More creatures attack Gotham in the form of giant birds (crows- I guess) and steer.  They work in all of the 'bull jokes' that you'd expect, including one of the beasts smashing into a China Store.

By the way, are those still a thing?  I'm really asking here.
In the episode's craziest bit, Brown sends a mutated goat to Gotham to deliver a ransom message.  The goat actually talks!  Gordon's face sums it up well, I think.

It's worth it to watch with the Commentary on just to hear the Producers/Writers try to explain this event too.  Gold!
Oh yeah, his daughter is super-strong due to 'beef steroids.'  This also makes Batgirl's flying kick *bounce* off of her.  There's being filled with muscle and then there's being filled with metal.  They are not the same!
 My biggest gripe is that Brown briefly fights Batman and seems amazingly-competent.  He's one of the rare one-off villains to do.

Oh and he also hears Batman sneak attack him.  Bullshit, I say!
To complete the live-action Batman feel, the pair catch our heroes and stick them in a death trap (a rocket pod filled with soon to hatch eggs) and walk away to celebrate.  For a genius, you're kind of an idiot.  Especially when you consider that *his own* creatures knock open the door, allowing his plan to be stopped and him to be defeated.
Personally, I don't hate it.  That said, when seeking material for this segment, I was reminded of this episode.  I remember seeing it as a teen and being confused.  Watching it as an adult, I find it more humorous and a bit less polarizing.  Teenage me was like 'Why is Batman fighting an evil Farmer and giant bugs?'  Adult me is like 'Batman is fighting an evil Farmer and giant bugs- weird.'  I question things a lot less these days.  The episode still stands out as an odd one- there is just no getting around it.  Farmer Brown might be a more palatable villain for some if more was done with him.  Unless he appeared in the Animated Series comic line that DC put out, this is his only appearance.  Because of this, he appears pretty one-dimensional and gimmicky.  The Producers compare him to villains created exclusively for the 1960's live-action series like The Bookworm, Egghead (who's also a Marvel villain BTW) and others.  That's probably not the best company to keep, even if said villains were played by great actors on the show.  Looking back at it, the show overall was full of weird stuff.  Remember the Old West Episode based around Ra's Al Ghul narrating a tale of Jonah Hex?  Remember the episode with Mr. Freeze and an obvious version of Walt Disney?  Remember that episode based on Freaks?  The difference is that those were played really straight, while this one goes for the laughs more often than not.  I think Batman's impossibly-narrowing eyes tell the tale best.
Next up, we return to Spider-Man with a complicated and goofy revenge tale.  Can you get revenge on people you've never been shown meeting before?  Stay tuned...

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