The Matt Signal – Episode 51: The Man Who Killed Batman

Plot summary: Small-time crook Sid the Squid’s life takes a turn for the worse after he apparently kills Batman.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘The Man Who Killed Batman’

Original Air Date: February 1st, 1993

Directed: Bruce Timm (4)             

Written: Paul Dini (8)

This is Bruce Timm’s fourth and final time in the director’s chair.

The origin of this episode was a bet between Timm & Dini about whether they could pull off an episode where Batman wasn’t present for most of it. It also draws from the comic story ‘Death Grip’.

Harley’s rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ on the kazoo was legitimately performed by Arleen Sorkin in a single take and made the cast burst out laughing as soon as she finished.

Sid the Squid was listed as one of Tony Zucco’s aliases in ‘Robin’s Reckoning’.

Recap

A man… is running! In the rain! He steps over a newspaper that reads “Batman Slain?” on his way to see none other than Rupert Thorne, who is uncharacteristically nice to the bumbling fool.

Thorne reveals precisely why that is by stating everybody is calling Sidney ‘The Man Who Killed Batman.’ Sid immediately downplays this, but Thorne insists he tell his tale.

A small-time crook with ambitions of moving up in the criminal world, Sidney joined a drug run with a friend of a friend. We see the job playing out in flashback, with it quickly becoming apparent his accomplices brought him in as a patsy.

They butter Sidney up by offering him a criminal alias, Sid the Squid, improvised from a nearby seafood billboard. Sid is thrilled and makes little shadow puppets of a squid during his lookout duty. It’s adorable.

Suddenly Batman swings into action and thanks to a series of mishaps while trying to interrogate Sid, the pair end up teetering over the edge of the building. In Batman’s efforts to save Sid’s life he ends up hurtling over the edge himself directly into a gas explosion!

As the other crooks crowd around to see what happened, Sid descends holding Batman’s cape and cowl, having apparently killed Batman!!!

Sid briefly enjoyed the fame and praise from the criminal underworld, but quickly became a target of those trying to use him to boost their own reputation, leading to a full-on bar fight and mass arrests.

A lawyer by the name of Harlene Quinzel arrived to bail Sidney out from the GCPD. Bullock feels he’s seen Harlene somewhere before and she makes a dirty joke about a small subpoena. LOL.

Sidney couldn’t believe his luck… until Harlene reveals herself as Harley Quinn to the surprise of nobody but him. Harley delivers him to The Joker who points out no body was recovered, so they’ll need proof Bats is really gone.

Thus with Sid the Squid in tow, Joker and his crew robbed a diamond exchange. But as the penny started to drop for Joker that Batman truly wasn’t coming to thwart him, he became depressed!

Joker held a memorial at Ace Chemicals, the very place that he was ‘created’ by Batman. The Clown Prince of Crime delivered a eulogy for his nemesis, lamenting all the ways he DIDN’T get to kill Batman.

Placing the blame at Sidney’s feet, Joker had his men place Sid in a coffin and lower it into a vat of acid as Harley played ‘Amazing Grace’ on a kazoo! I mean… does television get better than that?

Luckily for Sid, the coffin remained intact long enough to be washed out through the drainage system and he emerged unharmed. This brings us to the present as his contact from the drug run arranged a meeting with its orchestrator, Rupert Thorne.

Sidney pleads with Thorne to grant him safe passage out of Gotham. Unfortunately Thorne doesn’t believe his story, feeling that bragging about outwitting Joker was a step too far, and accuses him of playing dumb to muscle in on her operation!

Raising his gun, Thorne is interrupted by the sound of gunshots and a scuffle outside. Sure enough, one of his men comes crashing through the door and Batman struts in, casually tossing a batarang to disarm him.

Bruce administers a beating to the mob boss and then explains to Sid that he avoided the explosion and then tailed him in order to get to the bottom of the drug operation. He also saved Sidney from Joker, of course.

Sidney tries to leave but Batman has him tossed in prison where the inmates treat him like a king.

“A big shot at last!”

Best Performance

Mark Hamill has said that the eulogy scene is what truly made him understand Joker for the first time, and he delivered it in fantastic fashion, punctuating it with the stellar line “Well, that was fun. Who’s for Chinese?” That takes some beating.

Luckily for Arleen Sorkin, she puts on a true showcase performance. Firstly she does a fantastic job with Harley posing as a lawyer, and her delivery of the subpoena joke is absolutely perfect; just subtle enough to land as a joke without being too on the nose. And then she slips back into the regular Harley voice and is on top of her game playing off Joker. Plus I’m counting the kazoo solo as part of her performance, which is the stuff of true legend.

It feels a shame to not give props to Matt Frewer as Sid the Squid as he’s a perfect little fool, but does he play ‘Amazing Grace’ on the kazoo? Do Kevin Conroy, John Vernon or Robert Costanzo? No they do not.

Ranking

This may be the best directed episode in the series, in particular Sid’s retelling of his triumph over Batman. From the staging of Batman’s arrival to the slapstick fight that makes it look to onlookers as though Sid is beating him up, to the all-important unbelievable yet totally believable circumstances of the fall, it’s a masterclass in visual storytelling. Harley and Joker emerge from shadows and are animated in a way that makes them appear even larger than life than usual, which conveys the degree to which Sid is in over his head.

The writing is pretty strong too in terms of dialogue, with Joker’s response to Batman’s demise ranking pretty highly in terms of Joker moments in the entire series. Dini also naturally writes Harley extremely well as her creator.

It’s a fun premise, with an incredibly unlikely culprit seeming to bring down Gotham’s legendary vigilante and then learning the consequences of such an action, not from the police, but from his fellow criminals. It was Heath Ledger’s quips about not knowing what he’d done without Batman, but 20 years earlier.

My only real knock against it is that the conclusion isn’t as satisfying as you might hope, in part because the stakes don’t feel all that high. Batman played dead, allowed Joker to pull off a diamond heist (though admittedly they put all the jewels back when they realised Bats wasn’t coming) and followed Sid around just so that he could prove that Gotham’s biggest mob boss was behind a mob operation. I could have gone for something a little grander to go with his grand deception, personally.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Almost Got ‘Im
  3. Heart of Ice
  4. I Am the Night
  5. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  6. The Man Who Killed Batman
  7. Perchance to Dream
  8. Two-Face Part I
  9. Joker’s Favor
  10. Feat of Clay Part II
  11. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  12. Beware the Gray Ghost
  13. Mad as a Hatter
  14. Heart of Steel Part II
  15. Appointment In Crime Alley
  16. Two-Face Part II
  17. Pretty Poison
  18. Feat of Clay Part I
  19. Off Balance
  20. Vendetta
  21. Birds of a Feather
  22. Heart of Steel Part I
  23. On Leather Wings
  24. See No Evil
  25. The Clock King
  26. It’s Never Too Late
  27. Joker’s Wild
  28. Eternal Youth
  29. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  30. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  31. Day of the Samurai
  32. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  33. Terror in the Sky
  34. P.O.V.
  35. Christmas with the Joker
  36. Fear of Victory
  37. Be a Clown
  38. What is Reality?
  39. Night of the Ninja
  40. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  41. Nothing to Fear
  42. Prophecy of Doom
  43. Tyger, Tyger
  44. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  45. Dreams In Darkness
  46. The Last Laugh
  47. Cat Scratch Fever
  48. Moon of the Wolf
  49. The Under-Dwellers
  50. The Forgotten
  51. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) (fifth appearance)

Gotham’s top mob boss has been coasting for a while on the strength of the Two-Face double-bill. Vernon makes the character work, but it’s become difficult to justify why he’s been sitting so much higher than Roland Daggett et al, so now is the time to adjust his ranking.

Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) (fourth appearance)

With each outing Harley’s powers grow and you can see one of the biggest breakout starts of the last decade emerging from below the surface. Even four appearances in, it’s hard to believe she was a last-minute replacement for Joker in drag, as Sorkin makes her a fully realised character in her own right. She enhances Joker, who had some pretty iffy outings early on without his compelling wing-woman, and she often times threatens to steal the show.

I think it’s time for her to join her fellow Gotham City Sirens in the top 10. Speaking of which I’m flipping Catwoman and Poison Ivy as some more housekeeping now we’re past 50 episodes.

Joker (Mark Hamill) (ninth appearance)

The brilliance of this take on the character is that while he appears in one form or another 19 times in the series, easily the most of any villain, it doesn’t feel too much at all. It did early on, but ever since Dini got his hands on him they’ve deployed him in a far more effective manner.

Take this episode; even with Batman out of the picture for most of the run time, Joker only appears for about five minutes. He arrives, he’s delightfully manic, and he’s gone again. It starts with him offering a sinister handshake only to have a buzzer in his hand, and it ends in him interrupting his playful eulogy to order Sid to his death and then caps it off with a one-liner. Just great stuff. Less can be more.

It’s not to say his showcase episodes aren’t amazing, because they are, it’s that he can have it both ways now.

Sid the Squid (Matt Frewer) (first appearance)

For about 18 minutes he was number one with a bullet. He killed Batman!

But back down to earth he must come. I still think he’s a fun little character, outshining the majority of the single-appearance villains. But I won’t get too carried away and can’t honestly say he tops the combined forces of Roland Daggett, Bell and my beloved Germs.

  1. The Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Clayface
  5. Mad Hatter
  6. Poison Ivy
  7. Catwoman
  8. Harley Quinn
  9. The Riddler
  10. Clock King
  11. Penguin
  12. Killer Croc
  13. HARDAC (and Ronda Duane)
  14. Lloyd Ventrix
  15. Count Vertigo
  16. Rupert Thorne
  17. Josiah Wormwood
  18. Scarecrow
  19. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  20. Sid the Squid
  21. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  22. Tony Zucco
  23. Man-Bat
  24. Hugo Strange
  25. Red Claw
  26. Arnold Stromwell
  27. Mad Bomber
  28. Tygrus (and Dr. Dorian)
  29. Kyodai Ken
  30. Talia al Ghul
  31. Ra’s al Ghul
  32. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  33. Cameron Kaiser
  34. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  35. Professor Milo
  36. Romulus
  37. Sewer King
  38. Boss Biggis

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

Speaking of my podcasts, There Will Be Movies has finished for another volume and will return this summer for Volume 3: The 1990s.

Published by

Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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