The Matt Signal – Episode 67: A Bullet for Bullock

Plot summary: Batman tries to narrow down the long list of suspects who might be trying to kill Harvey Bullock.

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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: ‘A Bullet for Bullock’

Original Air Date: September 14th, 1995

Directed: Frank Paur (14)

Written: Michael Reaves (11)

This episode won the show the 1996 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Direction and Composition.

As alluded to last time, this is one of five episodes that was held back for over a year. It’s also the first episode to get the inferior opening titles that insert as much Robin footage as possible to sell the idea it’s a team-up show.

Based on a comic story of the same name written by Chuck Dixon in 1992

Recap

Harvey Bullock is walking down a snowy evening street when a car chases him down and a masked individual opens fire! Bullock dives out of harm’s way and returns fire, but the car is long gone before he can do any damage.

Feeling he has no other choice, Harvey summons Batman via the signal. Turns out this wasn’t an isolated incident and there’s no shortage of suspects given his arrest record. He turns his case files over to the Dark Knight to look over, sarcastically calling him “partner.”

We see Harvey royally pissing off his landlord, Nivens, for his slovenly habits. Bullock is unbothered, wishing him a Merry Christmas and heading into his apartment.

During his next raid with Renee Montoya, Harvey chases a perp to the roof, engaging him in a shootout. Batman intervenes before the criminal can get the drop on the ungrateful Bullock.

They go over his many anonymous death threats, and Batman points out a professional hitman would kill him at home, not on the street. Based entirely on the events of Barry, that checks out!

And right on cue, a donut-scoffing Bullock gets shoved off a subway platform! He just about manages to stay low enough to avoid being run over by an oncoming train!

Batman presents his top suspect: Vincent ‘The Shark’ Starkey, who Harvey confirms threatened in him in court and was recently released from prison.

While Bats goes full Batman Begins and dangles one of The Shark’s associates off a building, Bullock helps himself to the records of Summer Gleeson (remember her?), who recently ran a piece on Starkey. Summer was actually going to help Harv, but tosses him out after finding him going through her files.

Bruce picks Harvey up in the Batmobile and takes him to ‘The Shark’s drug operation. While Batman has his doubts about Starkey’s fit as a suspect (even though he is the one who presented him in the first place), he and Bullock raid the joint anyway.

Working as a team, the pair overwhelm Starkey and his heavily armed goons, with Harvey himself at last taking ‘The Shark’ down. Bullock offers an incredibly half-hearted thanks to Batman, who of course vanishes.

Bullock works Starkey over at the GCPD, but it genuinely appears he’s innocent. Well, aside from “selling rock crystal” and whatnot. Indeed, the real culprit draws a gun on Harvey outside his apartment building later that night.

Batman soars in from nowhere and takes the quivering man down, unmasking him to reveal Nivens, the angry landlord. Harvey is legitimately dumbfounded that somebody outside of his professional life would have it in for him. Bats tries to contain his amusement.

Best Performance

This is the Robert Costanzo show for sure. He’s always great as Bullock, and has tended to take this category whenever the scripts have afforded him more than a couple of lines, but this is undoubtedly his finest work in the series. From the very first conversation with Batman to the final reveal, Harvey flips between his usual disgruntled self to a more paranoid, desperate version. Heck, he even turns the charm on a couple of times (including a conversation with the severely under-baked Rene Montoya) and tries to swallow his pride and offer legitimate gratitude. It’s great work from a great actor that they don’t use enough in my opinion.

Kevin Conroy is as great as ever, but it would feel wrong to give it to him given the subject matter. Jeffrey Jones is excellent as the highly irritable Nivens, and gives Costanzo a real run for his money. Finally, Greg Berger does some nice work as Vinny the Shark, the more conventional criminal.

Ranking

Many of the show’s best episodes excel by shifting the point of view character to somebody other than Batman. This serves to make him seem even more impossibly skilled by comparison, letting him functionally teleport in and out as he pleases, saving people at the last possible second. That happens twice here, and it owns.

Given the short run time and target audience, it makes sense why it isn’t standard practice to focus on one of the supporting characters, but beyond Robert Costanzo’s work mentioned above, this episode underlines why Harvey Bullock in particular deserves more screen time. It’s just a fantastic character, as his unpleasant demeanour and borderline illegal conduct draw the ire of everyone around him, but in spite of all that, he is fundamentally, as the cast of Gotham Central would put it, “a good police.”

It’s obvious why this episode won an Emmy for music, with Harvey Cohen given freedom to break away from regular series composer Shirley Walker’s impression of Danny Elfman in favour of a more jazzy direction. At times the kind of moody film noir soundtrack you’d expect of a detective story, and at others full-on upbeat freeform, even if jazz isn’t your genre you’d be hard pressed to come away from this episode without taking particular note of the score.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Mask of the Phantasm
  3. Almost Got ‘Im
  4. Heart of Ice
  5. Shadow of the Bat Part I
  6. I Am the Night
  7. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  8. The Man Who Killed Batman
  9. Perchance to Dream
  10. Two-Face Part I
  11. A Bullet For Bullock (NEW ENTRY)
  12. Joker’s Favor
  13. Read My Lips
  14. Feat of Clay Part II
  15. The Demon’s Quest Part II
  16. Harley and Ivy
  17. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  18. Beware the Gray Ghost
  19. Mad as a Hatter
  20. Heart of Steel Part II
  21. Appointment In Crime Alley
  22. Two-Face Part II
  23. Pretty Poison
  24. Shadow of the Bat Part II
  25. Feat of Clay Part I
  26. His Silicon Soul
  27. Off Balance
  28. Vendetta
  29. Birds of a Feather
  30. Heart of Steel Part I
  31. On Leather Wings
  32. See No Evil
  33. The Clock King
  34. It’s Never Too Late
  35. Joker’s Wild
  36. Eternal Youth
  37. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  38. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  39. Zatanna
  40. Day of the Samurai
  41. The Demon’s Quest Part I
  42. The Mechanic
  43. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  44. Terror in the Sky
  45. P.O.V.
  46. Christmas with the Joker
  47. Fear of Victory
  48. Be a Clown
  49. The Worry Men
  50. What is Reality?
  51. Fire From Olympus
  52. Night of the Ninja
  53. Mudslide
  54. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  55. Nothing to Fear
  56. Prophecy of Doom
  57. Tyger, Tyger
  58. Blind as a Bat
  59. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  60. Dreams In Darkness
  61. The Last Laugh
  62. Cat Scratch Fever
  63. Moon of the Wolf
  64. Paging the Crime Doctor
  65. Sideshow
  66. The Under-Dwellers
  67. The Forgotten
  68. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Nivens (Jeffrey Jones) (first appearance)

I mean, he’s a landlord. Talk me down from putting him at number one.

In all seriousness, it’s a great little one-and-done character, driven to tears of frustration by Harvey, whose apartment is rent-controlled, by the by. In a nice touch Batman points out a professional wouldn’t try to kill Bullock in public, and when we get to the final reveal, it becomes clear Nivens is very much not a professional, flying by the seat of his pants. He’s also a little silly in the best possible way.

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

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.

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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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