The Matt Signal – Episode 99: Critters

Plot summary: Let’s celebrate the one year anniversary of this column with… Farmer Brown unleashing a wave of giant mutant animals on Gotham… Oh…

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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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Yes, that’s right, I started The Matt Signal one year ago today and am both surprised it’s been that long (COVID sure isn’t going away, huh?), and still daunted by how much is left on my schedule spreadsheet.

Tentatively it should all end in April of next year, but given they announced that Bruce Timm produced cartoon to tie in to the new movie… and a second volume of Paul Dini & Alan Burnett’s comic book continuation of BTAS has just started… I just might end up doing this forever.

Notes

Episode Title: ‘Critters’

Original Air Date: September 19th, 1998

Directed: Dan Riba (15)

Written: Steve Gerber (2) (story) & Joe R. Lansdale (4)

As mentioned in my recap of ‘The Ultimate Thrill’, there was a truck with Farmer Brown’s logo on it in that episode.

Joe R. Lansdale is the only non-producer to write an episode of both BTAS and TNBA.

The giant chicken was originally meant to fall into a vat of hot oil but this was deemed too violent so it was switched to barbeque sauce… which makes it look like it’s covered in blood. Nailed it.

Another rare instance of Batman being willing to kill, albeit giant mutant animals. Monsters are living creatures too, Bruce.

Recap

At an agricultural expo, ‘Farmer Brown’ claims he has a solution to world hunger: an experimental growth hormone that he shows off in the form of an enormous sheep… which immediately escapes and has to be subtly taken down by Bruce Wayne.

Brown is issued a cease and desist by a judge, effectively ruining him as he invested millions of dollars into the research. Naturally, he vows menacing revenge.

One year later, Bruce is on a date with a girl who looks exactly like Barbara Gordon whose name he can’t even remember. Shockingly that’s not the worst part of the dinner though, as a swarm of enormous mantises begin rampaging!

Bruce makes a quick costume change and attempts to take the gargantuan insects out with pesticide but it has only limited effects. He does manage to kick one so hard its head and limbs fall off… and then all the others spontaneously fall apart as well.

Bruce and the kids analyse the creatures’ DNA back in the Batcave, where they determine they were engineered to drop dead and are in fact immune to all conventional poisons. So Bruce did nothing.

Shockingly, it turns out Farmer Brown was responsible, and he follows up on the incident by unleashing a giant bull and cow on Gotham, as well as some ‘chickens’ that attack a police blimp!

Barbara and Tim are almost trampled to death in the Batmobile, but manage to cause the cow to fall over into wet cement and trick the bull into charging into a brick wall.

Meanwhile Batman leads the hideous trio birds away with his jetpack/glider. He takes a couple of them down with nets, and then causes the last one to smash into a huge vat of barbeque sauce, which drowns it.

Batman reports on the incident to Jim Gordon but they’re interrupted by… a talking goat. It demands $50m or the insects return without the self-destruct feature. This… is quite an episode.

Harvey Bullock is entrusted to make the drop-off but immediately finds himself a hostage of Farmer Brown and his superhumanly strong daughter, who tosses him effortlessly into the pen of a titanic warthog!

Brown scolds Emmylou for not checking the money, as it turns out to be fake. Sure enough, our trio of heroes rescue Bullock from the warthog with the help of tranquiliser darts.

They do battle with the Browns, but between Emmylou’s super-strength and Brown’s laser-powered pitchfork, Batman & co. are easily defeated.

The Bat-folk and Bullock are locked inside a silo that’s actually a rocket full of mantis eggs, but Bruce tricks one of the hatchlings into smashing them an escape hatch. He then drives the armoured money truck into the rocket just as it’s taking off, sabotaging the launch.

The Browns are arrested off-screen and led away by a smug Harvey Bullock, but the sounds of their surviving animals can be heard on the wind as the episode closes.

Best Performance

Gosh this is a weird one. None of our principal cast really do enough talking to snag the top honours, even if they do all get some fun lines. Barbara’s mockery of the Browns’ redneck accents and Robin’s bad animal puns are highlights, but you can’t win this prestigious award on one line.

So I guess I feel compelled to give it to Peter Breck, who slid deeeeep into a yokel accent. He’s not the best of actors, but he probably has the most lines, and it’s something a little different. Dina Sherman isn’t bad as Emmylou, either, but like our heroes, she barely gets a chance to talk.

Ranking

This is one of the more infamous episodes of the show and for good reason, as it’s so ridiculous even the Batman ’66 team would raise an eyebrow. I actually quite like Farmer Brown’s weird fake farm inside of a giant laboratory, complete with a glass elevator that seemingly takes him up into the sky, only to reveal the ‘sun’ is a giant lighting rig. I would have liked to have explored that mysterious facility and his dosed-up daughter more, rather than spending so much time with the runaway monster farm animals.

If said animals aren’t silly enough visually, they lead to far too many cheap gags like a literal bull (which Robin calls Ferdinand) in a china shop, and a chicken covered in barbeque sauce. Tim says “holy cow!” at one point. It’s all just too much given the usual tone of the show. Again, I don’t object to campy Batman, but I do think you need to have stylistic consistency within the same project. If Batman ’66 had a grimdark, gritty, super-serious episode in the middle of the series, I’d object to that too.

Batman vs giant monsters isn’t really my bag in general, so if it’s yours, you might enjoy it a little more, but the episode feels too slapdash. All of their energy went into the spectacle of the creatures (which presumably look so monstrous to appease censors), and little to no concern was paid to structure, pacing or character work.

A reaaaal clunker, and the first outright bad episode of The New Batman Adventures.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Mask of the Phantasm
  3. Over the Edge
  4. Almost Got ‘im
  5. Heart of Ice
  6. Harlequinade
  7. The Trial
  8. Riddler’s Reform
  9. Double Talk
  10. Shadow of the Bat Part I
  11. I Am the Night
  12. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  13. Baby-Doll
  14. Sins of the Father
  15. Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero
  16. The Man Who Killed Batman
  17. Perchance to Dream
  18. Two-Face Part I
  19. Torch Song
  20. You Scratch My Back
  21. Bane
  22. Batgirl Returns
  23. A Bullet For Bullock
  24. Joker’s Favor
  25. Read My Lips
  26. Feat of Clay Part II
  27. The Ultimate Thrill
  28. Catwalk
  29. The Demon’s Quest Part II
  30. Harley and Ivy
  31. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  32. House & Garden
  33. Beware the Gray Ghost
  34. Mean Seasons
  35. Growing Pains
  36. Holiday Knights
  37. Second Chance
  38. Mad as a Hatter
  39. Heart of Steel Part II
  40. Appointment In Crime Alley
  41. Two-Face Part II
  42. Pretty Poison
  43. Deep Freeze
  44. Harley’s Holiday
  45. Lock-Up
  46. Shadow of the Bat Part II
  47. Feat of Clay Part I
  48. Cold Comfort
  49. His Silicon Soul
  50. Off Balance
  51. Vendetta
  52. Birds of a Feather
  53. Joker’s Millions
  54. Heart of Steel Part I
  55. Never Fear
  56. On Leather Wings
  57. Love is a Croc
  58. See No Evil
  59. The Clock King
  60. It’s Never Too Late
  61. Make ‘Em Laugh
  62. Joker’s Wild
  63. Eternal Youth
  64. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  65. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  66. Zatanna
  67. Day of the Samurai
  68. Avatar
  69. The Demon’s Quest Part I
  70. The Mechanic
  71. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  72. Terror in the Sky
  73. P.O.V.
  74. Christmas with the Joker
  75. Fear of Victory
  76. Be a Clown
  77. The Worry Men
  78. What is Reality?
  79. Fire From Olympus
  80. Night of the Ninja
  81. Mudslide
  82. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  83. Nothing to Fear
  84. The Lion and the Unicorn
  85. Prophecy of Doom
  86. Tyger, Tyger
  87. Blind as a Bat
  88. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  89. Dreams In Darkness
  90. The Last Laugh
  91. Cat Scratch Fever
  92. Moon of the Wolf
  93. Paging the Crime Doctor
  94. Time Out of Joint
  95. Sideshow
  96. The Under-Dwellers
  97. The Forgotten
  98. Showdown
  99. Critters (NEW ENTRY)
  100. The Terrible Trio
  101. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Farmer Brown (Peter Breck) (first appearance)

Despite all my complaints about the episode in general, I actually think there was something here that with refinement could have been a fun little original creation. Characters that look and sound like him don’t often get to be brilliant microbiologists, and like I said earlier, the picturesque farm actually being a huge scientific facility kind of ruled. I’d also have liked to have spent more time with him to explore if he felt any remorse about injecting his daughter with ‘beef steroids’.

Speaking of his daughter, she barely has any character so won’t be getting her own ranking, but much like her father, it’s nice to see some subversion of stereotypes, as the Daisy Duke-esque ditz is actually superhumanly strong and mops the floor with Batgirl.

It’s just a shame that these two weren’t developed further and the episode around them wasn’t better.

  1. The Joker
  2. Harley Quinn
  3. Mr. Freeze
  4. Poison Ivy
  5. The Ventriloquist
  6. Catwoman
  7. Two-Face
  8. Bane
  9. The Riddler
  10. The Phantasm
  11. Baby-Doll
  12. Mad Hatter
  13. Clayface
  14. HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
  15. Ra’s al Ghul
  16. Calendar Girl
  17. Roxy Rocket
  18. Killer Croc
  19. Firefly
  20. Penguin
  21. Scarecrow
  22. Lock-Up
  23. Lloyd Ventrix
  24. Rupert Thorne
  25. Count Vertigo
  26. Clock King
  27. Nivens
  28. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  29. Enrique el Gancho
  30. Josiah Wormwood
  31. Talia al Ghul
  32. Sid the Squid
  33. Queen Thoth Khepera
  34. Maxie Zeus
  35. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  36. Tony Zucco
  37. Man-Bat
  38. Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
  39. Hugo Strange
  40. Red Claw
  41. Arnold Stromwell
  42. Mad Bomber
  43. Tygrus
  44. Kyodai Ken
  45. Condiment King/Pack Rat/Mighty Mom
  46. Farmer Brown (and Emmylou!) (NEW ENTRY)
  47. Grant Walker
  48. Gil Mason
  49. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  50. Cameron Kaiser
  51. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  52. Mad Dog
  53. Ubu
  54. Professor Milo
  55. Romulus
  56. Arkady Duvall
  57. Sewer King
  58. Boss Biggis
  59. Montague Kane
  60. The Terrible Trio

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.

My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, continues coverage of Loki this week.

There Will Be Movies returns for a third volume starting this Wednesday with Ben & Matt taking a look back at the 90s, starting with Goodfellas.

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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