Batman: The Animated Series: “A Bullet For Bullock”
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Batman: The Animated Series: “A Bullet For Bullock”

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Batman: The Animated Series

“A Bullet For Bullock”

Season 2, Episode 2

“A Bullet For Bullock” (season 2, episode 2; originally aired September 14, 1995)

The comic book adaptations on Batman: The Animated Series continue with “A Bullet For Bullock,” a telling Bullock/Batman team-up based on Chuck Dixon’s hard-boiled Detective Comics #651. Unlike last week’s “Sideshow,” an adaptation that made significant changes to enhance the emotional intensity, writer Michael Reaves sticks closely to his source material for the story, dialogue, and tone of this episode. Director Frank Paur’s storyboards even follow Graham Nolan’s art from the comic, and the creative team’s dedication to adapting Dixon’s story faithfully makes this a standout episode.

Detective Comics #651 features narration from Bullock, written in a pulp style reminiscent of classic private-eye stories by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. This series has done voiceover narration effectively before (“Dreams In Darkness”), but that was Batman narrating and it’s his show. Instead of narration, music is used to evoke the atmosphere of those pulp stories, with Harvey R. Cohen turning in a jazz-influenced score that gives the episode style and energy. It begins with horns and percussion as Bullock gets run down by a mysterious assailant in an alleyway, then smoothly transitions into Batman’s theme when Bullock turns to him for help.

Bullock has been getting death threats for weeks and now it’s getting serious, so he buries his grudges and turns on the Bat-Signal. Reaves takes a lot of dialogue directly from the comic for this scene, expanding on it to emphasize Bullock’s sense of humor. “I think you’re a freak and a menace,” Bullock says, a direct quote. Then he adds, “And those are your good points.” Telling Batman that the list of suspects could have their own zip code is another line ripped from the comic, along with the dialogue that follows when Bullock says he doesn’t want internal affairs digging into him. Batman asks him if that means he’s on the take, which Bullock vehemently denies, telling Batman that he just breaks the rules—a lot like him.

“We’re on the same side, but we’re not the same,” Batman tells Bullock, agreeing to help him only if he collars the criminal cleanly. Batman acts righteous, but Bullock is right: His tactics aren’t much different. When Summer Gleeson refuses to give up information about Vinnie the Shark’s crack-house operation, Bullock sneaks into her office and takes it without a warrant. That’s a Batman thing to do, except Bullock gets caught. Another thing that sets them apart and adds to Batman’s animosity is that Bullock is an officer of the law that has sworn to obey the rules in the name of justice, while Batman is a free agent operating outside the law. Batman isn’t held to the same standards as the police, and if they’ll break the rules in investigations, they’ll potentially break the rules anywhere.  

Bullock’s somber trombone theme creates the perfect image of a downtrodden deadbeat as he heads to his cockroach-infested apartment. His landlord hassles him about being a horrible tenant, but Bullock is not in the mood, barking at Nivens before heading up to his disgusting apartment to enjoy the stunning view of the city. “Thank God for rent control.” Bullock says, inadvertently giving mouth to the motivations of his would-be killer.

Frank Paur gets a good animation studio to work with this episode, and Studio Junio’s sleek visuals show off his directing skills. There’s great tension building up to the action sequences, like in the rooftop shootout between a shotgun-wielding Bullock and a thug with a pistol. After Batman saves Bullock, he gets information from the dealer by dropping him from the roof and catching him with his grappling hook, and the storyboards for that sequence bring dynamic movement to a fairly common interrogation method for Batman.  

It’s always a shock to hear characters talk about crack on a children’s show, but so is seeing henchmen with real pistols and machine guns. This episode shows a drug deal and a drug-manufacturing plant, with Bullock and Batman infiltrating the factory to take down their prime suspect: recently released convict Vinnie the Shark. We get a full-on jazz saxophone arrangement of Batman’s theme when the two crash Vinnie’s crack party, and there’s a bit of “Too Darn Hot” in the melody as they take down the operation The transitions from a classic action score to smooth jazz are incredibly effective at setting the tone, and the music style makes this team-up stand out from Batman’s previous collaborations.  

Bullock and Batman develop an interesting dynamic this episode, with Batman clearly taking enjoyment in watching Bullock humble himself. (Is that really the passenger ejector seat in the Batmobile, or is Bats just messing with him?) When Bullock is completely convinced Vinnie is their man, Batman tells him it’s his call, but totally knows that he’s wrong. Batman sees the big picture, but Bullock’s stake in the outcome clouds his vision. Bullock is all gut, following his instincts even when they’re wrong, whereas Batman is brains. That difference shows in their fighting styles, with Batman relying on stealth, while Bullock just throws himself at people and yells.

After Vinnie the Shark proves to be a bust, Bullock is left with no other options, although it doesn’t seem like he believes himself when he yells, “There ain’t nobody else!” While fumbling for his keys on the front stoop of his apartment building, Bullock comes face-to-face with the man who has been trying to kill him: his landlord. Nivens was trying to run Bullock out of town so he could raise the rent on his apartment, but Bullock must be one miserable tenant if he can cause the complete mental break Nivens goes through at the end of this episode. “You insult me, you treat me like dirt,” Nivens says before snapping. “NO JURY IN THE WORLD WOULD HAVE CONVICTED ME. THEY WOULDN’T HAVE CONVICTED ME!”

There’s some fantastic voice work during that last scene, with Jeffrey Jones (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Deadwood) fully capturing Nivens’ chilling breakdown. We’ve seen Bullock vulnerable and scared this episode, but the conclusion is the first time we see him truly saddened, finally seeing how his attitude affects others. “Somebody like Vinnie wants to whack me, that’s no surprise… but this?” Robert Costanzo softens his voice and reveals a Bullock that is looking inside for what might be the very first time, and doesn’t like what he sees. When Bullocks tells Batman that he owes him for his help, the Dark Knight serves up a Bat-truth bomb: “Forget it, Bullock. You’ve got enough problems.” As Bullock arrests the maniacally cackle-crying Nivens, his jazz tune comes to an end, a saxophone riff signifying the end of a turbulent night, and the start of an uneasy future.

Stray observations:

  • Batman Bullock Beatdown: As Vinnie the Shark attempts to make his getaway in the crack factory, Harvey chases him down and tackles him by swinging from a chain hanging from the ceiling. The plump detective has rarely been more graceful.
  • Harvey’s diet: Donuts, pizza, and beer.
  • If there’s a train on this show, someone is getting knocked onto the tracks, as Bullock learns this episode. The sudden appearance of the jazz score as the train rushes towards Bullock is a perfect way to lead into a commercial. 
  • How awesome is Scott Snyder’s Batman right now? I’m actually optimistic for a Batman crossover!
  • I’m not a car guy or anything, but I get why people are when I hear the sound of the Batmobile’s engine. Such power!
  • “Harvey Bullock? The detective who looks like an unmade bed?”
  • “You got the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, you’ll probably bore me to tears, so keep your mouth shut dog-breath.”

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