Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Batman: The Animated Series: “Critters”

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“Critters” is an episode of The New Batman Adventures that is reviled by fans, but enjoyed by the creators of the series for essentially being a lost episode from season three of Adam West’s Batman. That was when original villains like Egghead and King Tut were given the spotlight, and Farmer Brown is just as goofy as those two. I can appreciate the episode for its unapologetic silliness, and writers Steve Gerber and Joe R. Lansdale approach the script with a sense of humor that works well with the creepier undertones of the story. That said, this is a pretty dumb episode that doesn’t fit well with the established tone of this series, pushing Batman into a traditional superhero adventure that just isn’t all that interesting.

Farmer Brown is a microbiologist who is obsessed with injecting growth hormones and steroids into animals to create giant pieces of meat that could feed a lot of people—if the animals he’s injecting weren’t horrifically mutated. After having his experiments shut down when one of his massive cows terrorizes the Gotham Agricultural Expo, Farmer Brown hides away for a year, making his subjects even more freakish than before. He unleashes giant praying mantises, rampaging cattle, and vultures covered in sores on Gotham City, and sends a talking goat to Gotham Central demanding money to set the city free.

It’s an odd episode, but it’s also the type of traditional Batman narrative that has been replaced by the last 25 years by darker storytelling. The episode starts with an introduction to the villain and his motivations, has a few scenes of him causing chaos while Batman investigates, then Batman is stripped of his utility belt and forced to escape a deathtrap. Gerber’s work is known for its sense of humor, and there are puns and sight gags aplenty as Farmer Brown’s monsters destroy the city: a bull charges into a china shop; a vulture flies into a giant vat of BBQ sauce (originally frying oil until BS&P made the animators change it to the even-worse BBQ sauce, which looks like blood on screen).

Batman is not Superman: He should not be able to fly unless he is being carried or inside a plane. But Jetpack Batman is going to sell some action figures, so we have to endure his presence on this series. While Batman is flying in the sky shooting rocket nets at birds, Batgirl and Robin are reining in the overgrown livestock on the streets; it’s a ludicrous plot, and it’s understandable why a lot of hardcore Batman fans would be disappointed by this episode. There are some fun scenes, particularly the eerie sequence of the goat in the police department, stealing Bullock’s donuts and making ransom demands, but ultimately it’s a flimsy story that’s good for a few laughs but not much else.

It’s hard to be invested in Farmer Brown because there’s not much information given about his character beyond his fascination with growth hormones and the fact that he has a daughter who wears daisy dukes and gets injected with beef steroids. He’s a filler character who will never show up again, and it feels like the writers know that as the episode progresses. Additionally, his plot of holding Gotham ransom is totally moot because he clearly has enough money to build a giant fortress for himself and his farm. His trap for Batman is also ill-planned, and one of the bugs inside the rocket breaks through the wall to set Batman and his allies free.

The animation in “Critters” isn’t very strong, which is unfortunate because Dan Riba directs some dynamic action sequences that don’t play as strong as they could. The characters go off-model during intense fight sequences, and the episode veers into Looney Tunes territory as it goes on. One technical aspect that is on point this week is the scoring, and Shirley Walker gives the music a backwater country influence that nails the tone of Farmer Brown’s story. Walker is an invaluable asset to this series, and the music in “Critters” shows just how much evocative scoring can enhance a story.


Stray observations:

  • Batman Beatdown: Batman learns there’s more than one way to defeat a giant praying mantis when he runs out of pesticide and just uses the tank to smack the huge bug across the face. Brute force tends to work better than the spray anyway.
  • Bullock versus a pig of any size is a match I would love to see.
  • You know Farmer Brown’s crazy because he carves a two-headed cow out of wood. Freaky.
  • Because the creators of this show are kinda pervy, Dan Riba throws a gratuitous butt shot of Farmer Brown’s daughter right in front of the camera.
  • Commissioner Gordon: “Quick thinking, Wayne.” Bruce: “Actually, I was trying to escape through the window.”
  • Robin: “Holy cow!” Batgirl: “You had to say it.”
  • “We’ve just been run over by a cow.”
  • “That’s a lotta bull.”
  • “No Baaa-tman.”
  • “Hey, he ate my donut.”