Yes, I know, this was supposed to be up Monday. I forgot, because Monday was a holiday and therefore my brain registered it as Sunday II: The Return, more or less. I’ll put up the next video tomorrow, and move the Morwen’s Log recap to Friday.
It’s May 3, 1994, nearly five months after the release of Mask of the Phantasm, and a day after the first episode of Batman: The Animated Series‘ second season to air, “House and Garden,” so we’ll wait until that episode for headlines and charts.
With the new season comes a new opening sequence, and it is very different from the first. Where that sequence served as a sort of introductory short to the nature of Batman and the show, this is a more typical opening, focused on conveying the flavor of the series rather than telling a story of its own. It opens with the show’s rebranded title, The Adventures of Batman and Robin, accompanied by a more grandiose version of the same theme as the first season’s opening. It continues as promised with a series of images depicting Batman and Robin’s adventures, mostly taken from past episodes, and accompanied by a less mysterious, more adventure-focused on the theme.
As becomes clear once the episode opens, however, the retool hinted at by the opening is not yet upon us. This is still the same show we saw last season; even outside of Gotham, on a bright day out in the woods, it retains much of the brooding color palette with which we’ve become familiar.
The story, too, is in a familiar register, while hitting enough fresh notes to be interesting. We follow Killer Croc as he escapes from the train conveying him to a distant prison–notably, he is not being taken to Arkham, because he has been ruled “sane” and therefore is being placed into the normal prison system. What follows is one of the best action sequences in the series so far, as Batman struggles to deal with the unfamiliar (and quite beautiful) natural terrain while Croc struggles to shake off a sedative. The two are thus both having to fight circumstances more than with each other, though Croc does take advantage of a number of opportunities to, as Batman-as-Croc put it in “Almost Got ‘Im,” throw a rock at Batman.
Ultimately both characters fall, Batman into a ravine from which he barely manages to pull himself, and Croc into a river, from which he’s rescued by a group of “circus freaks” who are making a peaceful life for themselves in isolation, and invite Croc to join them. Recall that Croc’s first episode established that, like them, he was once put on display in a circus, but escaped and turned to crime. Here he is given a chance to join a peaceful community of people like him, and clearly tempted by the offer. He visibly struggles with the choice of whether to remain with them or try to rob them, and picks the former.
But the choice doesn’t last. Once Batman arrives, his determination to keep secret his life of crime and to get revenge drives Croc to try to kill him, alienating the other “freaks.” The result is, perhaps, better than the norm for Batman, which tends to near-universally place the characters who fall outside the norms of appearance in the evil camp, but it still seems to suggest that there is something innately wrong about Croc. Of course there is; he is a supervillain, and as such his character is inherently more interesting engaging in crime than living peacefully on a farm somewhere. No matter what else happens, he must return to criminality, just as any attempt by Catwoman, Harley Quinn, or Two-Face to “go straight” must end in disaster.
But this means that, within the realm of the superheroic, some people are innately criminal. Which of course goes to the protector fantasy; to imagine the possibility of a perfect protector, someone who both possesses the power to keep us from harm and can be trusted with that power, is to imagine the possibility of the protector’s opposite, someone who possesses power and can be relied upon to always abuse it. The protector fantasy naturally divides the world into three kinds of people: the protectors, who wield power for our defense, the protected, who have no power, and the ones from whom we need to be protected, who must be contained and punished lest they use their power against us.
Which is to say, it divides the world into a hierarchy of good people who should be in charge, middle people who are to let the good people run things, and bad people who should be punished. It’s every authoritarian scheme ever devised, with the only variation being how “good” and “bad” are defined: if we define them by martial prowess and ancestry, you get monarchism; by wealth, capitalism; by ethnic markers, racism. They’re still all the same thing, which you can call meritocracy, bigotry, or elitism, all three being ultimately the same thing as well: the idea that some people are just betterthan others, and the best should be in charge while the worst suffer.
So yes, the indulgence of the protector fantasy is fun, and Batman: The Animated Series is a very good show. But we must approach it–and the superhero in general–with caution, because bubbling under the surface are some very ugly ways of thinking. Croc denies his humanity quite vehemently; we must be careful not to do the same.
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