The New Batman Adventures – “Critters”

batman crittersEpisode Number:  14 (99)

Original Air Date:  September 18, 1998

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Joe R. Lansdale, Steve Garber

First Appearance:  Farmer Brown, Emmylou Brown

A few weeks ago we looked at the episode “The Ultimate Thrill,” in which I pointed out a little easter egg of sorts during one of the chase sequences. This is the episode where that bit of foreshadowing pays off, not that it’s anything momentous. That episode contained a truck branded by a Farmer Brown, and this week we shall meet that farmer. It’s a bit odd, as the episode seems to indicate that Farmer Brown has been out of business for awhile so I don’t know why that truck was on the road, but then again, there’s no real timeline in play here so maybe a whole year has passed since that episode for all we know. Anyway, this is a bit of an odd one, so strap yourself in.

The episode opens at yet another expo of some kind. A southern gentleman is pitching his new product to a crowd of onlookers. The man is Farmer Brown (Peter Breck), a mulleted old man with a young daughter named Emmylou (Dina Sherman). He has the aura of a quaint, humble, farmer, but he’s really more of a scientist. And the product he is hawking is a growth hormone for farm animals. To show off his creation he unveils an animal from his farm, some sort of sheep-cow hybrid. It doesn’t look like something I would want to eat, but then again, what animal does?

brown and critter

Ladies and gentlemen, the future of livestock!

The ‘roided up super animal predictably goes on a bit of a rampage. Lucky for the onlookers, Bruce Wayne is at this expo. When the animal approaches him, he’s able to pull a curtain off a window and drape it over the animal’s head. The beast begins to calm, and Brown is able to subdue it further with some nice drugs. He seems to think all is fine now, as Wayne receives congratulations from Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) for his bravery, but he insists he was just trying to climb through the window. We then cut to a courtroom scene, and all is not well for old Farmer Brown. The judge (Dorian Harewood) is not a fan of Brown’s experiments, and he orders them to cease and for all of the mutant animals to be removed from Gotham City. Brown insists this will ruin him as he’s sunk millions into these beasts, but the judge doesn’t care referring to his creations as monsters. As the courtroom clears, Brown remarks to his daughter he’ll show them real monsters.

bruce mantis

Considering how badly his date was going, this probably feels like a win for Bruce.

A time jump of one year follows and naturally it’s time for Farmer Brown to make good on his threat. Wayne is shown seated with a woman he’s on a date with. He apologizes for having to previously reschedule their date, and then calls her by the wrong name. He tries a few other names, but clearly he’s not finding the proper one. Before he can drown further, someone screams about a bug and they’re not talking about your garden variety insect. Bruce turns to see a small army of giant praying mantis descending upon the outdoor patio. Bruce’s date beats a hasty retreat while he tries fending off the bug with a chair. It’s futile, but he is able to slip away.

batman arrives

It’s always good to insert a heroic pose of our star every now and then.

Which is a good thing because this is a job for Batman (the Orkin man was busy)! The bugs are causing all kinds of problems, and it looks like they may even claim a victim, but Batman is able to draw their attention to him. And lo and behold, a tanker truck full of pesticides just happens to be hanging around. Batman tries the stuff on the bugs, but it doesn’t seem to work. As one mantis gets in close, it takes a couple of swipes, but gets its blades stuck in the tanker truck. Batman gives it a good kick in the chest causing its arms to rip off. These things may be more fragile than first thought, but they still have Batman surrounded. That is, until they don’t as they all soon begin to crumble and fall apart.

At the Batcave, Batman is analyzing a piece of one of the bugs he brought back with him as Robin and Batgirl look on. He discovers the bugs were designed to fall apart, and when the others ask what purpose that would serve Batman deduces that these ones were a warning. The main event is still to come.

farmer brown elevator

Getting a real “Andy’s room from Toy Story” vibe here.

Somewhere on an idyllic farm setting, Emmylou is hauling sacks of grain while her father carves wood on the porch. The setting is too perfect, and that’s by design. Farmer Brown instructs his daughter to feed the chickens for the livestock is heading to market. As he stands up to leave a sophisticated mechanical door opens behind him. He exits into a glass tube elevator which takes him out of this apparent underground farm while Emmylou heads for an oversized chicken coop. She feeds the birds, which come out and resemble giant, mutated, crows as opposed to chickens.

It’s not long before Brown’s creatures are set loose on Gotham. A giant cow and bull are having a good time downtown, but Batgirl and Robin soon arrive on the scene in the Batmobile. They take a pretty good shot from the bull indicating their hands are going to be rather full. Meanwhile, Batman is soaring overhead in his fancy jetpack as those weird crows attack a police blimp. They wreck the blimp, but the pilot is able to take it down onto a rooftop leaving Batman to deal with the vermin. As he goes after them, I’m pondering if his no kill policy applies to abominations. It would seem like now would be a good time to make use of any lethal weapons he might posses. And for a moment it looks like that might happen as he fires off a pair of missiles at the birds. They then explode into nets, perhaps confirming the no kill policy applies to all living creatures, abomination or not.

bbq mutant chicken

I hope they don’t let all of that barbecue chicken go to waste.

Batman takes care of the birds without much issue, but Robin and Batgirl have a tougher go of things. Batgirl is able to rope up the cow causing it crash into an area of wet cement, while Robin gets the bull to chase after him. He predictably does the whole matador routine before jumping through a window causing the bull to crash into the wall. His head goes through it trapping him in place. For good measure, Batgirl commandeers a cement mixer and parks it behind the bull to further make sure it’s not going anywhere.

In a darkened Gotham PD, a shadowy individual moves about the desks. Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) is typing up a report when his donut gets snatched by the shadow. In Gordon’s office, Batman is having a chat with the Commissioner about Farmer Brown, as he naturally believes him to be responsible for all of this. While the two talk, the shadowy individual enters the room. It’s a goat! And a weird looking one at that. It approaches Gordon’s desk and then does something unexpected – it talks. The goat wants 50 million bucks in exchange for not unleashing more bugs on Gotham. It gives Gordon instructions on where to make the drop, and insists that there be no involvement from Batman. Bullock then comes barging in about his stolen donut.

batman and goat

Batman has seen a lot of weird shit in his day, but even he must be surprised at this one.

Bullock is next shown driving an armored car as he follows the goat to the docks. He’s not in favor of this plan, but Gordon basically tells him to shut up. Batman, Batgirl, and Robin are in Gordon’s office with him listening to Bullock’s narrations, apparently respecting the wishes of the goat. The goat leads Bullock to a tugboat and he drives the armored car onto it before stepping out. Drawing his gun, he takes a look around and spies the backside of Emmylou up by the steering wheel. He seems to enjoy the view, and she turns her head to give him a little smile before the goat rams him over the side of the boat. As it takes off, Bullock demonstrates he’s a much better swimmer than one would assume given his physique as he swims alongside the boat and grabs a rope hanging over the side.

emmylous strength

I feel like whenever a man has super strength in these shows, they get huge and bulgey. With a woman though, they’re always small and slight.

Bullock is presented to Farmer Brown on his farm. Emmylou is positioned holding him from behind as Farmer Brown looks on unimpressed. Bullock calls him Snuffy Smith, which was apparently a bad move as Brown tells his daughter to feed him to the hogs. Emmylou then demonstrates why Bullock has been restrained so easily when she effortlessly lifts the big man over her head and dumps him into the pigpen. As you probably expected, the pig inside this pen is not your average pig, but a giant, mutated, thing. And he’s hungry.

Farmer Brown inspects the contents of the armored truck and pulls out a stack of green. Literally, that’s all it is as bills after the top one are all fake. Worse for Brown is the Batman tracer he finds inside it. He alerts Emmylou, and basically on cue the Bat-troop arrives. They first rescue Bullock from the piggy, though he gets smashed into the fencing knocking him unconscious. Batgirl then attempts a diving kick on Emmylou, but harmlesly bounces off of the young lady. Boasting she’s taken “big steroids,” Emmylou knocks Batgirl out.

brown vs batman

Batman basically meets his match in Farmer Brown, something I didn’t see coming.

Batman is left to tangle with Brown who arms himself with a pitchfork. He’s pretty good with the thing as he uses it to first fend off Batman and then to jab at him. Robin tries to sneak up behind him, but the old man is a damn ninja and hears him coming swatting him away. Batman can’t get in any offense, but Brown is apparently sick of playing around. His pitchfork then basically turns into King Triton’s trident from The Little Mermaid as he shoots lighting at Batman from it. Batman takes cover behind some bales of hay and pulls out a batarang, but when he pops out to fire it he sees Emmylou has subdued Robin. Having no alternative, Batman surrenders and Farmer Brown wisely takes his belt from him.

The captives are then loaded up into a silo. Brown tells them it’s actually more of a rocket and it’s set to go off in a few moments. It’s then the heroes realize they’ll be riding to Gotham with some of Brown’s bugs as they’ll be unleashed upon the city once the rocket lands (I guess they’re considerably more durable than the other bugs we saw if they’re to survive a rocket crash-landing). Brown shuts the door and he and his daughter escape the farm to their boat.

Inside the rocket, Batman searches for a way out, but the door won’t budge. Interestingly, Batgirl and Robin were allowed to keep their belts indicating to me they’re more of a fashion accessory than a utility belt. Bullock seems to enjoy pointing out what we’re all thinking, that it won’t be the Joker or Two-Face that gets Batman but Jed Clampett and his bugs. One of the cocoons above them hatches, and a giant mantis emerges. This is actually a good thing, as Batman lures the bug towards the door and basically does what he did the first time he encountered one of these things. When the bug gets its blades stuck in the door, it rips the door off trying to get itself free. Everyone is then able to escape and Batman orders them all to leave the farm as he heads for the armored truck. He drives the thing into the rocket silo as it takes off. At the last moment, Batman is able to roll out of the way and seek shelter in a ditch of sorts.

a purdy sight

Only the woman is allowed to smile.

In Gotham Harbor, Farmer Brown and Emmylou watch the silo launch from the safety of their tugboat. As it arcs over the water Brown remarks how “purdy” it looks. The silo then explodes caused by the burning truck Batman deposited into it. As it breaks apart, the debris falls and lands on the boat forcing Brown and his daughter into the water while the good guys look on. The duo is then shown being loaded into a police truck as they were apparently easily found. As the truck takes them away, the camera pans to Brown’s lab which is situated on an island and some monstrous noises can be heard indicating this isn’t over.

This episode is though. And if you’re worried that Gotham PD just left those creatures to their own devices well worry not, because they aren’t coming back. And Brown and Emmylou aren’t either, which likely disappointed no one. It’s always a bit odd to me when an episode of Batman turns to some no-name, odd, made-up villain like we have here. There are so many Batman stories to draw inspiration from if not outright copy, and yet we sometimes end up with episodes like this one. “Critters” isn’t awful, but I can’t say I ever wanted to watch Batman go up against a mad scientist farmer. As Bullock astutely pointed out, it would be ludicrous for such a villain to defeat Batman so there just aren’t any stakes when a cornball villain is in town. Plus we’re forced to endure some terrible Robin puns along the way.

It probably surprises no one that this is not a beloved episode in the series. Surprisingly, it does receive an audio commentary on the DVD and Blu Ray release of the show and director Dan Riba and writer Paul Dini both try to defend the episode, but aren’t particularly convincing. After spending so much time writing and directing a grim and serious hero like Batman I don’t begrudge these guys for doing something lighter. I also don’t have to like it though. There are comedic episodes in this show, despite its reputation, and plenty that are done better than this one.

If you like “Critters” then good for you. Like I said, it isn’t terrible, but it’s definitely towards the back end of this show for me. And at this stage with so few episodes remaining, anytime a villain like Farmer Brown shows up is going to feel like a missed opportunity. Oh well.

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