Unless you’ve been living under a rock (and hey, there are a lot of nice rocks out there), you know that we’re in the final countdown to The Dark Knight Rises, which hits theaters on July 20th. We thought we’d feed the frenzy by bringing you the next installment of Jeremiah Lawson aka Wenatchee the Hatchet’s appropriately epic look at the full Gotham constellation of characters, both animated and otherwise. To begin at the beginning, go here. Or to read the most recent installment (on the myth of pure evil), go here.
PART 5: AT NIGHT ALL CATS ARE GRAY
There’s no getting around the fact that Batman is a criminal who fights crime. Gotham may be full of unscrupulous business tycoons, sleazy politicians, and corrupt cops, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is. Indeed, there are a few honest people in town and not all of them believe Batman is making the city a better place. And law-abiding critics of Batman don’t get any bigger than Detective Harvey Bullock, both literally and figuratively.
In Batman: The Animated Series, we first meet Bullock in the episode “On Leather Wings”, where he is part of a meeting with Commissioner Gordon, D.A. Harvey Dent, and Mayor Hamilton Hill. Gordon is upset because Detective Bullock has told the press that Batman is the primary suspect in a series of burglaries and robberies at pharmaceutical companies across the city. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Bullock is convinced that Batman is dangerous, and he demands a special SWAT team take down the Caped Crusader. Gordon has already denied Bullock’s request, but Bullock appeals directly to Mayor Hill, who grants it.
A few scenes later, when Batman is spotted breaking into Phoenix Chemicals, Bullock immediately rushes in with his team, certain he’s about to capture the Dark Knight. Needless to say, following an explosive battle, Batman slips through their fingers. A humiliated Bullock then hears from Gordon that, while Bullock and his team were busy blowing up an entire city block chasing the wrong suspect, another pharmaceutical burglary had taken place across town. To add insult to injury, Batman ends up bringing the culprit to justice. Bullock’s dogged crusade against him has failed, and Gordon is furious, saying, “The mayor may not let me fire you, but I’m not taking the heat for your fiascoes!”
Bullock, however, has too much ego to just admit he’s wrong. In the episode “Point of View”, we see Bullock refusing to admit that his own clumsiness is what got him into life-threatening situations. He definitely can’t admit Batman had to save him. Even when grilled by Internal Affairs, with the careers of two of his coworkers on the line, he still can’t admit he’s wrong. Bullock is also rude, impatient, sometimes careless and unlikable even to fellow cops, never mind his landlord or journalists. Harvey Bullock may be one of the knights of Gotham defending the city, but he’s a knight with rusty armor. Despite Batman again and again rescuing him from danger (“Point of View”, “The Laughing Fish”, “Heart of Steel”, and the list goes on), the most Harvey Bullock grants the Dark Knight is an occasional thanks mingled with suspicion and resentment. “I think you’re a freak and a menace and those are your good points, but the Commish says you serve a purpose so I go along.”
Early on Batman suspects Bullock might be a crooked cop taking bribes, possibly even arranging the death of witnesses. In “Vendetta”, after witness Spider Conway goes missing, Batman begins investigating Bullock’s past in earnest. He tells Gordon that evidence points to Bullock calling the shots. Conway had, after all, implicated Bullock in a graft hearing. Gordon strongly disagrees, saying there was evidence Conway lied, saying, “Look, Harvey Bullock is hard to work with, even harder to like, but he’s a good cop, Batman. He’s clean.”
Unfortunately for Bullock, someone wearing his signature slovenly suit has just kidnapped Joey the Snail (Dini and Timm were clearly having fun with the names!). Bullock is arrested. Meanwhile, with the help of a classic Alfred quip, Batman figures out who the real kidnapper is: Killer Croc, Croc being the reptilian-skinned wrestler-turned-criminal who was first busted by none other than Detective Harvey Bullock! Bullock had nabbed Croc based on testimony from Spider Conway and Joey the Snail. Batman soon realizes that not only is Bullock innocent, but also he’s Croc’s next target.
In a clever reversal from “On Leather Wings”, it is now Batman’s turn to realize he’s been chasing the wrong suspect. In the end, of course, Batman manages to save Spider Conway, Joey the Snail, and Harvey Bullock. He also manages to clear Bullock’s name, which comes as a shock to the overweight detective.
In a scene that mirrors the climax of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Bullock asks Batman, “Why? Why’d you stick your neck out like that to help me?” Batman replies, “Because I thought you were guilty, too, and I was wrong.” Despite the ongoing differences between the two men, Batman has come to respect Bullock. He sums things up insightfully if a bit ironically: “We may have different ways of enforcing the law, but we both believe in it.”
Bullock, shocked and unable to process the grace he’s been shown, shoos Batman away, saying “Ah, go on. I’ll take it from here.” It’s a perfectly non-cartoonish ending to a nearly perfect cartoon about two highly imperfect men.