Batman TAS #5: “Pretty Poison”

prettypoison

Poison Ivy stretches her tendrils round Gotham in the latest episode of Batman: The Animated Series, as an earth breaking ceremony introduces one of the most well known members of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery.

Ivy is one of the characters who is most often credited as being revolutionised by the cartoon series, which is why it’s surprising that this first episode presents her as somewhat bland, predictable, looking like she just stepped out of a 1950s movie – but also acting like it as well. As a result, the episode comes off as a little one-note, with an obvious storyline and uninspiring characterisation.

There is a lot packed into the episode, though. For one thing, Harvey Dent appears for the first time, and we get a calm, patient friend to Bruce Wayne, albeit one with weirdly-drawn lips. So weird, right? It’s a far cry from the crusader that we see in ‘The Long Halloween’, which remains for me the definitive rendition of the character. Here he’s rather innocuous and comedic, his central role here to be a victim for Batman to attempt to save.

This leads to more rounding out for Bruce Wayne, who has spent the last few episodes being developed and warmed up. Far less cold than the current Batman we see, this version of the character shares the gentle sense of humour of Adam West with a contemporary edge. You can see him enjoying a nice silk dressing gown, but he’s also got a faster-paced thought process – in line with the shorter running time of each episode of the cartoon. By giving him friends like Harvey Dent, we get to see the character from a new perspective.

Crucially, we get to see how his friends think of him when he’s not there. We’re very quickly shown that Dent is a laid back sort of character, and the way he can joke around about Bruce also suggests a different side to the Batman. By association, if Harvey is the sort of person whom Bruce Wayne hangs out with and enjoys the company of, then Bruce Wayne himself must be a fairly relaxed sort of person himself, right?

That then develops further as we see Harvey and Bruce chat with one another in a fairly lengthy conversation – the simple plot means there’s a lot more space for character moments and development – and fool around a little. A big question which fans like to toss around is whether Bruce Wayne even exists. Is he real, or is he an invention which allows Batman to cover his tracks, hide his real identity? This episode comes down fairly convincingly against the concept, as Bruce happily tags along as a third wheel on Harvey and Ivy’s date.

Giving Bruce such an expanded role in the series is a huge benefit for episodes like this. The more we see his personal life bleed into the world of Batman, the higher the stakes rise, and the more convincingly the story starts to pressurise. It also makes him, y’know, likeable!

poisonivy

Ivy’s entrance into the episode is similarly low-key, although obviously in this case it’s a ruse designed to trick everyone else. As soon as she’s rumbled, she drops any pretence immediately and gleefully adopts her iconic role, taking on the costume and sending man-eating plants after Batman with wilful abandon. The thing is that there’s just not that much to her at this point. She’s assigned a number of traits throughout the episode, but she doesn’t really show anything so much as the episode suggests how her character works. She doesn’t even seem all that concerned about winning, or in seeing through her plans.

Perhaps this is something which will be worked through as we get to see more of her, but she spends half the episode pretending to be someone else – only for her actual unveiling to fall anticlimactically, as we get a somewhat cliched, fist-shaking villain rather than a convincing foil for Batman. Perhaps it’s because she’s a female character, but the episode seems to very clearly state that she’s not a match for Batman, and that at this point she’s simply a silly distraction.

Except for her wrist crossbows. Those things are amazing, and a valuable addition for the character – an actual way for her to threaten Batman when she needs to, removing the whole ‘pheromones’ part of the equation, and in turn eliminating one of the more despairing, uninteresting aspects of the character. The episode gives us a dull introduction to one of Batman’s most interesting opponents, a scientist whose intellect is underplayed in order to trick her way into getting what she wants and needs; her agendas disguised as the men of the world struggle to understand just how dangerous she is because they think she’s hot. There’s a lot going on in Ivy’s head, less than I think this episode gives her credit for, and I can only hope that this gets brought more to the fore in future episodes.

The episode is ultimately fairly boring, and I’ve spent a few weeks trying to think of things to say about it. As that’s proved a struggle, and I do want to actually advance this series at some point, this is really all I’ve got to offer. It’s not a great summary, but the episode proved to be pretty uninspiring to me. The only thing I’m really taking from it is that Harvey Dent has the creepiest lips in animated history.

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