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Original Airdate: September 17, 2005
Writer: Michael Jelenic
Director: Brandon Vietti
Villain Reviewer: Lauralot
And we’re back, folks. Who’s ready for another thirteen riveting reviews of Kids WB’s second-most successful Batman cartoon?
So. Season Trois. With Batman now in Gotham’s good graces and the “threat” of the GCPD snugly boxed away, the showrunners needed a new
gimmick development to keep viewers hooked and the beast known as Mattel appeased. No problem, right? The stage was perfectly set for a certain Boy Wonder to swing into the hearts and minds of children everywhere, as he’d been doing for the last sixty-odd years. Best of all, Robin was about as gritty and realistic as Scooby-Doo, so there was no way the Nolan movies would’ve called dibs-
Yes, to the relief of not just a few fans, Teen Titans was still going strong and making it very clear that other shows could feature Robin over its cold, dead body. This left The Batman‘s showrunners up guano creek without a paddle, until some brave but unremembered soul in their midst recalled what history’s very first Batman show did to shake up its third season.
And just like that, they had their out.
Greetings, citizens! Lauralot here, current torturer of Marvel characters in fan fiction, but before that, torturer of the Bat-verse! And long before that, a kid who ran around her yard pretending to be Batgirl, because what else is a ginger girl in the nineties going to do when she plays Batman
especially when her sister’s already claimed Batman, the Joker, Two-Face, and everyone else all for herself?
In 2005, however, I was exactly none of those things. I was a freshman in high school who caught the occasional episode of Teen Titans on TV, but who had mostly been caught up in the explosion of manga and anime popularity in the West. I’m not even sure if I realized The Batman existed at the time. Which is, in a way, a blessing; I’d have inevitably compared it to That Other Show that I grew up with, and I’d have inevitably found it wanting. At least now, I can give the show a fair shake.
As fair a shake as I can manage, anyway, given that Barbara Gordon is my favorite character in all of comics and once I finally jumped back on the Bat bandwagon in 2008, I quickly devoured anything and everything I could find that had to do with her. So my standards might be a bit unreasonably high.
Part of me really wonders what it would’ve been like if The Batman came out in the 2010s. Between Twitter and Tumblr, you’d probably have a larger, or at least more concentrated, fanbase willing to stick up for it. But on the other hand, it did randomly boot a woman of color from the cast and try to replace her with a white Batgirl and… oh dear God. You get the feeling Dan Didio was taking notes at the time and casting glances at Cassandra Cain?
I get the feeling DiDio’s taking notes whenever something unfortunate happens to a lady hero. Come to think of it, wasn’t 2005 the year DC revealed that Leslie Thompkins deliberately let Stephanie Brown die to teach Batman a lesson?
Yeah. It may be best if I don’t derail the whole review with a vitrolic rant about that.
So, Barbara Gordon! She’s had a number of origins over the years, with probably the most well-known being Beatty and Dixon’s Batgirl: Year One. Which, by the way, is the most awesome origin, but for comparison purposes with “Batgirl Begins”, it’s probably best to use That Other Show’s “Shadow of the Bat” episodes. They’re both two parters of an animated series as opposed to single issue comics or miniseries. They also both feature Barbara suiting up to help her father, although “Batgirl Begins” is a literal rescue mission, whereas “Shadow of the Bat” has Barbara trying to save Jim’s reputation after he’s been jailed on suspicion of taking bribes.
What’s interesting to me about “Batgirl Begins” is that, unlike in many other Batgirl origins, Barbara isn’t just in costume when circumstances around her force her to react. In her original comic introduction, Barbara was on her way to a costume party that Killer Moth crashed. In “Shadow of the Bat,” she was pretending to be Batman at a rally when gunfire broke out. And the New 52 origin by Gail Simone had Barbara throw on a mock-Batsuit for protection when the police station was under attack.
Here, Barbara decides to become a Bat to try and save her friend, and then creates the costume. That’s pretty cool, and it reminds me of Barbara’s introduction on the Adam West show. Both times, there was no circumstance thrown at her while she was in costume. It was just Barbara being awesome.
Like a lot of things on The Batman, Babs’ big coming-out party hasn’t aged flawlessly, but I have to give the writers credit for at least one thing: they did not short-change her in the enemy department. Sidekicks, especially in a franchise as villain-driven as Batman, are easy to write off when so few of them have worthwhile enemies of their own – hell, the closest thing Babs had in the comics was Killer fucking Moth–
I think you mean the greatest villain in all of comics.
Baaah. Anyways, the Adam West show mitigated this by spotting her Penguin (who was still a rather big deal back then), but The Batman one-upped ’em with…
Y’know what, why don’t we let the lady introduce herself?
The genesis of Poison Ivy was, admittedly, not that impressive. Her creator? The worst Wonder Woman writer ever. Her concept? “Hey, what if Bettie Page stalked Batman?” The poor girl didn’t even get a proper origin until more than ten years after her debut, and at a different writer’s hands, to boot.
But about ten years after that, things started looking up.
For now was the age of the British Invasion, of the Vegetable Theology, of DC Comics realizing that they’d better start milking everything Alan Moore had written, because their former golden boy wouldn’t come back with a blowtorch to his feet. Magic- and plant-themed characters (the more obscure, the better) became the new in-thing, allowing some nobody called Neil Gaiman to swoop in and turn Ivy into a veritable goddess with the entire plant kingdom at her beck and call. This gave her a big enough boost to catch the eye of That Other Show’s makers, and the rest is history.
Ivy is the last real Arkham A-lister to get The Batman‘d, and the choice to tie her debut with Batgirl’s strikes me as fitting, if not long overdue. They both popped up in 1966, right around the time America realized this “women’s lib” thing wasn’t going to leave anytime soon, but despite all the thematic potential (deliberately plain-Jane bookworm vs. glamorous, fame-hungry seductress) and the fact that superhero comics practically invented the Designated Catfight, they remained perfect strangers to one another. In fact, to my knowledge, they’ve squared off exactly one other time. In 1978.
I REPEAT: ONE OTHER TIME, IN 1978.*
Now, we go in knowing that The Batman‘s staff had two whole seasons to mature and hone their approach to the Dark Knight and his world. As such, I have absolutely no doubt this episode will open with something measured, atmospheric, and thought-provoking.
… or with Batman dual-wielding chainsaws against a marauding pack of piranha plants. Hey, Batman does have a tendency to unleash his inner slasher villain when fighting Ivy(‘s minions), and we mustn’t break tradition.
Besides, I’m sure the dialogue will…
… not have evolved one goddamn bit. Bravo.
Okay, might as well get this out of the way. Your thoughts on Ivy’s new design?
Well, her hair gives me Lady Tremaine vibes. So there’s that.
Other that than, though, I think she looks fine. I like that she’s barefoot because, really, why would a plant woman need shoes? I tend to prefer Poison Ivy without green skin, since she’s typically a seductress and well, how many non-Star Trek fans are going to get close enough to a green woman to get hit with her pheromones? But Ivy looks underage here, so playing her as a femme fatale would be all kinds of wrong. For a preteen-looking plant-person design? This works.
Myself, I’ve got absolutely zero problems with it. I’ll eagerly agree That Other Show’s Ivy was one of the hottest ladies to hit a cartoon cel, but this Ivy isn’t really meant to compete with that. Instead of a human specializing in plants, she seems more like a sentient plant making pretensions (halfhearted ones at that) toward icky humanity, a May Queen in the Black Orchid mold. It actually feels like the next logical step from her revamp in That Other Show – and let’s face it, there’s something creepy as fuck about a preteen girl being a vicious criminal who beats Batman within an inch of his life.**
So Batman’s chainsaws of justice prove no match for the little greenhouse of horrors. But Jelenic’s still contractually required to showcase Ivy’s other signature: the brainwashing kiss. Since literally no one wants to see this Ivy mack on a grown man, it’s a blown kiss instead, with emphasis on pollen instead of lipstick.
Which I’m sure makes alllll the difference in the world to Jim Gordon.
Now, it’s practically dogma for the usual hero(es) to get taken out like a chump in these kinds of stories, so the new kid on the block can show their stuff. But even so, I have to admit it’s rather insulting for all this to go down before the cold open’s even finished. God, Batgirl better have the most badass intro this side of…
… yeah, you wanna field this one?
I love puns, I’ll admit.
Granted, maybe the cold open shouldn’t have been so full of them if they didn’t want to remind viewers of that one movie where Poison Ivy and Batgirl totally didn’t face off. Never happened. But maybe they were banking on kids having not seen that movie, because no one saw it.
I do like Barbara’s design here. It pays a nice homage to the classic Yvonne Craig costume while still being its own thing and looking like an outfit that, save for the cowl, could have been made by a kid using the clothes in her closet.
The one thing that bothers me about Batgirl is her voice. Not that it’s grating or that the lines are badly delivered, mind. But as we’ll soon learn, Barbara’s friends with Ivy and she spoke with Batman not long ago. Not to mention, her father’s right there. And yet she isn’t trying to distinguish her Batgirl voice from her Barbara voice at all. Come on, people. This was before Christian Bale ever gave us reason to be wary of a ‘bat voice.’ What’s your excuse?
Myself, I suspect many a viewer on the morning of September 17, 2005 grabbed the closest crucifix at what looked like the second coming of Scrappy-Doo. But never fear – seems like Jelenic’s one step ahead of us, because the first thing he has the brainwashed Batman do is try to stomp Batgirl into the ground.
… emphasis on try, because The Batman is still in the business of making everyone 200% more action-packed. I mean, Babs’ fighting skills are usually unremarkable at best, but here she’s holding her own against the goddamn Batman while staying atop a six-inch foothold while Ivy’s vines throw every rock in sight at her.
And now, for the new
-and-improved theme song.
I love how it spends about five seconds sounding darker, and then just zooms straight to the opposite end of the scale. The bulk of it sounds the ’66 show made sweet love to Hawaii 5-O, and you can say that’s stupid or you can walk out of here with a working trachea. The visual department… is still clogged with repurposed footage, but at least there’s a brand-new rogues gallery sequence.
It’s interesting to note, with this episode, how reminiscent of Stephanie Brown all of Barbara’s inner monologues and dialogue sound. I wonder if that was intentional, or if the writers’ default voice for a teenage girl just happened to sound like Stephanie. Given that Stephanie was dead in comics at the time that this episode aired, you’d think that if this were an attempt to make her closer to the comic Batgirl, that they’d go with a Cassandra Cain vibe: cold, quiet, and calculating. But that probably wasn’t the tone they were going for.
Intentionally or not, she’s probably not the first depiction of Barbara Gordon to sound reminiscent of Stephanie, and she wouldn’t be the last. I’ve heard New 52 Barbara and Batgirl of Burnside compared to Stephanie as well. And let’s not forget the Smallville comic that was literally Steph recolored to be Barbara.
Comics are weird.
Anyways, I bet you’re all wondering how Babs is gonna get out of this one alive. Well, keep wondering, ’cause it’s how-we-got-here time.
C’mon, two new characters introduced in media res? Greg Weisman at the top of his game couldn’t have wormed out of this. And a how-we-got-here isn’t guaranteed to be a momentum-killer (even when – spoiler – it lasts the rest of this episode and a healthy chunk of the next one) if the writing’s good enough.
So say hello to this episode’s actual villain, straight from the mean streets of NYC… theeeee Shocker!
Look, guy, you’re a bit player motivated solely by money, armed with shock-gloves, and voiced by Jim Cummings. If DC still expects me to believe that thing Jared Leto is playing is supposed to be the Joker, the least I can do is call a spade a spade.
Honestly, I’m kind of surprised there wasn’t even a whisper of legal action from Marvel. After much careful deduction
and cocaine abuse, I’ve arrived at the following theories.
- Literally no one cared about the Shocker
- Literally no one cared about The Batman
- The glasses really did hide everything, or
- All of the above.
Not-Shocker is busy blowing shit up on orders from his boss, who speaks only through a voice-scrambled PDA. This lets the episode show off Batman’s new-and-improved relationship with the police, which may be interesting to viewers who followed Batman in this show’s last two seasons and absolutely nowhere else. Sadly, neither of us fit into that category, even when this episode first premiered.
On the plus side, not-Shocker does get the episode’s first (and only?) decent quip when Batman shows up.
This being the first act, he curbstomps both Batman and the GCPD’s first responders, but runs away before the cops who actually know how to use guns show up. Batman and Gordon then stand around and exposition a little before we segue to Barbara, ever the dutiful, straitlaced daughter to her hardworking pop…
… or not.
You know, you’d think that Barbara, being a cop’s kid, would know better than to break and enter without gloves. And also wouldn’t make calls on her phone from the crime scene.
In theory, both Barbara as a delinquent and as Ivy’s friend could make for interesting developments that give us a fresh take on both characters. It’s not the first time Barbara’s disagreed with her dad about getting involved with the troubles plaguing Gotham, but it is the first time we’ve seen her turn to crime when she rebels.
Crime other than vigilantism, anyway.
In the right hands, this development could give Barbara a real moral conflict, especially once Pam goes full super-villain. It could be Batgirl’s defining moment if Ivy became what she is during a break-in that Barbara was party to. And her father’s disappointment or broken trust could help to add to Batgirl’s dogged insistence when Batman tries to tell her he works alone; she wants to be the type of person who can make her father proud and earn his trust, like Batman clearly has.
Unfortunately, in practice, not much is made of either of these things. And so the whole set up just gives off a “well, okay then” kind of feeling.
I do like that Pam and Barbara call each other “Red”. It seems like a throwback to the Harley and Ivy relationship That Other Show established. Albeit without the subtext because, seriously, both of these girls look twelve.
Myself, I’m kinda reminded of how That Other Show grafted Jason Todd’s street-punk background onto Tim Drake. Only here, it’s even more jarring because I don’t think any other version of Barbara’s been anything short of 100% straitlaced up till she actually puts on the cape and cowl.
Doesn’t count, bub. Your Barbara didn’t have no cowl.
So while her old man and his BFF fight for justice, Barbara and her BFF fight for Mother Nature. As the most adorable ecoterrorists ever.
Naturally, they need an evil corporation to
harass oppose, and The Batman supplies ChloroGene, which dabbles in the art of river pollution but specializes in GMO crops.
Ivy was hating GMOs before it was cool, BERNIE.
This is a pretty transparent way of setting up certain developments later in the episode (and makes me wish they’d named it Sunderland instead), but I still like it a lot better than the “BAWWW Harvey Dent killed my roses!” route That Other Show took.
In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and say this is probably the only time I’ve been able to get behind the whole eco-terrorist take on Ivy. As a general rule, I loathe “green” cartoons even when they’re being done by people smarter than Ted Turner; there just tends to be this smugness underlying the plot (plus whatever characters are on the pro-environment side) and an insulting lack of nuance, even by kid-show standards. Ivy’s debut on That Other Show is one of the less painful examples, since it never suggests Ivy is anything but a dangerous criminal, but the lady herself was still trapped with an utterly forgettable motive and exactly two flavors of dialogue: dull and cringeworthy.
The Batman doesn’t do anything groundbreaking with Pam’s lines, but it’s a lot more bearable when Pam is portrayed as a stupid kid who’s making things up as she goes along. I mean, her idea of activism consists of ruining a CEO’s suit and “liberating” his bonsai, and even then she’s pretty eager to go all every-girl-for-herself when security shows up.
To be fair, Barbara doesn’t seem to mind, and you can easily make the case that Pam just has that much faith in her friend’s skills. God knows Barbara’s dad isn’t going to.
Up to this point, Mitch Pileggi’s take on Jim was “eh” at best – certainly not the kind of awesomeness you’d expect when you hear “Agent Skinner as Commissioner Gordon”. But the way he drawls “You two need a ride?” when he busts our little hippies is simply perfect, and the first time I could really buy this Gordon as a character and not just a glorified plot device (which, to be fair, is what he boils down to in most stories).
The Commish tells Pam to stay the hell away from his daughter, and in a less enlightened era, this would be the cue for sulking and/or balcony serenades. But our Pam, being a woman of the 21st century with full access to the Internet, has a far more empowering solution.
Hiring ruthless mercenaries to blow more shit up.
Yes, shocker of shockers, not-Shocker’s boss was Pam all along. For me, this “twist” teeters between “predictable but fair” and “really fucking stupid”, and Jelenic himself can’t seem to decide how seriously he wants to play it. I mean, Piera Coppola gives Pam a nice sociopathic feel, and I can even buy the mwa-ha-ha, but two seconds later Pam’s mom is yelling at her to take out the trash and the whole scene starts feeling something ripped from a Kim Possible script. Both our villains end up looking poorer for it.
Also, Jim mentions earlier in the episode that Pam’s been to juvenile hall before, which makes the “take out the trash” moment even more ludicrous. So Mrs. Isley’s daughter is so out of control that she’s hiring goons on the Internet and going to kiddie jail, but she can still get Pam to take out the trash?
I guess it could be a ruse. Or maybe Pam just wants to make sure her mom separated out the recyclables.
Anyways, Batman gets a rematch with not-Shocker at ChloroGene’s headquarters, which is exponentially more pointless than their last fight but at least ends quickly enough. This leaves just enough time for the episode’s first real Jim-Barbara moment, at the Gordon household.
The conflicts between Jim and Barbara tend to be my favorite parts of her Batgirl stories. They’re among the most humanizing moments, and the most relatable: who hasn’t felt smothered by their parents, or underestimated and untrusted?
There’s a lot of interesting ideas tossed around during this conversation, such as Barbara’s desire to be a detective and her father pushing her toward Olympic trials in gymnastics. The central conflict brings to mind Barbara and her father’s clashing views for her future in Batgirl: Year One.
The problem being that BG: YO was a miniseries with Barbara and Jim’s relationship as a major theme, whereas this is the most we see of their conflict in these two episodes, and pretty much the last time it comes up in their dialogue. In fairness, the scene does set up their chief conflict. It just doesn’t delve very deeply into it. I know there’s only so much a show can do, but it feels like the emotional heart of this story line should have been the Jim and Barbara interactions, and instead that got muddled up in eco-terrorism and gymnastics and beekeeping.
I’ll say this for The Batman‘s Barbara: whatever her issues, she does figure out who’s pulling not-Shocker’s strings at the exact time Batman does, and independently to boot. Objectively speaking it’s not that hard a mystery, but I gotta give Jelenic points for playing Babs as Bruce’s intellectual equal (or at least a contender) before she’s even put the cowl on.
So everyone’s off to ChloroGene Labs for the final showdown, and for extra drama Pam takes a dose of stupid pills and orders not-Shocker to wreck the place while she’s still on-site. This sets her up for a standard “it’s not too late” speech from Babs, and while it’s not a total waste (“I don’t want to have to watch my dad read you your rights” got a slight wibble out of me), I still spent most of it wondering how Barbara got there before everyone else. Okay, so the Batcave is presumably outside city limits, but what the hell is the Commissioner’s excuse?
Traffic was really bad and there were too many pedestrians around to mount the curb?
Works for me. And to no one’s surprise, Pam has absolutely no regrets besides getting caught. Good thing someone’s here to teach her the error of her ways.
If I had a week, I could list all the reasons that line shouldn’t work. And yet it does, because what the hell else did you expect from the guy who turned Dr. Robotnik into a legitimate threat?
Pam obligingly tattoos “future supervillain” on her forehead by leaving Babs as a decoy – again – and runs into the labs. Babs holds off a dude who stalemated Batman twice exactly as well as you’d expect, meaning our budding little sociopath has to rely on herself for once.
Welp, here’s to hoping not-Shocker goes easy on first-time offen-
Jesus friggin’ Christ.
Okay, Pam’s scream in this part isn’t terribly impressive (Piera Coppola’s not what you’d call a veteran VA), but y’know what? It doesn’t need to be. This is still the most graphic bit of violence The Batman has dished out to a civilian so far, and the civilian is a minor to boot. In fact, if it weren’t for certain developments later on, I say Pam would’ve probably have wound up in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
And now I’ve made myself sad thinking about certain other developments. Come back to us, Oracle.
Before not-Shocker can finish Pam off, Batman finally shows up for Round Three. This is the least tedious of the three fights, possibly because Jelenic’s used up his supply of stupid quips. Also, there’s a scene where Batman tries to death-glare grass.
Okay, so it’s ChloroGene mutant fertilizer-produced grass, but still. You could really do better in terms of role models, Barbara.
I do love this moment. It’s probably my favorite part of the show’s take on Batgirl. Because that instant admiration when she sets her eyes on Batman? The way you can almost see the thoughts of ‘I want to be just like that’ in her eyes? That’s exactly how I felt when I was a kid watching Batman. It’s how I felt when I got into the comics, and I’m betting that’s how a lot of girls felt back in the ’60s when Batgirl and Batwoman first arrived on the scene.
I think that this moment is the point when Barbara truly had to become Batgirl. Even more so than her father’s trust and approval, and even more than Pam’s chemical mishap. That is the look of a girl who’s just been given a mission.
Yeah, making Babs fall for Batman(‘s crimefighting prowess) at first sight is certainly a classic take on things, but it’s kind of ironic, now that I think about it. By the time this episode aired, Batgirl: Year One was her most recent origin in the comics, and it was doing the exact opposite.
I can see merit in that take too, and it does seem a tad condescending that Gotham’s main heroine looks so derivative of Batman when the guy’s own adopted son and official sidekick swings around with a more original motif. But then, Batgirl is Batman’s first official
sidekick partner in this continuity, so I guess it all evens out.
Batman and his dance partner do a number on the labs, and eventually a super-fertilizer canister hanging over Pam’s head starts cracking. Since Pam can’t move, she’s forced to beg her
meat shield friend for help. Babs doesn’t think twice about running over, which is a fairly effective way of beefing up her white-hat credentials. But you know what’s an even better one?
Yep. A failed rescue.
Somewhere during all this, Batman finally puts not-Shocker down for the count, but let’s focus on what’s important: Barbara and Pamela.
In the comics, Barbara tends to be singled out as the one Gotham superhero without a Defining Tragedy, at least during her Batgirl phase. No dead parents, no traumatizing failures, no soul-scarring childhoods – she basically put on the suit because she felt like it. Whether this is an important part of her character and general appeal or a flaw that needs fixing remains under considerable debate today, but The Batman obviously stands in the latter camp, and its solution is… interesting, to say the least. If nothing else. I appreciate that the show made Barbara’s tragedy about the loss of a peer, not an all-too-easy-to-idolize parent figure; that dynamic is still relatively fresh, though I do wish they’d put more effort into giving Babs and Pam an actual bond. As-is, Pam doesn’t seem to view Babs as anything but a useful flunky, and Babs’ side of things amounts to “Let’s stick it to the Man!” and little more.
(On a not-unrelated note, Pam’s scream this time is leaps and bounds better the last one. Okay, it’s the echo effects doing most of the heavy lifting, but the result is still chillingly reminiscent of Dr. Lake’s death in Batman Beyond.)
If their relationship was handled a little better, Ivy and Batgirl could have had something of a Two-Face and Batman dynamic on this show. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have taken the same route as That Other Show and have Pam appear as Barbara’s friend in a few appearances before things go south. Even a little moment where Pam tried to rescue Barbara instead of ditching her could have done wonders, and would be a nice contrast to her behavior when she abandons humanity entirely for her plants.
Batman does his best to get Pam out of the ChloroGene gunk, and to everyone’s relief, our little ecoterrorist is still breathing. Cops show up, Jim Gordon comforts his daughter
and grounds her for life, everything’s peachy.
… and if you actually believed that, I implore you to take another look at this episode’s title. We’re not even out of the flashback yet, folks.
You know, I didn’t even think about the majority of this story being a multi-episode flashback, but you’re right. That’s kind of odd.
Anyway, the episode has set up its second half decently, I suppose. Pam’s been hit with the mutant fertilizer to set up for her transformation, Barbara’s shown herself siding with the law rather than Pam’s destructive “activism,” and she’s seen Batman, sparking the inspiration for her to don a cowl of her own. The show’s covered all its bases, though I wish it had delved a little deeper into each of them.
Of course, that’s the benefit of two parters. It’s entirely possible that all those relationships and conflicts will get more attention in the second half. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed!
* “Girl’s Night Out” from That Other Show doesn’t count, smartasses. Supergirl did all the actual fighting against Ivy in that one.
** Okay, the guy who designed Ivy says she’s supposed to be nineteen, but look at her. Any more stylization and she’d be friggin’ Tinkerbell.