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Original Airdate: September 24, 2005
Writers: Adam Beechen and Michael Jelenic
Director: Christopher Berkeley
Villain Reviewer: Lauralot
What? You got a better explanation for why Ivy’s origin has suddenly veered into some Eldritch parody of a Sailor Scout transformation?
Admittedly, most other takes on how Ivy got her powers (if she even has powers) don’t go any further than “her professor did Bad Stuff to her in grad school”, but even then The Batman‘s “teenybopper + industrial chemicals = plant goddess” is a bit hard for me to swallow. I suppose it’s no less “realistic” than Mr. Freeze’s origin, but I still like to think the ChloroGene gunk was just a catalyst; all the real work was done by Mother Earth herself, as she did with Alec Holland(‘s memories) a generation ago. It would certainly explain for why all the plant-life in the area straight-up kidnaps Pam and sticks her in a pseudo-womb before she even wakes up.
I thought maybe Ivy had developed some sort of psychic control over the plants and due to her injuries, her subconscious reached out and got them to shelter her. But y’know what, the idea of Gaia getting sick of our nonsense and ditching the Planeteers in favor of Sailor Earth is pretty great.
Plus, Neil Gaiman says it’s kosher, and who are any of us to defy the Prince of Stories?
While Batman investigates Pam’s disappearance, Commissioner Gordon sits Barbara down for another Important Talk about her life choices. It’s mostly rehash of what we saw last episode, though I do respect Jim for not playing the “See? I told you Isley was no good!” card when a lesser dad would’ve busted it out first thing.
I do love Barbara’s “Is that what you tell the Batman?” line here, when Jim tells her to leave police work to the cops. In a way, Batman really is Gordon’s second kid: the problem child that he covers for because the Bat gets stuff done when he’s running wild.
And yeah, it’s nice that Jim focuses on how Barbara could have gotten hurt rather than lecturing her about the company she keeps. Their conversation here isn’t bad; it’s just that we’ve heard it before and, as with the last episode, the show can’t seem to decide what their chief conflict should be. Barbara’s desire to go into law enforcement? Her questionable friendships? Ditching practice when she’s an Olympic hopeful? Beekeeping? Just give them all the conflicts! Surely something will resonate with the youth!
Over at Ye Olde (Abandoned?) Greenhouse, Pam finally wakes up and takes her rightful place as Gaia’s latest avenger. For sheer atmosphere, these Pam-only scenes are probably my favorite part of the episode. They’re largely dialogue-free, which not only highlights the eeriness of her abilities but also saves us from at least several minutes of Jelenic and Beechen trying to be witty (“This leave-behind is my only lead, Alfred. And so far, it’s definitely not garden variety.”). And yeah, I’m still a slut for seeing newly-minted supers test out their powers.
Her abilities mastered and her mission clear, Pam sets off to finish the job that not-Shocker started. But first, a little detour for a certain other redhead undergoing metamorphosis.
Babs, you are a freaking dork. I mean, you’d never catch your predecessor-
IMAGINARY STORY TIE-IN COMIC. DOESN’T COUNT.
Those eyes. Those eyes will haunt me forever.
I mentioned last time that Barbara’s instant infatuation with Batman’s awesomeness reminded me of myself falling for the comic characters as a kid, and Barbara playing around with her leotard here really drives in the fan vibe. That’s the exact sort of thing I do when I cosplay. It’s adorably endearing and they really timed this moment perfectly. Any earlier or later in the story line, and it would feel flippant. But right here, when Pam’s supposedly on her way to the hospital and everything’s taken care of, it really works. And if I’d been watching this show as a kid, I’m sure it would have been so relatable. That’s exactly how I’d have planned out my superhero persona as a preteen.
And then I’d get shot immediately, but still.
Like Barbara would let that stop her.
Anyways, since she’s a giant drama queen, Ivy introduces herself by making Barbara’s whole bedroom (including the bonsai they “liberated” from ChloroGene) go all Day of the Triffids. Once that’s over with, it’s time for some good old-fashioned female bonding.
Ironically, Poison Ivy feels a lot more human (or at least likable) than Pamela ever did – where before her “friendship” with Babs felt like a simple need for a lackey/scapegoat, that explanation doesn’t really cut it anymore. As Poison Ivy, Pam is the most powerful thing in Gotham short of maybe Mr. Freeze or Clayface, and it’s very hard to imagine what practical use she can have for Barbara anymore. And yet, she still feels the need to give Barbara a big “we can rule together” speech.
The whole thing could just be a veiled taunt/threat (“I’m a goddess now. Tell your dad to change his name and move to Venezuela if he knows what’s good for him.”), but Pam never seemed like the kind to be that obtuse when she doesn’t need to be. Myself, I suspect she’s not quite as okay with losing her physical/biochemical humanity as she’d like us to think, and is clinging to whatever psychological humanity she has left.
I get the vibe that she needs a friend as well now that she’s all green and photosynthesis-y, and I kind of love that. One of the initial inspirations for Poison Ivy was the Nathaniel Hawthorne story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” about a woman whose father made her immune to poisons at the cost of becoming toxic to other humans herself. The story’s about her struggle to try and form relationships without harming the people she loves, and I always found it so moving and interesting. I could immediately see how it inspired Poison Ivy, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a Poison Ivy story that even hints at her need for human relationships along with all her plant friends. She’s obviously had human companions in the comics (Harley comes most readily to mind), but I’ve never seen a story that explores her need for them.
Unfortunately, as with most things in this plot, it’s more of an inference than an actual storyline. Maybe someone wrote fanfic about it. I hope someone wrote fanfic about it.
Hopefully not featuring pseudonecrophilia.
That was just the one time!
I like to think it was an intentional addition, though, Ivy reaching back out to her humanity. And not just something they threw in to keep Barbara in the plot.
On a lighter note – “Poison Ivy” didn’t really make sense as Pam’s nom de crime in That Other Show, and it makes even less sense here. Why would a villain who’s out for death and destruction name herself after a plant that can’t produce anything worse than a rash? It’s a holdover from Ivy’s Silver Age motivation of grabbing headlines (and Batman’s attention), and it sounds stupid in any other context.
Maybe Ivy figured Viewers Are Morons and she couldn’t expect the public to know any deadly plant names.
So the second Ivy goes off to sack ChloroGene, Babs embraces her inner narc and dials her old man. Only to change her mind seconds later, because she doesn’t want to see the GCPD
get smashed to a fine red goop by Ivy’s plants put her BFF behind bars. Okay, so in an unprecedented yet totally valid move, it looks like this version of Batgirl is donning cape and cowl to save a villain.
Except then she says she can’t do it alone, and runs off to flip on the Bat-Signal.
Uh, Babs? Putting people behind bars is Batman’s whole fucking deal. It’s kind of why your dad pals around with him in the first place. The only possible difference he could make is sending Ivy to Arkham instead of regular jail, and if you think that’s the lesser of two evils then… wow. Just wow. Maybe Pam should’ve gotten the “careful who you make friends with” lecture.
Anyways, Batman is courteous enough with Barbara, and immediately swears to do everything in his power to save Ivy. Emphasis on his.
Barbara’s “But you haven’t even seen my costume…” is just perfect.
Interestingly, That Other Show *also* has the first Batman- Barbara meeting proper happen at the Bat-Signal, in “Heart of Steel, Part II”. Batman was less dismissive of Barbara there, but then, that Barbara was an adult who could presumably drive herself to the police station. Come to think of it, how’d she get to the Signal in this show?
Took the bus, I reckon. Do they still let students ride for free?
You know what’s funny? In this show, Barbara has actual evidence and information to give Batman, whereas all she could say in That Other Show was “I’m sure something’s replaced my father, even though I have no proof.” But then, she did help Batman defeat a murderous robo-Bullock in the other episode, so I guess that gives her more street cred. And again, she was legally an adult.
I’m also curious as to how this Barbara would have introduced the whole sidekick thing had Batman not blown her off. I’m imagining her turning around and pulling the cowl over her head, then spinning back with her hands on her hips all “Tada! Now we can work together and stop Pam and find a way to reverse the plant stuff that’s making her crazy!” I can only assume she was willfully forgetting that Pam was kind of a tool well before the superpowers, and figuring that if Batman could get the mutant fertilizer out of her, everything would have been fine.
Because otherwise, yeah, why would she even go to Batman? Did Jim make her think Arkham was a lovely helpful place to keep her from worrying as much about all the supervillains?
That’s a hilarious image, and now I’m sad that “ArkhamCare” website they launched for Asylum isn’t up anymore. We’ll have to make do with screenshots.
Over at ChloroGene, the night guy gets the honor of being the first security guard to lose a fight to a bonsai tree. This little bastard is the closest thing Ivy has to a legit sidekick in this episode, and… is actually surprisingly menacing. It doesn’t have a face or a voice, but its movements are just human enough to feel unsettling instead of gimmicky.
It’s like that creepy spider-carriage in Beauty and the Beast. It still haunts my dreams.
Sadly, none of this changes the fact that it’s the middle of the night, so there’s not a whole lot of employees around to terrorize. So Ivy improvises with the GCPD instead. Naturally, Batman shows up seconds later and… y’know, I think this is the first time since the pilot that he’s actually tried to talk things out with a villain instead of skipping to the punching. Maturation of character or suppressed guilt for inadvertently creating Gotham’s latest super-menace? You decide!
I’d like to think it’s a mix of both, but I feel part of it has to do with the Powers That Be feeling uncomfortable about Batman beating a teenager senseless.
Either way, Ivy’s not impressed and assumes that total dominion over the Green is more than enough to beat some nut in colored underwear. Unfortunately, said nut happens to be packing nitric acid in his utility belt today.
Both our players then kick things up a notch, but they’re still pretty evenly-matched. In other words, it’s time for the sidekicks to shine.
Chronologically speaking, this is Batgirl’s million-dollar debut, and even I have to admit “saved Batman from a sentient bonsai” doesn’t exactly make for a riveting résumé. But it gets better from there, right?
Look, I know this is Batgirl’s maiden voyage, and unlike pretty much every other continuity, “costumed
civil rights violator crimefighter” is not something Babs has spent months or years training for. Hell, if I have my math right, she literally decided on it a few hours ago, tops.**
But even then, the sheer ineptitude here makes her less like Barbara Gordon or even Stephanie Brown (who can at least brag about slugging Robin in her debut) and more like a female Buddy Pine. And while that could be an interesting concept in itself, I’m pretty sure it’s not what Jelenic and Beechen were going for. At the very least, couldn’t they have made Ivy defend herself from Babs’ homemade Batarang instead of giving Babs the aim of a drunken Stormtrooper?
How did she even make a Batarang? The costume looks like she took her leotard, put a mini dress over it, and added a belt. But why would she have scrap metal and tin snips lying around in her room? Did she cut up a soda can?
Your guess is as good as mine. And for all my complaints, I can’t hate this scene completely. Not when it sets up Ivy’s best line:
“Your friend still has lots to learn, Batman. Teach her how to survive a fall yet?”
So, in an even more humiliating development, Ivy gets away while Batman saves Babs from turning into street pizza. Which segues right into the most essential part of any Batgirl debut: the part where Batman and/or Robin tells her to piss off and let the professional nutcases handle everything.
As I mentioned last review, Batgirl’s origin tends to be light on emotional stakes, so it’s usually this moment that gives us the best glimpse how each incarnation of Batgirl ticks, not to mention how much the writers respect her. Correspondingly, how nasty – and how justified – her objectors are vary by retelling. The ’66 Dynamic Duo welcomed her aboard almost instantly; in ’87, Batman was a bit meaner, but mostly lived and let live; and Batgirl: Year One just went ahead with a drug-assisted abduction…
Okay, seriously – what the hell, Dixon?
The Batman‘s Batman isn’t anywhere near that big of a dick – in fact, he’s probably the most justified in shutting down Barbara, and not just because this Batgirl emphasizes the girl part more than any other version has. But it’s hard not to argue this is a step back for Barbara on a meta level, seeing as how writers in the freaking ’60s had no problem with her cleaning house first thing.
Actually, speaking of Batgirl: Year One, let’s look at the corresponding scene where Batman butts in on Batgirl’s first grappling attempt:
You can see clear parallels. Both scenes involve Batman saving Barbara from a fatal fall and then giving her an earful about inexperience and recklessness. But in BG:YO, we’d had plenty of Barbara kicking ass and taking names by this point. Saving Batman from the world’s most adorable sentient tree just doesn’t compare. Couldn’t they have made Barbara’s flaw that she’s naturally *good* at this superheroing thing, and that makes her too cocky, rather than that’s she’s just a screw-up right off the bat?
Still, if this Babs lacks competence, she’s got more than enough attitude to make up for it. I mean, no version of Babs takes “go home, little girl” lying down, but this one gets extra points for giving Bruce the Amanda Waller special in the process.
Batman’s comeback, honest to God, cracks me up every time:
“If you won’t listen to me… I’m gonna have to tell your father, Miss Gordon.”
That shuts Barbara down pretty well, and from a story perspective, it’s obviously meant to shift Batman from a fallible man-in-a-playsuit to the
lovable insufferable polarizing “I say jump and Darkseid asks how high” Batgod of modern times. After all, one of the sidekick’s less glamorous functions is making the hero look better. But Romano’s obviously bent on channeling Batman’s inner 14-year-old, and I thank him for it.***
Batman lost his maturity in the alley that night, along with his parents.
Meanwhile, Ivy’s moved on to terrorizing the noble but utterly screwed members of the GCPD and no not like that not like that-
So this is how Ivy discovers her brainwashing kiss, which the script literally calls “magic spores”. In other words, even Beechen and Jelenic have given up pretending there’s anything scientific about her. Took ’em long enough.
Ivy then takes about five seconds to beat the GCPD’s grunts into the ground, leaving poor Jim to face her by himself. Now, this could’ve been a great character moment for Gotham’s top cop, confronting someone he personally never liked or trusted but still wants to talk things out with, if only for his daughter’s sake. Alas, in Missed Opportunity Number ∞, Jim barely gets three lines off before Ivy kidnaps him for… reasons.
This is also a missed opportunity for Ivy, I think. The clearest reason I can fathom for kidnapping Jim would be out of revenge: he never liked her, he warned Barbara away from her, and now that she has superpowers, she can unleash vengeance on The Man. What teenager hasn’t fantasized about putting the fear of God in some adult who has it out for them? It would also nicely display how she’s becoming disconnected from humanity, losing any morals and reservations she might have had. It would contrast nicely with her attempts to reach out to Barbara, highlighting how badly she needs to keep a human connection and what’s happening to her without it.
But instead, she just kind of snatches him up because. And this whole “vanishing into a rosebud with a bound man” imagery is making me slightly uncomfortable, but maybe I just have a filthy mind.
You? A card-carrying member of the Hydra Trash Party? Balderdash!
Scene changes, Alfred snarks about Bat-Hound (Cartoon Network’s way ahead of you, chum), and we’re back to Barbara. Now, this episode’s been awful rough on her, but I unabashedly love her reaction when she learns her dad’s been nabbed.
I mentioned last time that “Batgirl Begins” is a unique Batgirl origin for having Barbara choose the costume rather than having circumstances force it on her. What I didn’t mention about those forced circumstances is that they often involve her father. In her classic origin, she’s defending a costume party that her father’s attending from Killer Moth. In That Other Show, she’s trying to clear Jim’s name. The New 52 origin has her defending her brother instead, but hey, he shares their dad’s name.
Here, Barbara originally put on the costume to try and save Ivy, but given the history of Batgirl rescuing her dad, this feels like our Real True Batgirl Moment. A reset button, if you will. Like all the silly mistakes from before were a bad practice run, and this is Batgirl’s true debut. Her “let’s get dangerous” moment. And while she will make mistakes in the upcoming fight (it’s her second time out as a superhero, and only a couple of hours or so after the first), they’re a lot less cringe-inducing than before. I just wish her initial scene had been less cringeworthy as well.
Speaking of cringeworthy, I do not welcome the return of Babs’ smartass voice-over. I was ambivalent about it from the start, but it really deflated this particular scene.
Alright – Batman, Batgirl, Ivy, abandoned greenhouse, the Commissioner about to become fertilizer… we’re finally caught up. Exit flashback, and enter the burning question: Batman having gone full Winter Soldier, how is our plucky newbie going to believably, yet satisfactorily, save the day?
With the awesome power of dihydrogen monoxide, of course!
Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re all thinking – a little water, and Ivy’s mind-control mojo shorts out like a Chinese iPhone? Thing is, this is exactly in line with the comics, though I can’t exactly blame people who would’ve preferred something less anticlimactic.
The episode’s actual climax starts well, if a tad predictably: Batgirl gets caught by Ivy’s roots (again), but with her old man’s life at stake, her hand-eye coordination starts behaving itself. Pitcher plant goes pop, and Pop gets to live another day.
Next is the big boss fight with Ivy, and while the animation is superb as usual, the overall product is kind of a letdown. The writers don’t bother giving Ivy any new tricks, so Batman is just facing the same old lineup of giant roots and vines. Which is especially galling, when you realize we haven’t even scratched the nastiest parts of the plant kingdom – where are the exploding cacti, the sundew snares, the sentient giant hogweed?
At the very least, Ivy could have grown some Durian and corpse flowers to suffocate the Bats.
Meanwhile, Ivy’s bonsai wants a rematch, and it’s brought friends.
Sadly, most of the creep factor is gone, since it’s kinda hard to rack up the right atmosphere when Batman’s lobbing bombs in the background. Perhaps the writers realized this, as the bonsai aren’t much more than a distraction for Batgirl.
Man, Ivy’s tactics are practically dinosaurs. And you know what killed the dinosaurs?
You said I could write anything I wanted!
It’s either this or the Frozen joke.
Ahem. All together now, everyone. What killed the dinosaurs?
How Ivy survived this is anyone’s guess, since being part-plant should mean she’s extra-screwed against freeze grenades. And sadly, but unsurprisingly, any character potential between her and Babs has long gone down the drain. Babs gives her ice-sculpture of a friend one last glance, and from here on Ivy pretty much becomes just another punching bag for the good guys.
Welp, that’s one thread wasted, so it’s a good thing we’ve got a couple more.
While the familial connection has always been there, how important the Commish actually is to Babs’ story has varied over the years. In the Silver Age (and derivative works like the ’66 show), Babs was already a full-grown adult when she donned the suit, so there’s pretty much bupkis. That Other Show made him Babs’ primary motivation for becoming Batgirl, and later topped itself with a chilling look at what may (or may not) happen if he ever learned what his daughter does in her spare time. A couple years later, Batgirl: Year One ran with that and turned the Commish into an outright obstacle to Barbara’s double-life.
But with no time (and probably no desire) to make a big to-do about the first meeting between Batgirl and her old man, Jelenic and Beechen end it with a whimper. The “It’s Batwoman, not Batgirl” gag dies a long-overdue death, and Batgirl just runs off the first chance she gets. Conveniently enough, the Commish lost his glasses earlier and is probably suffering brain damage from all those acid fumes in Ivy’s plant, so Batgirl’s secret is safe.
Or is it?
This last thread has the most satisfying payoff, in that it actually has a payoff. As is inevitable (but nevertheless satisfying) in every Batgirl origin, Batman finally gives her his seal of approval.
And as for her secret?
“Not every child gets the opportunity to rescue their parent. I’m sure he’d be grateful if… you decided to tell him.”
While the Batgirl-Jim scene obviously apes the superficial parts to Batman: Year One‘s finale, this one evokes its spirit, and I can’t help but admire it for that. Perhaps it’s out of character for Batman (especially this Batman) to be so obtuse, but Babs certainly has no trouble gleaning what he really means.
The Dominoed Daredoll, for better or worse, is here to stay.
As a whole, I’d say this is a perfectly serviceable origin story. It hit on all the standard notes of Barbara’s story and established her athletic skills and conflict with her father, even though it never delved all that deeply into any of the emotional threads. It’s not an episode I’d expect to see listed in any Best-of-Batgirl compilations, but it did establish Barbara as reasonable competent, enough so that Batman doesn’t rat her out to her father.
Speaking as an adult who’s consumed all of the Batgirl and Oracle media and who’s formed all of the opinions, it’s easy for me to look at these episodes and point out all the missed opportunities or plot threads that other stories handled better. But I’ve done enough nitpicking; I won’t carry on with that.
…. actually, I will nitpick just one more time. I know Jim lost his glasses, but what excuse does Barbara have for not even trying to disguise her *voice* around her father?
Wow, no wonder I got arrested by six different cops the last time I cosplayed as the Joker.
Anyways, while I don’t think “Batgirl Begins” is the best take on Barbara’s origins, and while I’d have made a number of changes if I were editing the script, I can see how a kid in 2005 would see this episode and let their imagination run wild, filling in the bits that were lacking in all the best ways. I can see a girl look at this Batgirl with the exact same awe that Barbara gave Batman in Part One. And for that, this origin does get some kudos from me. We all start somewhere, and there are far worse places to kick off.
Looking at this two-parter as a whole, it’s also fascinating to see what trade-offs Batgirl had to make to rise above her usual third-fiddle status. She’s supplanted Robin as Batman’s first squire, but wound up with quite a bit of Dick’s kid-sidekick baggage because of it. Whereas every other version of Babs is an independent heroine (in the Silver Age and derivative works like the ’66 show, Batman didn’t even know her secret ID), this one is not only instantly busted by Batman, but never really contests the idea of being his sidekick. Two steps forward, one step back, I suppose.
As an Ivy story, it’s about what you’d expect from The Batman: lots of interesting new twists from the comics/That Other Show, few of them go anywhere satisfying. Which is a real shame – while I must admit That Other Show (eventually) handled Ivy better, I’ll still argue this one had far more potential.
That’s what fanfic’s for, chum. Speaking of which, before I go, wanna take a sneak peek at the next Alexander Pierce Should Have Died Slower?
Sure, why no…
… does anyone need eyes? I don’t think I want mine anymore.
Next: The inestimable John Cleese once claimed that penguins may yet help man fathom the uncharted depths of the human mind. Shall we put that theory to the test?
* Excerpt taken from “Notes Toward A Vegetable Theology”, which may be found in Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman.
** The whole chronology of this flashback is kind of screwy, especially since – in true Batman tradition – the sun never shows its face. I don’t think everything in it took place on the same night, but there are definitely parts where the writers seem to want that impression.
*** I’m not the only one who was reminded of one Danny Fenton’s crowning moment of herodickery, am I?