DCAU #6: Pretty Poison

IN THIS ONE... Poison Ivy tries to kill Harvey Dent, but Batman just manages to stop her.

CREDITS: Written by Tom Ruegger (a Hannah-Barbara and later-day WB veteran), Paul Dini (his first DCAU credit, he would become one of the universe's most influential writers and go on to an equally influential comics writing career at DC) and Michael Reaves (has written tons of cartoons, as well as an episode of Star Trek TNG, and several Star Wars novels); directed by Boyd Kirkland.

REVIEW: Femme fatales are a perfect trop for this Film Noir take on Batman, and Poison Ivy is definitely one of these, the first of Bruce Timm's dead sexy female character designs. This is Pamela Isley the insane ecoterrorist, the woman who talks to plants and would rather be in their company than icky humans, though she's not revolted enough not to pass the time lethally kissing men. And somehow, she's not the only winning visual in what I would call the series' first truly stand-out episode. It starts with a sepia-toned flashback from five years ago, creates vertigo with zooms when Batman is in his usual vertiginous positions, offers up a monstrous Venus fly-trap that dies screaming like a Lovecraftian monstrosity, and uses editing to comical and exciting effect. We're well on our way to the classic we remember, I think.

Pretty Poison is all about irony. A sense of it motivates Ivy, as she derives a poison from an extinct flower to kill the men who paved over the last remaining specimens of that flower. And her fate is ironic too, landing in the cinder block of a prison that motivated her crimes in the first place. But irony is everywhere. In the flashback, Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne (literally) pave the way for a "better, safer Gotham" by building Stonegate Prison. Flash forward to a subtitle that say: "A better, safer Gotham, 5 years later". The transition is darkly comic and dripping with sarcasm. Cut to Ivy having dinner with Dent, and each of his lines discussing Bruce Wayne and his lateness is intercut with a chase between Batman and a prison escapee, each one a visual pun based on Harvey's remarks. It's all very well written. I love that Ivy's new fragrance is "Rose From the Dead", and that, in prison, she sees herself as a seed planted in the ground. Great stuff.

And it's looking to the future too, by tying Ivy to the future Two-Face, it gives two seminal Batman villains a connection, and in another bit of irony, Batman races to save a man who will one day become one of his greatest enemies. When Ivy calls him a murderer, she's talking about plant life, but Harvey will destroy human lives too, in the long run. Would Bruce Wayne have been next on her hit list? Presumably. And the animation subtly makes Bruce avoid a kiss from her when she hugs him for comfort as "Harvey's fiancée". A rematch seems inevitable, the seeds have indeed been sown. And I'd talk more about officer Montoya, who makes her first appearance here, but it's a small role, almost as if they wanted her to be a red herring, what with the first act never showing the evil woman's face. We'll have occasion to talk more about her in due time (and In the Comics).

IN THE COMICS: Poison Ivy first appeared in Batman #181 (1966), at which time she was a temptress-type villain; she would only become an ecoterrorist later (when that term fell into popular usage). In the comics, Poison Ivy can secrete all types of poisons through her skin, which she does deliver in kisses; in this episode, she has to put on special lipstick. She and Harvey Dent have no special relationship. As for Renée Montoya, this WOULD have been her first appearance, if they hadn't preemptively introduced her in the mainstream DCU some months before (in Batman #475). But she was definitely designed for BTAS. She became a popular character both on and off the show, and in the comics, was prominently outed as a lesbian, had a relationship with Batwoman, and became the Question. In the New52, she is Bullock's partner. A version of her even appears on the Gotham show. Stonegate Prison is called Blackgate Prison in the comics.

SOUNDS LIKE: Diane Pershing plays Poison Ivy; a well-established voice actress, her most famous role before Ivy was that of Isis. Nicaraguan actress Ingrid Oliu is only Renée Montoya FIRST voice, though she will be featured in a half-dozen more episodes.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Oh, definitely my favorite episode yet! Clever and sexy, just like the antagonist.

4 comments:

American Hawkman said...

Utilizing the pre-Two Face Harvey as Poison Ivy's victim was a great idea to scale up the menace of both. We couldn't be sure that Ivy WOULDN'T affect Harvey in such a way to start his transformation, and that gave it pretty high stakes.

LiamKav said...

You're right, the editing, direction and animation is a step up from what we've had previously. Not being animated by AKOM probably helps a bit there.

When the New Batman Adventures first aired, Poison Ivy was one of the redesigns I hated, along with the Joker. Watching this episode though, I can understand their reasoning why. Ivy is supposed to be sexy, but the animated goes a bit overboard. She's only supposed to be 5 foot 2 inches (157cm), but is drawn much taller, and with pretty big boobs. I think the slimming and shrinking down in the New Adventures is a rare instance of Timm making a woman less sexy. (She's also 28, an EXTREMELY rare instance of any grown-up cartoon/comic characters age being said. And she lives at 69 Green Street. 69. Yup. I'm also not convinced that the giant plant at the end is also not a bit of a rude shape.)

I read a review which had good insight into Ivy in this episode (and universe, for that matter). For all her claims of loving plants, she still wants dominion over them. She doesn't want a forest, she wants a garden. As she says to the plants that she claims to love, "Don't worry, I won't clip off any more of your beautiful petels. Unless I need them." I feel like Pershing is actually a little off in this episode. She plays "Pamela Isley" really well, but Poison Ivy sounds a little bit hammy at times. She gets much better at the role really quickly though.

Also, only 5 episodes in and we're already on our second evil doctor. If we're counting villains, it's 3. Seriously, Bruce, just get one of those police blimps to fly into Gotham University late at night. You'll be doing yourself a favour.

Regarding our previous comments about "Playboy Bruce Wayne", Harvey shows that there much be another side of him in this universe. They are obviously good friends, and Harvey shows Bruce a degree of respect that you wouldn't give to the flightly, woman chasing image Bruce puts out.

I'm amazed that the episode doesn't do ANY cute references to Two-Face with Harvey. I wonder at the time, pre The Dark Knight (movie), pre Batman Forever, and with Two-Face never appearing on Batman 66, was he just a lot less well known that any clues would have confused people?

LiamKav said...

Oh, and I know you've just established Stonegate and Ivy being sent to it is dramatic irony, but if you're not going to use Arkham for someone who believes that plants are more worthy of life than humans, what ARE you using it for?

arw1985 said...

THis is a pretty good episode. I don't know how many times I saw it when I was little. It probably has one of my favorite quotes from the series:

"The bottle for the weed. What's it going to be?"

 

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