Literary Corner

Trash Culture Literary Corner: Batman & Robin: Chapters 4-5

To be honest, despite her being more or less one of the top-tier members of Batman’s rogues gallery, I don’t think Poison Ivy is often written that well.  That might not be the best observation for a character who basically imperils the male heroes by trying to sleep with them (much like Marvel’s Enchantress), but that’s not to say she hasn’t been presented in an interesting way. The best comic I’ve read where she is the antagonist is Ann Nocenti’s Cast Shadows, which played down her usual role as a femme fatale archetype or an extremist environmentalist and instead presented her as a scientific genius whose traumatic past and present rage against an impersonal, heavily urbanized, and male-dominated society has turned her into a dangerous killer, much to the detriment of a world that could actually benefit from her botanical creations. Outside comics, there was the classic Batman: The Animated Series episode Home & Garden, which presented the tragic side to her own powers and hinted in a surprisingly subtle way how that could twist someone’s psyche. For the most part, even good writers tend to just have her be a red-headed succubus with a vague plant theme or an eco-terrorist whom even Earth First! would advise to dial it down a shade. It was actually kind of a relief when, after a couple of episodes playing up the latter version of her, a few episodes of B: TAS made her motives more mundanely criminal. Then there’s the interpretation in Batman & Robin, which I can sum up in a phrase:  It was pretty damn horrible. poisonivy Batman & Robin’s Poison Ivy runs with the eco-terrorist and maneater roles at the same time, but she’s also a pastiche of Golden Age Hollywood Jezebels. Because, I imagine, comic book fans would be most receptive to an elaborate number referencing Marlene Dietrich’s famous “gorilla suit” sequence in 1932’s Blonde Venus?  (Well, okay, normally I would be, but that’s beside the point…). Worse is that they case Uma Thurman, who actually could have pulled off at least a slightly more nuanced take on the character, or at least one that tapped into the animated series incarnation. But, no, instead we got another bit of miscasting that almost rivals Tommy Lee Jones’s turn as Two-Face. Honestly, one of the reasons I wanted to do this project was seeing how a writer would handle this interpretation of Poison Ivy. Would it be ambitious, like how Peter David in his novelization of Batman Forever played around with the barely hinted idea of the Riddler as having a fixation on Bruce Wayne?  Or…

She had never been the cheerleader type. She’d accepted that long ago. But out here in the rain forest, her personal appearance was going from bad to absolutely horrible. Everywhere she looked, she had some kind of blemish, some interesting variety of rash.

Okay, I’m not one of those “everything is problematic!” cultural critics and I know the movie itself makes it clear that Pamela Isley got sexified when she turned into Poison Ivy. But let’s just say the “An ugly duckling turned into a swan…a killer swan” thing isn’t really an aspect I’d emphasize, personally.

At any rate, the book is somewhat faithful to Poison Ivy’s origin in the comics, even nailing down the detail that her hometown isn’t Gotham City but Seattle. In the comics, she was a graduate student in botany working on a research project for Professor Woodrue, who was secretly an alien plant being with the codename the Floronic Man (don’t you just love comics?). She was given her toxic body and ability to communicate with plants when Woodrue experimented on her to create a human-plant hybrid. Here Woodrue is just a creepy, amoral scientist who tries to seduce Pamela – and, in another dark moment that doesn’t fit the tone of the movie (or the book adaptation, for that matter), causes her to fear that he’s about to rape her. The biggest tweak to Pamela’s origin is that now she invented the super-strength serum Venom, which she was…hoping could be used to help plants defend themselves against human encroachment? (That’s exactly what makes the narrator’s thoughts of being raped rather jarring). And instead of being a human guinea pig, Pamea Isley stumbles across Woodrue selling Venom to the highest bidder, she rejects Woodure’s advances one more time, and he shoves her into tables full of plants and chemical containers, just like Mr. Freeze’s origin which has him falling into a vat of cryogenic solution. Too bad the series didn’t continue, or else we would have had a Mad Hatter origin that culminates with Jervis Tetch falling into a vat of hats. At least Robin notices it:

“Let me get this straight. A brilliant citizen, disfigured by a horrible accident, reemerges as a psychotic super-villain bent on theft, revenge, and destruction. You see a pattern here?”

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One thought on “Trash Culture Literary Corner: Batman & Robin: Chapters 4-5

  1. Pingback: Trash Culture Literary Corner: Batman & Robin, Chapters 6-7 | Trash Culture

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