Batman: The Animated Series, “Eternal Youth”

10Apr11

We’re at the beginning of the second season of the Animated Series. Many of the growing pains of the first season are behind us-most of the major villains have been introduced, even if they haven’t always appeared at their best, and secondary characters can start to see more depth. And we start with this episode, where…Poison Ivy turns people into trees. Okay, so we still have some growing pains ahead.

The episode actually opens pretty well, with someone trying to escape a palatial estate on foot. Everything seems fine, except for her panic…and then a figure that follows her with some kind of gun. The pounding drums and chase visuals emphasize the drama, even though we don’t know who’s running or why. The pursuer is revealed to be Poison Ivy-well, not quite revealed, since her face is hidden. But the voice is instantly recognizable, and there’s enough of her costume that’s visible to make it clear.

We then move onto the exposition for the episode-Bruce Wayne gets a tape for a spa in the mail, and it just so happens to be the same estate from the opening! Bruce, of course, has no interest in the tape, both because he’s fairly young, and because the fear of criminals keeps him fresh and vital. But he decides to send Alfred instead, along with only-for-this-episode love interest, Maggie. Which is a bit cruel, since it would have been nice to see her appear sporadically, instead of only once teasing that Alfred might do something other than serve Bruce Wayne for the rest of his life.

Maggie is actually an interesting character, and one that doesn’t pop up much in children’s animation-she’s clearly an older woman, but she’s in good shape and active. For some reason, Alfred is put out by her presence, and annoyed when Bruce tries to make the nice gesture of letting them take his place for the spa’s offer of free treatment. It’s not hard to make a “Bruce and Alfred are gay lovers!” joke there, but I prefer the idea that Alfred is actually an asexual being, and thus he’s not annoyed because it takes him away from his master, but because this Maggie creature might want to have some form of physical contact at all. Of course, this means that he’s unable to stop himself from being dragged along, as he acidly comments about being shanghaied. It’s a bit jarring to see Alfred in anything other than his tuxedor or a stripped down version of it, and even more so in a track suit.

While Alfred and Maggie are introduced to Poison Ivy-here calling herself Dr. Demeter-and her methods, Batman investigates a report of missing industrialists…and finds an almost exact copy of the spa tape he received. Alfred returns home soon after, and it’s pretty clear something is off with him. After covering the Batcave in potted plants (a rather cruel choice, considering they’ll wither from lack of sunlight), he and Maggie are both drawn back to the spa. Meanwhile, Batman experiments with the enzyme mixture Alfred has brought home, and discovers that it reacts rather violently with human plasma. Considering Alfred and Maggie are full of both things, that’s not a good sign.

Batman goes to the spa to confront Poison Ivy, showing a refreshing lack of surprise at her presence; as he himself notes, her cover name is a dead giveaway. Then she reveals what’s happened to all the missing people, including Alfred and Maggie-she’s been turning them into trees. None of them are irreversable yet, but the sight is still disturbing for both Batman and the viewer…and Kevin Conroy does some excellent work with his barely suppressed rage at Poison Ivy’s actions. The ensuing fight is well staged, up until Batman knocks some of the enzyme onto the ground-and this somehow causes a giant tree to sprout up in seconds. The science throughout has been sketchy, of course, but after comments about how it takes months to convert her victims, having Yggdrassil sprout up to defeat Ivy like a Final Fantasy summon is just laughable.

I’ll admit that in my memory, this was one of the weaker episodes, but I’m pleasantly surprised to discover I’m wrong. Of course, there’s still the problem of how to handle Poison Ivy here-the science behind her first appearance was perfectly reasonable, but now it’s branching into less realistic territory, which doesn’t always mix well with Batman. It can mix well, mind you but here it’s questionable. However, it treats her actions quite seriously; this isn’t some kind of light hearted romp or robbery scheme. The only villains who match Poison Ivy for lethal intent in this series are the Joker and Twoface, with the rest either being too psychologically damaged to regularly seek to kill others, or more interested in robbery than murder. And while the fact that it takes Batman to find out everyone visiting one spa are also disappearing is an unreasonable black mark against the Gotham police-seriously, even they should have picked up on this-it’s another sign of her fanaticism towards those she judges as evil. The series might still have growing pains in the transition from Season 1 to Season 2, but “Eternal Youth” is a much stronger opening than I gave it credit for.

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