Captain's Log, Weekly Digest 16

A summary of the past week of posts to my in-character Star Trek Online Tumblr, chronicling the adventures of E.N. Morwen, a science-loving and thoughtful young woman trapped in a galaxy of warring space giants.

  • Crack in the Mirror: In which Deep Space Nine is occupied by duplicates of Starfleet officers. Again.
  • Obrom System Patrol: In which the True Way attempt a multi-pronged attack.
  • The New Link: In which the Phoenix goes looking for an Alpha Jem’Hadar stronghold, and finds something rather more.
  • Aokii System Patrol: In which the Phoenix and Defiant lead a fleet to destroy the main True Way ship repair facility.
  • Seeds of Dissent: In which the True Way is a little less defeated than previously thought.
  • The Other Side: In which Morwen leads the 147th into the Mirror Universe.
  • Cage of Fire: In which an old cult rears anew.
  • Second Wave: In which Morwen attends a conference between Alpha Quadrant powers about the Borg problem.

As the flag officer of a fleet or tactical group, Starfleet regulations also require Morwen to provide a Fleet Status Report briefly summarizing the current status and mission of all ships under her command, every Stardate that’s a multiple of 10.
Also, I am recruiting to found a new fleet (the STO equivalent to a guild), dedicated to roleplay and crossovers between people’s characters. Any Fed-aligned roleplayers welcome! Tentative premise is exploring the fact that we’ve pretty much all done the same story missions at different times, implying some weird temporal or parallel-universe shenanigans for us to investigate.
I have finished the game’s main story. I’m still finishing up the Rep missions, which will be inserted into the story as appropriate, but they’re well off in the distance. I think it’ll be okay timing-wise.
Next month the game is doing something called “Delta Recruits.” Based on what they’re saying, it sounds like it’s mostly a way for new players to catch up to established players quickly, but it’s also got a lot of incentive for people to make alts during that time. I’m probably going to make one per faction. Depending on what happens, I may or may not cross the Fed one with Morwen. The Romulan and Klingon alts I have… other plans for.

Anime Boston Schedule!

I’m going to be at Anime Boston this weekend, April 3-5. I have about seven hours of panels! So if you’re there and want to see me talk about anime, here’s when I’ll be doing it:

  • Friday:
    • 10:30 a.m. – 12 noon, Panel 208: Latin Latin Madoka More Latin IV: The Voyage Homura: Probably the last time I do my annual AB Madoka panel. Topics this time around include kamishibai, the history of magical girls and witches, manga spinoffs and why they tend to suck, and Homura as Faust, Milton!Lucifer, and the Nutcracker.
    • 12:30 – 1:30 p.m., The Fens: Postmodernism and Anime: A brief introduction to postmodern techniques anime tends to use, and then discussion of some anime particularly notable for their use of it.
  • Saturday:
    • 10:00 – 11:00 a.m., Panel 206: Tengen Toppa Evangelion: Aim for the Top!: Traces the use of repeated motifs and themes across four decades of Gainax mecha anime, from Gunbuster to Evangelion to Gurren Lagann to Rebuild. (Not on the schedule at the moment due to an error, but AB panel department assures me it’ll be added before the con.)
    • 9:00 – 10:00 p.m., Public Garden: Reading Too Much Into The Slayers: If you’ve been following my posts on the show…. yeah, that.
  • Sunday:
    • 1:00 – 2:30 p.m., Panel 208: Big Eyes, Small Mouth: The Anime RPG: Take 2! The audience participation segment at AUSA was a flop, so I took it out in favor of more storytime and just walking through making a character.

Remember, you're a hero (The Underdwellers)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 LogoThere is a fairly common interpretation of superheroes which holds that they are power fantasies–that is, that the reader of the comic or viewer of the show imagines themselves (consciously or otherwise) as the superhero, able to bring justice to an oppressive world, solve all their problems, and look good in spandex. The superhero thus gives an avenue of escape from a troublesome, humdrum, or traumatic existence by imagining ourselves able to transform it into someone else.
But if that’s the point of the superhero–that we briefly, in our own thoughts, become the superhero and thereby escape from pain and boredom–then why does being a superhero hurt so much?
It’s October 21, 1992. We’re still in the ridiculous 32-week reign of Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” on the music charts, and the top movie is Steven Segall and Tommy Lee Jones in Under Siege. In the news, tens of thousands of coal miners march in London to protest government plans to effectively lay large numbers of them off.
Batman must deal with “The Underdwellers,” story by Tom Ruegger, who wrote last week’s “Pretty Poison,” and more importantly will go on to provide both the story and teleplay for the excellent “Beware the Gray Ghost” and “Shadow of the Bat,” teleplay by the duo of Jules Dennis and Richard Mueller, who will write two more early episodes together. But first, he must deal with a couple of kids playing chicken on the roof of a commuter train. This is a rare instance of a cold open appearing in an episode of BTAS–as I said in the Introduction, this is a common feature of comics, Batman in particular, in which a story opens with the tail end (or entirety) of a short adventure which usually has no plot relevant to the main story, but allows for an exciting start and may set up themes or motifs that will pay off later on. Here, the three elements which will repeat are Batman making a particular effort to save children, speeding monorail/subway trains, and Batman saving someone from the consequences of their own bad choices.
Of these, it is his effort to save children that is the most interesting. Later in the episode, after he has foiled the Sewer King’s Dickensian plan to use homeless children as an army of pickpockets and purse-snatchers, Batman rescues Sewer King from being hit by a train. When asked why, he says that he doesn’t “pass sentence,” but that with Sewer King he is sorely tempted to make an exception.
What is particularly noticeable is that Batman makes fairly clear that Sewer King is unique in being an exception. Batman seems to be implying that his standard methodology is to capture the episode’s villain, leave them for the police to find (presumably along with evidence, such as the photographs of the Sewer King’s army of abused children which he explicitly refers to as such), and trust the courts and prison system to deal with them appropriately. But the Sewer King is different, provoking a stronger emotional response–meaning that out of Batman’s eternal nemesis who deliberately targets him, a man who poisoned Batman and forced him to go through a hallucinatory hell, or the woman who nearly killed Bruce Wayne’s best friend, none affect him as much as a man who abuses and exploits unrelated children.
There are two ways to explain why Batman takes this so personally, the diegetic and the extradiegetic, and both have interesting implications. From the extradiegetic perspective (that is, one from outside the story, which treats it as a work of fiction created by real people and subject to their interests, motivations, background, skills, and resources), the notion that child abuse is particularly heinous even when compared to acts of terrorism is in part an expression of cultural difference, as terrorism was considered very differently in the early 1990s compared to today (as we will see when we get to January-February of 1993), while panics about cults and Satanists ritually abusing children were still fresh and thus kept the notion of child abuse as a particularly heinous form of evil in the public imagination. More importantly, it is a reflection of expected audience reactions–kids are unlikely to have the experience necessary to empathize strongly with ideas of professional rejection or betrayal by a lover, but the idea of being taken from one’s parents, cruelly subject to adult rules arbitrarily enforced for the benefit of adults, without consideration for one’s own well-being? That’s something kids can understand, and that the victims are actual children makes it even more pointed: this is a story that expects the audience to want to be protected by Batman, as much or more than wanting to be Batman.
The diegetic (that is, “in-story”) explanation is implied by the sequences in which Batman takes one of the children back to Wayne Manor in an attempt to understand what’s happening and recruit him as an ally within Sewer King’s twisted family. Like Bruce Wayne, the (presumably orphan or runaway) young boy ends up being cared for by a patient and long-suffering Alfred, is more comfortable at night and in the shadows than in the light, and and has a tendency to vanish the moment no one is looking. Batman even explicitly compares himself to the boy when he wonders whether he was so difficult at that age. Then when the boy plays with a weapon until Batman stops him, Conroy delivers the line “Children and guns do not mix–ever!” with the same barely restrained rage as he does the “sorely tempted” line, underlining the connection: Batman sees himself in these children. Lost, without parents, frightened, hurting and alone–just as he is.
Is, not was. As “Nothing to Fear” showed, Batman is The Night of his parents’ death, frozen in that moment of pain and unable to move on. A man who takes children away, makes them hurt and fear, is as close as Batman has yet (or ever will, in the DCAU at least) come to facing his parents’ killer. It is his one chance to live out the power fantasy, to destroy that which hurt him–but he chooses not to. He frees the children, passing them into the waiting arms of police and a professionally dressed, matronly woman who is presumably a social worker, but he leaves it up to the authorities to decide what to do with the Sewer King.
The children move on and out of the story, hopefully to heal. But Batman cannot heal, because without the trauma of his parents’ death there is no Batman. A Bruce Wayne who has accepted that moment of pain and powerlessness is not a Bruce Wayne that dresses as a bat to punch crime in the face. It is the Bruce Wayne who spends his nights in terrified dreams of a gunman who must summon a persona (in both the modern English meaning and its original Latin sense of “a mask”) to fight that criminal (who is all criminals, just as The Night is all nights), to protect him. He must convince himself that this persona represents his true self, because the alternative is a frozen, traumatized, paralyzed self. (And note that, years hence, “For the Man Who Has Everything” will depict Batman’s greatest fantasy as Thomas Wayne fighting off the gunman, being the strong masculine protector-figure so that Bruce doesn’t have to create/become  Batman in his place.)
Taken together, the two reads make fairly clear that this episode is anything but a power fantasy. Quite the opposite; it is a submissive fantasy, not in the sexual sense so much as the political. This is the fantasy that when we are in danger, someone will swoop in to save us, then hand both us (for care) and our enemies (for punishment) over to the authorities. And further, it is a fantasy that our protector will understand us, because his power comes from pain like ours. In other words, it is the fantasy not of someone who wants the ability to protect themselves, but of someone who is sick of protecting themselves, who wants to pass both the ability and the responsibility on to someone else.
And there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Such a fantasy is, ultimately, at the heart of heroic fiction in general, and superheroes in specific (most explicitly in Wonder Woman, where from the start it is at least partially submissive fantasy in the sexual sense). It does create a challenge, however, and one that we will be exploring throughout the DCAU: Batman’s power is the power of the protector, a power born of pain. And the thing about power is that every kind of power, every method through which it can be expressed, has its own shape. It can be pushed in other directions, but will always return to patterns particular to the type of power in question, because that shape both constrains and guides the wielding of the power. It will not be fully apparent for quite some time, but the nature of the superhero’s power pushes in some uncomfortable directions, and ultimately the entire DCAU will have to grapple with it.
 


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Escaflowne Ep 18 Liveblog Chat Thingy!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:
Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting!
Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching Vision of Escaflowne and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST.
Chatlog below the cut!
Continue reading

The Very Book Launch!

The wraparound cover to the book The Very Soil.
I’m pleased to announce that The Very Soil: An Unauthorized Critical Study of Puella Magi Madoka Magica is now on sale! It is available on Smashwords (all major ebook formats), CreateSpace (dead tree), and (a first for one of my books, though the others will be following shortly) Kindle store right now; over the next few days it should show up on Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and so on.
This is a thoroughly revised and expanded version of my blog series of the same name, including four entirely new chapters (three on spinoff comics, plus “Against Kyubey” in the Rebellion section), and extensive updates, corrections, and alterations throughout the rest.
Also one hell of a spectacular wraparound cover by Viga, as you can see at the top of this post.
Thanks to Kit Paige for her excellent job editing! Go back her Patreon or Kickstarter, she’s good people and creates good stuff!
Assorted factoids:

  • The e-book MSRP is $3.99, while the print version is $9.49. (Prices may vary depending on where you buy it.)
  • The print version is 144 pages. My favorite is 38, because it has the best sequence of citations: The Golden Bough, the D&D Monster Manual, Harry Potter, and Addressing Rape Reform in Law and Practice.
  • The e-book shows up as 494 pages on my phone, but that means little. It’s the same text as the print version, anyway.
  • If you are receiving this book through my just-completed Kickstarter, I’ll be sending that out tonight. (Please allow shipping time for print copies, e-books I’ll be e-mailing you a 100% off coupon.)
  • I’ll also be adding the e-book of this to the list of reward options for the $10 tier of my Patreon.

A few thoughts regarding Slayers Evolution-R

I’m rewatching the classic 90s fantasy-comedy anime The Slayers for a panel at Anime Boston next month. I’ve just finished the fifth and final season, called Slayers Evolution-R. Here’s a handful of incoherent thoughts likely to show up in some form in the panel:

  • The first four episodes of Evolution-R pretty much fill the role of the four episodes o’ loosely connected nonsense that start off the second half of each of the first three seasons. Taken as such, they are far and away the best such run. Particularly great are the second episode, involving a Dullahan conference that’s played like a typical Japanese professional get-together and quite possibly the greatest concept the show has introduced since dragon chefs, and the fourth, which instead of the traditional and not particularly funny Gourry And Possibly Other People Crossdress schtick, is instead a massive and massively funny parody of soap operas.
  • There’s also Nama, who is of course Naga, and they play a lot with blatant hints both that she is Naga and that Naga is Amelia’s long-missing older sister. Other than one scene where Amelia describes her wonderful father and Naga describes her terrible father, both of which are recognizably Prince Phil, it’s all very boring and fanservice-y. Which, at least, is better than the usual sense in which Naga is fanservice-y?
  • After that we get into the meat of the story with a mini-arc involving Zuuma and Ozzel. There’s lots more grotesquerie here, of course, such as Zuuma’s Mazoku arms, the delightfully hideous Gduza and Dugld, and Ozzel’s aforementioned status as a doll.
  • Also here in the Zuuma mini-arc is where a theme that’s been building up since the beginning of Revolution comes into view, that of unintended consequences:
    • In the first episode of Revolution, Lina is hunting pirates because she’s killed so many bandits they’re getting hard to find.
    • Pokota’s crusade against the magic tanks gets exploited by Wizer to draw in Lina to use against Gioconda, leading to her learning about the Hellmaster’s Jar and thus being available for Rezo’s self-destructive scheme.
    • Gioconda’s quest for wealth unleashed Zanaffar on Ruginavald and Seyruun.
    • Lina’s bandit-killing and conflict with Copy Rezo led to the death of the bandits that killed Radock’s wife, robbing him of his revenge and leading to him becoming Zuuma with the goal of destroying her.
    • The gang’s attempts to follow the recipes provided by the “senile” spirit of Rezo led to the healing of a great number of people in the village.
    • Rezo’s quest to restore his sight led to a great many people healed as a side effect, but also led him to transform Zelgadis, deliberately subject Taforashia to an epidemic, and seal Taforashia.
    • Rezo’s creation of Ozzel as a servant and his own ambivalence about resurrection led to her developing a personality and will of her own.
    • Lina’s defeat of Shabranigdo led to his and Rezo’s spirits being bound together in the Hellmaster’s Jar.
    • Potoka’s quest to restore his kingdom led to the permanent loss of his human form and resurrection of the “ghost” Shabranigdo.
  • As I mentioned last time, in many ways the character Pokota most resembles is Zelgadis, and here we see both their stories end in the same place: neither can ever become human again, but both find people who accept them as they are and families of a sort.
  • Given that channeling the Giga Slave through a magic sword is basically just the Ragna Blade, you can make a case that this is the first time Lina successfully cast the Giga Slave. Fitting as a place to end the series, as it is the magical achievement of a lifetime, even beating out the fusion magic from Try.
  • This season pandered to fans of the old series a lot with stuff like Nama, constant references to the first season, the heavy Lina/Gourry shipping in the fourth episode, and the use of “Give a Reason” in the final battle. On the other hand, it was very funny and had great action, and what more do you want from The Slayers?

Captain's Log, Weekly Digest 15

A summary of the past week of posts to my in-character Star Trek Online Tumblr, chronicling the adventures of E.N. Morwen, a science-loving and thoughtful young woman trapped in a galaxy of warring space giants.

  • B’lii System Patrol: In which the New Dominion try to cut off communications with Cardassia and the Badlands, and the Phoenix responds.
  • Bavar System Patrol: In which the newly upgraded Phoenix joins in a renewed Starfleet offensive against the True Way and Alpha Jem’Hadar.
  • Aria System Patrol: In which an attempt at shore leave goes rapidly badly wrong.
  • The Tribble with Klingons: In which Morwen is forced to interrupt the Second Great Tribble Hunt.
  • Malon System Patrol: In which Morwen finds a True Way communications post and tries to take it out.
  • Tear of the Prophets: In which Morwen travels to Cardassia Prime to pick up a recently rediscovered Bajoran Orb, and things get a bit weird.
  • Elwing System Patrol: In which Morwen unwisely ignores the advice of her doctor.
  • Reimers System Patrol: In which Morwen stumbles onto a Klingon fleet massing in a remote corner of Cardassian space.
  • Crack in the Mirror: In which Deep Space Nine is occupied by duplicates of Starfleet officers. Again.
  • Obrom System Patrol: In which the True Way attempt a multi-pronged attack.
  • The New Link: In which the Phoenix goes looking for an Alpha Jem’Hadar stronghold, and finds something rather more.

As the flag officer of a fleet or tactical group, Starfleet regulations also require Morwen to provide a Fleet Status Report briefly summarizing the current status and mission of all ships under her command, every Stardate that’s a multiple of 10.
Also, I am recruiting to found a new fleet (the STO equivalent to a guild), dedicated to roleplay and crossovers between people’s characters. Any Fed-aligned roleplayers welcome! Tentative premise is exploring the fact that we’ve pretty much all done the same story missions at different times, implying some weird temporal or parallel-universe shenanigans for us to investigate.
I have finished the game’s main story. I’m still finishing up the Rep missions, which will be inserted into the story as appropriate, but they’re well off in the distance. I think it’ll be okay timing-wise.
Next month the game is doing something called “Delta Recruits.” Based on what they’re saying, it sounds like it’s mostly a way for new players to catch up to established players quickly, but it’s also got a lot of incentive for people to make alts during that time. I’m probably going to make one per faction. Depending on what happens, I may or may not cross the Fed one with Morwen. The Romulan and Klingon alts I have… other plans for.

A few thoughts regarding Slayers Revolution

I’m rewatching the classic 90s fantasy-comedy anime The Slayers for a panel at Anime Boston next month. I’ve just finished the fourth season, called Slayers Revolution. Here’s a handful of incoherent thoughts likely to show up in some form in the panel:

  • I remember being somewhat disappointed in Revolution when it first came out, but watching it directly on the heels of Try? Once you get past the jarring shift from traditional animation to CGI, it’s so much better.
  • Potoka is kind of interesting as a character because he’s clearly a hybrid of the four main characters: a hot-tempered magical powerhouse like Lina; wields the (replica) Sword of Light like Gourry; royalty like Amelia; transformed into a strange creature by Rezo like Zelgadis.
  • The character he’s most like personality-wise is definitely Lina though, while storywise he most closely resembles Zelgadis: he’s briefly an antagonist who draws Lina into the plot before allying with her, he’s very focused on his quest, and most of the more serious elements of the season have to do with him in some way–all statements true of Zelgadis way back in the first season.
  • Wizer, on the other hand, is rather Xellos-like: a pleasant demeanor hiding a scheming, gleaming stainless steel bear trap of a mind. He prefers observing to getting his hands dirty, takes pleasure in trolling people, and will never ask for help when he can trick you into helping instead. I really enjoy his and Xellos’ occasional scenes where they sort of bond over the shared experience of being the hypercompetent middle management and sometime elite field agents of their respective organizations.
  • They do an impressive job of weaving together characters and storyline elements from unrelated novels into a coherent plot, too. Well done.
  • And most blessedly of all after Try, it’s back to being a comedy series that occasionally touches on surprisingly deep pain or has an impressive action sequence, a register that just works much better with these characters.
  • Seyruun’s military (and, earlier, the pirates, though it’s not mentioned in dialogue at that point) has “Jillas cannons.” I love the idea that Jillas introduced firearms to the “inner world” behind the Mazoku Barrier and is now famous for it.
  • “Ozzel” is “Rezo” backwards, sort of. In a Japanese accent but using Romanji instead of Japanese characters (I’m guessing “Rezo” was probably treated as a foreign word/name and spelled in katakana, but I don’t actually know) it is. Anyway, I can’t remember whether I noticed that on my first watch or if it’s pointed out somewhere next season or what.
  • 13 episodes actually works pretty well as a season length for this show; it forces a brisk pace where even the one-off sillinesses inform the overarching plot–for example, the episode with chimerae made from people’s pets is also our first understanding what Wizer is trying to accomplish and how he’s doing it, as well as the first mention of Gioconda.
  • Odd coincidence: the main villain of the first arc of my Slayers d20 campaign was a warmongering duke building an army of golem tanks. The word being translated as “marquis” or “marquess” is koushaku, which is pronounced the same as the Japanese word for “duke or prince” (though it uses different kanji).
  • More on translating titles of nobility: the variations on the rank above earl and below duke in the English language–the equivalent to Meiji Japan’s koushaku–are a mess. The obvious assumption (which seems to be what the translators of Revolution did) is that “marquis” is the masculine and “marquess” the feminine term, like “count” and “countess” or “duke” and “duchess.” This is incorrect. Actually, “marquess” is a masculine title used only for British and Irish nobility, while “marquis” is the term for a nobleman of the same rank from a mainland European country. The equivalent feminine terms are “marchioness” if the noblewoman is from Britain/Ireland and “marquise” if from mainland Europe. So Gioconda’s actual title should be Marquise Gioconda.
  • So. Much. Grotesquerie!
    • You’ve got Pokota and Duclis being transformed from human into other (admittedly, Pokota is basically a Pokémon and Duclis is no more monstrous than Jillas, but it’s still distortion of their bodies).
    • A freaking living doll in Ozzel, including a head that still works after being unscrewed, arms that turn into blades, the puppet-on-strings way she sometimes moves…
    • You’ve got sentient armor that eats the wearer’s body and soul and eventually turns them into an unstoppable monster.
    • Pokota can unzip his stomach to store things in it. Yet it still demonstrably works as a stomach, including swelling comedically after he gorges himself.
    • Zanaffar gains people’s power and knowledge by eating them.
    • Duclis’ incomplete Zanaffar armor turns him from a snow leopard man into a snow leopard demon centaur.
  • And now, a brief moment of fanwank: The Sword of Light and its replica were effective on Zanaffar because its magic immunity works by shifting its astral body to the Overworld’s astral plane, and they’re based on Overworld sorcery. The Sword of Light didn’t work very well in the first season because (as Phibrizzo VERY briefly comments in Next) its power had been sealed at some point, until he unlocked it. The replica Sword of Light is possible because Darkstar isn’t actually completely dead–five tiny fragments of him remain in the five Darkstar weapons. (See also: Lost Universe. Or don’t, it’s eminently skippable.) That’s also why the weapons worked against him in the climax of Try: while casting a Mazoku’s own spell against them normally does nothing, the Darkstar weapons are part of Darkstar, and thus enable the use of his power against other parts of him. This is foreshadowing the climax of next season: sorcery drawing on a particular Mazoku can be used against that Mazoku, if and only if some part of the Mazoku wants it to work.
  • The title of this series is rather a misnomer. There is no revolution. Quite the opposite: Zanaffar was created for purposes of fighting a revolution against the gods and Mazoku, and Lina rejects it on the grounds that she personally is already an independent nation (unstated: population 2, herself and Gourry) and Zanaffar just wants to set itself up as a replacement god. Which is true–unlike Valgaav, who sought true revolution, Zanaffar’s pseudorevolutionary purpose is to recreate the existing system with itself at the top. Still, this means Lina is once again defending the status quo on the grounds that she personally is comfortable, so what’s everyone else complaining about?

The special woman (Pretty Poison)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 LogoIt’s September 14, 1992, the day before “Nothing to Fear,” so check that episode’s entry for top movie, song, and headlines. On TV we have “Pretty Poison,” with story by Paul Dini and Michael Reeves, teleplay by Tom Reugger–and as this is the first episode to distinguish the two, a word of explanation may be in order: a story credit means that the credited person or people came up with anything from a single-sentence premise for the episode to a multi-page plot outline; the teleplay credit indicates who actually wrote the script based on that story.
It’s an important distinction to make here because this is an episode that does well a lot of what “The Last Laugh” did poorly, while still being problematic in its own way, and it’s therefore important to have a sense of who likely did what so that we know who to thank, or, alternatively, to blame–though frankly, given that all three of the writers involved went on to write some truly excellent episodes, the worst we can say about any of them was that this may not have been their best work.
But that makes the episode sound poorly executed, which it very much is not. Looking at “The Last Laugh’s” failures makes this episode’s successes quite clear. First, it briefly sustains some genuine mystery; although the hair is something of a giveaway, we never see the face of the ominous figure in the opening scene, just that they seem to rescuing a particular rose from destruction; later, when Dent is poisoned at the Rose Cafe and the camera lingers on the rose symbol in the window, it provides the audience with a clear red herring, one shared by the police. Batman likewise does not immediately know who did it; he only begins to suspect Isley after she visits Dent in the hospital and Batman remembers her kissing him right before he collapsed; it is only when Alfred’s research reveals Isley to be an expert in extinct plants, like the one that provided the poison, that he goes after her.
Along the way, we get a few scenes that sketch out the shape of the friendship between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent–first, them together, smiling as they break ground for the new prison, then laughing together at dinner, followed by Wayne’s mounting panic after Dent collapses, and finally his frequent visits to the hospital. Even though, to a long-time fan of the series or of the Batman comics, it seems obvious that Batman’s closest relationship ought to be to Alfred, so far we have seen far more evidence of his closeness to Harvey Dent. Which in turn works to make the action in the latter half of the episode more urgent; because we see that Batman cares about Dent, we know that he must be feeling a great deal of pressure to find the antidote, on a personal level, again, unlike “The Last Laugh.”
That second half of the episode, where the action happens, is also quite well constructed. Just as in “The Last Laugh,” it is built as a series of deathtraps and escapes, but never feels as repetitive, even though it happens over a shorter time and includes four, rather than three, traps. This is mostly accomplished through escalation–each trap is more threatening and requires more effort to escape than the last–and by linking the traps together so that the progression feels organic. (Fitting, given the greenhouse setting.) So, the first trap is a simple trapdoor over a pit full of cacti; Batman is able to escape by grabbing an overhanging vine. This vine turns out to be the tendril of a monstrous Venus flytrap, which attempts to devour him. His struggles with it attract Isley–now revealed as a new (to the series) villain, Poison Ivy–who doses him with the same poison as Dent. Finally, his continued struggles to escape the plant and get the antidote from Poison Ivy eventually cause an electrical fire that spreads rapidly through the greenhouse, forcing him to deal with both poison and fire while dodging shots from Ivy’s wrist-mounted mini-crossbow. This steady raising of the stakes helps convey the danger of the situation and increase the audience’s tension, where having the most successful trap first in “The Last Laugh” defused it.
But unfortunately, this final action sequence is where the episode’s biggest flaw becomes apparent: Poison Ivy is played as a bog-standard femme fatale, rather than explored sympathetically the way, say, Two-Face or Mister Freeze will be. Which is particularly unfortunate since the episode starts out seemingly sympathetic to her motivation; at least, the deeply cynical “5 years later, a better, safer Gotham” caption in the transition from the destruction of the near-extinct rose’s habitat to the completed prison, followed immediately by a criminal escaping that prison, suggests a great deal of skepticism about whether replacing a field of flowers with a prison was actually a good idea.
But from the moment she kisses Dent, Ivy is played as dangerous and invasive. The facade of a “good girl” she shows in her first scene–attractive, kindly, conscientious about waiting for Wayne to eat, but willing to accede to Dent’s judgment, which is to say entirely non-assertive and therefore non-threatening–drops after the kiss as she sashays away. One of the men in the restaurant–and in this shot, everyone visible except Ivy appears to be a man–even loses the thread of his conversation about business and turns to stare at her as she walks by. Rather than depicting this as rather creepy behavior on the man’s part, the camera is clearly showing Ivy as an invasive element, the lone woman in a male space, her red hair and dress vibrant in a room full of black hair and brown suits, the only thing moving, and the center of the shot, with all eyes on her.
The death trap sequences make this much worse, because each shows another aspect of the femme fatale. The hidden trapdoor is treacherous and deceptive. The poison kiss is a literal kiss of death, a romantic and sexual encounter that contaminates, corrupts, and ultimately destroys the man. The fire is passion and heat, turned deadly and destructive.

A giant "venus flytrap" that is obviously a tentacle monster with a razor tooth-lined vagina in the center.

I mean, honestly now.


You may note I skipped the second trap in the previous paragraph; that is because it is the most ludicrously blatant of them all, and deserves its own paragraph. You see, that’s not at all what a Venus flytrap looks like; rather, it is very clearly a vagina with teeth that is also a tentacle monster. (Note that the animation studio for this episode, Sunrise, was and still is a major producer of anime, and as such the animators almost certainly consciously knew what they were doing with at least the tentacle monster part–such creatures were already a staple of Japanese animated porn by 1992, and have precursors in Japanese erotica going back at least two hundred years.) The vagina dentata is a classic symbol of the male fear of feminine sexual power, that the vagina (standing in for the woman) will devour or castrate the man. The tentacles dragging Batman in make this a seduction or even a rape, compounding this fear that the man will become powerless if the woman is sexually empowered–and this is clearly Poison Ivy’s toothed, tentacled vagina we’re talking about, not just in the sense that she owns it, but that between its color scheme (red flowers and green vines, just like her red hair and green costume) and the fact that she becomes unhinged immediately after accidentally shooting it, it is symbolically a part of her.
That is, after all, what the femme fatale, and thus Poison Ivy, is about: a woman owns her sexuality and is empowered by it, and thus becomes an unacceptable threat and corrupting influence to the men around her. She is not a Madonna, a virginal, simpering, dependent, pure, innocent weakling, and therefore must be a whore, which in this case means using her sexuality to destroy men–literally, with a kiss of death.
Later episodes will do a much better job with Ivy, particularly with her relationship with Harley Quinn (though that, too, has its issues). But here she showcases a major problem with the early episodes of this show: it is very much a boy’s club. Fully half of humanity is just not allowed to have a voice or point of view; women are found in supporting roles (Summer Gleason, Francine Langstrom) or else stock noir characters rooted in the misogynistic attitudes of an era when women had only just gotten the vote.
The show, and especially the larger DCAU, will eventually do better; here and now, however, it’s hard not to look at Poison Ivy and imagine an alternate version of this episode where she got the attention, care, and character-revolutionizing innovation of “Heart of Ice.”


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