Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hidden Boners on Batman: The Animated Series

Come to think of it, I’m surprised I don’t have a tag here that reads something like “Surprise! Beloved Childhood Memory Turned Out to Be Sexual!” It’s a pet interest of mine, uncovering strange, subversive elements to the things I enjoyed innocently as a kid. How very dumb I was.

Recently, the Onion A.V. Club has begun reviewing the old Batman show from my youth. Even more so than the Tim Burton movies, this cartoon series — which, by the way, still looks pretty damn sharp today — taught me to love superheroes. And foremost among my favorite characters on the show was Poison Ivy. She kicks ass, this diminutive redhead who runs around poisoning people and firing arrows and concocting elaborate eco-terrorism plots. Given the profoundly sexual nature of the character — she’s adept at using lust to manipulate both men and women, even though the cartoon tiptoes around this ability — I should have guessed that her episodes might have had some sexy elements writhing and thrusting just beneath the surface.

They did.

Recently, the A.V. Club recapped the second Poison Ivy outing, “Eternal Youth,” which I’ll summarize in three sentences here:
Bruce Wayne gets an invite to a health spa, but Alfred and his girlfriend (a one-off character) go in his place and enjoy the resort’s rejuvenating offerings. However, it turns out that the spa’s director, Dr. Daphne Demeter, is actually Poison Ivy, luring big shots to the remote spot so she can punish them for their alleged ecological misdeeds. Batman, whose alterego got involved in Poison Ivy’s plan when his corporation was briefly involved with a slash-and-burn outfit, stops her.
And here’s the original preview that got my attention back in 1992, when the episode first aired:

That should be enough to at least remind you if you too saw this episode as a kid, but allow me to elaborate on the sexier aspects.

For starters, “Dr. Daphne Demeter” is essentially pushing Viagra, even though the drug didn’t exist back then and I wouldn’t have known about it if it had. When Alfred and his girlfriend go the spa and try the doctor’s drug, Demetrite, they do actually get a youthful spring back in their step. (And since Alfred takes his ladyfriend away for the weekend, it’s presumable that they managed to take full advantage of the fact that their aged bodies are temporarily not in the constant pain that old age causes, for all I know.) But here’s the thing: Demetrite also primes the patients’ bodies for transformation into trees. Once they’ve consumed enough, Poison Ivy attacks them with a gushing stream of concentrated Demetrite that makes their bodies harden, grow bark and sprout leaves. In her mind, she’s writing their wrongs against nature by transforming them into trees. In my mind, she’s giving them wood in the worst possible way. As the A.V. Club reviewer Oliver Sava notes, “When Poison Ivy reveals her grove to Batman, most of the human trees are frozen in terror, but some of those huge, gaping mouths could very well be O-faces.” Yikes.

Here’s the clearest image I can find of these contorted treeple:

In the end, this episode one-ups Poision Ivy’s debut in the series, “Pretty Poison,” in which the villainess first appears as demure botanist Pamela Isley, girlfriend to Harvey Dent. (At this point in the series, Harvey is still the Gotham City D.A. and hasn’t yet transformed into Two Face.) Harvey and Pamela get engaged, but then Harvey collapses as a result of a severe botanical poison. An investigation reveals Pamela reveals herself to be the culprit as well as Gotham’s newest batshit costume enthusiast. Batman ends up fighting her, now out as Poison Ivy, in a greenhouse, where she calls back-up in the form of a giant, sentient Venus Fly Trap. I can’t think of a better metaphor for the hidden dangers of beautiful women than a larger-than-life, gushing, snapping vagina dentata.

And yay for getting to associate the vagina dentata with a childhood obsession for the second time on this blog.

Bonus sexy points for “Eternal Youth” come in the form of Ivy’s one-off henchditzes, spokesmodel mercenaries Lily and Violet. They talk like they’re the lost Tilly sisters, but they’re voiced by Julie Brown (no, the other one) and Lynne Marie Stewart (known today either as Miss Yvonne from Pee Wee’s Playhouse or Charlie’s mom from It’s Always Sunny, depending on what kind of TV watcher you are). It’s also worth mentioning that Alfred’s girlfriend, Maggie, is voiced by the late Paddy Edwards, who sounds only slightly less creepy on Batman than she did voicing Ursula’s eels in The Little Mermaid, which, of course, had a hidden boner of its own. That’s negative sexy points, so let’s total this whole paragraph at zero.

Still, everything else smacks of sex in a way that would surprise me from a cartoon today, to say nothing of one that first aired nearly twenty years ago.

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