Batgirl and Catwoman track down a stolen jade statue.
Written by Michael Reaves & Brynne Stephens
Directed by Dan Riba
Music by Harvey R. Cohen
Animation by Dong Yang
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Loren Lester as Dick Grayson
Melissa Gilbert as Barbara Gordon
Ed Asner as Roland Daggett
Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman
Roger Rose as Patrolman
Scott Valentine as Chemist
Begin at the end. That means "A Touch of Curare," which has Barbara Gordon, in the twilight of her career, reflecting on where she's been and how she got there. The full story of why a costumed vigilante became commissioner of police is not revealed (though perhaps it was genetically foreordained), but it is not hard to discern a contributing factor. She and the Bat-boss, for awhile, mixed business with pleasure, though it is never put quite so crudely. And that, let us declare at the very top, was a mistake.
But we can see the mistake a'borning, if we go back now to the beginning, to "Batgirl Returns," and to the beginning of that episode. In most romances the wooing starts with the man giving the woman a box of assorted chocolates; in this one, it starts when the gal pulls the guy loose from a clutch of assorted nuts. Well, as a path to a man's heart, it has the merit of originallity.
But it turns out that the scene is actually one of Barbara's dreams, you see, and it lays the ground for the tragic arc that unfolds across three animated series. For that dream suggests that the Batman-Batgirl romance did not blossom because two damaged people discovered each other. One of them had ambitions.
In the world of Batman, it is safe to say, everyone is screwed up. But they are not equally screwed up or screwed up in the same way. Barbara, in fact, seems quite normal: a wholesome redhead with clear skin, a loving father, and enviable prospects. Only one oddity stands out: She has a taste for danger.
In "Shadow of the Bat" she donned the Batgirl suit for a limited and specific purpose: to clear her father of a crime. But in this dream sequence, she betrays a lust for both the Batman and the Bat-life. Well, who hasn't got the itch for one or the other, occasionally? But Barbara's in a position to act on it.
This is how folly and tragedy enter her life. Both Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (and, later, Tim Drake and Terry McGinnis) came to grief through no fault of their own and then fought their way to a compromise. Barbara has a choice, and she makes it quite willingly. She doesn't have to take up this life. And she doesn't have to chase after Batman. Nevertheless, she does. She willingly screws herself up, and she screws up others, as attested to in "Old Wounds."
That's why Robin's presence in this episode is so significant. As Dick Grayson, he stands for normalcy, friendship, possible romance. As Robin he is obdurately hostile to her Bat-ambitions and warns her away from dangerous illusions. "Batgirl Returns" emphasizes that Barbara has a free choice in the matter, and its tone seems calculated to show how happy the alternative could be. It is structured as a screwball comedy of mistaken identity, and the glimmering possibility of tragedy averted is nicely encapsulated when healthy, sunny Dick wakes Barbara from that silly dream. It gives us a glimpse of the road she did not take.
We never see the full story of Barbara's career, the way we see Robin's disillusionment dramatized in the Lost Years comic book miniseries and in "Old Wounds." That arc deals briefly with Barbara, but it leaves her only vulnerable to what comes next. We see here how it begins, and we see in Batman Beyond how it ends. We can guess at the outline, but it remains one chapter in the BTAS-TNBA-BB outline that has yet to be written.
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