Batman 1.10 – A Death Worse Than Fate

To get the lingering question out of the way, yes, part two of this story was every bit as good as I hoped. It’s a great story.

This is the last that we’ll see of Zelda, the first one-and-done Batvillain, but not the last that we’ll see of Anne Baxter. The actress, who coincidentally enough appeared with the previous villain in the show, George Sanders, in the classic 1950 film All About Eve, will return in season three as a different baddie. But Baxter’s role in this story ended up having long-term ramifications for the comic books. I have long believed that “Zelda the Great” was the impetus for the creation of one of Batman’s best-known and popular villains, Poison Ivy.

Don’t believe me? Consider: as with the previous four stories, this is an adaptation of a recently-available comic book adventure, this one Detective Comics #346. Like the issue of Batman that contained the reprints that inspired the previous two stories, it had a December 1965 cover date, and was on newsstands when the show went into production in September-October.

“Batman’s Inescapable Doom-Trap” had many of the elements of “Zelda the Great”/”A Death Worse Than Fate,” including the money-hungry Eivol Ekdol, but the principal baddie is different. In the comic, the stage magician is a fellow called Carnado. The TV producers in Los Angeles knew what the comic book people in New York hadn’t figured out: audiences wanted female foils for Batman, and the only one in the comics was Catwoman, and even she had apparently not been seen in a new story since 1954.

(In fact, we may be darn lucky that the December 1965 issue of Batman also contained a reprint of a Catwoman story along with its Joker and Mr. Zero/Mr. Freeze reprints, otherwise the show’s producers might not have even known the character existed!)

Say what you will about the people at DC/National, once this show started and Batman became an overnight pop sensation, they got on board really quickly, dusting off unused characters from the rogues’ gallery – like Catwoman, who started regularly appearing throughout many superhero books in 1966 – and creating new characters who were not too far out and weird and who could very easily be adapted for television*. One of these was Blockbuster – I can imagine the actor Ted Cassidy playing him – and another, in June 1966’s Batman #181 and August’s #183, was Poison Ivy, the first new female villain in the comics in years. And yes, the comic book people were certainly responding to the TV show; the cover of #183 shows Batman sitting down to watch the latest episode of his TV series.

Pretty much everything you know about Poison Ivy – mad botanist Pamela Isley, crazy about plants, sometimes has green skin, hates people, immune to toxins, hangs out with Harley Quinn – came years after her original appearances. The first version of Poison Ivy is a va-va-voom girl who takes that name because she gets under men’s skin, an itch they can’t scratch. According to Wikipedia, her creator, Robert Kanigher, was inspired by Bettie Page, but I read her as Tina Louise. She could have been adapted for the TV show with no change whatsoever. Don’t believe me? Both issues are reprinted in black-and-white in Showcase Presents: Batman, Vol. 2, and the first one, in color, in Batman: In the Sixties. Check ’em out.

So if the comic book people made this character to be used on TV, why didn’t she ever appear? Simple: once Julie Newmar knocked every straight male in America over as Catwoman, and the Bat-Cat flirtation became a regular part of season two, there simply was no need for Poison Ivy and her identical “tempt Batman to be bad” relationship. After Newmar, you couldn’t introduce a character with exactly the same “bad girl” shtick to the TV show, and, in 1966, that’s all that Poison Ivy was. Any TV story with her would have been just a second-rate Catwoman imitation.

Although… in some parallel universe… there’s a world where Julie Newmar and Tina Louise teamed up for a story that everybody remembers… Ahem. Anyway, that’s my hypothesis. Recasting Carnado as a woman was the wake-up call that the comic book people needed. Without Anne Baxter, there never would have been a Poison Ivy.

*Of course, there was also the Outsider, who certainly WAS too weird for TV, but that’s a story even further out in the wild for this blog.

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