Episode Number: 20 (105)
Original Air Date: October 17, 1998
Directed by: Curt Geda
Written by: Hilary J. Bader
First Appearance: Livewire, Supergirl
It was bound to happen eventually. Since Batman: The Animated Series was resurrected as The New Batman Adventures largely to pair it with Superman on the new WB Network you knew a cross-over had to occur. Batman had already appeared in Superman during the arc “The World’s Finest” which featured a team-up between the heroes to combat the villainous team-up of Lex Luthor and The Joker. This one is similar in principal, though much smaller in scope (one episode vs three), as it features a team-up of the female heroes Batgirl and Supergirl in Gotham to combat a trio of female villains. Team-ups and cross-overs in general rarely impress me, but the added wrinkle of this being an all female episode of Batman certainly intrigues me. It’s also encouraging because a woman wrote the episode, Hilary J. Bader, in what would be her last contribution to the show.
The episode begins with a police officer (Hal Rayle) escorting a prisoner via truck to GothCorp. That villain happens to be Livewire (Lori Petty), a woman who possesses electrical powers and has tangled with Superman in the past. She is being taken to GothCorp for treatment, which I assume means they’re going to try and cure her of her affliction. Her body, as we’ll soon learn, is essentially like a living battery that can stockpile electricity. She can also discharge it in the form of lightning bolts and even turn her entire body into living lightning to move through electrical wires. Not being familiar with her appearances in Superman, I have no idea if she actually wants to be cured. Her powers I assume are partly responsible for her blue-white skin so perhaps she would like to appear more “normal.” Her costume is very much a Bruce Timm design as it it’s basically a black leotard with a neckline that goes down to her naval (and is in the shape of a lightning bolt for added flair) along with some thigh-high boots.
If Livewire desires a cure, she doesn’t act like it. The police truck is forced to slow down for an accident up ahead. Another cop informs the driver that he can proceed, but he should avoid the downed wires. This is most convenient as Livewire needs to be exposed to electricity to take advantage of her powers, and downed wires are precisely what she needs to escape her confines. When the truck passes them, Livewire basically makes them dance with a telepathic ability. She absorbs the electricity within them and turns herself into living light to pass through the back of the truck into the cabin. She taunts the driver a bit, then makes her dramatic and attention-grabbing escape.
The Batmobile is shown speeding through the streets of Gotham, but it isn’t Batman whose behind the wheel. It’s Batgirl, and she’s out on her own looking for Livewire. Batman appears briefly on a video chat in the cockpit so he can maintain his streak of appearing in every episode. He appears to be piloting the Batwing somewhere and he tells Batgirl he won’t be back in Gotham for at least 48 hours. He tells her he’ll try to get her some backup, but Batgirl thinks that won’t be necessary and assumes Livewire is heading back to Metropolis now that she’s escaped.
Oh, how wrong you are, Ms. Gordon. Batgirl sees Livewire atop some power lines right when the call is ended. Worse, Livewire sees her and jumps down onto the Batmobile. The show then demonstrates it doesn’t understand how electricity works as Livewire is able to attack Batgirl through the car with her powers.
Elsewhere, Kara Kent (Nicholle Tom) is bored house-sitting for her cousin, Clark Kent until she gets a phone call. It’s Batman, only she doesn’t know it’s him. He gives her a message to leave for Clark about a breaking story in Gotham. He’ll need to get there right away. As Batman emphasizes that part Kara says he sounds “like a cape” causing Batman to hang up. Realizing her night just got less dull, Kara heads for the closet for an outfit change.
Batgirl uses the eject feature on the Batmobile to get out of Livewire’s shocking trap. Once ejected, Batgirl descends via a handheld glider and comes to rest harmlessly on the street. Livewire resumes her attack and starts blasting Batgirl with her powers. Batgirl is forced to use the glider like a shield until it’s knocked away. As she runs, she manages to dodge all of Livewire’s blasts despite them traveling at the speed of light – a most impressive feat by Batgirl or just really poor aim on the part of Livewire. Failing to strike her, Livewire emits a huge electrical pulse that’s essentially unavoidable for Batgirl which knocks her on her back. Before Livewire can finish her off though, Supergirl flies in for the save.
Supergirl deposits Batgirl a safe distance away from Livewire and then goes on the attack. She’s not very effective, and Livewire tosses insults at her that probably sting a little as they draw unfavorable comparisons between her and Superman, whom Livewire essentially phrases as superior in every way. She gets Supergirl in her clutches and is really making this look easy, until her juice runs out. Realizing she needs to recharge, Livewire bids a cheerful goodbye to her foes and disappears in some nearby cables leaving Batgirl and Supergirl alone to face their failure together. To add further insult to injury, the pair are forced to explain to Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) that they failed to subdue Livewire. He mocks them by referring to them as rookies and even seems to wish Batman were available. Supergirl is naturally ticked off, but Batgirl is more calming and assures her they’ll get their girl.
Our setting changes to some old zoo. An unmistakable hyena appears to be searching for a place to relieve himself when a topiary comes to life and kicks him away. Inside a dwelling, Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) expresses her displeasure to Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) about where her hyena’s choose to urinate, but she doesn’t see the harm in it. Harley is much more interested in getting out of this hideout and going on a shopping spree. Ivy reaches out to her in an almost motherly fashion to remind her they have to lay low in order to avoid The Bat. Ivy doesn’t want to leave and draw attention to themselves until they have an edge in their seemingly eternal conflict. On cue, the toaster starts rumbling and shooting sparks and out pops Livewire. Declaring herself their edge, she proposes a team-up and the villainess duo is apparently now a trio.
The newly formed team heads for the mall to do some shopping. It’s apparently well past closing time as Harley marches up to the door with her trusty mallet and starts swinging. She doesn’t get anywhere with such a tactic, and Livewire makes a comment at Harley’s expense as she brushes the woman aside and blasts the door down. As they head inside, Ivy and Livewire are quite chatty with each other while Harley lags behind looking a touch jealous. They’re soon confronted by a security guard, but Ivy saunters over (while a saxophone plays in the background) and leaves him unconscious with her unique gifts. They then set their sights on a cluster of cash machines. Ivy tosses some seeds in one which causes some vines to explode out of the machine freeing the cash inside. Declaring this too messy, Livewire one-ups Ivy by simply shooting a bolt of electricity into another machine causing it to dispense cash. As she waits for praise, the two hear grunting and turn to see Harley wailing on a third machine with her mallet. Livewire seems both amused and annoyed with Harley and simply blasts the cash out of the machine knocking Harley on her rear. She then orders the woman to bag up the cash while she goes shopping, causing Harley to gripe aloud, “When did we become the gang?”
Livewire heads for a clothing store and starts zapping herself into some dresses. As she does so her costume mysteriously disappears each time she appears in a new dress, so either that’s an animation goof or her powers allow her to create her costume, which if so, renders “clothes shopping” kind of pointless. Supergirl and Batgirl soon arrive, with Batgirl riding on Supergirl’s shoulders as she flew through the night sky, and corner Livewire by herself. Supergirl is able to knock her around this time, and Batgril nails her with a giant sphere that apparently contains powdered silicate which neutralizes Livewire’s powers.
It’s at this point that Batgirl and Supergirl learn about the team-up as Ivy enters riding on a bunch of sentient vines. Supergirl, appearing over-confident, saunters towards Ivy and gets hit with some seeds that immediately produce more vines which coil around her. Harley uses one of her gimmick guns to knock down Batgirl allowing her to turn her attention to Livewire. Apparently no longer salty with the woman, Harley happily produces a giant seltzer bottle to wash the silicate dust off of Livewire. Of course, water and electricity are a bad combination and dousing Livewire causes her powers to go a bit haywire and appears to inflict some degree of pain as well. She grabs Harley and appears ready to punch her out of frustration (“Are you out of your mind?!” “…Yeah!”), but instead drops to one knee forcing Harley to help her to safety
Ivy corners Batgirl just as Supergirl finally frees herself from the vine trap. She makes her way towards the two as Ivy tosses more seeds at Batgirl. Supergirl uses her heat vision to incinerate them as Ivy runs. With that taken care of, Supergirl moves to block Ivy’s escape, but Ivy is happy to congratulate her for being so predictable. It seems those seeds required heat to activate a poison that’s quite lethal. Batgirl is trapped behind some glass doors as the gas spreads and soon collapses. Supergirl is forced to abandon Ivy in order to save her ally. Ivy then hops in her getaway car, a pink convertible named Rose Bud, with Harley and Livewire and the three escape.
Supergirl apparently takes Batgirl back to Barbara’s apartment. There she’s able to get some oxygen and gives us a little insight into her life beyond Batgirl. It seems she works for the police in a tech role which grants her access to all of their files. In a bit of a nod to her Oracle persona from the comics, she explains to Supergirl how she knows what’s going on with the police at all times and is able to hack into their system for more info. Supergirl is impressed, and the two trade compliments as each seems to desire the other’s life. It’s a bit forced and Batgirl makes it even more on the nose with a “grass is always greener,” comment as the two prepare to head out and track down the bad girls.
At the Iceberg Lounge, the villainesses are celebrating their getaway. Harley and Ivy appear to be in a good mood, but Livewire still seems irritated with Harley. Worse for her is the location of the table by the seal pool, which amuses Harley but puts Livewire on edge given the abundance of water. They start to argue amongst themselves when Ivy finally sticks up for Harley which gets the attention of the club’s owner: The Penguin (Paul Williams). He tries to quiet the trio down which just causes Livewire to address him as “Lard Butt.” Insulted, he demands they leave and in retaliation the three start trashing the place.
Batgirl and Supergirl, apparently learning of the commotion, show up in the aftermath of the trio’s attack on the Iceberg Lounge. Penguin, looking rather worse for ware, is unimpressed with the heroines and, like Bullock, seems to desire Batman’s presence. The women seem less insulted this time around and when they point out they’re all he’s got Penguin relents and gives up the dirt on where Ivy and Harley have been hiding out.
Livewire is not happy to be back at Ivy’s hideout. She dislikes the hyenas and isn’t much into the décor. She zaps one of Harley’s hyenas which understandably irritates Harley, but before the tension can escalate one of Ivy’s plants starts pulsating indicating intruders. It’s Batgirl and Supergirl, and this time Batgirl has a tank on her back loaded with silicate to take down Livewire. As Supergirl scans the area with her X-Ray vision, she finds Harley who sticks her tongue out at Supergirl indicating they’ve been spotted. As Supergirl warns Batgirl, Livewire attacks. Ivy comes riding in on an animated topiary in the shape of an elephant. Apparently living, animal-shaped, plants are Ivy’s new go-to weapon as Supergirl will soon be set upon by topiary tigers.
Batgirl is quickly separated from her weapon, while Harley takes herself out when her boxing glove gun bounces harmlessly off of Supergirl and knocks her out instead. Without her weapon, Batgirl is no match for Livewire. Once again, the show demonstrates its electrical shortcomings when Batgirl successfully blocks Livewire’s attacks with a metal trashcan lid. Fortunately for her though, her opponents are not very coordinated. As Ivy bares down on Supergirl from atop her elephant, Livewire’s blasts set its rump on fire causing Ivy to abandon the fight. Livewire gets Batgirl in her clutches and is preparing to off her, but Ivy activates a defunct waterslide to douse the flames on her “baby.” Livewire is directly in the path of the rushing water from the slide, and Batgirl is able to slither away as it strikes. Supergirl also frees herself from the tiger things and grabs Batgirl before the water reaches her. Livewire essentially shorts out, and the burst of electricity knocks Ivy out as well while Harley is still unconscious as a result of her own misfire.
Kara and Barbara are then shown seated on Barbara’s couch eating ice cream in bath robes. On television, Bullock is being interviewed about the capture of Livewire, Ivy, and Harley and he credits it to a pair of rookies. This seems to irritate the two, but Bullock then adds that the two show promise and their demeanor changes to jubilation as the two share a high-five to end this one.
Accepting that a cross-over was going to happen, choosing to make that cross-over focus on a friendship between Batgirl and Supergirl is a solid enough choice. It gives the show a chance to highlight its female characters, including the villains, and it’s something the show should be commended for as an all-female episode is a rather bold move for a cartoon primarily aimed at boys. The only downside is that it places a spotlight on how weak the show’s female designs are, which I’ve harped on in the past. I just wish I liked the result more. This episode tries to do some interesting things, but it just doesn’t go for it. I liked seeing the early stages of a Livewire/Harley rivalry with Ivy caught in the middle, but it’s squashed almost immediately. They never come to blows or anything, and it would have been interesting seeing how the more pragmatic Ivy approached such a conflict. It’s also tiresome seeing so much of the episode focus on males discrediting Batgirl and Supergirl. While the women are triumphant in the end, it doesn’t feel like those characters were punished in any way for their misogyny. Bullock gives the two a little shout out at the end, so I guess he learned a lesson?
The other thing holding this episode back for me is the presence of Livewire. She’s not a villain I particularly enjoy. I do like that her powers are clearly defined with strengths and a glaring weakness and it makes sense that she would assume an alpha position amongst her co-conspirators. Her personality is boring to me, and no disrespect to Lori Petty, but I don’t like her voice on this character. It just bums me out because I find Harley and Ivy and their dynamic quite interesting, but it’s pushed aside to make room for Livewire. They never got their true follow-up to their initial pairing as the only other time we’ve seen them working together is in the anthology episode “Holiday Knights”. And with this showing winding down we have seemingly run out of opportunities for these two to create additional mischief.
Another long-running shortcoming highlighted by this episode is the lack of personality in the leads. Batgirl had some spunk to her in the original Batman: The Animated Series, but 20 episodes into this series and I feel like she still doesn’t have much of a personality. She gets to interject one-liners and such like Robin and Nightwing, but mostly she’s just a nice girl who fights crime. The scene between Supergirl and Batgirl in Barbara’s apartment was a chance to do something with the pair, but it just felt like shallow girl talk where they both envy the other’s station in life. Supergirl has even less personality, but in her defense, this isn’t her show. I gather she clearly has a bit of an inferiority complex where Superman is concerned which feels like a natural direction to take her in. She doesn’t really do much here though and basically exists to even up the muscle a bit.
I don’t want my criticisms to detract from the work of writer Hilary J. Bader. I imagine Bader was basically told to write an episode where Batgirl teams up with Supergirl to take on Livewire, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn. If this was the best she could do with that premise then so be it. That’s a lot to juggle in one episode with little time to establish a true conflict while also exploring a new bond between the protagonists. It’s not a terrible episode, just not a high point for the series. And Bader has had high points as she has been often tasked with the more female focused episodes like “You Scratch My Back” and “The Ultimate Thrill.” I think her best work was on “Mean Seasons,” an episode I thought was pretty damn good. The showrunners also must have felt confident in her abilities because she was tasked with the Mr. Freeze return in “Cold Comfort.” Given his reputation as it relates to the series that’s quite an honor. She would also get to write his Batman Beyond episode, “Meltdown,” along with several others. This is her last contribution to The New Batman Adventures and sadly she would pass away in 2002 after a battle with breast cancer. She was 50.