Getting villains right is already tough–characters like Calendar Man and the Sewer King are reminders of that. But what about one that doesn’t talk and doesn’t show their face? Batman Beyond has maybe its toughest task yet with Curare, the blue-skinned assassin targeting future Gotham’s District Attorney.
Batman Beyond: A Touch of Curare
It turns out that a villain who can’t speak or communicate outside of swinging a sword doesn’t make for a very compelling story, even if it does make for rad fight scenes. The brunt of the exposition for this episode falls on Bruce, while the story is more about current Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon, and the way she views vigilantes and their role in this futuristic version of Gotham. Curare makes sure that the story doesn’t get too talky for too long, though, and that Terry has someone to dodge and punch.
Curare herself is a member of the Society of Assassins. The naming here is interesting because the League of Assassins has a long history in DC and especially in Batman shows. The Society of Assassins is something created specifically for Batman Beyond, and for long-time DC fans that feels like a very strange decision. Perhaps the writers knew that fans would react strongly to the League and didn’t want to give them any hope that a character like Ra’s Al Ghul could come back. It’s close enough, though, that it’s mostly just confusing, and these days results in viewers just googling the names of the two organizations to see if they’re related.
Another weird decision lies in the name Curare. The word comes from a paralytic poison found on some rainforest plants, and Bruce references that obliquely when he says that Curare is as deadly as her name. But they never actually tell you what Curare is. For such an exotic name and unique-looking character (at least far as Batman Beyond is concerned), that seems like a really strange oversight.
Whenever Curare is on-screen, there’s a fight happening. To create action is this character’s sole purpose in this episode. It shows, too, because the fights look great. Terry gets to move more than usual, and Curare matches his every flip and leap. Thus far into the series, Batman has often been fighting big robots, metahumans, and people in special suits. This is the first time where it feels like Batman is up against an equal. Curare is more like Deathstroke or Talia Al Ghul than she is like anyone Terry has met so far.
But, again, all we know about her is that she’s a super good assassin, and that if she fails, she becomes a target of the Society of Assassins. That’s literally all we get.
Barbara Gordon has lots more to say, though. After Terry interrupts Curare’s first attempt, Barbara shows up at the Batcave. This show doesn’t do slapstick humor very often or very well, instead relying on wryness and dry wit. With that said, it’s genuinely funny watching Terry freak out at Barbara’s appearance, thinking the whole jig is up before watching the two interact.
This version of Barbara Gordon is in her later years and has led a full life post-Batman. The show implies that she and Bruce were lovers at one point, despite what would’ve been a substantial age difference at the time. She harbors a lot of resentment for Bruce’s single-minded focus on his crusade, and for the way that caused him to push away those closest to him, while repeatedly pulling anyone who can land a jump and throw a kick into his quest.
The conversations between Barbara and Terry establish that she sees vigilantes as doing more harm than good in the city, of course. But more importantly, they give definition to the legendary history of Batman that Bruce would never tell. The human side of it that he can’t bear to acknowledge, and the way it affects those people. I don’t think the show engages with this part quite enough, but the tone of those conversations does convey it all the same.
On their own, just these conversations or just the action would make for a pretty forgettable episode of Batman Beyond, and they don’t always feel like a good match, but they both feel important to the show in their own way.