The Matt Signal Beyond – Episode 11: A Touch of Curaré

Plot summary: A mysterious assassin targets Barbara Gordon’s husband, and Terry learns more about his mentor’s past.

After completing the original run of Batman The Animated Series, Matt Waters looks to the future each Saturday and Sunday with recaps of every episode of Batman Beyond, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

Follow The Matt Signal on Twitter!

Notes

Episode Title: ‘A Touch of Curaré’

Original Air Date: May 15th, 1999

Directed: Dan Riba (3)

Written: Hilary J. Bader (3)

There was a strong implication in Mystery of the Batwoman that Bruce and Barbara Gordon had slept together. That movie was produced many years after this episode, making this the first hint at a romantic relationship between the two.

Curare is a poison extracted from a plant in South America used for poison darts and arrows. Adding the accent over the ‘e’ makes it seem mysterious, I guess?

Despite having a credited voice actor for her grunts and fight noises, Curaré never speaks.

Recap

Commissioner Barbara Gordon walks home with her husband, District Attorney Sam Young, when they’re attacked by a mysterious blue sword-wielding assassin.

Batman steps in and they fight to a standstill until the police arrive and open fire on both. The assassin retaliates and escapes while Terry tends to a wounded cop. Rookie mistake.

Bruce reveals the woman is named Curaré, a member of the Society of Assassins on INTERPOL’s most wanted list. Barbara waltzes right into the Batcave, blowing Terry’s mind, but he eventually catches on to her past life as Batgirl.

Babs warns them both off, well aware that her husband was the intended target due to his involvement in a case against an international arms dealer… but takes Bruce’s files on Curaré all the same.

Curaré silently accepts a scolding by The Society of Assassins, and then tries again, cutting through a comical amount of security to get to Sam. Luckily, Terry was standing watch and the two battle again.

Despite her face briefly being exposed to Terry, Curaré outsmarts him and makes it all the way to Sam and impales him with a sword… only it turns out it was a dummy. Barbara and more security pounce, but the assassin gets away.

Terry gets an earful from Barbara for interfering in her sting operation, but he quickly charms her and they get a coffee and talk about her romantic history with both Dick and Bruce.

Thus Terry is reluctant to go against her wishes when Bruce plots the best way to protect Sam on his way to trial. Naturally, Curaré learned all about his secretive transport route.

Round three converges on a speeding train, with Curaré violently decoupling the carriage carrying Sam and Barbara. Batman saves Sam yet again, but is only able to defeat Curaré thanks to Barbara still knowing how to toss a Batarang.

Sam successfully deposes the arms dealer and everybody celebrates… except Curaré, who escapes the police and immediately becomes a target of the Society of Assassins!

Best Performance

With Curaré mute, the only viable choice is Stockard Channing as Barbara Gordon, who was okay in previous appearances, but really steps it up here, equal parts playful and world weary. She truly comes across as a far cry from the spunky teenager we knew, tired of Bruce’s antics and pissed off when people don’t listen to her. And for good reason! Yet there’s also so much warmth in her affection for Sam and when reminiscing about the old days with Bruce. She’s inhabiting the role her father played, but is very much her own person. More of this, please.

Will Friedle plays the puppy dog to perfection, and Kevin Conroy knows exactly what to do with the BTAS-heavy material, naturally.

Ranking

One episode after finally delving into Bruce’s psyche, we get a continuation of sorts with an episode that is 50% playing with BTAS history, and 50% villain showcase.

I still don’t approve of the Bruce/Barbara pairing because her debut heavily implied Bruce had known her since she was very young, making their age gap even creepier. But the grey, wrinkly characters talking about it in vague past tense terms is easier to stomach than the uncomfortable flirtation in Mystery of the Batwoman and the gross portrayal in the animated version of Killing Joke.

That aside, Barbara lording her secrets over Terry is tremendous fun, whose head nearly explodes when she walks into the Batcave in an exceptionally cute moment. Best of all, Babs’ criticism of Bruce now she’s old enough to have proper perspective are delicious, appreciating why Dick wanted to escape his shadow (with her comments about Terry mirroring Dick’s about her in ‘Old Wounds’), and criticising him for not being able to let go of being Batman. It’s one of the major themes of this show, with him being the last one standing in the prologue, and as we heard last episode, still thinking of himself as Batman to this day.

This is all a cherry on the top of what is otherwise a masterclass in unleashing a villain who makes a tremendous impact without ever speaking. More on it below, so I’ll just focus on the three strong action scenes. It starts with Curaré simply running up to Barbara & Sam in plain sight and easily fighting through Terry’s gadgetry and getting away. Then it’s her infiltrating their house by stealthily carving through scores of guards. And finally the unhinged assault on a crazy future train leading to a final confrontation in a meat factory. All three are fantastic on their own merits, and are written to carefully ensure Batman is never able to defeat her one on one.

  1. Meltdown
  2. Spellbound
  3. A Touch of Curaré (NEW ENTRY)
  4. Shriek
  5. Rebirth Part I
  6. Black Out
  7. Rebirth Part II
  8. Dead Man’s Hand
  9. Heroes
  10. The Winning Edge
  11. Golem

Villain Watch

Curaré (Melissa Disney) (first appearance)

Our quartet of dope original villains is now complete. Not that there aren’t other great ones coming, but I feel Inque, Spellbinder, Shriek and Curaré are an iconic group that fans think of immediately. And boy, what a badass! She’s a pretty simple character – a mute assassin with a very sharp sword – but as is usually the case, it’s about execution, and as mentioned above, every minute of the script not devoted to Barbara Gordon is meticulously designed to portray Curaré as a death machine.

By overcoming a ridiculous numbers disadvantage, cutting scores of guards to pieces, and very nearly hitting her mark if not for Batman and some trickery, she gets to remain looking strong despite essentially failing three times. And in a setting where everybody is armed with crazy future tech, her throwback design lets her stand out. Plus, ya know, swords are cool.

The Society of Assassins are a lazily named and disappointingly unconnected to the League of Shadows/Assassins, but as far as shadowy figures threatening somebody via video screens go, they make for a pretty cool visual. The idea that their operatives become targets when they fail gives the writers a fun way to bring Curaré back, too.

  1. Inque
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Shriek
  4. Spellbinder
  5. Curaré (NEW ENTRY)
  6. Derek Powers/Blight
  7. The Terrific Trio
  8. J-Man (and the Jokerz)
  9. The Royal Flush Gang
  10. Willie Watt
  11. Dr. Stephanie Lake
  12. Howard Hodges & General Norman
  13. Jackson Chappell
  14. Mr. Fixx

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie including Return of the Joker.

My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, concludes coverage of What If…? with a season review.

There Will Be Movies continues Ben & Matt’s look back at the 90s each Wednesday. This week we head to North Dakota for some quirky noir action in Fargo.

Published by

Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s