Batman has been in fights all his life: physically, mentally, spiritually. But who or what is his greatest foe? Shelfdust asked some of our favourite comics critics to pick Batman’s Greatest Enemy… but who do YOU agree with?
By Philippe Leblanc
I’ve been wondering what kind of future my son will inherit. It’s impossible to not be worried given the current climate. We’re in the middle of the Sixth Mass Extinction, the Anthropocene extinction. Species dying at a rate beyond human comprehension. I’ve seen the Black Rhinoceroses go extinct in my lifetime. It’s very possible that he will witness the end of butterflies, moths, polar bear, sea lions, grey whales and countless other species. There’s a giant mass of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean that’s 1.6 million square kilometers. Climate change and human action are destroying habitat and we’re all going to pay the price for it. The worst is that there is little that we can do.
When I was asked who Batman’s greatest villain was, I first thought it would be the Joker… but I believe that it may in fact be Dr. Pamela Isley. Poison Ivy, as she is commonly known, has been a thorn in Batman’s side for decades, but more importantly, I believe she threatens more than just Batman: she stands against Wayne Enterprise and its CEO Bruce Wayne.
Ivy is an environmentalist who was originally portrayed as an evil, manipulative, maniacal, man-eater eco-terrorist who would use all of her powers to make money. Throughout the years, her character traits may have evolved, but this original conception of her as an eco-terrorist has never really changed. Some have tried to bring the character to a new status quo, such as Greg Rucka’s Detective Comics #751-752 in which she is trying to save a Gotham City park from being torn down; more recently in Scott Snyder and Tula Lotay’s All-Star Batman #7 in which she willingly gives her research into an ancient plant that may yield a cure for a newfound disease; or even in the excellent Amy Chu/Clay Mann miniseries Poison Ivy: Circle of Life & Death where she fights Dr. Albertus Grimley over the use of her research. What struck me as important in all of these appearances is that while Ivy is indeed an antagonist, her reasons for being this way usually have a good intention behind them.
In opposition to Ivy is Bruce Wayne, Batman and his corporation, Wayne Enterprises. Wayne Enterprises is a multi-billion industry with its tentacles in so many pots, it’s almost impossible to fathom. Its business dealing ranges from the benign (such as health care, aviation or steel) to more unethical businesses – from pharmaceutical, biotech, oil, chemicals, mining to weapons. Even with Bruce Wayne as its CEO, it’s impossible to think that a company so vast and involved in so many distinct activities could only ever be a force for good.
In this sense, this is what Poison Ivy threatens. Her core ideas are in opposition to such a huge corporation. I haven’t been able to catalog the amount of comics that uses the “someone is rerouting resources from Wayne Enterprise for nefarious purpose” premise, but there are countless examples of this throughout Batman’s publishing history.
In her second ever appearance in Batman #339. She essentially uses her powers of manipulation to lead a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprise. Ivy manages to wrestle control away from Bruce Wayne by using the board of director to name her their CEO and give her access to everything. She’s mostly after money, but it’s arguable that controlling the business and its direction is also a prize in and of itself. The possibility to define what Wayne Enterprise, the biggest corporation in the DC Universe, does with its wealth of resources was crippling to Batman in the issues following her take over.
As a superhero, Batman relies on a huge network of high tech gadgets, impossibly advanced vehicles and resources beyond comprehension. Too much for a single man and his butler to produce in an underground cave! Bruce Wayne instead co-opts the resources of his company towards his own war on crime as Batman. He also directs research and development towards creating new technology, tools and gadgets for Batman. Wayne Technologies has provided advancements in technology that are leaps and bounds above what a normal Gotham citizen can obtain. Poison Ivy’s failed attempt to co-opt the resources of Wayne Enterprises would have crippled Batman’s never-ending battle against crime forever.
I guess the question then becomes: with such a massive amount of resources, technology and funding available, even as Bruce leads a charity that tackles health care, poverty, education and has a host of other goals as part of its venture philanthropy role, he has still seemingly not been able to improve living conditions in the crime-ridden metropolis of Gotham City. As noted earlier, Wayne Enterprise is such a massive corporation that even with Bruce Wayne at the head of it, he only has so much influence on the inner workings of the corporation.
Regardless of how good a person he may be, it’s simply too complex and intricate for him to control on a micro-level. It’s bad enough that Batman has to deal with the fallout of Wayne Enterprises’ creations, but Bruce Wayne often had to intervene to stop some more villainous projects or branches within his own company. There have also been several corporate power struggles that Bruce must contend with to remain at the head of this company. It’s difficult for Bruce Wayne and Batman to remain ahead of his own company. Such is the nature of corporations, another villain Batman cannot defeat.
Batman and Joker are in opposition because they represent order and chaos in their own way. However, there’s an even more fundamental opposition between Ivy and Batman: Environmentalism and capitalism. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in the street for the environment in September. They marched against corporations and capitalism destroying our planet. They marched against the same kind of people Bruce Wayne is. They marched against corporations like Wayne Enterprises. We’re living in the middle of an extinction.
There’s a movement of volunteers and like-minded environmentalist who are staging protests to bring people out of their torpor called Extinction Rebellion and they’ve been, much like Poison Ivy, been labelled as a disruptor, agitators and terrorists. I have no doubt that if the DC Universe was caught in a similar predicament as global climate change, Ivy would be standing right at the front of those marches. That, to me, is why Poison Ivy is Batman’s greatest foe.
Batman #339: A Sweet Kiss of Poison
Written by Gerry Conway
Drawn by Irv Novick and Steve Mitchell
Coloured by Adrienne Roy
Lettered by Ben Oda
Philippe Leblanc is a French comics critic best known for his writing at The Beat, where he focuses on independent and alternative comics. To find more of his work, you can follow him on Twitter here!
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