Black Widows and Widowers
Posted: September 29, 2002

If the good Lord hadn’t intended us to commit murder, He wouldn’t have invented wife-killing.

No, this isn’t a brief for uxoricide. It’s merely a plausible extrapolation from the evidence of "Mad as a Hatter," "Birds of a Feather," "Harlequinade," "House and Garden," and other essays in the hazards of romantic attachment. If the "moon/June" couplet is a hallmark of old-time romantic ballads, it’s a wonder BTAS never did a musical where "knife/wife" was the central rhyme. The show always made courtship the prelude to murder.

That’s the inevitable progress, after all, when the Penguin, Mad Hatter, Baby Doll and Firefly are pierced by Cupid’s darts. I don’t think any of them actually clutches at their beau and spits out the cliché "If I can’t have you, no one can!" But surely that’s the subtext when the love nest becomes a kidnapper’s lair. To possess another is to destroy their independence, to make them something less than a full and autonomous human being. Hence, obsessive, possessive attachment and the willingness to kill are only shades of a degree apart from each other.

Alternately, sometimes the romantic partner is an incitement because they are an impediment. Home and hearth don’t get the sympathetic treatment in BTAS. Pamela Isley’s poisonous tendrils pull the fraudulent façade off the "Ozzie and Harriet" lifestyle in "House and Garden," and Wayne himself throws over the new wife when the personal chemistry goes bad. (But then, who expects an orphan to smile fondly at family life?)

Nor is there the promise of happiness inside a realized marriage. Victor and Nora Frieze are the decisive proof of that. Probe deeper, though, and you may begin to wonder: Was he as devoted in her life as in her semi-death? Or is he actually more stirred by the unstirred beauty of a quasi-corpse? In short, was it illness or the unconscious promptings of a necrophiliac husband that put in her on ice? After all, once she's out of danger he abandons her.

Even the dating scene is messed up. Catwoman may lead Batman on a merry chase, but his pursuit of pussy never ends in the expected place. Meanwhile, Roxy straps a rocket between her legs and tempts Batman down a tunnel. That’s right: Girls just wanna have fun. Too bad our hero is such a killjoy.

Then there’s the show’s deepest exploration of quixotic, murderous romance: Harley Quinn. Her pursuit of the Joker reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s quip about women who "live for others": "You can always spot the others by their hunted expression." I think the Joker looks hunted. Indeed, I’m surprised Dini never spotted the black humor in the situation. Imagine Harley in the cross-hairs and the Joker’s furious frustration when his repeated attempts to bump her off come to nought. Instead, she steadfastly refuses to stay drowned, stabbed, throttled, or under the wheels of the onrushing train, and comes running back every time, trailing glories of forgiveness and ardor. Now, there is a prospect to make a clown cry.

I suppose you could put all this down to necessary plot mechanics. BTAS is a show about obsession, and love is often obsessive. That’s why putting a twist on tail is a time-honored way of putting a twist in the tale.

But I prefer to be philosophic about it. Women (and men): Can’t live with ‘em. Can’t kill ‘em.

At least, not when Batman’s on the case.

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