You Can Look, But You Better Not Touch
She’s the most beautiful woman in the world, but if you kiss her: you die.
I once heard Poison Ivy described this way, no idea where, and a quick Google search indicates it’s possible I made it up because no one else seems to quote it. Anyway, this is always been the way I’ve thought of Poison Ivy, a dangerous and alluring vixen with a strain of ecological terrorism. A firm member of the Batman rogues gallery, she is usually portrayed as some combination of those identities. However, a new miniseries from DC sets out to change our view of this classic villainess not by altering her, but rather by evolving her.
In "Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death" written by Amy Chu with art by Clay Mann (Issues 1-3, 5) opens up with a Pamela Isley who has left behind her supervillain days and reclaimed her identity as a scientist. This book is at its core about maturing, we see in Pamela’s story someone who has moved on from her reckless youth and tried to find a more stable and “adult” life. She has a job she loves, a nice apartment and the respect of (at least some of) her colleagues. Poison Ivy is gone and in her place Dr. Pamela Isley appears to be thriving.
This is a comic book however, so Ivy’s not going to just live a quiet, happy life. A string of murders at her lab leads Ivy to realize that someone is stealing her research on combining animal and plant DNA. This gives the book its mystery storyline but one of the things I greatly enjoyed about "Poison Ivy" is that it’s not content to settle into one genre or tone. It’s not simply a conspiracy story with Ivy at the center.
One of the biggest things this book does is connect Ivy to the DC mythology of “The Green.” A lot of readers are probably familiar with this because of its relation to Dr. Alec Holland (better known to fans as Swamp Thing). “The Green” is a force that connects all plant life together. Perhaps this is not the first time Ivy has been connected to it, I can’t say I’ve read all her appearances over the years, but I’d had not thought about her connection to it prior this series. I like how it makes her something larger than just an eco-terrorist. She is deeply connected to the flora of the planet and fights to protect it. For all intents and purposes she is Mother Nature.
Motherhood actually ends up being a large theme later in the book. Ivy’s experiments do indeed produce life, specifically three human/plant hybrids named Rose, Hazel, and Thorn. These characters further reflect the theme of maturity in Ivy’s character. She’s now forced to take on a maternal role and a highly protective one at that. Not only are the girls threatened by whatever enemy is stealing Ivy’s research they are also aging at an accelerated rate. I love how Chu writes the girls as very child-like and curious despite their mature physicality. There is juxtaposition in seeing full-grown women who are in actuality only a month or two old.
Fans of DC Comics will also be thrilled to see a great list of cameo appearances from Harly Quinn, Catwoman, and Swamp Thing. But they never take away from the clear sense that this is Ivy’s story. The guest stars all reflect different parts of her character. Harley shows up like a hurricane trying to pull her back into her old life, Catwoman brings the slinky, femme fatale criminal side out, and Swamp Thing shows up to remind her of her connection to “The Green” and the energy of life.
I’ve talked quite a bit about the story and Chu’s writing is fantastic. However, the art in the book compliments the scripts beautifully; the images are filled with vibrant life. Initially drawn by Clay Mann, this design of Ivy is my favorite of any I’ve seen. Like so many female characters in comics Ivy can run the risk of being reduced to cheesecake pinup shots. Mann’s art lets her be feminine and very sexy but never falls into pure objectification. Instead she gives off a strength that plays into her connection to nature.
We also see that this is not the gloomy Gotham City of so many Batman comics (a side note: the Dark Knight does not make an appearance the entire run), instead the panels are filled with lush colorful depictions of plant life intermingling with urban construction. Much praise also goes to colorist Ulises Arreola who brings a stunningly vivid style to the art.
While just a six issue miniseries, there has been a vocal fan group petitioning DC to give Ivy her own ongoing. I join this chorus of fans; this book proves that Ivy is far more than an occasional Batman villain. She is a complex and fascinating anti-hero with noble intentions who sometimes lets her anger get the best of her. I urge everyone to go out and read this book. Whether you’re a long time fan of the character or have never heard of her, this is a hugely enjoyable story. It will be released in a trade paperback from DC Comics on September 7, so check your local comic book store. Also if you want to help support an Ivy ongoing series check out the very passionate twitter account: https://twitter.com/ivygirl85. I am with you: more Poison Ivy!
You can hear John every week on PANEL ON PANELS, which can be downloaded here: http://www.dontadjustyourninja.com/panel-on-panels/