Poison Ivy is an interesting character.  She’s also likely an incredibly difficult character to write, because so many of her traits require a tricky balancing act: she’s a sensual character, which can easily be presented as lewdly sexual; she’s an ecologist, too often being depicted as simply an eco-terrorist; and she loves plant life, often at the cost of her innate humanity.

With All-Star Batman #7, Scott Snyder seeks to right some of those narrative misconceptions, and he succeeds to a point.  This is a slow, wordy venture into the desert, a basic character study that almost reverses the confrontation with Freeze in the previous issue: instead of a sense of impending dread, the dread has already passed.  Now Batman needs help in containing the collateral damage, help that only Isley can provide.

The very best thing that Snyder does here is have Batman appeal to Isley’s humanity.  As this is incredibly wordy issue, mostly just a dialogue between Batman and Poison Ivy, the content needs to be strong.  Generally speaking, it is.  There are some dry patches here and there, which makes for a slow read the first go around.  Once everything falls into place, though, and you start going back to see how everything fits, it becomes much more compelling.

Like the Freeze issue, Snyder uses a sense of dread and impending doom to convey his point.  With Freeze, the dread came from the unknown, the solitude at the top of the world.  It was a horror story through and through, with Batman on a mission to prevent a great tragedy.

By the time he reaches Ivy, he has failed.  Now, he’s trying to prevent further tragedy.

As much as we want to see Batman win all the time and succeed at everything he does, it’s far more interesting to see him learn from his mistakes and work through his trials.  Sure, anyone can throw around “Batman can win, he just needs prep time” to win pretty much any argument by default, but the thing that makes him so interesting is that behind his drive and intelligence and tactical skills, Bruce is still a man.  Even if he doesn’t make a mistake per se, he’s still susceptible to things that are beyond his control.  This is why he’s come to Pamela, because victory has eluded him.  Tragedy has struck.

And Batman needs to save who he can.

Like Tim Seeley’s recent Nightwing arc, I appreciate that Snyder took things slow.  Some of the dialogue is too expository, falling victim to “I’m explaining your methods to you, for the sake of the reader” a bit too often.  Beyond a few hiccups, though, it’s an interesting conversation.  Ivy shouldn’t resort to violence unless she absolutely needs to, so I enjoyed that she kept a (mostly) cool head with Bruce.  Even if they come to a few blows, it’s still more a battle of wills and ideals than anything.

The real strength, though, lies in Tula Lotay’s art.  I mean… wow.  It is absolutely stunning.  The map overlay she uses on the title page is alone worthy of accolades, but through and through this is a gorgeous book.  Her use of different inking and coloring techniques give the book a distinct look that never falls into the abstract, and her unique textures belie the simplicity of her figures.

I especially liked her Ivy and her surprising modesty.  She’s wearing a full bodysuit that isn’t frumpish, but it isn’t overly sexy either, and it even has spaghetti straps over her shoulders.  I mean this in the best way: that is charming and quaint.  Lotay took a character whose sexuality is too often her defining, or only, trait and made her attractive without resorting to, I don’t know, cheesecake or whatever.  I kind of hate that term, but it’s fitting.

If there’s one knock against the art it’s that Bruce’s green-piped Batsuit serves no discernible purpose.  At least his oversized mech suit last issue served a purpose, but there’s really no reason for Batman to have a different outfit here.  It’s kind of a neat visual, though ultimately a pointless one.

I liked this installment, but didn’t quite love it.  There’s nothing outright bad here, and quite a bit that is good or even great.  It’s a small step back from the excellent Freeze installment, though worth it to introduce the talents of Tula Lotay.

If the main narrative took a minor step back, then the backup has fallen backward quite a bit.  I was really interested in the new cycle of “The Cursed Wheel” introduced last month, in no small part due to the opportunity to see the Riddler present Duke a good intellectual challenge.  Instead, we get another Mud Room fake-out and a whole lot more expository dialogue.

There’s some good fertile ground for an interesting narrative here, especially with Duke feeling like he just might not cut it as one of Batman’s partners.  When it slows down and the situation is allowed to breathe, there are a few affecting moments.  I particularly liked Duke sneaking out during the day when he didn’t think Batman would notice.  That’s a funny little touch, poking fun at the assertion that Batman is only an avenger of the night.

The problem is very little actually happens, to the point that I had to re-read this installment a few times before anything really stuck out.  For an 8-page mini-story, that isn’t really a good thing.  If you’ll pardon the unintentional pun, it feels like Duke’s story is just spinning its wheels, cursed or no.

Even the ever-reliable Francesco Francavilla’s art is disappointingly flat.  After a genuinely nice opener and cleverly staged title page, he isn’t given an awful lot to do.  With little action, Francavilla has to illustrate a bunch of characters sitting around and talking.  There are ways to make that kind of situation as dynamic and energetic as an action set-piece, but they aren’t found here.  Francavilla’s a great artist and his work this issue is by no means bad, it’s just very basic and unmemorable.  Considering it’s following a story whose greatest asset was its look, that’s pretty disappointing.

Bonus: A pretty sweet variant from Francesco Francavilla.  It’s great because at first glance it’s very simple, but the details become more evident the longer you look at it.

Spoiler

Recommended if:

  • You like Poison Ivy.
  • You like slow, dialogue-heavy stories.
  • You want to see some absolutely stunning work from a great artist.

Overall: “Ends of the Earth” continues with a slower installment that, in some ways, is just as terrifying as its predecessor.  The main story is a bit expository, but it’s a great example of Batman being human, and it may be the best Ivy has been characterized in years.  While the backup leaves a lot to be desired, this is still a worthy installment of All-Star Batman, and a true showcase of Tula Lotay’s great artistic talent.  While it’s not perfect, this is a desperate Batman, a human Batman, and an engaging Batman.

SCORE: 7/10