Let’s get this out of the way: yes, I will be making plant puns in this review. No, I will not be apologizing for them. I will also not be pointing them out, because it’s quite likely that some of them will be unintentional. If you have any problems with this, please place your concerns in the following complaint box:
We good? Awesome. <3
The budding relationship between Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy has been a wonderful thing to watch grow. What sprouted as a “girls’ night out” episode of Batman: The Animated Series has slowly blossomed into a wonderful piece of LGBT representation, and it’s been great to see both DC and their fans becoming more and more seasoned to it.
(Okay, maybe I will roll the puns back.)
Harley Quinn has become an incredibly popular (and marketable!) character for DC. While some are beginning to get fatigued of her, any character born from Paul Dini (one of my favourite writers ever) will always have a soft spot in my heart. She’s also had some SERIOUSLY good content made about her, and a lot of that comes from when Ivy is around. Thus, when I was assigned to review a Harley and Ivy book – written by Jody Houser of Mother Panic, and illustrated by Adriana Melo of Plastic Man, no less – I was DEFINITELY optimistic.
So, how does such an impressive team tackle their first issue with the two? I’m happy to report that it’s really quite goo- DID POISON IVY JUST EAT POOP?????
SERIOUSLY. I CAN’T-
…Okay. Let’s roll it back a little. There’s plenty to discuss about this issue other than Poison Ivy swallowing a fingerful of… anyway, I was saying the book really is quite good. Let’s start with the writing.
Jodie Houser actually has a lot of ground to cover here. Fresh off the heels of Heroes in Crisis, this book needs to address the fallout of that – including the interesting concept of Ivy becoming much closer to the Green (AKA the forces of nature within the Earth) – and their mental states following the event. They were, after all, in an institution to address their mental issues, and I doubt they’re all better after that miniseries finished. Not only that, but Houser has a chance to elaborate on where Harley and Ivy stand with each other in mainline continuity, and to tell the audience more about a relationship that we all know exists, but could stand to know a lot more about.
After reading this issue, it’s clear that Houser does have a mission statement.
Not every gag with Harley lands perfectly – perhaps that’s just because you can’t hear Harley’s vocal delivery in a comic – but it’s clear that Houser has a strong voice for her. A lot of her lines really were very funny, but beyond that, she carries the story with some compelling monologues. I’m not sure how in-continuity the mainline Harley Quinn series is, but I know that toeing the line between good and bad has been Harley’s modus operandi in recent years. Here, Houser’s seeking to make that transition to “good” that she’s been slowly working to, and the story’s all the better for it. It gives the book something substantial to build on, and it’s a great showcase of Harley’s own brand of intelligence: despite her internal conflicts and unique view on the world, she has a strong personality and is capable of vocalizing her thoughts and dilemmas.
What’s a little more interesting is how Houser is handling Ivy.
Poison Ivy was, ultimately, not in Heroes in Crisis all that much – we didn’t get much of a chance to see what she was going through (not even mentioning the controversy around her appearance on the initial cover of issue #7). Her unresolved mental state ends up being to the benefit of this book, though, because it seems like there’s a lot to be said about how Ivy is holding up. A lot of this book is just setup, so it doesn’t have much time to delve into what’s going on inside her head – but with a body that’s literally unstable and falling to pieces, it’s not a stretch to imagine her mind in a similar place. With a few exceptions, she’s mostly quiet throughout the story; and while this might normally seem out-of-character, there are several poignant moments that might betray something deeper. If Houser continues to delve into that, I feel we’ll have a great series in our hands.
This issue doesn’t go too deep into any of this for now, though; it’s more about establishing where the characters are for readers who aren’t aware, and where they intend to go from here. Fortunately, we have some really remarkable art from Adriana Melo to tide us over until then!
There’s a lot going for the art here, though maybe not in areas that you might expect from a Harley and Ivy story. While Harley’s antics, faces and movements are a big factor – and we will get to that – I’d like to take a moment to talk about the true star of the comic so far: the small undertones of horror that I was NOT expecting.
Seriously, take a look at this page.
There is a LOT of potential for body horror in a Poison Ivy comic – we’ve seen it in Swamp Thing before, and now that Ivy is closer to the Green than ever, I’m excited to see it pushed to the forefront. There’s something really disturbing about a groaning mess of shrubbery with a face in the middle of a dressing room, especially when contrasted with the traditionally “sexy” appearance of Ivy that audiences are accustomed to. I hope that this is just the beginning of the unnerving imagery, because I enjoy the book more each time that they lean into it.
There are more panels similar to this in the book that I won’t spoil for now, but I will say that there’s also a lot to be said about the inking and colouring here too. In some of the creepier scenes, the panel is covered in an orange light – not a horrifying colour on its own, but sinister when offset with the vibrant red and green of Harley and Ivy.
Melo’s illustrations add to the comedy just as much as the horror, though. Harley’s facial expressions are incredibly dynamic, and make for some endearing, memorable panels – her angry and deadpan expressions are particularly great.
My only criticism is that I think Melo’s work shines the brightest when she is doing these dynamic expressions or moments – some of her more neutral faces don’t stand out to me as much. There’s nothing awful, of course, but the panels in which Harley is expressing more distinct emotions jump out to me a lot more. The same applies to Ivy, who spends a lot of the issue with an (understandably) neutral expression… except for, you know, the fertilizer scene.
(Which is actually a wonderfully drawn page, but… you know.)
I feel like this nitpick applies to the posing of the characters, too. Often the more dynamic a pose is, the more effective it is to a reader – this is why so many punches in comic books practically knock a character from one page to the other, because impact is really important in a comic. A great example of what I’m talking about can be found in these two panels:
The first panel is certainly more detailed, but I can’t help but like the second panel a lot more – you can feel the force of the vines around Harley from how she’s being yanked from both directions, and the intensity of her hair flicking forward. Bear in mind these aren’t major complaints – this is more to distinguish the things about the book that I really like, and want to see going forward. There’s a lot of talent going into this comic, and I’m excited and hopeful to see Houser and Melo play to their strengths.
- You’ve enjoyed Houser’s previous work, such as Mother Panic (please give us more Mother Panic).
- You were a fan of Melo’s impressive (and hilarious) work on Plastic Man!
- You want to see more of Harley and Ivy interact as a couple, and are hoping for more LGBT content down the line.
- You want some surprisingly creepy imagery, and the start of an interesting journey for both of the characters.
- You want to see… you know, a literal s***-eating grin.
I’ve said a lot about a story that is, for the most part, setup – but important setup, nonetheless. There’s potential for greatness in Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, and the more it impresses and surprises me, the more it’ll bloom into just that. My score for this issue is the same as my gaydar for this issue.