Full disclosure: Tynion has not managed to make me care about The Gardener during his Batman run. The character was just kind of standing around in the background, not contributing much of anything to the story. Still, I’ve been looking forward to this Secret Files issue because one of my favorite artists—the great Christian Ward—is drawing it. I’ve also been cautiously optimistic that this might actually turn out to be an interesting origin for Gardener, seeing as the Miracle Molly special, also written by Tynion, is excellent. So is this one worth picking up? Let’s have a look.
Before I go into some more specific critiques, I want to start this off by saying that this is barely a Gardener comic. It’s a Poison Ivy story that’s being narrated by Gardener, and that’s about the extent of Gardener’s role in this issue. That’s inherently problematic because this is supposed to be her secret origin, but since it’s all about Ivy instead, by the end of this comic I still don’t feel like I’ve learned anything interesting about Gardener. It goes without saying that that’s a most ineffective way of selling a new character to an audience.
We do get some information about Gardener’s origin, but we don’t get to see all of it, as Tynion once more heavily relies on exposition to tell this story. As a result, we’re being kept at arm’s length and it’s hard to engage with the material, especially when the visuals don’t always reflect what’s written in the narration boxes. Here are two examples of what I mean: Gardener’s sadness over the death of her parents reads more like a brief recap than an emotional passage that’s supposed to carry weight; and the part where a man and his family are eaten by plants reads like a random aside rather than an impactful moment. All things considered, Gardener is a narration device here, not a character with a well-developed arc.
Had the writing been evocative in some way, at least the exposition could have been entertaining to read. Unfortunately, all this cold exposition sucks the drama, energy and emotion out of the writing. What’s more, there are some odd word choices here and there. An example of this is the word “psychospiritual.” While this word might sound kind of cool, “spiritual” would have sufficed. Words like these make it seem like the writer is trying extra hard to sound more clever, which makes for a jarring reading experience.
The structure of the story is also somewhat questionable. While I’m open to Ivy’s origin and characterization being slightly different from the original, because at least it puts a new spin on a story that’s already been told several times, I can’t help but wonder how it is that Gardener can talk about things that happened to Ivy when Gardener herself wasn’t even around to witness those things. Moreover, Gardener is telling Batman about Ivy, but given Batman and Ivy’s long history, it should be safe to assume that Batman already knows most of the things that Gardener is telling him. That makes the comic as a whole feel kind of redundant, and it’s just way too obvious that Batman is only included because A) Batman sells and B) Gardener needs someone to tell her story to. The worst part is that none of this really adds to the “Fear State” storyline, because that story has already ended, and so all of this just feels like an afterthought rather than an essential chapter.
Yet, as much as I dislike the writing throughout the book, I am marveling at Christian Ward’s artwork. It’s so lush and psychedelic and beautiful! The colors are vibrant, and the greens, yellows and blues naturally fit the theme of gardens and vegetation. The pinks and reds add a layer of sensuality to the visuals, which is almost a requirement for any comic that features Ivy as a main character. I’m a big fan of the delicate, subtle character work: every touch and posture and expression organically displays the relationship between the characters in each scene, and having the panels distort is a very effective and creative way of showing a character’s pain and struggle. The women in this comic are gorgeous, and none of them are sexualized in a gratuitous way; Ward takes care to approach the sexuality of these characters elegantly and tastefully. For example, he renders Gardener and Ivy’s love-making in silhouettes, showing just enough to make the scene appropriately erotic, thereby adding to the overall mesmerizing qualities of the artwork. Ward is a master artist, and those unfamiliar with his work simply need to flip through this book to see why. Honestly, I would buy this comic in a heartbeat if it was without text, just for Ward’s incredible art.
- You are a fan of Christian Ward!
- You want some beautifully psychedelic Poison Ivy art in your collection.
Overall: Since the comic relies heavily on exposition instead of showing the events, and with this being a story about Ivy as told by Gardener rather than a story about Gardener herself, it’s hard to engage with the content. The artwork is fantastic, though, and definitely a reason to consider buying this issue. That said, I don’t recommend this comic—it just doesn’t cut it for me.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.