Poison Ivy #1 review

I love Poison Ivy. I think that she’s been one of Batman’s most underrated rogues for decades, with most of her stories being overlooked for some reason. It’s unfortunate because Ivy actually has some fantastic comics like the “Hothouse” story arc in Legends of the Dark Knight and the 1997 Batman: Poison Ivy one-shot, which I consider the quintessential Poison Ivy story. Over the past ten years, however, Ivy has become a very confusing character, and the reasons for that come down to two controversies. It is impossible to talk about this comic without addressing those controversies. 

The first controversy regards Ivy’s morality: is she a hero or a villain? She’s been portrayed as a villain throughout most of her history, but some people think the fact that Ivy stands for protecting the environment means that she is in the right and should be treated as such. The problem is that most comic readers still recognize Ivy as a villain. When DC tried to make a comic where Ivy was at least portrayed as an anti-hero (Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death), despite being a pretty good comic, it didn’t get very high sales. When DC tried to have Ivy appear as a villain again in Tom King’s Batman, there was a loud uproar on Twitter over “regressing” the character. So you can see, DC’s been a bit of a rock in a hard place when it comes to how they present Ivy. DC’s even tried to let Ivy disappear out of comics, not knowing what to do with her, but even that has led to controversy.

The other issue that’s been affecting Ivy’s character is Harley Quinn. Harley, Harley, Harley. I’ll keep this brief, but the recent push to have Harley and Ivy be in, not just a relationship, but the idealized relationship fans want them to have has caused almost a complete rewrite of Ivy’s character. While she’s normally supposed to be an assertive, frieze, temperamental, independent woman, when she’s with Harley in comics, she’s portrayed as soft-spoken and submissive. What’s worse is that Ivy has become reduced to nothing more than a plot device in Harley’s story. She’s the person for Harley to rescue, to pine after, the trophy girlfriend for Harley to obtain. A perfect example of how Harley has consumed Ivy’s character is found in Heroes in Crisis, where we can’t even get a page developing Ivy’s newfound personality disorder without it becoming about Harley.


With all that context, a lot of people are looking to this comic – the first comic dedicated solely to Poison Ivy in 6 years – to show where DC really stands with this character. Is she hero or villain? Is she going to be more than Harley Quinn’s girlfriend, or will this comic be about their relationship again? I was personally anticipating this comic because I was hoping to see a return to form in Poison Ivy’s character. Something that stays true to the villainous roots of the character but also acknowledges the nuances of the character and gives her a story of her own.

And I’m pleased to say that this comic *mostly* does that. Oh yes, mostly, there are a couple flaws here and there that I’ll mention. Overall though, G. Willow Wilson’s approach is a great comeback for Ivy after years of misuse.

The first thing I’ll praise is Ivy’s characterization. She’s driven. She’s motivated to fight for the Green and only the Green. She’s ruthless. She’s pained. She’s condescending. She’s seductive. She’s smart. She’s enraged. Oh, yes, this is Poison Ivy! Never mind the weird personality disorder DC tried to use to excuse their inconsistency with the character. Ivy’s on a mission, one that she’s treating as her final mission. All of her personality is back, but there’s a hook in the story that Ivy has suffered some sort of great violation and loss to herself. One that is making her inner monologue to the audience (told in the form of a journal) sound as though she’s leaving a suicide note.



That is precisely the way to write an interesting criminal. We see Ivy’s outer actions – killing people and animals – as a bad thing, but we also get a sense of her pain and her reasons for doing this. This is how you write a multi-faceted interesting character, and how you make a cruel, flawed character that is compelling instead of repelling.

The second thing I want to praise is the artwork. I’ve said before that the artwork of a comic should reflect the character that it’s about. Marcio Takara achieves that goal. I love that she draws Poison Ivy with a petit, soft look, with pursed lips and doe eyes. It’s very reminiscent of the 1940s or ’60s pin-up girl drawings or one of the many pin- ups that used to be made for female comic book characters. This is so fitting because Ivy herself was based off of pin-up girl Bettie Page. Beyond Ivy’s design, there’s a very lush feel to the art in the comic. It’s really helped by the colors used by Arif Prianto: lots of greens, blues, oranges, all plant-like colors. With Takara’s line work, you can feel the wind in Poison Ivy’s hair during her first confrontation in the book. That is essential at setting tone, and this comic feels like a melancholy walk through a beautiful garden. It’s really a perfect art team to be working on an Ivy book.



So the artwork is great, the characterization is pretty great, and the premise is interesting so far, what would I have to criticize? Well, two things, really. The first thing is a brief line in the beginning about how Ivy does not enjoy killing. I feel that – with the controversy around Ivy in mind – G. Willow Wilson inserted that to soften Ivy’ character in the book. But, I’m sorry, you can’t have Ivy’s character say she doesn’t like killing, then continue to brutally murder people with a giant smirk on her face. Ivy kills two men, making them a part of her plant experiment-plan, when they were merely angry at her for slaughtering their farm animals. She also brutally kills a guy for hitting on her, and while that’s perfectly in line with Ivy’s character, you can’t tell me she doesn’t enjoy killing, and then have her do it with a sort of smugness about her.



The other problem I have with the book is that it’s revealed that Ivy’s inner monologue is really some sort of account she’s writing for Harley. This really disappointed me, because I was really hoping that this would be an Ivy story all her own that wouldn’t have to be about Harley, after it’s been literally years of HARLEY (and her girlfriend, Ivy). Making all of Ivy’s inner thoughts directed at Harley allows Harley to have a special definition over Ivy’s story once again. We get a flashback scene of Harley bawling her eyes out after having slept with Ivy (because you can never have a scene with these two together that doesn’t imply sex), and Ivy is furiously screaming at her for assisting Gardner and violating her connection to the green. It ends with Ivy kissing Harley and then abandoning her to cry on the bed without another word, because that’s what every healthy couple does in the morning. (Please excuse me for the sarcasm, I just can’t get over the fact that Harley and Ivy keep being pushed as a couple by their fans because they think they are the “healthiest, most wholesome relationship in comics). When written in character, neither Harley nor Ivy would be a healthy character for anyone to be in a relationship with, let alone each other.



However, here’s what’s good about the scene: they aren’t just this perfect, idealized couple, with their personalities twisted just to make that work. Harley is ignorant and dependent, and Ivy is cold and temperamental. These are the correct flaws for  each character. It’s made no sense to have Ivy be the one dependent on Harley when the reason these two came together in the first place was that Harley was drawn to the assertive personality of Ivy. Ivy has the kind of independent personality who is going to take any sort of violation she senses very angrily. She’s not going to have an easy time forgiving Harley, even if she knows Harley’s ignorant of what she did.

Appropriately so, the comic really builds up this fury and despair in Ivy, something of which we haven’t seen with the character before, and it really made me question what exactly happened to bring Ivy to this state. It’s explained

Spoiler
that thanks to the antics of Gardner and Harley, Ivy has lost her connection to the Green. [/Spoiler] I’m sorry, this is just brilliant.  This is perhaps the worst violation, in a good way, that Ivy’s character could go through. She valued her connection to the Green more than anything else. It’s the reason she could consider herself a plant. To have her now reduced back to just a human who can mix plant potions (essentially her state when she first entered comics) is the perfect explanation of Ivy’s fatal state of mind. This is the ultimate violation for Poison Ivy. As someone who’s enjoyed Ivy’s stories over the decades, I was so pleased that G. Willow Wilson understands who Ivy is on an emotional level, and crafts a story that develops her character in an area that we haven’t seen before. The build-up to the reveal: Ivy, watching one of her victims become slowly and colorfully turned into a fungus, before revealing that the whole scene is only in her imagination because she can’t feel the green, was especially excellent. All this made me really invested in where Ivy will end up as a character by the end of this arc.



However, I’ve been reading comics long enough to know that a story can start off really strong, and then fall off as soon as half way through the book. Is this entire series going to actually be about the Harley/Ivy relationship yet again? Is Ivy going to become a hero after all of this? Or will the ending be a big nothing, returning Ivy to a state of limbo in the DC universe? You can’t tell by a first issue, so we’ll just have to wait and see how this goes.

Recommended if…

  • You miss Poison Ivy, and I mean *actual* Poison Ivy.
  • Luscious, amazing art fits with your taste.
  • You can’t get enough Harley/Ivy scenes, no matter the context.

Overall

Despite a few flaws, G. Willow Wilson’s Poison Ivy is a really satisfying read, and a good compensation for one of DC’s most misused characters. It’s so enjoyable to read about one of Batman’s most famous female rogues, and have her allowed to BE a rogue. I really hope it continues to be this good and that DC makes a firm stand as to who this character really is.

Score: 9/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News a free copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.