Review: Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death #1: The Grass is always Greener

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DC Comics have not reacted well to Poison Ivy in recent years. The publisher doesn’t seem to know what to do with the Batman villain, particularly when she’s not paired with fan-favorite; Harley Quinn. Many writers have attempted to redeem the character by focusing on her environmentalist sensibilities and turn her more into an anti-hero. In recent years, she’s had a stint on the Birds of Prey, before ditching her would-be teammates to join the ranks of the Crime Syndicate. For the last two decades, Poison Ivy has on multiple occasions turned over new leaves only to turn them back again. There has always been an interesting character buried beneath the soil, but it takes a talented writer to allow that potential to blossom. Poison Ivy: Circle of Life and Death is the publisher’s latest attempt to do right by the character, but do writer; Amy Chu and artist; Clay Mann sow the seeds of success?

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The problem that a lot of writers have faced is the temptation to use Ivy as the “go to” seductress, using her charms to ensnare the minds of both men and women. This is an important part of her character, but it is not her sole defining trait. The comic features a brilliant and amusing subversion of how we normally perceive her pheromone powers to manifest. Ms. Chu tactically shys away from this in her first issue, focusing on Pamela Isley; the scientist, rather than Poison Ivy; the villain. Pamela’s connect to the Green, the mythical force that embodies planet life and from which Swamp Thing derives his powers, alienates her from other humans. She struggles to connect with people but values those few friendships she has. This is an Ivy, we haven’t seen before, one trying to embrace her humanity rather than reject it. There is still a deep connection and love of plants, to the point of fanaticism, but it gives way to a softer side. This change of character is remarked upon by her former partner in crime; Harley and shows us that Poison Ivy may really be changing. She may be prone to some morally dubious actions, but Ivy is just attempting to live a life she once thought lost. Naturally, a spanner must be thrown in the works as Ivy is thrust into a murder mystery that threatens this renewed life. Unfortunately, it feels like a story we’ve heard before time and time again. Villain attempts to retire, only to be faced with a morally-inversed version of the heroes journey requiring them to take to their old ways. It may display some new insights into the character, but there is nothing that makes it an essential read. The writing isn’t good or bad, it’s adequate, and unfortunately, that isn’t enough to warrant sticking with the series. There is a lot of potential; there is nothing in this issue which demands that I return next month, and that can be fatal in this industry.

unnamedPoison Ivy is a character comfortable in her sexuality. This ease of self-regarding her femininity and her looks is reflected in Mann’s artwork. Ivy is often drawn to extenuate her features that is to be expected given the nature of the character, but the problem in this issue is that this is done for the readers benefit as opposed to Ivy’s. Indeed, the comics features a scene akin to Austin Powers where Ivy walks naked throughout her apartment with her particulars just barely being obscured by various flora scattered throughout the room. There isn’t an inherent issue with emphasizing that a character is meant to be sexy or attractive. Were this section to show an empowered Ivy, caring little about what others thought, this might have been acceptable. Instead, the depiction of Ivy within this scene is done for the purpose of tantalizing male readers. Sexuality shouldn’t be something that’s avoided or shamed in comics through the writing or through the art, but given the medium’s checkered past in this area, it is an area that must be approached with care and respect. What Mann does in this comic is lazy and unworthy of an artist of his talent. The Arkham video game series proved that the character’s sexuality could be their own without resorting to fan-service, but it’s clear that if Mr. Mann hasn’t quite grasped that. It’s a shame because it detracts from an otherwise tasteful and well-drawn comic. There is a major issue with the overly sexualised representation of women in comics, and Chu’s desire to portray Ivy as a peer to Lex Luthor in an intellectual sense is well-documented. Ms. Chu wished to move beyond the idea that Poison Ivy is just “a sidekick that kisses people to death” and show her to be a complex character in her own right. The exploitative artwork does a disservice to her efforts. In short, we need less Red Hood and the Outlaws and more Sex Criminals.

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Poison Ivy is a character that deserved better. Regarding untapped potential, she is one of the characters who has suffered the most over the last two decades, due in no small part to her atrocious on-screen representation in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. They’ve tried everything, and nothing seems to be sticking. It would be remiss to say that it’s time to abandon the effort, but Amy Chu and Clay Mann need to up their game. This isn’t the 90s, being adequate isn’t good enough anymore if you are to survive in this industry and readers are beginning to get sick of artists drawing with the mind of a teenage boy. Amy Chu has the skill to put her own stamp on the character, to flesh her out and make this series something special. We have very few female characters headlining their own comics; we can’t afford to squander them. Let’s hope that creativity blooms next issue.

Gary Moloney
Some would say that he is a mine of information, too bad most of it is useless. You can read his own comic work over on garymoloney.tumblr.com. Follow him on Twitter @m_gearoid.

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