DC, Please Give Us More Poison Ivy
By Rose Rosen
Poison Ivy is a comic book character with 50 years of history. It took 50 years for her to get the spotlight and have a six issue mini-series centered on her: Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death. My name is Rose and I am a member of a group of Poison Ivy fans who try to push her into the spotlight. We call ourselves the Poison Ivy League and you can find our posts under the Twitter and Tumblr tag #poisonivyleague. So, what drives me to spend time be vocal about a fictional character? What does Poison Ivy mean to me? What drives us to engage in “tweet campaigns”, write articles, reviews, create blogs and Tumblr pages about her? What makes us buy multiple copies of Ivy’s books, merchandise, write fiction and create art about her?
Poison Ivy started her comic life as a plant themed criminal. Her birth was a result of the rising feminist movement. The modern version of Poison Ivy starts with Neil Gaiman’s Secret Origins. Here she is revamped from a thief who uses plants as a gimmick to a mystical force of nature: The May Queen. A human agent of the Green. This is the first attempt to portray her not as a villain but as a hero of her own story. Her motives change. Of course there is darkness in the character but her darkness is a result of being right in the middle, half human, half plant, half scientist, half mystical/magic being but she wants to save the planet and she offers hope.
Unfortunately the depth Gaiman offered to the character was mostly ignored. She had a brief run in Suicide Squad and most of her appearances were a result of the “green scare”, attempts to portray environmentalism as a global threat, or she was used as a straw feminist.
Greg Rucka came to the rescue. In No Man’s Land Poison Ivy gets a second revamp and the rise of ecofeminism is reflected in Rucka’s portrayal of Poison Ivy. She is a mother to Gotham’s orphans. She is there providing safety, a refugee to the people in need as long as they pay respect to each other and don’t abuse nature. Rucka saw an activist in Pamela Isley. Her only victims during his run are two crooked cops who murder a young girl, an orphan who Ivy cared for. She provides justice – a cruel justice perhaps – but this is a crime that would have been left unpunished. Ivy cares for the people left behind by the heroes. Even Batman acknowledges that and agrees to leave her alone and take care of the countless Gotham orphans.
Rucka’s version was expanded by a few other writers but here’s a strange thing: Ivy’s status quo always reverts back into that of a generic, misanthrope villain. It always feels forced and it always leaves huge plot holes.
In Ann Nocenti’s Cast Shadows we see a deeply political Poison Ivy. We get a deep insight into her relationship with Batman. She is a genius scientist who wants to save the world and provide free energy. She wants to abolish hunger and poverty, stop wars, and bring world peace. Nocenti shows that the conflict between her and Batman lies on Bruce’s deep paranoia. In Cast Shadows Batman’s moral compass is paranoia. Ivy’s is logic and science. The book works more like a psychological profile of Bruce and Pamela and less than a Batbook.
The next step in Ivy’s evolution comes with New 52. Now she’s a member of Birds of Prey. Her motives are more complex and from an occasional antihero she becomes a full time hero. Once more she betrays the team in a weird and forced way that was never fully explained.
Scott Snyder uses her in a heroic role during Swamp Thing’s Rotworld. Her connection to the Green is reestablished and even the Parliament of Trees recognizes that she could potentially be the next champion of the Green but she is not yet ready. Here she is portrayed like a warrior, a Valkyrie of nature.
Gail Simone’s Batgirl Annual 2 tries to explain the reasons behind the betrayal of the Birds of Prey. She was blackmailed by the owner of an evil corporation in an emotionally stressful period of her life. Simone not only gives huge depth into her character but also named her mental disorder for the first time in 50 years. Until now she was simply “crazy”. Simone explains that her violent outbursts are a result of “seasonal affective disorder” which in combination of her deep connection to the Green can trigger her depression. This book is important to me on a personal level for another reason. Not only Batgirl agrees that Poison Ivy could be the one that saves the world but Ivy also confessed her love for Batgirl in an very emotional moment that still brings shivers to me.
John Layman uses her in a heroic part in his run of Detective Comics continuing the theme of a modern Activist. This is another huge step in Poison Ivy’s evolution. John Layman makes it cannon that Poison Ivy is not a threat to Gotham and its citizens and that she doesn’t belong in Arkham. The romantic tension between Ivy and Batman is strong. He respects her. Batman finally understands that instead of constantly beating her up, having her as an ally is a better choice. Perhaps she is misguided but she wants to save the city and cares for the citizens.
Which brings us to Amy Chu’s Cycle of Life and Death. Poison Ivy’s first solo book (albeit a mini series) after 50 years of history. Ivy has a job as a scientist (it is implied that the Bat family had something to do with cleaning up her records). She is cleaning up Gotham, and working on important scientific research. I don’t want to spoil the book as the trade will be available in September so I don’t want to post important plot points. I can only say that Ivy finally has her own cast of characters, has three daughters and her connection to the Green’s mythology is once more established and strengthened. Amy Chu in six issues reminds us Poison Ivy’s rich backstory and reintroduces her to new audiences. She redefines with using ingredients previously available. She creates the story that both Poison Ivy and her fans deserve.
Instead of writing an article about why Poison Ivy is important to me, I made a list of stories. What’s important with this list is that it contains books with diverse yet distinct portrayals of Poison Ivy. These are the stories that created moments, experiences. These are the stories that not only define Poison Ivy but also define me. Ivy as an environmentalist, as a hero, as an activist, as a mother, as a scientist, as a loner, as a protestor. I am a member of Poison Ivy League. Me and my friends don’t always agree. We love our disagreements. It makes us stronger. It makes Poison Ivy League healthier. But these stories are the ones we all agree with. These are the stories we quote. These are the writers we are constantly asking to write more Poison Ivy stories. These are the stories that build the foundation of who Poison Ivy is.
They all share something in common: Poison Ivy is a hero of these stories. Perhaps she is not a traditional hero. But here’s a thing: I can’t be Batgirl, I can’t be Wonder Woman. I can be Poison Ivy: I am Poison Ivy. I am Pamela Isley. On some level I’ve been in similar situations, similar dilemmas with Ivy in these stories. I’m asking for more stories like this. Look, everyone can write a story that follows the path “Ivy does or tries to do something evil/be a threat/kill/break the law, Batman comes in and save the day. I can write a story like this, you can write a story like this. But it won’t be a memorable story. Look at the recommended Poison Ivy stories by fans, look at the best reviewed stories, look at the top selling stories, the most quoted ones. Poison Ivy is a hero, if not in all of them them definitely in most of them.
I’m asking for more heroic Poison Ivy stories. More independent Poison Ivy stories. More stories that help me define myself through fiction. More stories I can quote. More stories I can recommend. More stories that I can relate to. Poison Ivy is no more a Batman villain. She’s much more. What she needs now is writers that want to see her as a hero. If not a traditional hero then as a hero of the story, a hero of her own story. Let her evolve past her role as Harley Quinn’s girlfriend, past Batman’s enemy, past a “green scare” threat.
That’s why I’m asking for a Poison Ivy ongoing by Amy Chu. That’s why I’m supporting Poison Ivy League. Amy Chu has proven that she has a vision for Poison Ivy. In just six issues she created and introduced us to a whole new cast of characters for Poison Ivy. She set up elements that need to be explored in future stories. Elements that Bat writers can build future stories with them. Building elements for Poison Ivy’s Rebirth.
I’m Rose of Poison Ivy League and I’m asking for #moredcpoisonivy.