Wednesday Whittling: Poison Ivy is Good

Welcome to Wednesday Whittling! This week I’ll discuss how a
little Poison Ivy is good for everyone.
The character’s six issue miniseries is called Cycle of Life of Death and is brought to us by writer Amy Chu and majority artist Clay Mann. I’ll being using textual
evidence from it to show her unique abilities and value as an antagonist. I’ll
also dip into the excessive nature of her sexualization.

As always, there’s an original comic from my very own dome
piece at the end. Get into it all after the jump!

Poison Ivy has proven capable of many things over the years.
She could be talking to plants, controlling them, breathing C02, needing
sunlight to live, or being immune to their poisons (Joker toxin included). She’s
also totally vicious most of the time, but this time around we see her demonstrate
more compassion and do it over an extended period of time.

Take, for example, how early on in issue 1 she warns a
student on a field trip from Gotham Academy that she “wouldn’t do that if I
were you. Those berries are very
poisonous.” The kid’s grabbing at some fruit from a tree in Gotham Botanical
Gardens, where Ivy now works on both plants and a second chance. Maybe it’s
low-hanging because it’s a kid, but it’s a nice start to show growth in the
character while also hinting at a major point of the arc. Series writer Amy Chu
didn’t even need the kid there. If a watchful eye, or empathy, for a child –
another human life – didn’t have relevance then it wouldn’t have been included.
But it was.

There’s also a nice moment in issue 2, where in some
exposition she describes Gotham Canal Point as a literal dirty secret of the
city, and how she’s cleaning it up. This is more up Ivy’s alley in that it’s an
environmentally focused pursuit, but she’s not doing it to scheme or bring back
to dirt. There’s zero malevolence. Really, it’s another shade of peaceful
humanity as she breathes life into one thing without taking it from another.
Sure, she still thinks the “whole city
would be better off as a garden.” But she’s not raging to try to make it
happen.

Issue 4 sees a non-violent, barely criminal team-up between
Ivy and Selina Kyle. Toward the end of it they find a frightened plant-child,
made from human and plant DNA, tucked away in a vent. When a secondary
character asks what she’s doing there, Selina says “hiding, like a smart girl.”
That’s a particularly Catwoman thing to say but is clever in the context of
this new Poison Ivy, as she’s hiding like a good girl (/woman/grownup), too.
Her life has become for herself and not about herself. She’s learned to coexist
with the people and things she detests. Very cool and critical to personal progress.

One problem I’ve had with Cycle of Life and Death is how crazy sexualized Ivy is drawn. I get
it – she’s a fatale, a temptress. But do we always
need a reminder of it? Isn’t that so built into her mythos that we could see
her taking steps forward as a person and not be jarred by its absence? At times
it’s so apparent it feels counterintuitive to the narrative. The actual work is
good; I’m just not sure the framing serves the story.

Over the course of the series Ivy turns from villain to
antagonist, much like Geoff Johns emphasized with Dr. Manhattan in Rebirth. The
timing is probably coincidental but maybe it’s another quiet, serendipitous
feather falling into the cap of DC. I imagine Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death will get the trade treatment
and if it does, consider picking it up. I don’t think it’ll let you down. It’s
well paced, fun, and different. As it wraps up this week, let’s be happy it provides us another shade of gray in the world of the Dark Knight.

And now, your free comic!

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