Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Comic Review: Poison Ivy - Cycle of Life and Death (2016)

The fan favorite floral femme fatale finally got her own limited-run series, but does the six-parter give the Vixen of Vines the spotlight she deserves? 

By: Jimbo X

Although I am, was and always will be a Marvel fanboy, I've always had a peculiar fondness for Poison Ivy. She's easily my favorite female villain in any medium, ever since I was introduced to her in her first B:TAS appearance where he made out with Batman while he was tied up by a vagina-looking plant monster

Over the years, the character has been rewritten from a huge-haired Batman fan girl in a leafy swimsuit into a hardcore feminist (and possibly lesbian) eco-terrorist into some sort of demi-goddess with the same skin hue as the Jolly Green Giant. Although the plant-based motif and a lot of the tried and true pheromone powers have remained consistent - whether the character was retconned into a teenager with hair shaped like a tulip or was transformed into a melodramatic drag queen who kinda sorta resembled Uma Thurman - Poison Ivy doesn't really seem to have the same consistent core identity and personality that a lot of the other Batman heavies share. Pretty much every time a writer gets a hold of her, they tend to rebuild her background, motivations and even powers from the ground-up; as a result, Ivy winds up being transformed into a totally new character seemingly every two or three years. 

Personally, my favorite incarnation of the character was in the early 1980s, when she was just a bitchy brown-haired man-hater who wanted to seduce all the men in town so she could mutate them into plant monsters or feed them to whatever genetic experiment she was working on at the time. Really, it wasn't until they tried to turn her into an eco-conscious vigilante that things started going off the rails with the character; the same way Marvel fucked up Venom by turning him face, DC really hunched the pooch by turning Ivy - a sociopathic misandrist - into an Earth Firster tweener. 

So enter the latest take on the long running Bat-foe, a six-part miniseries that ran from January to June of this year titled Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death. It was written by Amy Chu, an MIT, Wellsley AND Harvard Business School-trained funny book scribe who started her own imprint called Alpha Girl Comics (yeah, in case you couldn't tell from the namesake of her company, the identity politics is strong with this one.) Pulling primary art duties is Clay Mann, an industry journeyman who probably has the most supervillain-sounding name of any artist in the industry. So, with their powers combined, what did they manage to accomplish with the villainous vixen of vines? Well, let's hit up the stack and find out for ourselves, why don't we? 

All right, so issue one opens with Ivy in Southern Angola, in hot pursuit of some kind of "living fossil." This being Africa and whatnot, she and her tour guide are soon attacked by diamond mine guards, whom are easily dispatched by our anti-heroine and her ability to make gigantic vines pop out of the Sub-Saharan soil out of nowhere.

We tail Ivy back to Gotham, where she is now a researcher at the local botanical gardens, working on genetically modified plant-animal hybrids (considering her background, you REALLY have to wonder what kind of judge would sign off on such a work-release program.) From the get-go, we get a stern talking to about sexism, as one of Ivy's colleagues yammers on and on about how "misogynistic" her boss is.

And that's our cue for Harley Quinn to show up, incognito. She convinces Ivy to join her to a girls night out at, of all things, a rough and tough biker bar, and begrudgingly, she accepts her invitation, if only to avoid being hit on by an overly-flirtatious male coworker.

There, Harley has switched out into her finest Margot Robbie duds (a surreptitious ad for the Suicide Squad movie? Surely you jest!) They talk about Ivy being rich as fuck because of her bio-tech patents and Harley asks Ivy is she is more plant or human these days. Ivy responds by saying something about the Green - just read the Wikipedia page, it's too convoluted for me to give you a summary - and what do you know, a barroom brawl breaks out. While Harley wallops a few burly bikers, Ivy nonchalantly goes after them with a special spray that appears to turn people into homosexuals. What? Didn't anybody every tell Amy Chu that homosexuality is an INGRAINED GENETIC TRAIT THAT YOU ARE BORN WITH AND CAN NEVER, EVER BE REVERSED OR SYNTHESIZED? Oh goodness, it's only the first issue, and the staggering amount of Asian woman-spawned homophobia has me triggered something fierce.

After the melee, Harley criticizes Ivy for being too cold and distant. She responds by going home to her palatial apartment complex, walking around naked and bemoaning the simple-mindedness of humanity before saying some abstract stuff about CRISPRS. Ivy makes reference to an off-panel "project," which she assures us has grown faster than she thought. She then arrives back at the botanical gardens, and holy shit, somebody has brutally murdered her mentor!

The cliffhanger provides a natural segue to issue two. Here, we learn that Ivy's research has been stolen by ... well, somebody. We're introduced to the purple mohawked Darshan Bapna, who tells investigators the dead scientist may have accidentally poisoned herself. Ivy ripostes by saying her mentor was a consummate pro who never would have botched her job like that, but then she remembers her alibi is "hanging out with Harley Quinn" so she quickly shuts her yap. That's when sexist coworker Winston cuts in and says he took Ivy to the movies and "did" her, which gets the guy who kinda sorta runs the lab to say, damn it, he KNEW women weren't nothing but distractions in the work place.

For some reason, nobody can figure out that Pamela Isley is Poison Ivy, not even the homicide detectives. Shit, the guys who run Webutation ought to hire her as a consultant! So, Ivy and Darshan are working on creating a community garden to memorialize the dead scientist, and Ivy starts getting suspicious about her colleague. Then, they are attacked by pit bulls (the whole time, Ivy has an internal monologue about the dogs being conditioned into vicious killers by man) and then she kills the owner by making sentient vines ... well, explode inside her, I guess?

Then it's revealed that the recruiter knows she's Poison Ivy. Then we get Darshan's backstory - basically, he's a dude that became a scientist because both his parents are scientists, his siblings are biochemists and wasn't good enough to make it on Gotham's Got Talent. Then he tells Ivy about his Jainist upbringing (technically, he is not even supposed to eat potatoes because they have roots) and she rebuffs his offer to grab a coffee sometime. So he follows her back to her apartment (not creepy, at all) and finds the corpse of one of the lab higher-ups AND Ivy cradling a bunch of mutant plant-spawned babies she calls "sporelings." And from there: issue three. 

So the police are investigating the murder of Eric Grimley, world-class chauvinist pig and chairman of the plant sciences department at Gotham Botanical Gardens. Darshan tells them what he knows and then we check in n Ivy, who is admiring her self-engineered Cabbage Patch babies. One is named Rose and the other is Hazel because ... uh, the material demands groan-inducing plant puns, I suppose?

Ivy returns to the Gardens and she learns about Grimley's murder (or, she's pretending to learn about it anyway) and she gets questioned by the police and she almost goes plant-psycho on them but then one of them receives a call telling them to let her off the hook. Apparently, this Pamela Isley character has some powerful friends in high places...

Then, Winston - the pervert from the lab that hit on Pam earlier - rings her doorbell and he hits on her some more so she decides to kill him with one of her patented death kisses. The only problem is, they don't actually SHOW the kiss take place, even though the front cover of the damn comic is Ivy seductively crawling over his lipstick-smudged corpse. And then, a bunch of Petey Piranhas from Super Mario Bros. eat his poisoned remains, because goddamnit, being an obnoxious flirt MANDATES such a grisly demise, it seems.

Then she goes to a coffee shop and talks with Darshan about the blueprints of the botanical gardens. And that's when she calls up an old friend with some expertise in the field of breaking and entering ... Catwoman. 

Issue four begins with Ivy and Catwoman dealing with Darshan, who gets ensnared in one of Ivy's apartment plants. Eventually, they decide to hatch a plan to break into the gardens at night, using the old steam tunnels built in the late 1800s. Then, Ivy starts hearing a "disturbance" in the Green and a whole bunch of scientists start running for their lives and they uncover a worker who has been "treed" a'la the old people in the B:TAS episode "Eternal Youth."  That's when they encounter a THIRD plant child, this one hiding out in the air vents like Newt in Aliens from some unseen menace. Apparently, the lab workers stole Ivy's work and tried to create their own armada of plant people - almost all of which resulted in hideous, aborted plant-people fetus thingies. Ivy goes nuclear, kills the remaining scientist in the lab and then brings the whole damn Botanical Gardens using her plant-control powers.

Issue five begins with Ivy naming the lab specimen "Thorn." Apparently, the Sporelings age at a rapid rate, so at 25 weeks old, they already look like teenagers ... well, teenagers with gold and green skin and needles sticking out of the top of their skulls, anyway. Darshan brings over a karaoke machine and the "girls" bitch and moan about how bad they want to go out and mingle in society, like they were repressed Ninja Turtles or something

Ivy has a nightmare about this giant Doomsday-looking motherfucker that's been teased in quick flashes for the last couple of issues and she realizes, oh shit, the kids have shut down the security system and escaped! So they sneak into a club and, whoops, some businessman hits on one of them and has his hand turned into a redwood paperweight. Of course, Ivy has to come bail them out before the shit gets too deep, and for all the carnage they caused - which includes major property destruction and HOMICIDE - Ivy decides to "ground them." Get it? Because they are like, half plant and shit.

Then Ivy enters some sort of metaphysical tree-world in her head where she speaks to a "parliament of trees" and oh shit, she gets attacked by Grimley, who is now like, a 40-foot-tall tree monster! 

Chapter six, here we come. As it turns out, Grimley stole Ivy's research because he thought it would grant him immortality. Granted, it's a form of immortality where he's going to look like the eponymous monster from Pumpkinhead, but hey! It's immortality, nonetheless. 

After explaining why he had to kill Ivy's mentor (she was too close to figuring out he was mutating into Tree Man), Grim tells Ivy he needs a steady supply of Sporelings stem cells to prevent his cancer from coming back. That's when Darshan and the Sporelings come to Ivy's rescue. And before you can say "dues ex machine," MOTHERFUCKING SWAMP THING just shows up out of nowhere to save everybody. Cue an extended battle scene where everybody starts hacking up Grim with rakes and machetes, which concludes with Swampy giving P.I. a pep talk about managing realistic expectations of motherhood. And then, the Sporelings hop aboard a Greyhound headed down South, where one of them proudly proclaims "we're going to change the world."

And ... fin

...still a better interpretation of Ivy than the one in this one, though

Well, that was - a mixed-bag, so to speak. Frankly, this just isn't the kind of Ivy I want in my nerd books. The whole aloof, semi-lesbian, pro-STEM feminist single mom environmental justice warrior shtick is really annoying and makes the character a boring, lifeless, needlessly political figure whose role isn't so much to engage in bizarre capers that jeopardize the fate of an entire metropolis just 'cause as she is to stand around and make, ugh, socially cognizant remarks about the state of sexism in contemporary U.S. culture. Look, if I wanted to get a lecture about why all men are a bunch of worthless layabouts, I could always spend a few minutes on Tumblr until the ironically indiscriminate hatred makes me want to pluck my own eyeballs out; if I wouldn't voluntarily do such in a medium that's 100 percent free, then why oh why should I be asked to spend my disposable income on the same kind of irritating, hyperbolic propaganda?

Granted, Cycle of Life and Death doesn't exist SOLELY to make some sort of anti-man statement. Rather, the series - a shameless attempt to garner a regularly monthly comic - tries desperately to transform Ivy into some sort of almost-justifiable vigilante, whose M.O. is going after really rich industrialists that hurt the environment and hold women down and all that jazz. The problem with that is evident in this series: that kind of protagonist is supremely boring. Indeed, Cycle itself illustrates just how much this take on Ivy is unable to stand on its own - without the cameos from Catwoman and Harley Quinn (and especially the spin-off bait in the form of the Sporelings), this thing just dragged like an anchor across a wooden floorboard. And hoo-boy, do not even get me started on the last-second addendum of Swamp Thing, and all that abstract crap about the Green, or the inclusion of an American Idol reject as the series' primary comedic foil. Seriously, don't even

For me, the ideal Ivy has always been the Bronze Age version, as written and drawn by Gerry Conway and Irv Novick. Forget the voluptuous ginger from the '90s cartoon and definitely forget the Martian-looking version heaped upon the masses by Jim Lee in the mid-2000s - the petite, laurel-crowned, brown-haired P.I. that used her feminine wiles to seduce, trick and scam wealthy business men into their economic (and sometimes, literal) doom is the iteration that I have long felt best expressed who and what Ivy was about. No Warholian lesbian overtones, no mother-complex nonsense, no jibber-jabber about the moral righteousness of eco-terrorism; rather, she was just a super smart, super sly under-the-radar villianess who used her botany background to make herself wealthy and stamp out a few overbearing, old white guys who proved long-term threats to her financial aspirations. I mean, really, what would you rather read, month in and month out - a whole bunch of monologuing about biochemistry and why gonaded-Americans are destroying the planet, or the exploits of a hot '70s looking chick who uses mind control lipsticks on CEOs so she can force them to give up their companies and leave their families and come with her to a facsimile of the garden of Eden where she plans on systematically feeding them to a giant Venus's fly trap? Yeah, that's what I thought - the saga of a woman who dresses up like a cucumber, blow darts people and really, really wants to fuck her arch-nemesis hard is infinitely more intriguing a concept than anything tossed around in Cycle, for sure. 

So yeah, there ain't too much to get excited about in this half-year-long series. And if this is the template for a full-fledged, regular title, I really dread what sort of meandering identity politicking-in-lieu-of-genuine-storytelling-nonsense we're ultimately going to wrench out of the prospect. Sorry Ivy fans - looks like you're going to have to wait a little bit longer before the iconic villainess receives the standalone treatment she rightly deserves.

No comments:

Post a Comment