Review: Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death is enjoyable but light fare. What distinguishes this book is in some respects its greatest obstacle: it's essentially set in the pre-Flashpoint Gotham City Sirens continuity. This will make it an immediate buy for some readers, but at the same time there's material especially toward the end that indicates Ivy's adventures here "can't" have happened and are therefore unlikely to affect the current Poison Ivy going forward. That's no reason not to otherwise enjoy a book, of course, but it lessens for me the appeal of what's already a dubious prospect, a villain-focused miniseries, whose characterizations traditionally don't stick as time goes on.

I definitely like writer Amy Chu's portrayal of Poison Ivy as an unrepentant anti-hero. At the same time, while there's a good mystery within the pages, I never quite felt the stakes were high enough to make me truly feel any suspense. Artist Clay Mann starts strong, but there's a bevy of guest artists in the end; combined with an unsatisfying ending, there's a sense of Cycle of Life and Death just petering out. Were there a better indication of Poison Ivy continuing, this might be OK, but the prospect seems unlikely to me.

[Review contains spoilers]

Cycle of Life and Death sees Poison Ivy taking a day job as a Gotham botanist specifically to study the hybridization of plants and animals. Just as a life without crime seems to be going well for her, a number of Ivy's colleagues are murdered and her research stolen. In seeking the killer, Ivy ends up mothering three rapidly-aging plant-animal children, and she must keep them safe when the murderer comes to her door.

Chu writes an Ivy perfectly recognizable as the third leg of the Gotham City Sirens trio, and preserves here her relationships with Harley Quinn and Catwoman. In the kind of weird space where this miniseries exists, Chu makes sense of Ivy's more normative world and how it can intersect with the magical realism of the current Harley Quinn series, which I thought was a nice feat. Ivy murders a couple innocent people here, ruthlessly, and I appreciated that Chu doesn't try to redeem Ivy but rather tells a story about her authentically as a "bad guy."

At the same time, I didn't think Chu did enough to explain Ivy's motivations to the reader, including why she chooses to reform now specifically or why wants to create these hybrids. The given reason is to create more beings like herself, but at this point I'm fuzzy on what Ivy's origin actually is, and Cycle doesn't clarify it for me. Continuity aside, some nod to the fact that Ivy just left the Birds of Prey or something and wanted to create the hybrids out of loneliness would have gone a long way toward shoring up my empathy for the character. I might even have accepted that Ivy simply wanted to be a parent, but ironically Ivy turns out to be wholly unprepared for and even impatient with her "offspring" once she has them, something interesting I might have liked Chu to dig into deeper.

The tone of Cycle varies widely from mystery to comedy, heist, and ultimately superheroics, and the six chapters felt full and the story suitably long. But my tendency is to favor the more serious material, and so toward the end of the book when the story lets go of the mystery somewhat in favor of the personal drama of the now-teenage hybrids sneaking out for a night on the town, my interest waned. Additionally, while Chu wraps up Ivy's arc, taking her from seeking only her "own kind" to recognizing her existing family of Harley and others, the book's epilogue material is a scant two pages, one of which doesn't even include Ivy at all. For a fully-realized six issue miniseries the end comes off rushed and dissatisfying.

Again, artist Clay Mann offers clear, realistic art in the beginning, and his initial scenes of Ivy in the African desert are among the book's best. Starting in the third chapter, however, Mann gets support artists, and he's absent entirely from the fourth and sixth chapters. Whomever draws the fifth page of the fourth chapter -- either Robson Rocha or Julio Ferreira -- draws Ivy's anatomy so distorted that it looks like her breast is hanging out of her tunic. Though Mann overall draws an attractive but not gratuitously over-sexualized Ivy, the cover to the sixth issue has Ivy's tunic just-so-happen to be ripped across the belly, a seemingly immature choice of sex over sense.

In the final tally, Amy Chu's Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death sets out suspects and clues to a mystery and then delivers with the mystery's solution, though the storytelling isn't consistent enough from one issue to the next to really sell this. I don't scoff at a Swamp Thing cameo and especially not at Swamp Thing teamed up with Poison Ivy, but again this is so far removed from any recent continuity that I have trouble just taking for granted that Batman villain Poison Ivy knows Swamp Thing as Alec Holland. At the same time I also give Chu points for not using Batman even once here, perhaps the biggest testament to the Ivy character's potential to stand on her own.

[Includes original covers, variant cover, Clay Mann sketches]
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5 comments:

  1. As you mentioned, a lot of these problems could/can be solved if the story continued with a few more issues. I'm glad there's a spotlight on Ivy, and I would love to see a sequel of sorts to this story, even in the form of another mini series. Having animal/plant hybrids running around would also make an interesting story, especially given their rapid aging. I hope to see some continuation of this story.

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  2. Damn! Since I read all trades related to the New 52/DC You and the upcoming Rebirth, I would've held off buying this knowing it's basically outside continuity (I only have so much money!). I didn't see anything in the solicitations indicating when the story took place, so I assumed it was in the New 52/DC You. Also, your mention of the tone shifting from serious to silliness also doesn't leave me with high expectations. It's still in my read pile, so I guess I'll have to at least get some of my money's worth. Sigh.

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    1. Sorry 'bout that. At the same time there's worse things than a throwback to Gotham City Sirens, and also a story that semi-aligns "new Harley" with that continuity. Hope you get something out of it!

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  3. I don't think it is out of continuity... The relationships between the characters seem current and as far as I know that Gotham City Sirens era could have happend (with some changes) in the current continuity.

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    1. At the start I said "there's material especially toward the end that indicates Ivy's adventures here 'can't' have happened"; I was trying to avoid spoilers, but by "toward the end" I was more referring to Ivy's encounter with Swamp Thing, not necessarily the pseudo-Gotham City Sirens material.

      Now it's been a while since I've read this, but I believe Ivy calls Swamp Thing "Alec" and he calls her "Pamela." If we take as fact Scott Snyder and Charles Soule's New 52 Swamp Thing run, and also Ivy's limited appearances in the New 52, I don't think they know each other that well, and not as friends. Arguably, of course, they could have met each other between the pages or in an untold story, but it really seems like Chu's writing them more as their post-Crisis, Vertigo-era selves, than she is writing their present relationship.

      As regards the Sirens, Chu's on point with Ivy and Harley's friendship, and as I mentioned I thought Chu did well overlaying the "new" Harley on top of the old Sirens continuity. But again, if we take the New 52 Catwoman series as page-by-page what happened, there's not really room there for Selina to have been friends with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. Sure, "between the pages" can apply, but here again, it sooner seems Chu is writing in the previous continuity than the here and now.

      I don't believe I felt the miniseries was devoutly "out of continuity," just that I thought it was in a pretty gray area. The fun thing about continuity is that it's open to interpretation; your results may vary. I wouldn't put this on the DC TPB Timeline, however, unless some other book references it.

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