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]