Review: Poison Ivy Vol. 1: The Virtuous Cycle hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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G. Willow Wilson has assuredly a tough job writing the latest Poison Ivy miniseries, which ultimately blossomed into a full-blown series. It is both within this series and without that the Pamela Isley character has struggled with her body and autonomy being a means to others' ends; she is Bat-villain, hero and anti-hero, vessel for all sorts of interpretations as to what DC and its editors do and don’t care about.

There is almost too much noise for any solo story about the character to be successful. But so much baggage carried by the character perhaps works to Wilson’s advantage in Poison Ivy Vol. 1: The Virtuous Cycle. Wilson can easily fill the background with the various questions of Ivy’s role and purpose, and then in the foreground, there’s room for a tried and true approach, from classic anthology TV to Swamp Thing and Sandman and on — Ivy, woman with no name, going from town to town and meting out or dealing with various horrors along the way.

Indeed, in contrast to 2016’s Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death, the genre here does seem to be horror, rendered well by Marcio Takara in particular. Arguably this is a mild cheat — the team ducks the burden of giving Ivy a supporting cast and day-to-day life by instead focusing on workaday drifters and bad bosses, usually ending with someone gruesomely sprouting mushrooms.

But a similar formula worked with James Tynion’s Joker and it succeeds here too. Why does the market want so many books about Batman’s villains? How did a Catwoman or Harley Quinn series become more of a sure thing than Green Arrow? I’m not sure, but for characters that I don’t think were ever meant to support their own titles, “episodic horror” seems a fine way to go.

[Review contains spoilers]

The “virtuous cycle” of this book’s title is a contradiction — it is “virtuous” in that it’s natural, a cycle that keeps life living, but also one with inherent violence, the strong eating the weak and then fertilizing the earth with what remains. This Poison Ivy book, whether on purpose or by happenstance, is also rife with contradictions. Ivy starts out just wanting to restore her own lost powers, but somehow her mission becomes one of saving the planet. To do so, she aims to spread a plague that will kill all humanity, but no sooner does she get on the road than she finds people she wants to save. Ivy states outright in the beginning that she’s hoping to die, but ends the book wanting to live.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

As suggested, I’m unsure how many of these contradictions are “natural,” to use that phrase again, and how many might have come from this book extending from six to 12 issues to an ongoing series. Late in the book, a guest artist draws most of Ivy’s climactic encounters with Jason Woodrue, and it’s hard to know if that just indicates Takara needing support or if late-production rewrites needed re-drawing. Ivy’s ecological focus, while true to the character’s history, seems less a concern in the book’s prologue chapters than it does in the miniseries proper. The mysterious tree rune that Ivy sees on her journey has no ultimate significance beside the on-the-nose indication that Woodrue is stalking her, as if maybe a story plan changed along the way.

But if Virtuous Cycle is weakest when it gets into superheroic battles, it is strongest in Wilson’s aforementioned one-off horror. No reinvention of the genre necessarily, but the simple joys of barroom toughs getting their gory comeuppance, again buffeted by Takara’s bulbous, bloody detail.

It is equally effective, a few chapters later, when Ivy’s encounter with a motel owner seems destined to go wrong but ends up unexpectedly sweet. That’s preface to Wilson’s best chapter, with Ivy central in a “bad boss” revenge story. The extent to which all of this is germane to Batman villain Poison Ivy is debatable, but neither am I quite sure who else DC has in their stable who encompasses both the magical realism and everyman rage that Ivy does.

With all due respect, at the outset a new Poison Ivy miniseries seemed to me a hard sell, especially given that the 2016 miniseries landed with a thud and the character didn’t get much spotlight since then. To that end, the aesthetics of the Virtuous Cycle book surprised me (though not after I read it) — fungal photo chapter backgrounds, a “prologue” page with a typed, taped photo-real note, a four-page interview with the creators, the kinds of things you’d expect to find again in a Sandman book between Dave McKean covers. It’s a nice job by DC’s collections department elevating this title, and I also appreciate the inclusion of both the backup from Batman #124 and the Gotham City Villains Anniversary Special story.

In no small measure, G. Willow Wilson’s Poison Ivy Vol. 1: The Virtuous Cycle reminds of Ram V’s recent Swamp Thing miniseries, both in Wilson and Ram V’s botanical horror and the renderings thereof by Marcio Takara and Mike Perkins respectively. I continue to wonder how long until DC sees fit to do Black Label titles in mainstream continuity, like the Mature Readers books of the 1980s (unless the ship has sailed on mature content in the mainstream with potential DC movie properties); horror books like Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing might both benefit from the guardrails taken off.

Anyway, eager to see where Wilson takes the book from here.

[Includes original and copious variant covers, character designs, commentary, cover sketches]

Rating 3.0

Comments ( 1 )

  1. > How did a Catwoman or Harley Quinn series become more of a sure thing than Green Arrow?

    Never mind that six out of twenty Knight Terrors minis were for Bat-villains... The fact that we had concurrent ongoings for Catwoman, Harley Quinn, The Joker, The Penguin, and Poison Ivy /without/ an Aquaman ongoing speaks to (pardon the pun) a real sea change for DC. Then again, the tide seems to have shifted (sorry again) after the recent full-court press that culminated in last year's "Aquamen." Maybe the film universe's fortunes are at play here (see also "Black Adam"), but then again we do have a Shazam! ongoing after the dire "Fury of the Gods" earlier this year. (On the third hand, maybe Mark Waid has a blank check at DC -- in which case, fine by me!)

    Of course, we could speculate that Bat-rogue books exist because they sell, but I think I know WHY they're selling NOW. Some more context: the mainline Bat-books haven't been using the classic villains all that much. Zdarsky's Batman has been doing Failsafe, Zur-En-Arrh, and the multiverse, while Ram V's interminable Detective Comics is introducing new rogues, the Orgham family. Zdarsky is only just getting to The Joker with a "Year One" arc, and V had been using Two-Face and Mr. Freeze here and there, but I wonder if there's not some appetite just to see the old familiar faces. We just came off a year or so, mind, of James Tynion IV repopulating Gotham with the likes of Miracle Molly and the Peacekeepers, though he did get around to Scarecrow and Joker right at the end.

    All of this is to say that I haven't read Poison Ivy! But I'm intrigued by the peculiar state of Gotham these days and am trying to vote with my wallet, in favor of a less iconoclastic Gotham and a more iconic one.


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