Superhero comics are hard to make. They have to strike a balance that’s hard to achieve. It’s got to balance a lot of elements; character moments, plot development, drama, tone, colour and style amidst a high concept action setting and perhaps more importantly for superhero comics, planting seeds for ongoing storytelling. There are some that works really well and some that works just well enough to tide you over to the next really good work. Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death, as much as I had hoped otherwise, is one of the latter. It’s really close to being excellent, but falls short in just a few regards.
In Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life & Death, Dr Pamela Isley, also known as Poison ivy, has turned over a new leaf, she’s doing scientific research over at the Gotham Botanical Gardens. No more life of crime, just a focus on STEM to advance biology in the world and possibly create a new lifeform. The institute is well aware of who she is, but they’re willing to give her a second chance. Things take a dark and difficult turn as one of her colleagues is mysteriously murdered. It turns out the research Dr. Isley was working on was a way to merge botanical and biological beings together and it worked, and that research is very imp. It also produced some offspring, quite literally babies being birthed by plants, all with special abilities of their own. Something, or someone is trying to get those children back, whatever the cost.
The premise is quite interesting and the series is full of small interesting character moments. There’s a very interesting encounter between Harley Quinn and Ivy where they meet at a bar to chat about Ivy’s newfound scientific vigor and her disinterest in her former life of crime where Ivy mentions that people move on, that it would be a shame not to do better than she has with all of her knowledge. If you don’t move forward, you’re stuck spinning your wheels, she calls back to a time where Harley was the love interest and sidekick of the Joker, before her own emancipation. It’s a very nice moment between those two characters. Harley Quinn, as originally conceived was quite a problematic character, but she’s been expanded in innovative and interesting ways that allowed her to grow beyond that. Ivy for her part is trying to do the same, whatever this might look in the future is still up in the air. It won’t stop her from trying. It’s one of the better elements of this series, the characters are well developed. Amy Chu has a wonderful ear for characters and how they talk to each other.
Probably the most disappointing thing in this mini series is that given proper time, this could have been a truly excellent and complete series. The series has countless pencilers and inkers working on it giving the series an inconsistent look and feel throughout. It ends up being a distraction to the reader. The story is really fun and engaging, but goes at such a breakneck pace, it’s hard to properly appreciate. There’s almost too much story and content for the series and it’s too short to properly develop everything. Presumably, given the short length of the series, the creators wanted to knock it out of the park and filled it with as much creativity as possible. It’s understandable and part of the disappointment because these ideas could have been expanded upon into a more satisfying whole. This really showed in the development of the botanical-human hybrids. They are aging rapidly somehow and go from being babies, to being 8 to 17 in a matter of weeks. We don’t see that growth, nor its effect on their Ivy either. What we end up seeing of that relationship is the bare minimum to get the story to work. It isn’t given the space to grow naturally and could have grown to be a very thoughtful and complex relationship. There are countless examples of this throughout the book. There’s so much potential that ends up being wasted.
In spite of all of its issues, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There’s an interesting way Amy Chu and her collaborators depicts Poison Ivy. They take her beyond her origins as an environmentalist terrorist and femme fatale. In a world where climate change and extreme weather event are growing ever more devastating and in an era of #metoo and where women’s issues are increasingly more visible, the original concept of the character seems very dated. Updating the character allows for a much more modern take on Poison Ivy. There’s a lot of potential for growth and ongoing stories with this character, but it isn’t given proper time to be expanded upon in Cycle of Life and Death. I was looking forward to this comic, I’m really fond of this character. To the dismay of my Comics Beat colleagues, I think the movie Batman & Robin was a lot of fun and one of the best Batman film, in no small part due to the campy portrayal of Poison Ivy by Uma Thurman. It was an endearing way to portray this character that worked in a campy-silly over-the-top setting. Having a more down-to-earth scientist who’s genuinely trying to use her mind and abilities to improve the world, sometimes resorting to extreme methods is awesome and really engaging. Hopefully, we’ll get another series featuring this character. There were seeds of greatness in this book. Hopefully it will blossom into something exceptional the second time around.
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.