Geek culture is a lot of fun, but can be tricky to navigate. When it comes to comic books, series reboots, backstory retcons, and multiple characters sharing the same superhero title are often huge obstacles in the way of enjoying comics. Like other aspects of geek culture there is a lot of lore associated with a variety of comic book characters and it can be tricky to figure out exactly where to start. That’s where Geek 101 comes in. We’ll introduce you to a different comic book character, creator, or other aspect of geek culture and tell you the best place to find your new favourite (please let me know if you have any requests). In honour of this month’s Science theme, this week’s character is everyone’s favourite botanical biochemist, Pamela Isley (aka Poison Ivy).
Full Name: Pamela Lillian Isley
Species: Former human, now metahuman
Abilities: Ivy can control plant life through a mystical force called “the Green”; she secrets toxins through her skin that can intoxicate, immobilize, or kill; she has an immunity to toxins and most diseases; and she is an expert biochemist.
Debut: Batman #181, released June 1966
Motivators: All of Ivy’s acts, both heroic and villainous, have been in defence of the environment or (less frequently) the people she loves.
Every now and then, comic book companies (especially DC and Marvel) like to change things up a bit. This can take the form of changing the history of a character or event (known as “retconning”), passing the mantle of one hero down to another, or destroying the old universe in some way in order to set up a new one (a “continuity reboot”). DC continuity can basically be split up into three categories: Pre-Crisis, Post-Crisis, and Current/New 52.
In what is now known as the “Pre-Crisis” universe, Poison Ivy was a botanist named Dr. Lillian Rose. In the 1980s, DC rebooted their comics line and ushered in what is now know as the “Post-Crisis” universe. Neil Gaiman gave Ivy a new backstory in issue #36 of Secret Origins. Now a former botanical biochemistry student whose professor experimented on her with a variety of poisons and toxins, Ivy developed metahuman powers as a result of those experiments. In 2011 this was changed when DC rebooted their comics line once more, creating the “New 52”. In this universe, Ivy grew up in an abusive home, cheated her way through college, and got fired from an internship at Wayne Enterprises (yes, that Wayne). Her powers were developed after she spilled chemicals on herself while being escorted out of the building.
It sounds pretty confusing, especially for new fans going back and reading older stories. There is an easy way to keep it straight – check the year the comic you’re reading was published, and then check that against the following:
1966 to 1985 (Pre-Crisis)
- Double-crossed and poisoned by professor and criminal Marc LeGrande.
- Metahuman powers developed as a result of surviving the attempt on her life.
1986 to 2011 (Post-Crisis)
- Studied botanical biochemistry and was experimented on by her professor Jason Woodrue.
- Metahuman powers were caused by those experiments.
2011 to Present (New 52)
- Born with a skin condition, Ivy was raised in an abusive home. She manipulated her way through school and into an internship at Wayne Enterprises.
- Metahuman powers acquired after spilling chemicals on herself.
Good/Bad/Morals for Hire?
Oh, Ivy’s definitely a villain, though not always for the wrong reasons. Ivy is an eco-terrorist above all, and many of her targets are evil corporations with shady environmental records. Her ability to control plant life has increased over the years making her incredibly deadly, but also capable of pretty incredible things. Ivy’s rescued orphaned children and kept them safe, and provided fresh fruit and veggies to the hungry. She’s also fed people to a murderous plant as a “guilty pleasure”, so don’t go throwing her a parade just yet.
Without a doubt, her biggest ally is Harley Quinn. After Ivy saved Harley’s life they developed a very close relationship. There has been a romantic/sexual subtext (or just outright text, depending on the comic book) between the two for many, many years. Just this past week, however, DC seems to have confirmed that the two are indeed involved in a relationship:
— DC Comics (@DCComics) June 12, 2015
What to Read:
Now, the fun part! While most of these recommendations can easily be found online, I strongly recommend visiting your local comic book store. If they don’t have what you’re looking for in stock, they can usually order it in. Most comic book stores are independently run and can use the customers more than, say, Amazon.
No Man’s Land, Volume 3 (Post-Crisis)
The city of Gotham was destroyed and subsequently cut off from the rest of the United States, creating a so-called “no man’s land”. No Man’s Land was a huge, company-wide crossover event. Most of the single issues involved have been collected into trade paperback versions. Volume 3 heavily features Ivy in a very touching story that is also beautifully drawn. A basic understanding of the events of the first two volumes is helpful, but not necessarily required, to understand Ivy’s story.
Gotham City Sirens, All of Them (Post-Crisis)
The series stars Ivy, Harley Quinn, and Catwoman. It’s a fun read, and despite being set in Gotham and occasionally featuring other Gotham-based characters you don’t really need to know much about anyone in order to enjoy the series. The only bad thing about the run is that it wasn’t longer.
Ivy & Harley (Post-Crisis)
This is a three-issue miniseries by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, names you may recognize from Batman: The Animated Series. This is a very quick read, but it’s exceptionally fun and perfect for mindless entertainment.
Birds of Prey, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (New 52)
A caution for fans of Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey run: this is nothing like that. At all. That being said, it does feature some pretty interesting characters that may be “gateway characters” to other great series for some readers. Ivy is central to the plot of the first two volumes, and has a few very well written moments.
See Her Now:
Sadly, Ivy doesn’t have her own ongoing series at the moment, though there is an increasing interest from fans to see one happen. She can currently be seen guesting in Harley Quinn’s ongoing series, which is an enjoyable read in its own right, so worth picking up even if there are long gaps between Ivy appearances.
In general, Ivy can be found in almost every major Batman-themed media, from television to movies to video games. Her popularity is enormous, and seems to only be growing. Whether she’s written as an evil eco-terrorist or a morally complex anti-hero, she is always a compelling character.