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Poison Ivy #21
DC Comics

Comic Books

‘Poison Ivy’ #21 gives Pamela full agency to tell her true origin

‘Life is ferocious… It will try to save you long after you’ve given up on yourself.’

The iconic Dr. Pamela Isley – better known as DC’s infamous Poison Ivy – has had a handful of villainous origin stories, from being poisoned by ancient Egyptian herbs to accidentally dosing herself with botany chemicals she created while working at Wayne Enterprises. As a part of Dawn of DC, a continuation of DC’s Infinite Frontier, acclaimed writer G. Willow Wilson and artists Marcio Takara and Arif Prianto have been reintroducing Dr. Isley to a modern audience, formally establishing the beloved character as an antihero who is now dedicated to protecting Earth and humanity. Poison Ivy #21 is the finale to Pamela’s “Origin of Species” arc, which rehashes Ivy’s origins as a Gotham supervillain, as she prepares for the most deadly battle of her life.

Poison Ivy #21 is the final push to give Pamela agency over her life, her desires, and her narrative that this solo series has been building to since the first issue. From my research, it seems like “Origin of Species” is the first time that Isley’s full origin has been written by a woman, a long time coming since Ivy debuted in 1966, nearly 60 years ago. In many ways “Origin of Species,” which ends its arc in Poison Ivy #21 is also a meta-commentary on the various retconning DC has done over the decades, with Ivy saying about her memory of her origin, “It’s as if the past itself is always shifting beneath our feet.”

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Poison Ivy #21

DC Comics

Wilson’s ability to successfully expand on Neil Gaiman and James Tynion IV’s Poison Ivy origin tales is impressive, and having Ivy be the narrator of her tale is what sets this story apart from other origin explorations. While Pamela has discussed her origin and trauma in the past, “Origin of Species” is the first time we can reliably trust the narrator, instead of hearing her story through Prison Inspector Stuart or Bella Garten’s lens.

Ivy’s “Origin of Species” has the same core plot beats as Garten’s retelling of her story in Batman Secret Files: The Gardener: Woodrue’s experimentation gives Isley plant-based abilities, connects her to the pain of Mother Earth, and draws her to Gotham where she begins her cycle of confrontations with Batman and incarceration as Arkham. Where Wilson’s tale diverges is in the narrative surrounding Ivy’s complex and fascinating relationship with Batman. While Wilson’s Poison Ivy #13 saw Batman acknowledging him and Ivy’s past “romance,” Poison Ivy #21 paints a different picture than what is typically portrayed.

Neil Gaiman’s 1989 origin of Poison Ivy, in Secret Origins #36, depicts Isley as romantically obsessed with Batman, traveling to Gotham to seduce the Dark Knight. Bella Garten’s retelling of Ivy’s origin postulates that Batman’s ability to resist Poison’s seduction caused her to fall deeper into madness, with Batman representing all the men who had ever hurt her. Yet G. Willow Wilson’s “Origin of Species” instead gives Ivy back much of her agency, revealing that Pamela revealed her “obsession” with Batman as a way to appeal to the alpha male egos of Arkham officials, getting her released from custody.

As opposed to earlier tales, where Poison Ivy relentlessly attempted to seduce and influence Bruce with her pheromones, Poison Ivy #21 shows Pamela trying to have a legitimate conversation with Batman about their shared interests. Instead, Batman – because he was obsessed with staying paranoid – became convinced that Ivy was using his pheromones on him, rejecting her call for allyship and framing her as an outright villain in his mind. Of course, Poison Ivy has done many villainous things in her career, even in Wilson’s solo series, but as Bella Garten tells Batman in Batman Secret Files… “Ivy isn’t like your other rogues.”

Poison Ivy #21

DC Comics

From Ivy’s perspective, shown in this elucidating issue, she tried everything she could to go about her causes the “right way,” and to save the Earth “heroically,” going so far as to plead with Batman to work with her ethically. However, due to assumptions about her intentions, and the “broken” systems that Gotham – and the world – operate within, Ivy was demonized and ignored, left to be the “Bad Guy” in her attempts to course-correct the harm humanity has done to the planet.

As always, Wilson’s Poison Ivy #21 is a powerful exploration of the horrors of human greed, and the idea that our systems are not “broken,” they have been explicitly crafted to cater to privileged populations while harming vulnerable communities as well as the Earth. If Dr. Isley had stayed as a brilliant botanist she might have been stuck working inside these systems, but after Woodrue’s monstrous experimentations, Ivy became connected to the Green. This connection, to something so primeval and all-encompassing, forced Pamela to break free of these systems of oppression, and work to find ways to accomplish her goals as a “villain,” and now an antihero.

Poison Ivy #21

DC Comics

Unsurprisingly, Marcio Takara and Arif Prianto continue to slay the illustration game, with particular praise for Ivy’s “Magical Girl Transformation” after first connecting to the Green, a truly remarkable two pages of art. I’ve written enough reviews of Wilson and Takara’s Poison Ivy run that I feel repetitive at this point, but Takara’s facial emoting, action scenes, and general atmospheric artistic style continue to excel in the finale of this run, and Prianto’s color remains vibrant and engaging. If there was one thing I would say could have made this issue even better, it would have been a greater connection between Ivy’s flashback and her current reality, perhaps switching a few times between her past and her friends attempting to save her in the present.

Life finds a way, and Poison Ivy is the living proof of that. Dr. Pamela Isley is more than what she once was, connected to the Earth and humanity in a way only other creatures like Swamp Thing are. Poison Ivy fights for her friends, for her love, and a better world, even if she doesn’t always know the best way to go about it. Wilson, Takara, and Prianto’s “Origin of Species” has been a powerful recalibrating of Ivy’s origins, and Poison Ivy #21 sets Pamela up to return from near death and face the Floronic Man with renewed purpose and clarity.

Poison Ivy #21
‘Poison Ivy’ #21 gives Pamela full agency to tell her true origin
Poison Ivy #21
Life finds a way, and Poison Ivy is the living proof of that. Dr. Pamela Isley is more than what she once was, connected to the Earth and to humanity in a way only other creatures like Swamp Thing are. Poison Ivy fights for her friends, for her love, and for a better world, even if she doesn't always know the best way to go about it. Wilson, Takara, and Prianto's "Origin of Species" has been a powerful recalibrating of Ivy's origins, and Poison Ivy #21 sets Pamela up to return from near death and face the Floronic Man with renewed purpose and clarity. 
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Feels powerful to give Ivy the agency to tell her own origins
Reframing her relationship with Batman is important and fascinating
Takara and Prianto's art continues to impress
The story might have been more impactful switching back between past and present
Wish Wilson had been able to explore her relationship with Bruce even more
8.5
Great
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