Monday, January 5, 2009

"Beware of Poison Ivy!" : Batman #181 and Forward

Poison Ivy was introduced to the Batman mythos in the year 1966 in a story titled "Beware of Poison Ivy!" (Batman #181). Credit for her creation must be given to various participants. Robert Kanigher wrote the story "Beware of Poison Ivy!" and Carmine Infantino provided the artwork. Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) wrote stories for various DC titles including Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Batman. Carmine Infantino is the artist responsible for bringing DC Comics back to life during the mid 1950's. Infantino's dynamic covers and interiors ushered in a new era for the superhero -- it was the beginning of the Silver Age. Infantino was not only an artist but also aided in the co-creation of characters such as Elongated Man and The Flash. I am not completely certain about the role Bob Kane played in this history. It is claimed that Bob Kane and Sheldon Moldoff co-created Poison Ivy before passing her off to other artists and writers.

To this day I suspect the late 1950s song "Poison Ivy" was also a source of inspiration. (How could it not be?)

"Batman meets a luscious nemesis -- the unique villainess -- the irresistible Poison Ivy! Her charms so contagious that they trap him at every turn! Can Robin the Boy Wonder save his idol from a fate far worse than death -- which the once invincible Masked Marvel embraces every change he gets? No -- anymore than our warning will stop you from being infected by the sensation - surprises of: Beware of -- Poison Ivy!"

That quote is lifted from the very first page to ever feature Poison Ivy -- and it is telling of the role Ivy would play in the life of the Batman. Villain, seductress, and foil.

The story "Beware of -- Poison Ivy!" is an amusing one. It is light in theme and heavy on camp. Poison Ivy arrives in Gotham City and begins her plot to become "Queen of Crime". But to claim that crown she must first dispose of her rivals Dragon Fly, Silken Spider, and Tiger Moth. (Catwoman was strangely absent.) During this coup Ivy's lustful eyes spy a certain Bruce Wayne and then a Batman. So began her one-sided love affair with the Dark Knight.

The earliest depictions of Poison Ivy seem almost silly compared to her modern day counterpart. She was portrayed as a wanton and vain fame addict with a touch of the crazies. She was lacking in any true type of meta ability -- she relied mainly on quirky weapons like exploding strands of hair and scaling ivy.

Over a timespan of 40+ years, the story of Poison Ivy would change dramatically. She would move from the second and third tier ranks (shared by the likes of Mad Hatter, and the Ventriloquest) to the frontline of the rogues gallery. Her ultra-femininity, uniqueness, and sex appeal allowed for story lines you could not otherwise do (not even with Catwoman). Ivy reached beyond the pages of the bat books and was seen joining ranks with the Secret Society of Supervillains, The Injustice Gang, and the Suicide Squad. Ivy has tangled with many DC Comics heavyweights including Batman, Wonder Woman and even Superman. She has also permanently altered (if not destroyed) the lives of fellow villains like Clayface and the Riddler.

The motivations of Ivy are still up for debate. At first, it appeared like she didn't have focus beyond bedding the Batman. Then after the lust came the desire for notoriety and riches. Years would pass before Poison Ivy became associated with being a protectress of plant-kind and a vengeful eco-terrorist. But that aspect of her persona, while noble, went nowhere storywise (Detective Comics #693). The Ivy of today appears to be a better combination of all these things and more. She is equal parts beauty and danger. In recent times fans have also experienced a thoughtful Poison Ivy. She has found seclusion in the forests of Robinson Park, but has opened up her domain to the forgotten children of Gotham City. An endearing concept.

The personality and powers of Poison Ivy were made over (discussed in other sections of this site) but the most dramatic change has been to her appearance. There is still a Silver Age aesthetic to her costuming -- but the Modern Age Ivy has a style and elegance that was lacking in her vintage counterpart. The bobbed and wreathed hairstyle has given way to lengthy coils of hair adorned with leaves throughout. The one-piece is still there but has been streamlined and the ornamental touches are now seen as trailing vines going up her arms and legs. The pale green tights? Apparently gone (for now). The ankle boots? Optional. Ivy is often seen these days without footwear of any kind.

Of course, the most controversial aspect of her evolution is the green skin. This green skinned beauty first revealed herself in the three part story "Fruit of the Earth" (Batman: Shadow of the Bat #88). No explanation was given -- one day she was just green. A few rumors and theories were tossed around the internet. I have heard that the artist for this particular book was mistakenly handed references from the The New Batman Adventures (that Ivy turned green too). Some have concluded that when Catwoman smashed a vial of "super fertilizer" against Ivy's face (Catwoman #57) -- she began to mutate. I suppose we are left to make up our own minds. I have reduced it to the evolution of a plant/human hybrid.

And that folks, is the story of Poison Ivy (so far). She is wicked, glamorous, and fabulous -- a true one of a kind.

I have done my best at providing detailed statistics, and origins for the comic book Poison Ivy. I've included brief bios on a few other plant based characters who have had a lasting influence in the DC Universe. Here you will find content and images that are quite memorable, and portray Poison Ivy in various lights -- from drop dead gorgeous to a more rageous, vengeful menace. The animated, and cinematic variations of Poison Ivy are divine, but the comic book Poison Ivy is the heart of this website.


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