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Review: Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death #1

PIVYCYCLE_Cv1_csFor the first time since her introduction in 1966, the popular Batman villain and sometimes anti-hero Poison Ivy has her own solo series. And writer Amy Chu and artists Clay Mann and Seth Mann take that solo distinction seriously as Ivy becomes increasingly distant from her old friends (especially Harley Quinn) throughout Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death #1 and throws herself into her work at the Gotham Botanical Gardens involving genetic engineering. Poison Ivy is trying to increase the lifespan of human and animals using plants and her own elemental connection to The Green, which may be a reason that she is not interacting with humans as much, with the exception of her co-worker Luisa. The main conflict in Poison Ivy #1 is internal as Ivy tries to balance her human and plant sides, and it reaches a fever pitch in the last few pages, which create the mystery hook for the rest of the miniseries.

I could go either way with the Manns’ art in Poison Ivy #1. Penciler Clay Mann aims at a photorealistic style with his art and succeeds without it looking like it was obviously traced a la Greg Land. Seth Mann uses an extremely clean inking style to draw attention to little details, like the light falling on plants or the background of a biker bar that Harley and Ivy go to after her work day is over. And this semi-painting style works for the slower, more quiet scenes with the help of Ulisses Arreola’s verdant palette, like when Poison Ivy finally gets to unwind, shed the hair tie and lab coat of Dr. Pamela Isley, and just be with her plant babies. There’s something about painted art that creates a feeling of harmony (or fear) of nature with DC’s plant elementals, like Dave McKean’s work on Black Orchid or John Totleben and Stephen Bissette’s Swamp Thing.

However, there’s a reason that McKean has mainly done covers or experimental work, and that Totleben and Bissette did their Swamp Thing interiors in a less representational style. This is because painted, photorealistic art is static and needs some additional storytelling tricks, like quick cuts between panels or an extremely high level of detail, like in Alex Ross’ work on Kingdom Come or Marvels. And every time, the Manns depict action, the story falls flat from the opening scene where Poison Ivy fights diamond thieves in Africa to Harley and Ivy kicking some creepy guys’ asses towards the middle of the comic. Basically, plants come out of the ground in both, and Mann doesn’t distinguish between Ivy’s passionate protection of the “living fossil” in Africa versus the disinterest in picking a fight with random strangers in the bar fight. And the big knock on the art is the lack of emotion in these finely depicted characters for whom cool disinterest seems to be the default expression with the exception of Harley gleefully swinging her hammer, and a close-up on Ivy’s eyes towards the end of the comic.

It’s refreshing that Amy Chu is giving Poison Ivy a kind of redemption arc as she is focusing on her scientific work instead of doing crime or being an eco-terrorist. She also gives Ivy the very relatable problem of loneliness and having difficulty interacting with other people. However, along with being lonely and having trouble fitting in her old friends with her new job and life, Chu makes Ivy kind of a jerk and ruins all the characterization Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner have done with Harley Quinn moving on from the Joker in one mean spirited line of dialogue. This is just to make a point that Ivy is going it alone and comes after the one spot of humor in the book when Ivy shows Harley show one of her new “experiments”. However, the final pages introduce some possible consequences for Ivy’s obsession with her work, but it’s a little too late after this faux pas writing and ending the major relationship in her life.

Unless you’re a huge fan of Poison Ivy and/or annoyed by the character of Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy #1 is worth skipping or trade waiting because its protagonist is less than endearing and her relationship with Harley Quinn is ended in a way that seems rushed and out of character. (There is hope for the pair with a nice panel of Ivy checking her phone for texts from Harley first thing in the morning.) Along with this characterization issue, Clay and Seth Mann’s art would be beautiful as covers or pinups (With the exception of photorealistic Harley Quinn in her roller girl outfit, which is almost as terrifying in an Uncanny Valley way as Alex Ross drawing the Archie gang.), but lacks energy or emotion.

Story: Amy Chu Pencils: Clay Mann Inks: Seth Mann Colors: Ulises Arreola
Story: 5.5 Art: 5 Overall: 5 Recommendation: Pass

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review