Friday, April 24, 2015
YEAR 1966: POISON IVY
The appearance of Julie Newmar as Catwoman not only stimulated the character's return to comic books for the first time in ten-plus years, it also bestirred the comic book's creative personnel to come up with the first major Bat-villainess since Catwoman's creation in 1939.
Despite the misleading cover, in her first appearance Poison Ivy doesn't sow "trouble between the dynamic duo," except in the sense that Robin has to constantly rein in Batman when he gets an "itch" for Ivy. The Robert Kanigher story makes an amusing attempt at duplicating the TV show's camp attributes, since the story starts off with Bruce and Dick in a museum, observing huge comic-booky posters of three never-before-seen female costumed crooks. Giant wanted posters as "camp?" Well, maybe. Anyway, Poison Ivy shows up, tells the assembled reporters (quite an active cadre of art-journalists in Gotham City) that she's a bigger and better crook than the other three no-talents, and then makes her escape. She then schemes to get the other three lady-crooks captured by Batman and Robin while trying to mesmerize the elder hero with her charms-- some of which admittedly include drugged lipstick.
Camp elements aside, I imagine Kanigher had already done a lot of stories about alluring devil-women in his war-books, so Poison Ivy wasn't a new idea, however alien her overt sexiness might be in the overall Batman series. And though the Infantino-designed villainess wears a leaf-covered leotard, in her first few stories she doesn't pattern her crimes on plants. If anything, Kanigher seems to have conceived of her as an incarnation of feminine glamor-devices, for in addition to drugged lipstick she uses weapons like exploding pieces of hair and the like.
Fans can thank Gerry Conway for transforming Ivy into a mistress of plants, in a two-part Wonder Woman story appearing in WORLD'S FINEST #251-52. While it was a poorly written story, the idea caught on, and from then on Poison Ivy's nature and origin were rewritten to fit this concept-- which prompted continuity linkages to other DC vegetable-characters like Swamp Thing and Jason Woodrue.
Increasingly she's been made more, like Catwoman, more sympathetic, both in the humorous series HARLEY AND IVY and the more recent, semi-serious GOTHAM CITY SIRENS.
ADDENDA: Though I would not retract my statement that Gerry Conway is principally responsible for making Poison Ivy a "mistress of plants"-- which eventually led to her becoming a sort of plant-woman in her own right-- I have to fill in some blanks that led to this association.
Ivy's creator Kanigher wrote a total of four Poison Ivy tales: two for Batman feature-stories, and a two-part continuity in 1971 for ROSE AND THE THORN, a backup feature in LOIS LANE. The character then apparently went into limbo for the next three years, until she was revived by writer Len Wein in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #111 (1974), where she became a member of Libra's "Injustice Gang." Wein possibly realized that Kanigher's conception of Ivy wasn't powerful enough to hold her own in a standard superhero set-up, and it's in this issue that she starts using a gun that can accelerate the growth of plants, so that said plants can then attack or entangle heroes, as needed. Perhaps because Wein was working from the concept that Ivy was NOT any sort of scientist, Ivy tells Mirror Master that fellow gang-member Chronos, who was a scientist, helped Ivy design her plant-stimulating weapon. In the same issue, in a text-piece credited to Martin Pasko, Poison Ivy's "wanted poster" gives her the name "Pamela Isley" and says that she "uses knowledge of horticulture against the Batman," which I would regard as a bit of back-dating, since the Kanigher version did not actually plant-gimmicks as such, unless her hypnotic lipstick was supposed to be plant-derived. The text-piece also mentions her ability to creep up a wall like real ivy, which was definitely in Kanighter's first story, but the piece strangely credits her tendency to make men fall in love with her only to "psychological trickery."
The version of Ivy with her trusty plant-accelerator gun seems to last for the next few years, appearing in SUPER FRIENDS #1 (1976), before Gerry Conway's WORLD'S FINEST story portrays her as turning human beings into plant-creatures-- which may have spurred later authors to portray Ivy as making herself into a plant-like entity.