In honor of the new season of Harley Quinn (squee!!!), I’ve decided to show some love for everyone’s favorite homicidal ecoterrorist and Ph.D who really needs all the hugs Harley has to offer. Below, in order of when they were first published, are the top four comic runs where DC actually did Poison Ivy’s character justice (no surprise, they’re all by women).
1. Batman and Poison Ivy: Cast Shadows by Ann Nocenti and John Van Fleet (2004)
Vintage, classic Poison Ivy at her finest. A short, contained collection that perfectly captures the conflicted heart and noirish origins of the character. Ann Nocenti and JohnVan Fleet don’t shy away from the violent capabilities of Poison Ivy’s powers, or the true power of her intellect. But the art style lends the whole affair a sort of gaslamp, dreamlike quality that brings home how, for all her violence, there is true love motivating Ivy’s actions. At this point in her characterization, it was largely love for the planet (and some lingering feelings for Bruce?). But it is one of the earliest comics that gives her a driving role in the narrative while bringing to life the same melancholy, calculating, brilliantly warped mind masking a heart of gold that Harley comes to love.
(Granted, the art did have its detractors, but I think it works so well in bringing the reader into certain characters’ experiences. Which is all I can say without spoilers!)
2. Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death by Amy Chu, Clay Mann, and Seth Mann (2016)
If it took half a century for someone to really start writing her right, it took another decade for lightning to strike twice. And it did so with Amy Chu’s colorful, Frankenstein-esque take on the character.
Poison Ivy is tired of being lonely. Not physically, not mentally. But there’s a particular isolation in knowing you are the only one of your kind, the only plant-human hybrid on the planet (well, the only one who isn’t prone to being a fatalistic, moralizing pain in the rear, anyway). So she decides to do what every middle aged woman reconsidering the meaning of life would:
Get a new job, get a new apartment and grow some new daughters.
Yeah, it’s a weird one, but the kind of explorative weirdness that more comics need to come back to, in my opinion. This run is also a standout for Chu’s sense of humor and interesting side characters. When non-MCs get hurt or die in this, I actually felt something! Which is not something DC’s comics for grown-ups had been doing much of at the time. There is also no romance, but Harley shows up to cause a ruckus, as usual!
3. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy by Jody Houser and Adriana Melo (2019)
Speaking of Harley, here’s a classic. Sure, it was released only a few years ago. But it’s still a classic.
Following in the footsteps of Chu’s novel, experimental take on Poison Ivy’s powers and conflicted sense of humanity, Jody Houser’s run delves deeper into her connections with both The Green and Harley Quinn. We see them as a canonical couple doing cute couple things for the first time! There is mayhem and chaos and fluff and…then things get dark.
Like, I-was-teary-even-though-I-know-how-this-works dark. You don’t get to become a comic fan without your suspension of disbelief building up some tolerance, but stories like this remind you that sometimes, it is the lore that makes the bleak moments sting all the worse. But it’s also that lore that keeps you hoping right alongside Harley, rooting for her and Ivy to find a way through it all.
It’s got poignant moments of dialogue, tonally consistent art and a true love that is messy and complicated and held between two flawed, hurting women who find they hurt just a little less with each other.
Also, really fun fight scene panels.
4. Poison Ivy by G. Willow Wilson, Marcio Takara, and Arif Prianto (2022)
The time between lightning strikes is getting progressively shorter, and I am living for it. While it’s only a couple issues into the run, G. Willow Wilson’s take on the character reminds me why I loved her Ms. Marvel run when it was still in publication. She is the sort of writer who knows how to write a character to fit the character’s context. And Poison Ivy’s context is, well, scientifically-informed ecoterrorism with a sympathetic heart beating beneath the bloodied blooms and explosions. From Ann Nocenti to Jody Houser, we’ve seen her grapple with everything from her humanity to her heart, watched her struggle between her desire for violent justice and her hope for ecological harmony.
Now, it all is building up into a climactic showdown rooted in the grim reality of climate change. What I’ve read so far has been a visceral narrative that has been leaning very hard into the horror without losing track of the compelling characterization. It is dark, it is deep, and it is building into something I am really excited to watch unfold. Part of DC’s recent slate of Pride month releases, this comic has had me buying single issues again for the first time since high school.
Harley and Ivy have one of the most complex, fascinating romances I have ever read, sapphic or otherwise. Their equally brilliant intellects and capacity for, ahem, “creative” problem solving keep storylines from stagnating, and the depths of their respective histories allows for some lovely explorations of relationship dynamics.
These are my personal favorite takes on Ivy, a uniquely compelling, conflicted character (correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe she was comics’ first major woman character to have a STEM background), and the truly strange places her consciousness can go.