All Star Batman continues where #6 left off. In this arc, super star scribe Scott Snyder (alliteration!) has Batman traveling to various parts of the world in a plot that is slowly unfolding. This title is now my go to for a Batman monthly as I don’t have to worry about following a major crossover. These are self contained stories that have some reference to the mainstream continuity and you don’t have to worry if you fell behind the last two years. However, it would help as you need to know who Duke is as he takes center stage in the back up stories at the end.
In this second part, the focus is on Poison Ivy. Personally, I don’t think there are ‘bad’ Poison Ivy writers, but I do think some do have a tendency to pigeonhole her into a ‘role’ (the ‘seductress’, ‘the ‘misunderstood’ scientist, ‘Harley’s friend’). I have even seen some writers inject politics into her and attempt to portray her as this ‘feminist’ man hater but it comes across as clumsy and contrived. I personally don’t like it when writers try to add all these traits onto a character to try to make them look ‘complex’ but end up looking more like a combination of mixed up traits. It’s very rare for a writer to combine all these traits and turn a character who has been around for over fifty years into a three dimensional being I should care about. Scott Snyder granted me that wish.
Snyder’s chops as a horror writer are present in a subtle way here. Complemented by talented artist, Tula Lotay of the ‘Supreme Blue Rose’, Snyder begins the arc with a lecture that Poison Ivy did. I noticed the words in bold. Here is the whole text just from the first page:
“People think the key to discovery is cutting directly to the heart of things. But I’ve come here today to tell you that that’s not true. In fact, to find what you are looking for? You need to start way out at the edge. In the wastelands. That’s right, you’ll need to start with the cold, dead bark and slowly carefully work your way in towards the pith, recording your findings as you do. Really, for me, dendropharmacology is almost like romance in that way. Laugh, but it’s true. It’s like helping the subject travel back in time from the end of it’s life to the beginning. It’s like a courtship. Like getting them to count backward with you. From the present moment…back and back…to that very first kiss. When everything was new and full of wonder.
The word ‘heart’ can refer to passion. It can also refer to the soft organ that pumps blood. This stood out to me because I saw it as a nod to Ivy’s past interpretations. Her true passion is botany. This is what wakes her up. She has been written as someone who is a misanthrope who is disconnected to humanity. Plants are the only living thing that she gets, that she truly loves. The words ‘romance’, ‘kiss’ and ‘wonder’ really emphasize this. It’s easy to think of Ivy as the ‘seductress’ or the ‘mad scientist’. The thing is, past writers have focused on one or the other. It’s rare to see them both used. One of my favorite Ivy moments was on ‘Trial’ in Batman: the Animated Series when the prosecutor has her on the stand. Ivy explains her work and the coos ‘a rose is a rose’. Right after that, the prosecutor begins to pluck the petals off of Joker’s rose and Ivy is triggered before she attacks.
This is where the use of the word ‘heart’ takes on the second scientific meaning. More often than not, Pam has been written as a character who is made up of chlorophyll than flesh. In fact, I know she has referred to people as ‘meat’. This has kept her detached from her humanity. Pam was a botanist with a PhD. Her scientific background is not really touched upon but Snyder really expands on this.
I took the word ‘wastelands’ as a nod to repeated and rehashed concepts that have been overused. Sure, Pam is the one talking about making discoveries away from the center, but Snyder’s pen tells me that this is a subtle nod to rehashed ideas and this is where he got his inspiration from. He rehashes and retells a concept and he does it beautifully.
The other scene that I noticed occur in the second and third pages where Ivy is at some type of mini mart in the desert. The owner is a man who doesn’t want his son to study art. Pamela, being a woman and a scientist sympathizes with the boy who wants to pursue something that was traditionally considered a ‘feminine’ pursuit. Yet, I didn’t see this page as an argument about gender or identity politics. I can see Pam thinking that the father is repressing his son’s natural talents. That would be like denying water and the sun to a plant. As someone who is fairly recently rediscovery my natural inclinations for art and making up for it at this stage in life, couple with the fact that I am reading about adolescent psychology in my credential program, this part hit home.
Tula Lotay’s art perfectly complements Snyder’s storytelling. I have her variant cover and I noticed how blurry Batman was. I am thinking this is supposed to stress the ‘effectf of Ivy’s pheromones. What Tula Lotay does here is different. I like her style in that she knows when to add detail for dramatic effect and where to keep the scene vague. I do love the retro look she has. Her talents in reinterpreting Poison Ivy are seen where she is messing with the store owner. He has three cacti behind him to remind him how much he hates his son’s pursuit. Lota’s pencils give this scene a psychedelic feel. I cannot recall a time an artist who added visuals to Ivy’s machinations. We always see the person have this weird look on their face. This time, we get a hint of the effects and we know because of the text which turns green. Ivy casts her spell naturally and when she wants. Personally, I took away from this scene that she releases this pheromone when she’s nervous; it’s done in a way to throw off anyone who she is suspicious off her ‘scent’.
Finally, I want to touch upon the interaction between Batman and Poison ivy. I want to emphasize that it was an interaction and not a confrontation. Batman tries to appeal to Ivy’s humanity by asking for her help in saving a little girl who also loves botany. We know this will not be a typical Batman vs. Poison Ivy story and this is stressed in the first page. We see Batman in what looks like a wasteland. What stands out here is his suit, more notably the outlines on his torso. My first thought was ‘Why am I getting ‘Batman and Robin’ memories?’ Then I realized that this is Snyder. This is the same person who can rehash old and forgotten ideas and give them new life. Batman is a creature of subtlety. If he has a neon sign on his armor, it has to be there for a reason. In here, it should be clear that he wants Poison Ivy to see him. He wants one of the most brilliant and dangerous minds to see him. He is trying to establish trust to someone who feeds people to her carnivorous plants. (Detective Comics #823).
I don’t want to give away the ending but all I want to say about that is that even for a misanthrope, Ivy can be surprisingly human and not in a ‘Hooker with a heart of gold’ cliché way. I really liked the ending in that it showed how even with someone with her history, Ivy is someone who can nurture and bring forth life in her own way. I would say that this issue, Detective #823, “Trial” and “Orchid” rank as some of my favorite Poison Ivy moments. I await his next issue (impatient)ly. (See what I did there?).