Poison Ivy: Thorns (DC Comics)
208 pgs. full color | $16.99 | W: Kody Keplinger; A: Sara Kipin
I am a fanfiction writer—right now, I’m not writing as much of it as I used to, but I still dabble here and there. Before she got paired with Harley Quinn in the mainstream and was still just our friendly neighborhood misanthrope ecoterrorist, I imagined a Pamela Isley in high school: awkward, intelligent, into chemistry and plants—and eventually, into Bruce Wayne. I’m not usually one of those writers who switches character orientations—it kind of drives me a bit up the wall when other people do it (but keeping doing you, whoever you are)—but I like the idea of pairing the two of them before they become…who we all know them as. If it makes anyone feel better, in this timeline of mine the Bat ends up with Zatanna—not that I’ve ever written it, but I’m someone who likes to know where things are going.
Imagine my glee when I started reading Poison Ivy: Thorns and most of what I imagined about Pamela was/is spot on, according to author Kody Keplinger (the novelist behind The DUFF, Shut Out, A Midsummer’s Nightmare, and The Swift Boys & Me):
The Thorns version of Pamela keeps up the greenhouse at her high school, excels in chemistry, lives in a mansion, and is being pressured by her father to go into pre-med.
This happens a lot to me: I’m writing fanfiction years ahead of pieces of it being published. At first, it made me really annoyed and then I realized that it just meant I had good ideas. So now I’m just tickled by it and enjoy writing about other people making the ideas their own.
What I don’t write a lot of is queer fanfiction and what we don’t see a lot of, still, is out queer characters in the mainstream comicsverse—that’s changing, finally (and not quick enough if you ask me). I feel like one of the big names to bring queer into comics has been Pamela Isley herself because of her now-famous and well-documented relationship with one Harley Quinn. This relationship was a big break from the status quo for both characters and when it broke, I half-supported it if I’m being honest. I was stoked to see Harley moving on from what I’d argue is the most toxic (and outright abusive) long-term relationship we’ve seen in comics into something that suited her better, but for Pamela, it felt off.
I loved that Ivy was a misanthrope and that part of her personality had been, for the most part, a static piece of her with some notable exceptions—lookin’ at you, No Man’s Land <3.
Thirty pages in, Thorns reads like the average YA fare: we have a character who is clearly a goth, Alice Oh, reaching out to a beautiful social outcast, Pamela Isley, Pamela’s overbearing father who seems to be erring on the controlling side, and Pamela is sick à la a midnight vomit session.
Also, the Isley’s have secrets—they’re a well-to-do family living in Gotham, of course they have secrets. Their biggest secret is that Pamela’s mother, Lillian, is up in the attic and she’s very sick. Pamela’s father is working on the cure with Pamela’s…assistance, but it’s not looking good. Lillian is Pamela’s canonical middle name, so it tickles me to know that she’s named after her mother.
Eventually, Pamela and Alice have their almost moment in a janitor’s closet—the tropes in this graphic novel made me smile because they’re so well used—but Pamela hears the dying cries of the plants from the school’s greenhouse and runs to find that they’ve been murdered in retribution for Pamela standing up for herself.
And, here, the Poison Ivy we know and love is being born. When I started reading this, I was ready for a high school jaunt with Pamela Isley, kind of like Gotham High—I was not ready for a Poison Ivy origin story. We’re treated to Poison Ivy’s first two toxic kisses and they’re executed with all of the finesse one would expect from a teenage Poison Ivy—one of them is an accident. Keplinger’s story ends with Pamela asking to be called Ivy, the name her mother wanted to name her.
Sara Kipin, the artist responsible for Thorns, went with an understated and dark palette for this graphic novel—and it was the perfect choice. The only colors that really pop are the reds of Pamela’s lips and hair, and some of the greens in the green-on-green-on-green panels—again, a perfect choice for a graphic novel about the origins of Poison Ivy. I feel like the choice of greys and blacks and the general sharp angles to everything probably fits in with the gothic aesthetic, but I’m not even remotely educated on gothic literature tropes and visual presentation.
I also probably read this too fast for the horror of things to settle in, but there are some fairly terrible things that happen.
It was hella cool to see that a lot of my imaginings of Pamela Isley as a high schooler continued to be accurate, for the most part—even if I throw a hetero spin on it. Sorry!
Can’t say much more though, because it’ll ruin the story!
Grab a copy of Poison Ivy: Thorns wherever you can and buckle up for a queer romance where Pamela’s father turns out to be right: you can’t trust anyone. Not even Pamela. | Catherine Bathe
Click here for a preview and “breakdown” of Poison Ivy: Thorns, courtesy of DC Comics.