Wednesday, September 25, 2013

PICK YOUR POISON


DETECTIVE COMICS #23.1

Getting to write Poison Ivy during "Villains Month" started out as a means to explore the extent of Ivy's powers to wild abandon. This was a Gotham without Batman, nor any other heroes around in her story to stop her. A chance for her to run free and do whatever she wants without any opposition, in a city of chaos. And while it started out that way, I also felt some responsibility to give her a revised origin. With the New52 relaunching the entire DC Universe, so many of these villains (Poison Ivy included) became fresh slates again or even for the first time. While it wasn't mandatory to include her backstory here, I felt it was an opportunity I couldn't resist.

Doing any sort of revisionist retelling of a character's origin is a treacherous line to walk. It really feels like a no-win scenario. Change nothing and it's seen as a retread of something everyone already knows. Skew too far off the path with a new take, and readers are quick to hate and want the old version. The approach I chose was to honor the basics of what we know or like about the character, while filling in some history to Pamela's early formative years to show how she became the villain she is today.

Most of Ivy's origins or stories in past comics and cartoons have always shown her already as an adult. But I felt it would add to her story if we saw her as a child. What was her home life like? Her college years? What helped shape and form Pamela before the incident that created Poison Ivy? These were all things I wanted to address. 
Pamela's research would include mammal, reptile, and insect pheromones. But in the end, it would be the plant based vial that would spill on her to trigger her new abilities.

I also felt that past origins for her always had her as more of a victim; poisoned or injected by men she worked with. After becoming a very recognizable feminist icon in comics, I never quite liked the approach of her being used as a guinea pig and injected with the toxin to turn her into the villain. So my approach was to try to make her a bit more self-made. She had bad things happen around her during her early years. But in the end, her own research and development of the power of animal & plant pheromones, and her ambition to use them to great extremes, would be her undoing. In some ways, I wanted to explain her backstory in a very relatable real world approach. The fantastical part of Ivy and her powers could grow out of that.
 
John Kalisz's coloring technique over Javier Pina's art, made these flashbacks really stand out.

I don't know where the idea generated to give Pamela a skin condition during her youth, but it felt like something unique or different to add to her character. As Poison Ivy, being linked towards plants and their ability to feed off the sun, it was a nice way to show the opposite of that as a child. That some extreme case of photodermatosis afflicted her. That exposure to the sun would react to her abnormal immune system, to cause rashes. The very beginnings to show that Pamela's biological makeup wasn't normal. Because of that, she might be interested to pursue botanical research in school as a means to find a cure. It didn't hurt that her mother had a fascination with flowers and gardening that could also be shared. And by gaining an immunity to toxins and viruses through her transformation into Poison Ivy, it would cancel out her adolescent sun allergy (although one might gather that it transferred those rash-like symptoms to anyone she touched).

Going back to the original intent of the issue, I wanted to explore Ivy's powers. While I've always been a fan of her classic green leafy clothing, her redesign in the New52 also had promise. I always saw it as a type of living costume. It's draped in leaves, but that's not all. I wanted to show that she'd be able to access this living suit to grow vines, wooden bark to help shield her, and shoot thorny projectiles out of it. I imagine it can do so much more (generate spores; provide fallen leafs as a smoke screen or camouflage when trying to evade capture; even grow leafy wings to glide or fly with). Very forest nymph qualities. And of course being able to grow sentient topiary type animals from nature around her was a given. 

Ivy's living suit as well as her surroundings, provide her with plenty of means for offense and defense.

Writing the Bruce Wayne scene might've been my favorite for the issue. Ivy always struck me as someone that could quietly be one of the most powerful in the DC Universe if given the chance. I think it's easy to see the giant gods and cosmic threats as all-powerful, but her ability to control minds through pheromones has such wide ranging potential. Getting a few people or even one head of a company under that control, could raise or ruin a business very quickly. Or get her into places she couldn't or shouldn't be. Her powers are like having the keys to the kingdom. So why wouldn't she think like a business woman and try to use it initially to benefit her employer and herself?

Also in a sly way, I think it was my way to explain away how Batman might be one of the only people immune to her powers. There's always been a great flirtation between Ivy and Batman throughout past comics; alternating between being seduced at times but also has been shown to be unaffected by her powers. By keeping her research as a proprietary right to Wayne Enterprises, it leaves that door open for Bruce to investigate her findings further. For the Dark Knight to realize how dangerous her research is, and probably come up with an antidote so he's not affected. A very unassuming way to explain if he ends up being the only person immune to her, without her specifically knowing the reason for it. But that's just the backstory in my mind.

Working on this issue would be nothing without the other people involved. Javier Pina and John Kalisz made a perfect artistic combo on this issue. Javier had done some nice work on Birds Of Prey. And John I've worked with in the past on my runs with Detective Comics and Streets Of Gotham. I remember when John wrote me to ask how I wanted the coloring to go on the flashbacks, I think I wrote in the script to make it lighter and almost pastel looking so it would offset the current parts of the story. He basically replied by saying he had an idea he'd like to try and see how it turned out. And I think it's probably the most talked about art of the issue. The way it looks almost watercolor in appearance, the implied paper texture grain apparent, and the lack of hard panel borders. It turned out so beautiful. Jay Fabok turned in a visually arresting and enticing cover that really pops in 3-D. Taylor Esposito added some nice design work for lettering the credits and the captions through the issue. And working with my editors Joey Cavalieri and Kyle Andrukiewicz was a neat process as I was constantly bouncing ideas off them until the story took shape.

A couple other behind-the-scenes moments...

I think readers assumed we were blowing up another Wayne Tower in this story, as it's constantly blown up across other issues and titles. Rather this was the Wayne Enterprises R&D facility, formerly the Kane Chemicals building before the merger. Batman Group Editor Mike Marts got in on the fun by helping with design suggestions, passing back and forth photos of various real constructed buildings out there to give Javier some thoughts as he designed it. Looking at these buildings these architects created is a work of art in itself.


Originally the story would end with Ivy's jump off the GCPD building and she would float away into the night air on a giant dandelion. It was a visual I always thought might look cool, that I hadn't gotten around to using in Li'l Gotham and thought I'd try it here. But after seeing it, it just didn't fit the scene as well as I'd hoped. So we made the decision to show Ivy swing off into her Green Kingdom on a vine. But here's that original version…



11 comments:

  1. I don't know what to say other than... I really loved this issue! These 'behind the scenes' posts are great too :)

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    1. Glad ya liked it Dee. It was fun to work on!

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  2. I loved the new origin and I'm liking that it seems it's being slightly referenced in Zero Year so it seems like your version is sticking.

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    1. I know at the time of being approached to write Ivy's story, many months back, I knew or heard that Scott would have her in "Zero Year" working for Wayne. So I thought it would be a perfect chance to have ties to that in a small way since this would precede that story. I never really found out the full extent of her involvement there, as it's probably pretty minor or a cameo at best, but it'll be interesting to see what happens with Ivy in future stories.

      It always depends on the push or pull of the company as well as the writers if they care to reference her current standing. Some do their research and respect to add to it, while others ignore and do their own thing even if it contradicts previous versions. I think at the end of the day, everyone is so busy trying to get their own story to gel, that they might not even be aware when their version doesn't match up with previous versions (nor maybe should they care). You're trying to service your own story and the company, and sometimes that means ignoring everything else.

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  3. I loved her new origin. You know that a lot of comic book fans prefer her as a villainess with an antihero twist and her trying to "clean up" Gotham from criminals running wild as well as saving that mother and her daughter was something different than the rest of "Villains Month". I also liked that two page spread and particurarly the "having support from the youth". That always seemed logical. Out of every Batman's enemy she would be the one who could have some sort of support from citizens. Again, thank you for this excellent issue.

    Two questions: Why did she kill those two cops? People in forums keep arguing that this seemed a bit "forced". And the second one is that Wayne's reaction was a bit extreme. She did a bad pitch, ok. Fire her? She even says that she can adjust her discoveries, fix them.

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    1. I've always seen Ivy as a very grey character. Not entirely villainous, but neither a saint. While she did kill a lot of criminal behavior in my story, it was meant to show a city in turmoil and some of the people she'd come across. That it reminded her of various parts of her past, and she reacted accordingly. So coming across cops, who she's never been a fan of, showed that she's really a danger to anyone in certain circumstances. It was probably my way of showing equal time...that she wasn't just out targeting other bad people but those unfortunate to come across her as well. Plus in her mind, they almost ran her over. To Ivy, that might've felt very much like an attack and didn't take much to provoke her next action.

      I really loved writing the Wayne part. I kind of had it in my mind to show him in a different light...a corporate light. It's very easy to portray Bruce in heroic ideals, but twice as fun when you can show the shrewd business side of his life. That in this context he might have acted more extreme and to protect the company's interests. Yet manipulating your buyers seemed like a dark road he didn't want to even contemplate, shutting down that prospect quickly. Not to mention the implication that she used her pheromones to even get Bruce alone in his office to have the pitch session. I think he smelled trouble, ironically, as soon as that was revealed to him. Plus, I don't know how many times I or others have been let go at a job and the standard offer of a letter of recommendation is provided...yet it's the last thing any of us want. It always sounds so hollow.

      Thanks for enjoying it, Karen.

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  4. Interesting. To be honest i kinda felt bad for Pamela after that disastrous pitch. I've been in her place : )
    Still i thought Ivy killing anyone who comes in her way was a bit extreme for her.
    Also about the young Ivy supporters, did you had something particular in mind (a future story perhaps?)

    Again, thank you for being kind enough to answer every single comment in your blog. This is really rare these days.
    And of course thank you for Lil Gotham. My daughter loves it!

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    1. I had pitched a mini-series with Ivy that would pick up on some details from the Villains Month story, but never heard back. Not any details I care to divulge at this time.

      Glad to hear she likes Lil Gotham. It's been a fun run.

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  5. Mr Fridolfs i'm writing a small essay, a psychoanalysis of Poison Ivy and since you wrote her new origin, i'd like to ask you some questions.
    1. Is she infertile? In previous versions she claimed she was infertile due to her immune system.
    2. Does she still have a soft spot for protecting children?
    3. Does she still care for abused women?
    4. Does she want to eradicate the human race or is she just trying to protect the environment?
    5. Is she still considered mentally insane?

    I'll be more than glad to provide you with a translated copy of my essay if you wish!
    Thanks in advance!

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    1. It's tough to really answer these, as I'm not really the final authority when it comes to this character. While I did get to write and revise her new origin, that's kind of where it ends for me for the moment. It's up to the current and next writers that handle her, and what they want to address, and the areas the company wants to go with her. So I'd rather not say anything "on the record", so to speak. I'm just as curious to see what they do with her, and would love the opportunity to write her again.

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  6. Rose again. Just wanted to thank you for the answer. I enjoyed Detective Comics 23.1 I hope you write Ivy again but i'll agree with the above that killing those police officers in cold blood was a bit too much for Ivy.

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