Every once in a while, a comic lover is able to obtain their holy grail of comics. I recently uncovered mine at a local comic shop. (*Cough* Collector’s Paradise *cough*) The comic? The 181st issue of Batman. What’s so special about it? Well, to me and many a Batman fan, it’s that this is the very first appearance of Poison Ivy.
Opening issue 181 of Batman was like traveling back in time. Comics were simpler in a lot of ways. Good and evil was like black and white, and alliteration in your narrative was king. The cover declares the book was worth a whopping twelve cents. A fair price I suppose in 1966.
From the looks of it, my comic was well loved. (Or, at least, I’d like to think it was.) The pages were so brittle that I had to lay the issue flat on a table to read it for fear that it would fall apart in my hands. The pages are yellow and musty, and the advertisements are simultaneously silly and charming. It’s everything I love about classic comics.
I am, as you may have guessed, a Poison Ivy fan. In her current incarnation in the Gotham City Sirens series, she is moody and mostly disinterested in people. This is a far cry from her first appearance. In issue 181, she shows up at a pop art exhibit and declares that she is essentially the queen of crime. The only reason no one knows about her is because her crimes have been too perfect. Now it’s time for her to get the credit she deserves by committing some less than perfect crimes that will gain her media attention.
Of course, Ivy has decided that she has a thing for Bruce Wayne and for Batman. She’s going to give “them” the honor of fighting for her affections since she doesn’t know who to pick. Meanwhile, she initiates her plan to take down the number one, two, and three women of crime, as well as lure Bruce and Batman into her trap. She decides to accomplish this by tricking everyone to meet at one location, knowing that once they all arrive they’re certainly going to fight one another. This not only accomplishes her goals, but it also helps keep her from getting her hands dirty in the process.
Simple though it may be, Ivy’s first appearance marks her as a clever sort of villain. She seems to posses no real super powers. Instead, she uses items like chloroform lipstick and electricity resistant gloves, along with her intelligence, to get her way. The only hint that she might be more than human is that she attempts to escape the dynamic duo by climbing straight up a wall like “ivy.” Naturally, she is still captured by the caped crusaders and put behind bars.
Humble origins like this always lead me to wonder what it is exactly about a character that gives them lasting power. Poison Ivy was certainly interesting with her seductive tone and her problem of committing too perfect crimes, but she wasn’t exceptionally different from other female villains of the time. So what made her worth developing over the course of forty some odd years? I’m not sure. What I can say is that she has made a fascinating and drastic transformation between the time of that first issue and the character she is today. If you’ll pardon the expression, Poison Ivy’s roots run deep.