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Detective Comics #23.1/Poison Ivy #1
posted September 10, 2013
Derek Fridolfs, Javier Pina, John Kalisz
DC Comics, comic book, 32 pages, September 2013, $2.99
This is an issue from the first wave of villain crossover titles in DC's big company-wide event "Forever Evil." The concept seems to be that as the villains have taken over the world where these stories take place, they have also taken over the comic book titles that show those various adventures; the "Poison Ivy" title is even slapped on over the "Detective Comics" logo. I read maybe eight to twelve of these comics, back to back to etcetera-back and they mostly blur together in memory. It seems like the creep towards a kind of TV drama "realism" in comic books combined with superheroes' fantasy component makes the default "adult" mode for bad people a kind of demented sadist compelled to torture people: someone that can be punched repeatedly until they stop. I found some of this latest round of comics unpleasant for the casual banality in which their horrors were presented: it's hard to imagine what I as an eight year old when superheroes were a major part of my fantasy life would have made of a comic book showing a man eaten alive by a snake as the Joker's hench-people stand around and comment on the sound of the breaking bones. I also found a lot of of them a kind of mess from the general-conception angle: very little happens
in them. Some of them have incremental plot creep in the wider event while encompassing some sort of origin story for the character involved. It's the former element that feels slack, like a bunch of kids asked to leave the school grounds but never given a firm reason as to why. I could piece together very little in terms of clear, shared through-line without reading the main event comic, the big tie-in and even then it seemed like the characters were marching through a kind of played-out series of set pieces, down to the semi-hilarious "villains squabble" dialogue as they all get together in the same room. I like those bickering scenes because they always seem driven by self-loathing, like the characters all know how dumb they look standing next to one another. Like a lot of DC Comics I read, it seems like the overriding creative drive in the latest suffers from wanting to have it two ways. They desire the shock of the new, because this is a different version of that universe, but they also count on having events hold weight and import because of decades of momentum behind them. It feel like a constant plumbing of unearned affection.
#1 I remembered as being better than average when I thought back on the whole bunch of them; it stood out a bit. The Poison Ivy
character is a mentally disturbed sadist like many of the villains I encountered in this little wave of comics, but she at least seems off-key in a semi-interesting way: hurt and self-pitying, her actions seem justifiable moments of acting out as opposed to playing at being awful by pulverizing another person. She's grotesque and monstrous rather than fussy and cruel, or another mode that I remember, bombastic and punishing. The artists Javier Pina (pencils and inks) and John Kalisz (colors) drop a lot of specific detail from the backgrounds and scene work. This is a shame because of the loss of atmospheric emphasis -- all of the DC Comics I read these days seem like they could all be taking place within three blocks of one another, on a location broadly generic enough to be a movie set. Still, Pina draws the human figure well and these are front and center; it's a time-worn way of making these comics feel physically motivated, a catalog of bodies in conflict. There's a nice effect in the flashback sequences, too, an emphasis on bright colors that plays against both the darkness of the present-day scenes and the character's psychological decline. In the end, though, this is a comic about a character walking around and telling her story, in what seems an unprompted way. It feels like Poison Ivy has been asked to cover 11 minutes of what would otherwise be dark screen time. If you buy into the importance of these characters wholeheartedly, simply getting that story may be enough to do the trick; the rest of us probably want some agency out of these stories, a reason for them to be other than another installment in a pageant of like-minded narrative moments that fail to move us from one place to the other.