Pamela Isley is going through some growing pains. Her father uses her body for science experiments, manipulating her genes to find a cure for her comatose mother. At school, she faces bullying through the forced gender norms of high school, after refusing to let some teenage boy have his way with her and claim she slept with him. Her only solace is taking care of the school’s plants in the greenhouse, and a new friend/love interest Alice Oh, who seems more genuine than her other classmates.
Poison Ivy: Thorns begins with a familiar sight for Ivy fans, as Pamela tries to save plants by unleashing a poison in a construction zone. Of course, her newly-minted friend Alice Oh lives nearby and Pamela must keep her experiments secret after discovering she probably (definitely) poisoned some people. As Alice and Isley begin to fall for each other, the seeds of Poison Ivy’s powers and trauma begin to bloom.
Thorns was an interesting choice of subtitle for this original graphic novel. In writing a version of Pamela before the vindictive and cutting persona of Ivy was developed, author Kody Keplinger has essentially removed the thorns from Ivy. In actuality, we are seeing the very events that led to Ivy’s thorny attitude. We get a sense of where Ivy’s hatred for toxic masculinity came from, with the character of Brett and the school principal. Her early love of the goth/punk girl evokes the Harley/Ivy relationship of later years. Keplinger knows high school students, playing on similar themes as in her novel The Duff: societal pressure, public image, and self-expectations. Pamela’s journey to become Ivy felt very real, and this is in part to Keplinger’s understanding of how a young Pamela would approach these teenage social issues.
Sara Kipin’s art is very expressive on the facial features, with character closeups throughout that show a range of emotions and reactions. While her characters felt very real, I often found the background art to seem lacking or unfinished. Background people would sometimes just be black-bordered humanoid shapes with a solid color. This may have been a decision to keep the focus on the characters, as it is an origin story, but it sometimes detracted from the reading experience as the world in the comic felt less real. The closest analogy I have to some of the background art, is the Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the 60s and 70s where it seemed like the characters are more detailed moving pieces on a less detailed static background.
DC indicates this is a graphic novel for young adults, with their marketing stating 13+. I agree with this age rating and would even say some tweens could read this, as even though it touches on things like teenage sex, it does so tactfully and without being vulgar. While I did find the art lacking, the story more than overcame its shortcomings. I’d easily recommend this book to a YA fan of empowered women, even if they weren’t usually a DC Comics reader This would fit into any graphic novel collection in a library, as it walks the line between slice-of-life drama and comic origin story very well.
Poison Ivy: Thorns
By Kody Keplinger
Art by Sara Kipin
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: Bisexual